A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

Stairways to Heaven

Perugia and Assisi

semi-overcast 18 °C

Throughout most of the past three millennium Italy was war-torn; often dominated by despotic rulers and foreign invaders. Following the decline and eventual fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, Italy was up for grabs and various Germanic tribes and the Goths were scrambling to capture what they could. The Romans had built many castles atop strategic hills and the locals retreated to these defensible communities to protect themselves. Perugia, the capital of Umbria, occupies such a fortified hilltop location and the enormous walls have been constructed and demolished many times over the centuries. It is a spectacular medieval city with many great buildings and a beautiful cathedral. But its most intriguing feature is an incredible series of stairs and escalators that wind up inside the immense fortified wall that was built by the Pope's army in the 1490s. Here is Sheila inside the ancient walls on a modern escalator - no claustrophobia inside theses cavernous fortifications...
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Perugia is just one of dozens of fortified cities in this part of Italy. Lucca, Florence and Sienna are all within striking distance and are some of our favourite places. But today we went to Assisi - the birthplace of Saint Francis, (San Francesco). This is the basilica where the 13th century saint is buried...
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While we enjoy discovering the history and admiring the incredible medieval architecture, we love the maze of steps and passages that snake up and down these hilltop communities. Here's a selection from Assisi...
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These precariously perched cities are not for the fainthearted or weak kneed. Fortunately there is always a great cathedral at the very top, so it can be said that these steps are a stairway to heaven. But what goes up, must come down...
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And this lengthy tunnel in Assisi was built by the Romans nearly two thousand years ago...
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What would the tunnelers have made of the fact that today their tunnel is used as the entrance to the parking garage?

Confession time - we didn't really win the giant chocolate bear at Eurochocolate 2011. However, we did win the golden one that James is holding in the picture. But wait... it wasn't real gold, just gold foil disguising the fact that it was actually made of chocolate! The nightmare continues!

Posted by Hawkson 22:14 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Nightmare in Perugia

sunny 22 °C

Following our blog about Rome several readers commented that they were envious of us, however, we realise that they may not fully comprehend the terrible conditions we endure on our travels. Take our present predicament for example. We booked to stay for three nights in a 15th century restored palace in the medieval central square of Perugia, the capital of Umbria. The weather was gloriously warm and sunny as our train from Rome climbed slowly through the lush olive groves and vineyards of Chianti, affording us spectacular views of the mountains and the many honey-coloured medieval towns and villages perched high on the surrounding hills. This was Italy at its finest; a timeless sun-drenched landscape dotted with ancient monasteries and castles; a country brimming with history; a beautiful green landscape redolent of Canaletto and Giovanni Ghisolfil. So imagine our dismay when we arrived in the centre of ancient Perugia to find that our hotel (circa 1491) and all the other historic buildings had been entirely surrounded by a circus...
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Quite unwittingly we had walked into the midst of the biggest chocolate festival in Europe - Eurochocolate 2011 - and wherever we went we were forced to eat free samples of Europe's finest candies...
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There was chocolate of every kind everywhere we went...
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We even had to drink chocolate liquor, and there was special chocolate for some of our friends on Gabriola...
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Strong winds had forced us to cancel a projected hot-air balloon ride over the alien rock formations of Capadoccia, but here in Perugia we were bribed into a flight with a large piece of Sacha-Torte each...
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We were made to enter a competition to win the world's largest chocolate bear - and we won. Here we are receiving our prize...
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(Note that we accepted the small gold bear as we don't have room in our luggage for the big brown one).

Unfortunately, Eurochocolate 2011 is on throughout our stay in Perugia, but we've decided to put up with being constantly hassled into trying free samples. It's a tough job, but these young ladies can be very persuasive and we don't like to discourage them...
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Posted by Hawkson 03:18 Archived in Italy Comments (8)

Riding High in the Alps

sunny 24 °C

The road from Venice back to Cannes took us high into the Alps above Turin. The mountain views in this part of the world are absolutely breathtaking...

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Our lunch stop was in the small mountain city of Pinerole - This part of Italy used to be French and during the reign of King Louis X1V (the Sun King), in the mid 1600s the prison in Pinerole was the first place of incarceration of the prisoner known only as 'The Man in the Iron Mask.' This is one of the city gates through which the famous masked prisoner would have been led on his way into the prison...

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We took the high road through the Alps from Pinerole to the ancient French Citadel of Briancon, the highest city in France, and had some spectacular views of mountain villages along the way...

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And then we arrived at the Citadel of Briancon...

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This fortified city was a Roman stronghold 2000 years ago but the present castle was built in the 17th century to protect the trade route from Venice to Grenoble. Only 1100 people live her today so its streets were quiet...

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We had time to smell the roses...

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And to admire the beautiful architectural features of this little Alpine gem...

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Posted by Hawkson 09:53 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Venice

sunny 24 °C

You just have to love Venice - but the problem is that everyone loves Venice and the city is sinking under the weight. In a few weeks these canals will be thronged with gondolas carrying snap happy tourists from around the world...

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Even the Grand Canal is quiet at the moment as a lonely Gondolier gives his guests a ride...

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We like watching the Gondoliers and listening to them signing to their guests but we prefer riding the vaporett...

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These noisy water buses race around the canals frothing the water and pumping exhaust into the air, Yet, there is something exciting about riding these vessels. It may be the macho way that the drivers throw them around like toys, It could be that we are crammed in with the locals - all noisily gesticulating - as we bounce from one stop to the next. It could be that nothing says Venice more than the vaporetti - apart from the sight of the Campanile in St. Marks Square. However, the backwaters of Venice are equally fascinating...

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There are already plenty of tourists here at the moment but the narrow backstreets away from St. Marks Square are still the preserve of the locals.
When you haven't got a garden where else can you hang the laundry?,...

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Venice is a magical ancient city but if something isn't done soon about global sea level rise and the crush of tourists it will slowly sink under the Adriatic and will be lost forever.
We would love to say that you should visit this beautiful iconic city, although it's probably better if you don't. But if you do come - don't leave without trying the food...

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Posted by Hawkson 09:41 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

The 5 Best things About Cinque Terre

sunny 26 °C

The Cinque Terre, five towns, is a string of five fishing villages perched high on the Italian Riviera in the region Liguria, which until recently were linked only by mule tracks and accessible only by rail or water. The villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore and there is little to be said about them other than they are incredibly picturesque and high on most peoples' bucket list of Italy.
We stayed in Monterosso, the largest village and the only one with a beach...

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Many people choose to hike the mule tracks from village to village but we took the easier path on a small cruise boat...

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Here are some of the spectacular views of the clifftop villages...

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This is Manarola...

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And this is Corniglia...

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We finally arrived at Riomaggiore and climbed ashore to enjoy this pretty village...

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There is a good reason why the 5 villages of Cinque Terre are so popular with tourists. We are just lucky to be here in June before the hordes arrive.

Posted by Hawkson 22:33 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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