Category Archives: Italy

Genoa’s Beautiful Ancient City

It’s difficult not to be envious of the Italians: they’ve got beautiful cities and great food in every corner of their country. It’s frustrating, and what’s worse is you can’t be particularly angry at them for not appreciating their country – they do; the Italians are immensely proud of their cultural heritage and their cuisine. Bastards.

Genoa’s just another one of those beautiful, ancient, well-preserved, great-to-visit cities that appear to be around every corner in Italy, and, like all of the others, any traveller should visit at the first opportunity. Again, with most of these cities, half of the attraction is not the sights in themselves, but the entire city in itself: the whole place is an attraction, and everybody knows it. The site of Genoa probably originated as a trade base for the Phoenicians in about 1000BC, but came into prominence 500-or-so years later when the harbour encouraged an ancient Greek city to spring up under the name of Stalia.

what to see in genoa

After the fall of Rome, Genoa became a city-state republic and the excellent harbour encouraged trade and commerce, making Genoa one of the richest cities of the Middle Ages. This is reflected in the enormous construction projects that occurred at the time. Genoa battled its major rival, Venice, throughout the middle ages; but steadily lost it’s place in the world after the Black Death was imported into Europe in 1347. After being conquered and claimed by various other countries, Genoa finally found its place in the modern world with the formation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Before that, though, Genoa had a hero, and we all love hero stories, don’t we? Here it is.

3 days in genoa

Sights in Genoa, apart from, well, the entirety of the old city, include various Cathedrals and the must-sees Piazza de Ferrari and the Galleria Nazionale. The Gallaria was once the home of one of Genoa’s most powerful families, the Spinolas. It’s packed full of Renaissance art and is a stunningly beautiful building. They just don’t make family dynasties like they used to, do they? Other sights include The Museo delle Culture del Mondo, which houses various curiosities that the Italian traveller Capitano Enrico D’Albertis brought back from his expeditions, including a stuffed platypus and a piece of the Great Wall of China. I’m always very admirable of these first travellers – it was a lot harder to get around then than it is now, and I always wonder what adventures they got up to.

what to eat in genoa

What else is there? Oh, yes, of course, the food. Italian food’s always good, wherever you go, but Genoa has a few quirks that makes it special. Unlike the south of the country, where pizza rules the roof, here pasta’s a favourite, and they make fresh pasta here perfectly. Other dishes that everyone should try are the stockfish soups and pastas that are common here. The walnut sauce that’s popular in the region is delicious, too, and it doesn’t get any better than when it’s using Italian walnuts.

genoa best place to visit

Whatever you do in Genoa, make sure to visit the Teatro della Tosse, where Casanova once stood. It’s a lovely building, but then again, you’re in Italy. Every building’s lovely. I’ve tried, and I can’t stop being jealous of the Italians, even if I can’t justify it into something else. So now they’ve made me feel bad, too. Double bastards.

Italian Cities

The wonderful thing about travelling in Europe, as I’ve said before, is that so much can change in such little space and with, therefore, minimum expense. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Italy – Venice, Rome, Naples, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Verona and others all vie for space in this article, and each one has its merits and quirks. They, along with others that I have shamefully neglected to mention, all are worth travelling to. And they’re all within just one country!

The reason that the Italian cities are each so individual and special is simple: history. After the fall of Rome, Italy fragmented and took a few hundred years to form various city-states; comparable with the city-states of ancient Greece which came almost a thousand years before. These city states dominated Italy throughout the later period of the middle ages, and became immensely rich through trade, capitalism and scientific freedom, which helped drive the continent into the Renaissance. Not for the first time, Italians were responsible for an enormous change of affairs throughout Europe.

Because of the wealth and relative political freedom that the Italians had managed to nurture, each city soon became, well, a city – enormous construction projects were undertaken, as they always are in times of freedom and financial health, and each city was developed and designed by different architects, each with their own flair and style – there was very little documentation at the time to show an architect how to design a building. In some respects they were freer than they are now to do what they liked. The result is, in every Italian city, astonishing.

That’s enough history, I think, but if you want to learn some more, here’s some Wikipedia articles on the history of Italy, The Renaissance, and the Italian city states.

As far as places to visit go, I don’t have enough space in an entire article to list them all, let alone one that I’ve half-filled with the last 1500 years of Italian history. But, every city I’ve mentioned has so much to see and do – have a look around the web and see what you like the look of. After you’ve finished tantalising yourself with places to visit, then you will need to consider places to stay. If you want to really experience living like an Italian then rent an apartment in the heart of the city. Trust me when I say this is a better and often cheaper option than chancing it with a hotel.

A Guide to Vienna

A red-haired girl and I recently skipped the length on London bridge, arm in arm. I can’t imagine it meant much to either of us, but it was a lot of fun. She was from Vienna, though she didn’t like it as much as London. Here’s a guide.

Vienna is yet another one of those pretty, classical, Baroque cities that are so common in that region of the world; but Vienna does it even better than most. Every year since 2005, Vienna has been the number one choice for companies and charities for international conferences and meetings. It’s not just because of the time zone – Vienna’s a great place for anyone to visit, and enjoys a prime position right in the centre of Europe. Passing through Vienna’s a lot of fun.

Vienna is a city of culture. Proper, sophisticated European culture – not the watered down stuff in the States or the 40-proof stuff you’ll find in Asia. Real culture, at a respectable 12.5%, aged carefully in ancient barrels and allowed to breathe before anyone touches it. Celebrate that by doing something that you wouldn’t normally do – go to the opera, or the ballet, or see Goethe’s Faust performed in one of the many, many classical venues that are dotted around the city. Vienna’s the place to do it, without any doubt – it’s known as the City of Music, after all. And you packed your good clothes for something like this, right? Come on. At the very least visit an art gallery.

The performances and culture, although immensely important, are nowhere near the limit of what Vienna has to offer. The architecture of Vienna’s old town is stunning; with Art Noveau, Romanesque, and Baroque architecture featuring prominently. Older buildings are more medieval in character and the change of styles between each building is easy, fluid and even a little flirtatious. Am I getting a bit artsy here? Sorry, Vienna does that to people.

Vienna isn’t all about the old, either. Areas around the old town are all too keen to bring in the new, and Viennese nightlife is some of the best you can find anywhere in Europe. U4 is one of the oldest of the new clubs, and it’s a testament to management that it’s managed to keep up with the times. Burlesque nights are becoming a popular scene in Vienna; make sure you don’t get left behind. Besides, who doesn’t love a burlesque night from time to time?

Historically, Vienna’s an interesting place, and has had a central role in European history for centuries. It’s worth visiting a few museums and exhibits whilst you’re there, and as there’s such a vast choice, the single one I’d suggest (and trust me: it hurts to choose) is the Sigmund Freud museum, which is, of course, fascinating. Also make sure to visit the illustrious university of Vienna, which was once the site of the Vienna Circle; the only place in history where a group of philosophers have ever managed to work together positively, even in a limited capacity. The Vienna Circle had an enormous and profound effect on 20th century philosophy, and is just another example of the amazing things that have happened in Vienna over the years.

Wherever you go in Vienna, look out for a girl with bright red hair. Tell her somebody says “hi”. Thanks.

A Dive into Rome

In a few weeks time, the smallest state in the world will also become the busiest, as news crews and worshipers from all over the world pour into St Peter’s Square, to witness puffs of black smoke signaling the Papal Conclave. So how does the process work and what can you expect if you decide to visit Rome during this time?

Lightning striking the Vatican

On the Plus Side
One thing you can be sure of, if you have the patience to stand in St Peter’s Square, is that you will be watching history unfold. The resignation of a Pope is something that hasn’t happened in more than 600 years. If you weren’t in the square and didn’t see the lightning strike on the day Benedict XVI officially declared his intention to resign, you can at least see history made with the election of a new Pope. The last election was 11 years ago now and as most Pope’s stick around until their death, you only have a handful of chances in your lifetime to see this happen.

Papal Conclave in Rome

On the Negative Side
Electing a new Pope can take quite a long time. So long in fact that in the past it wasn’t unknown to lock the Cardinals in the voting chamber and tear off the roof of the building to speed up there voting. Given that this isn’t an option anymore, you’re going to need quite a lot of patience if you are going to stick this one out and witness the white smoke appear from the chimney.

new papal conclave

As hundreds of thousands of people pour into Rome to witness the Conclave, the price of everything starts to rise. This is especially so for hotels, which you can almost guarantee are pretty much fully booked. The other thing is that Vatican City for tourists pretty much shuts down, so if you had dreams about staring at the roof of the Sistine Chapel you can forget about them.

Italy’s Hidden Gem: Puglia

When you think of Italy a few things probably come to mind: ancient Roman ruins, Renaissance art, Mediterranean beaches… But if you’ve ever been to Italy, food tops your list, propelled by memories of exuberant Italians shoveling third, fourth and fifth helpings onto your plate, insisting that you didn’t really like it or you’d have eaten more.

Italy is known the world over for its refined, earthy food and its boisterous, charming hospitality, and nowhere is this on fuller display than Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot. Ask an Italian where to find the best food in the country, and he’ll tell you his mother’s kitchen. But, after some prodding, he’ll likely concede Puglia is a close second.

Delicious Italian Cheese

Pulgia is dominated by agriculture and has been for centuries, giving rise to truly local delicacies like creamy soft burrata cheese, which is so fresh it has to be eaten within 24 hours. Pulgia’s rugged landscape is perfect for raising sheep, giving rise to some of the best sheep milk cheeses in the world like pecorino and sheep milk ricotta.

Great Walks around Puglia

But the region also produces Durham wheat and many fresh vegetables. Handmade half-moon shaped pasta, called orecchiette, is often prepared with flavorful cherry tomatoes, spicy broccoli rabe, or tender baby artichokes. Each town you visit in Puglia has its own specialty, providing ample incentive to explore this beautiful province.

Tasty Italian CheesePuglia

I travelled around Puglia for 10 ten days with my Italian cousins in car, eating our way through their favorite towns and villages. My absolute favorite spot was Ostuni, but then again I am a carnivore.

Beautiful Sunset, Puglia

Ostuni is full of tiny butcher shops that use traditional wood fired ovens to roast locally raised meats, including perfectly spiced pork sausages, juicy cuts of beef and succulent lamb. You point out which meat you want and grab a seat at the communal table at the front of the shop to await your feast. It’s casual, incredibly delicious and cheap.

Tasty Italian meay

Food with the family, Puglia

Tired Kids

Another culinary (and visual) highlight is the nearby town of Alberobelo. This town is slightly touristic due to its stunning white stucco houses topped with pointed roofs made of perfectly stacked grey stones. They look like hobbit homes, only built with characteristic Italian craftsmanship and style.

Beautiful little restaurants

Quirky Restaurants

While you’re there, be sure to stop by Trullo di Oro, a restaurant that’s been a local favorite for hundreds of years. This is the perfect place to try burratta and orecchiette; and make sure you order the battered deep fried shrimp scampi stuffed in zucchini blossoms. Seriously, you’ll eat more than you ever thought possible. It’s the type of restaurant where you tell your waiter “I cant possibly eat any more,” and he offers you a little fresh fruit to cleanse the palate, and then brings out a massive cornucopia of sliced fruit on ice.

Great Views

Great restaurants in Puglia

Vieste is also a must see. The white staccato town is picturesquely situated atop a cliff jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea. It’s simply magical. If you’re with a special someone, take him or her to Ristorante I can’t think of a more romantic spot.

Great underground restaurantsNearby Vieste is Monte Sant’ Angelo, which is definitely worth a stop. Check out Monte Gargano, a 12th century Catholic sanctuary built deep underground inside a cave.

Puglia is best seen by car, the countryside is stunning and there are plenty of worthwhile stops along the way. To visit the places I’ve recommended, you’ll need about a week, but you could easily spend two or three happy and full weeks exploring this delectable Italian province.