Cyclists already know Lake Garda as a premier cycling destination, but the design and installation of a cycle path that hangs from the craggy cliffs surrounding the lake is going to be a real game changer. At a projected cost of over $130 million, Garda in Bici (Garda by Bike) is being constructed nearly 200 feet above the lake to complete an 86 mile route that circumnavigates the lake. The first three-mile section is set to open this summer, and the entire course should be completed by 2021 which will connect three Italian regions: Lombardy, Veneto and Trento. The area surrounding Lake Garda is already popular with cyclists who ride off-road trails in the Dolomites and with the grueling TransAlp Bike Race.
The sleek steel and wooden route features elegant iron fences built as futuristic balconies with views of mountain peaks, boats sailing by and the picturesque villages that dot Lake Garda's shores. The engineering to complete the installation itself is daunting, at times using using helicopters, mountaineering experts and specialist riggers drilling into solid stone. Thick steel poles drilled into the cliffs support the board treadway, seemingly defying gravity.
The addition of this amazing structure to the many biking paths that already exist around Lake Garda makes this a must-cycle destination.
For more information about cycling in Lake Garda, Click Here.
Altamura is primarily known for its world famous crusty bread that lasts for weeks, but man doesn't live by bread alone. An occasional musical interlude helps, too...
The Teatro Mercadante of Altamura began a new history in the Pugliese city in 2014 after 25 years of closure, thanks to the patronage by Altamura entrepreneurs. The beautifully restored classical Italian theater hosts a mixture of opera, jazz, classical comedies, Avant-garde performances, modern plays and philharmonic concerts.
The theater is named after one of Altamura's favorite sons, Giuseppe Saverio Raffaele Mercadante (1795 -1870), an Italian composer, particularly of operas. After his death in 1870, the city of Altamura decided to build a new theater to honor his memory, starting construction in 1895 and finishing (amazingly) within six months! Originally, each person contributing to the effort, paid at least 5 lira which would represent "ownership" of the stage, a lamp, a door or a chair proportional to the amount paid.
The interior of the theater is horseshoe shaped, consisting of four tiers of boxes and stalls with a capacity of approximately 500 seats, which results in there being no bad seat in the house. The historic curtain, entitled Mirabile, is the work of the painter Montagano, depicting Frederick II of Swabia and the construction of the Altamura Duomo.
While Mercadante may not have retained the international celebrity of Gaetano Donizetti or Gioachino Rossini beyond his own lifetime, he composed as impressive a number of works. His development of operatic structures, melodic styles and orchestration contributed significantly to the foundations upon which Giuseppe Verdi built his dramatic technique.
Attending a play or concert in this wonderful Italian theater would be an experience that will add eternal memories to your Voyage to Puglia and Altamura...
The Leaning Tower of Pisa sits in the sprawling Piazza dei Miracoli, but there are also other amazing buildings to visit and admire. Construction on the Pisa Duomo (the Santa Maria Assunta cathedral) began in 1063 by the architect Buscheto, paid for with the spoils received fighting against the Muslims in Sicily. The structure is a mix of architectural styles, reflecting the influences of the varied merchants of the day: classical, Lombard-Emilian, Byzantine, and Islamic. The church was erected outside Pisa's defensive walls to show it's lack of fear from outside forces. The cathedral was consecrated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II, a member of the powerful Caetani family with links to both Pisa and Rome.
The Duomo is well worth a visit and contains noteworthy treasures, including the marble pulpit and bronze doors, both designed by Pisano.
The construction of the Baptistery of St. John (Battistero di San Giovanni) began in 1152 to replace an older baptistery, and was completed in 1363. The baptistry was designed by Diotisalvi, whose signature is found on two pillars inside the building, dated 1153. It is the largest baptistry in Italy, constructed with marble: 55 meters high with a diameter of 34 meters. It's architectural style is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic--the lower section Romanesque, the upper section Gothic.
The interior, although somewhat overwhelming, lacks decoration. The octagonal font in the center was created in 1246 by Guido Bigarelli da Como, the bronze sculpture of St. John the Baptist is by Italo Griselli, The pulpit is from 1255-1260 by Nicola Pisano, father of Giovanni Pisano, who produced the pulpit in the Duomo.
A little known fact: like the famous Leaning Tower, the Baptistry is also leaning, albeit just a tad 0.6 degrees toward the cathedral. One of the more interesting aspects of the Baptistry is its acoustics, illustrated in the video below...
Built in the 13th century, the Campo Santo (Holy Field) Monumentale is a cemetery built in the form of a cloisters, sitting alongside both the Baptistry and the Duomo in the Piazza dei Miracoli. Admittedly, it is the lesser-known of Pisa's monuments. Legend claims it was built upon a shipload of sacred soil from Calvary where Jesus was crucified. It is said that bodies buried here will rot and ascend to Heaven in just 24 hours. The burial ground lies over the ruins of the original baptistery of the church of Santa Reparata, a church that stood where the Duomo stands today.
Over the centuries, the most illustrious citizens of Pisa have been buried in Roman sarcophagi and more modest graves. The walls were decorated with 14th and 15th century beautiful frescoes which were damaged during WWII air raids, and are still being restored today. Some of the best frescoes to see include the Triumph of Death, the Last Judgment, and Stories of the Anchorites.
The cemetery itself is composed of three chapels: Chapel Ammannati is the oldest one; Chapel Aulla made by Giovanni della Robbia in 1518; and Chapel Dal Pozzo, which was commissioned by Carlo Antonio Dal Pozzo, the archbishop of Pisa, in 1594.
The Jewish Cemetery of Pisa
Just to the left of the Porta Nuova entrance to Piazza dei Miracoli, and just beyond the ancient gates of Porta del Leone lies the Cimitero Ebraico, the historic Jewish Cemetery of Pisa, one of the oldest cemeteries in the world still in use. It is separated from Campo Santo itself by the medieval walls, framed by the Torre di Santa Maria, the Lion's Gate and Torre di Catallo. If it weren't for the walls separating the two cemeteries, visitors would instantly realize that fully two-thirds of the northern boundary of Piazza dei Miracoli is sacred burial grounds for two religions.
In use since 1674, the current cemetery was preceded by at least three other Jewish cemeteries, all located outside the western walls of Pisa. The first official mention of the Jewish community in Pisa dates back to 859 AD, and thirteenth century engraved inscriptions can still be seen to the right of the Porta Nuova. Historians believe that the poorest people were buried at the foot of the walls with their names engraved on the wall, all at the same height.
Tombstones in the cemetery are unusual in that they have Hebraic inscriptions on one side and Spanish or Portuguese inscriptions on the other. This is because they were descendants of families expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century. They also are engraved with the date from the the Gregorian calendar and and the Hebraic date. Many tombs are broken or tilted, not unlike the Leaning Tower, because of the poor soil. In the older part of the cemetery, the stones are under tall trees, giving you the impression that you are well outside of the city limits and away from the tourist throngs. Another interesting aspect is the tombstones marking the graves of children who succumbed to the 17th century plague.
You will also find the graves of Jewish soldiers who fell during the First World War, Jews who were victims of fascist violence, German killings and Nazi-Fascist persecutions. A plaque on the wall of the mortuary chapel in the center of the cemetery lists names of those who were deported and disappeared in the extermination camps are also remembered by a plaque on the wall of the mortuary chapel in the center of the cemetery.
As many of you know, it is Jewish tradition to place small stones on the graves of the departed, and you will find many stones in this cemetery as well. Some say the reason is stones last forever, while flowers would fade away--the love for people who have passed on never fades. Others say the stones help hold part of their souls down to Earth, where we can still spend time with those who have left this world. As in the words to a popular song, the Kotel:
“There are men with hearts of stone, and stones with the hearts of men.”
If you visit, leave some stones for their souls and for your own.
To visit, contact the Jewish Community of Pisa.
Via Palestro, 24 - 56127 - Pisa - Tel and Fax: 050/542580
Piazza delle Vettovaglie
In the historic center of Pisa, Piazza delle Vettovagia's name describes its function... vettovaglie means provisions in Italian. Literally, its name means Supply Square. Unlike other town markets in Italy, which have only one day in which a piazza turns into a market, this Piazza becomes a local market each and every morning. Keep in mind, this is a market for where locals shop. Well worth a visit if you want to experience the real Pisa. Residents can buy fruit, vegetables and other food products. You will feel like you've been transported back to the Renaissance, surrounded on all sides by porticoes, the piazza boasting cafes, wine shops, butchers, fish-sellers, bakeries and spice shops. The Piazza is a great place to buy your provisions for the day, or for snacking or dining in a taverna under the portico. It is a particularly lively spot in the evenings where locals congregate, and because it is off the tourist radar, prices are more affordable.
Torre di Santa Maria and the Medieval Walls of Pisa
The Torre di Santa Maria is in the north-west side of the defensive city walls in the Piazza dei Miracoli and was constructed in 1155-1161. In 1499, during a siege by the Florentines, the tower was nearly destroyed and shortened to the level of the walls. It was reconstructed again in the 19th century. The walls themselves took nearly two centuries to complete, stretching nearly 4-1/2 miles with an average height of 36 feet, about 6 feet thick and are built using “Panchina” stone, a form of tufa stone.
After years of restoration, visitors may now attend walking tours on the Pisa walls on selected days. The three-kilometer path affords views of towers and ramparts, where you’ll also walk over the city's four gates: Porta Nuova in Piazza dei Miracoli, Porta a Lucca, Porta San Zeno and Porta Calcesana. Generally speaking, the walls are open from April till September. At the time of this writing, the cost is 3 Euros. Parts of the walls are actually handicapped-accessible via elevators (for short sections of the ramparts). You should be able to by tickets at the same places you buy tickets for the Leaning Tower. The hours are usually from 11am-2pm and 3pm to 8pm. (Please check with the Pisa Tourism Bureau for current dates and times. This is Italy, after all).
Click the map above to see it in high resolution.
No, the photo above was not take in Venice. It's Las Vegas--the Venetian Hotel and Casino. This photo has actually been mistakenly used to represent the real Venice in at least one well known article. It's all stage set, plastic, and chlorine treated pool blue water. “We are not going to build a ‘faux’ Venice,” said Sheldon Adelson, when he first announced plans for his Venetian resort and casino. “We’re going to build what is essentially the real Venice.”
I mean, sure, the London Bridge has been in Lake Havasu City, Arizona since 1964... but it's the actual London Bridge, bought and paid for from England, stone by stone, rebuilt into a modern little town spanning a small man-made lake. But this "real Venice" in Vegas in the middle of Sin-City is all smoke and mirrors--plastic ones at that. Many who have been to the real Venice would tell Mr. Adelson, “You didn’t get the smell right”, (a compliment to Venezia).
Venezia is real. It's history. It's gritty and more than just a little wet during the winter. You can get lost in its back streets in proximity and in time. Vegas is Vegas. It's for gamblers and posers or worse. It for shoppers looking for designer labels or tourist kitsch. It's a casino, a huge hotel and a shopping mall. It's for the lazy tourist.
It's not for real Voyagers.
In this Phony-Baloney Venice, a visitor can pull into the Doge’s Palace driveway and in one glance see St. Mark’s Square with its campanile, the twin columns topped by Saint Theodore and the winged lion of St. Marks, the Campanile, the Sansoviniana Library, the Ca’ d’Oro palace, and both the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto. There are no driveways in the real Venezia. The Palazzo Ducale (the Doge's real name) has gondola slips just outside in the canal--no driveway.
In the Vegas's Venetian Hotel, the gondoliers have to actually audition as singers and hired as entertainers. This is the primary concern when hiring a phoney-gondolier. In the real Venezia, gondoliers follow a 900 year tradition of fathers to sons (and recently, daughters), essentially being born into the profession. They have to take strict boating exams and are expert in both navigation and weather. Although some are know to have good singing voices, it's not a requirement to get a gondolier's license. In Vegas, their gondo-tainers wear walkie-talkies, boom microphones and perform on a schedule.
In the real Venice, one has to wander, explore, take a gondola or water-taxi perhaps to other islands in the lagoon, or walk the back streets and canals to see all the mysteries and wonders the ancient city offers the real Voyager. That's what real Voyages are... a slow, purposeful exploration. Soaking in the light and smells and colors and tastes and sounds and textures of the environment. There's nothing phony about Italy or Venice.
We suggest turning your back on places like these re-created phony vacation spots, including all things Disney, unless you have 4-7 year old kids. And even then, wouldn't you rather have your child experience walking in real dinosaur prints (yes, in Italy), seeing where real cavemen lived (Italy again), exploring real castles (everywhere in Italy), looking into the crater of a real volcano (Italy), seeing where real gladiators fought to their deaths (yep, Italy) and experiencing real snow-capped mountains (of course, in Italy)? And don't get us started on the authenticity of the food and the people... OK, and don't forget gelato for the kids.
Come on... get real and get to the real Italy.
Castello Scaligero in the commune of Sirmione sits on a thin peninsula jutting out into the southern end of Lake Garda. Essentially, the ramparts of the castle function as a small fortified harbor for what was the Scaligera fleet. The castle has a de facto moat (the surrounding lake) and even a drawbridge through which visitors enter. There are 146 steps which take you up to ramparts of the walls which look down upon the little harbor. There is a small walkway around which bowmen would be stationed to ward off any intruders from the lake in addition to defensive towers.
Castello Scaligero is perhaps the best preserved castle from medieval times in Italy, constructed in the middle of the 13th century on top of the remains of an ancient Roman fortress. Taking over a century to build, two courtyards and an other fortifications were also added. In 1405 the Republic of Venice took control and strengthened the castle even further.
If you decide to visit, consider that in high season Lake Garda can get very busy. Still, there is so much to do in the surrounding area, even water parks and campgrounds if you're so inclined:
Sirmione Historic Center - After visiting the Castello, take a stroll around the old town of Sirmione. There are shops, restaurants, gelaterias, pizzerias and beautiful architecture. Be sure to take in a passaggiata (stroll) at dusk to Piazza Callas and its pier that juts out into the lake.
Archaeological site of Grotte di Catullo - Ruins of a sizable Roman villa on a peninsula with an olive grove & a nearby archeological museum. Can get crowded in high season but worth a visit.
Camping Village San Francisco
Mantua & Peschiera del Garda - Mantua is a wonder town surrounded by manmade lakes which create a huge moat. Peschiera del Garda is a "water" town--surrounded on all sides by the River Mincio which connects to the lake.
Lake Garda Cruises
GVI Travel Tip: Best visited in the off season.
Here's a tip for anyone wanting to walk the Via Krupp in Capri:
Although the adjacent Augustus Gardens is open and worth a visit for its wonderful views of the Faraglioni rocks on the one side and the Bay of Marina Piccola on the other, the Via Krupp pathway (with its drop of 300 feet) has been closed for decades due to a danger of falling rocks. You can still look down onto the Via Krupp from up above. Perhaps it's a blessing that the Via Krupp is closed... if you went down, you would then have to get back up!
In addition to the Augustus Gardens, you can visit the Charterhouse of St. Giacomo, built in 1371, one of the oldest structures on Capri. The former monastery and cloisters today houses a High School, the Diefenbach Museum and, during the summer, functions as venue for concerts and cultural events.
From Capri's Piazzetta: It is about 1/4 mile walk along Via Vittorio Emanuele, Via Federico Serena, and, finally, Via Matteotti.
Click HERE FOR WALKING MAP
Entry: 1 Euro.
Open from 1 March to 15 November - 9AM–7:30PM
Free for children under 11
Entry for both the Augustus Garden and Charterhouse of St. Giacomo - 3 Euro
The best times to visit are early morning and late afternoon, when the gardens are less crowded.
One of the most beautiful towns we visited in Puglia was Polignano al Mare. We walked the old historic center, took lots of photos, and were amazed by their beach, hugged by rocky cliffs of the Saracen Cove on either side. One of the most unusual offerings is the Grotta Palasezze, a restaurant built into a large grotto hanging just meters over the sea. If you frequent pretty much any social media sites about Italy, I'm certain you've seen photos of the place. It's definitely jaw-droppingly beautiful.
To be honest, Voyaging with an eleven-year old, we decided not to go there for dinner. You see, I had researched this place before our Voyage ever started. Not simply because we thought it wasn't kid-friendly (it really isn't), and not because our (then, 11 year-old) son Lucas wouldn't enjoy it. In actuality, he has a very sophisticated palette and handles him self very well whenever we go to posh places. We're always given compliments about him--ever since he was a toddler. There were two other main reasons...
One is the price. This place is very expensive. You're paying for their uniqueness and the view. They charge €10 per person for cover. They'll charge you €50 for a €10 bottle of regional wine which you can usually find in a local alimentari for around €6, but the rest of the wine list will cost from €100 - €600 a bottle. (We tend to like moderately priced, good wines and never pay over-inflated restaurant prices when we can avoid it). You'll pay another €45 or so for a single serving aperitivo. Then another €45 for la primo of pasta or risotto and €45 per secondi--fish or meat entrees. And be careful about surcharges ("market price") for things like shrimp and prawns (up to €150 a pound or more!) If you want to have a six plate tasting menu instead, that'll set you back €140 each. For dessert, a semifreddo is about €15.
So, given the exchange rate when we were there, if we did three tastings, one bottle of mineral water, desserts and no wine, we still would have spent over $600!
The second reason we opted no to go? This place is way too formal for our tastes. I mean, the waiters usually are dressed better than the clientele. There is an old-school dress code in place here... but the odd thing is, they really don't enforce it (for nicely dressed people), otherwise they'd be turning away most of the more casually dressed tourist clientele. Just don't show up wearing shorts. They will turn you away with a real attitude, reservation or not.
This is the new millennium, after all. "Dress codes" are pretty much meaningless, so why should the wait staff have to dress so darned stuffy, too? It's damned off-putting. Besides, if I'm going to be paying such over-inflated prices, I should be able to dress any damned way I want. In reality, you get an odd mix of tourists dressed nicely but casually, mixed in with a few locals dressed for their "bella figura" having dinner for a special event--anniversary or whatever.
And in the end, there are two things that prove this is an overpriced place marketed to foreign tourists: The menus are printed in both Italian and English--a sure sign of a tourist joint. Secondly (according to many online reviewers, and perhaps most important of all), the staff tends to rush you along through your meal, unlike most ristoranti. It's the Italian custom never to rush through a meal--especially when you're in a restaurant. Most local places expect to have only one cover per table each night. People may take 4 hours to enjoy their meal and conversation. At Grotta Palazzase they are trying to move you out of the way so they can have at least two sittings each evening, perhaps as many as four. Not very Italian of them, is it?
As it turns out, we still enjoyed the views of the sea at a chic bistro-pizzeria at the other end of the little bay, and had wonderful wine, fantastic aperitivi, the best pizzas in all of Italy and amazing desserts--all for around €60 for the three of us--at Terazza Pizzeria.
In the end, if you really want to have the experience of dining in Polignano al Mare, try the Terazza Pizzeria (very affordable, casual), or Il Bastione (affordable, casual) with an outdoor dining terrace hanging on the cliff above the Cove. It has a dramatic view of the Cove and its houses clinging to the cliff with a more affordable and diversified menu. (How does €60 for two sound?) The views will stay with you forever--along with most of your cash! If one compares the photos of the dishes served in Il Bastione and Grotta Palasezze, you'll see the quality looks very similar. This is Puglia, after all... most places serve wonderful food--especially from the sea.
Il Bastione, above - Grotta Palasezze, below
But if you're really hell bent on eating dinner in a cave, I suggest taking a drive to Matera, the Sassi city, where most of the restaurants in the Sassi district are in caves. No sea view, but still a great, romantic experience, especially if you take a passeggiata (stroll) down to the Piazza along the edge of the gorge at sunset.
When I first wrote about this odd looking Crosswalk to Nowhere, I thought it was just that--a crosswalk that came from nowhere and went nowhere. There was an older house on the other side of the old wall. On the other side of the road was an impenetrable hedge with a field beyond. This whole installation must have cost tens of thousands of Euros. It has its own solar powered street lamp, signs on posts, speed bump and fancy reflective painting. There are no intersections here. A straight road behind and the curve up ahead. Vineyards and farmland. The location was just outside of San Gimignano.
But recently I discovered (while looking around on Google Earth) that I was all wrong about what this was. You see, this is a speed bump, usually installed in pairs in the rural countryside to warn drivers that they are coming into a tiny hamlet--of which there are many in Italy. One is installed on either boundary of the hamlet warning drivers to be alert for the possibility of pedestrians (farm workers, mostly) crossing the road ahead. In other installations, only one is in the middle, with wide white bars painted on the roadway from either direction leading toward the speed bump.
I thought this was a waste of money, but now that I know their real use, I think it's a sensible idea. If I lived in a tiny borgo like this, I wouldn't want drivers speeding through at full speed, either.
Learning Italian should be easy for me. After all, I'm full blooded Italian. Well, my parents never spoke Italian at home. I remember them telling me that when they got married back in the Thirties, they wanted an "American house"--English speaking. So I never learned my mother's tongue--Neapolitan--or my father's tongue, southern dialect from Molfetta. Sure, I learned a few words here and there... mostly slurred curse words or Americanized words used by Italian-Americas, like bakhous, meaning outhouse or bathroom or moppine, meaning dishcloth. But I was determined I would learn some real Italian before I left for Italy. We all needed to learn some. Initially, we had two options. Lisa picked up the Italian Rosetta Stone software and we already had Pimsleur CDs.
Rosetta was expensive--when we purchased the disc set it was nearly $400! For that money I expected to do the whole course, whether on the computer or on my android device. And consider that the mobile version is often dumbed down. It really made it impossible to use the mobile version of Rosetta while I was taking my weekend baths. (A great place to practice a language).
Another small annoyance was that Rosetta at times had trouble recognizing words as we spoke (on the PC we used a headset with microphone). I mean, I know that I'm saying something simple like "bambino" correctly, but sometimes it asked me to repeat 2-3 times until it understood what I was saying. I had a very good headset on a high end computer with decent sound card, so that wasn't the problem.
There was also a third way we studied Italian: Google Translate.
As long as you are signed into your Google account (Gmail) you're good to go, with a phrasebook (the favorites Star needs to be clicked) to save all you're more important words and phrases. There is a small star that when pressed will save the translation to your very own custom phrasebook. I kept adding phrases that I thought I would need. For instance, I did sections on cursing and fending off potential crooks, health, food, and general conversational stuff. etc. Lisa and I would sit with our Kindles at night and test each other from the phrasebook lists. You can even have Translate speak to you so you can hear how the word or phase is pronounced, although the voice is always the same woman, albeit a bit over-enunciated.
You can get a translation either way... English to Italian or the other way around in case you've come across some Italian that you needed translated (click the reversing arrows in the center). In fact, often I would research Italian web sites that Google didn't list a "translate this page" link (a pretty handy thing by itself), or when the translation tool wasn't functioning. I'd copy the full text from an article, paste it into the Italian side of Translate and presto! English. Ok, so the translations for full bodies of text were not that great, but at least I got the gist of the article I was reading. The best thing about Google Translate is the price. Free.
In the last year or so, I've been using yet another tool to hone my Italian skills... Duolingo. This is a fantastic online tool to help learn many languages--not just Italian. You can set your level when you begin, then take a quick test before you sign up for an account so you--and Duolingo--can track your progress.
I just love this program--especially the mobile app. I love the way I can work on lessons on my PC and switch to my tablet or phone and never lose track of the progress I've made. It helps if you have a microphone on your PC, or you have the option of skipping the pronunciation questions if your mic isn't hooked up. There are photos to match to words and vice versa. There are English words and phrases to translate to Italian, and also in reverse. When Italian is spoken to you, you can click to have it repeated. When you have to speak a phrase or word, it will give several tries for you to say it correctly. There are so many types of methods used, you never get bored. I can't recommend Duolingo enough... and get this: It's FREE.
In the end we all learned some Italian--enough to get by in restaurants, while traveling by train, and even enough to have basic conversations with people we met during our Voyage. Lucas was a bit shy but spoke perfectly when he did speak Italian. Lisa remembered a lot but face to face had a hard time coming up with the right Italian words. I did better, perhaps because I had learned some French years ago and wasn't afraid to dive in and sound Italian (I think my accent is pretty decent. Pat pat, on my own back.) Of course there were times it was difficult to have in depth conversations but I still managed to talk to a lot of different kinds of people... young, old, shopkeepers, artisans, etc. Learning a language is a skill that I wish they would push a bit more in our schools. Many Europeans know some English, but very few Americans know enough practical French, Italian or German. In fact, I was disappointed when I discovered that our school district doesn't even offer French or Italian--both were options when I went to high school. Too bad... Dommage... Peccato.
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