Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts

Tuesday 10 February 2015

When to visit Uffizi gallery?

I have been to Florence, Italy quite a few times before. I like it there, but M. absolutely loves it. Actually it is definitely one of her favourite cities, if not the favourite one.

We know the city quite well and we have visited the majority of its many sights before. The city has many museums worth visiting, but the most famous of them all is definitely the Uffizi museum. Apart from the Vatican museums (well, technically Vatican is not Italy), I suppose Uffizi is the most important Italian museum.

No matter how strange this might sound, we never got to visit the Uffizi museum before. On some occasions we did not have enough time (it can take most of an afternoon to slowly walk through it) and on other occasions we just did not feel like queuing in front of the entrance for hours.
If you are really into art or if you plan your visit in a company of a knowledgeable guide, many hours might pass before you find yourself on the streets of Florence again.

No matter what, it is always good to plan your visit ahead of time. This is even more essential if you happen to be in Florence in peak tourist season - i.e. spring and summer months. You can expect fewer crowds in winter months. In any case I suggest you book your tickets on-line directly through the Uffizi museum homepage or if you plan to hire a guide, it is probably even better to book through one of many tour agencies. Some even offer skip the line option that is well worth considering.

This time we were in the city just during the Firenze Marathon weekend and we did not know how many people to expect queueing in front of the entrance of the museum. Usually we explore museums on our own, but since we were really happy with a guided tour we did in Rome, we decided to look for a similar tour company in Florence. Luckily we found out Skip the Line: Uffizi Gallery Tour is on offer by City Wonders tour company.

Simply put, if you choose one of the Skip the Line options, it is always the right time to visit Uffizi!

This is why we booked our Uffizi tour through them and were not disappointed. Chiara, our guide, took excellent care of the small group. Her knowledge on the extensive collection of artefacts housed in the museum is admirable. It was quickly evident she enjoys every aspect of her work and also knows many interesting stories about numerous museum pieces. With sharing many details from the lives of artists as well as the people depicted in various works Chiara helped us see the exhibition from a much wider perspective.

I think it is fair to say that after 2 hours everyone in our group was really satisfied with the result of the tour. Although our brains were already overflowing with information, M. and I decided to stay in the museum for a bit longer and stroll through the parts we enjoyed the most for the second time. We also seized the opportunity to take another look at a stunning view of the Ponte Vecchio from the top floor of the gallery.

If it has been a while since your last visit to the Uffizi, there is another thing worth noting... At the moment they allow use of all kinds of cameras inside the gallery (as long as you do not use flash). So if your camera was the only thing you were missing during your last visit, maybe it is time to pay them another visit.

We were glad we opted for this tour and can easily recommend it to anyone. If we visited Uffizi on our own we could hardly get so much out of it.
Thanks again, Chiara!

Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal them all in a much more flattering resolution.


Wednesday 19 March 2014

On the slopes of Civetta ski resort


Friday 14 March 2014

A glass of wine in a traditional trattoria

Every time we find ourselves in this area of Dolomites, we make stop for a glass of wine at the same place. It is a small restaurant - trattoria, in the village of Mezzocanale. It is called Trattoria da Ninetta.

From the outside it does not look all that special, but there is a very pleasant, local atmosphere waiting for you inside. They offer mostly local dishes for a reasonable price. When you add a glass of good wine you have a winner.

An old fireplace is the main attraction of the place in my opinion. The massive stone fireplace stands in the middle of a cosy seating area. At its side there is a stand with a number of iron tools for poking the fire and keeping it at just the right size to warm up the place.

When we stop at this place and order a glass of Cabernet Franc I always get the feeling my skiing vacation has finally began. It was no different this year.


Wednesday 12 March 2014

Another ski season coming to a close

Even though my friends keep posting photos and videos of their recent ski adventures, spring is definitely coming to town. It might take a while for all that snow to melt high up in the mountains but at lower altitudes spring flowers are already blooming.

Despite of all that, my next few posts are not going to be about spring. Instead they will feature a report from our annual skiing vacation in Italian Dolomites (you can find previous reports if you follow the Dolomites label in the right column).

We enjoyed another great week in the snowy mountains of northern Italy. We had a few sunny days, then clouds rolled in and brought some snow. After that the skies cleared again for a while.

There was more than enough snow - we actually had to skip our last day of skiing due to massive amounts of fresh snow. It was so bad they did not even start the lifts for a couple of days.

Since we obviously were not able to ski throughout the last day, we decided to leave a day early. Well... as it turned out instead of leaving a day early, we left a day and a half later.

The end of our week was marked with constant snowfall. On one particular morning a look out of the bedroom window revealed more than a metre of fresh snow. It has been a long time since I saw people shovelling snow from their rooftops.

You can see a morning photo of my car below. I was driving it the previous evening and yes, it was all clear of snow at that time.

In spite of everything, I can say we were quite lucky compared to thousands of people a few valleys to the north. In addition to heaps of snow, they were stuck in their homes without electricity.

Those snow avalanches can definitely cause a lot of trouble. Although power lines were not broken, avalanches blocked all roads going out of the valley we were staying in. In spite of some army troops helping with clearing the mess, roads were being blocked again as soon as they had managed to clear them.

In addition to all that the weather forecast did not look very promising either - it was more snow for the whole next week.

As luck would have it, during our second day of waiting it stopped snowing and in the afternoon when we were already making plans for the next day of waiting, the information about an open road arrived. In a matter of minutes we got our stuff together and left.

Since the road was almost clear of snow our ride was pretty smooth and uneventful. As we got home to Slovenia we saw the power of nature in another form.
It was sleet, which would cripple half of the country in the following days...


Wednesday 11 September 2013

Welcoming committee at the top of Montaž

For more information about climbing Jôf di Montasio/Montaž and some more gorgeous photos, you can check out my previous post.

Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal them all in a much more flattering resolution.


Wednesday 4 September 2013

Alpine ibexes of Jôf di Montasio

This time of year is great for hiking and mountain climbing here in the Alps. It takes quite some time for the snow to melt on higher peaks, which makes late summer days perfect for mountaineering. In this period sun is not so strong any more and weather is usually quite predictable.

Unfortunately in the past years I have been neglecting this very popular outdoor activity, but lately I have made it to the top of some quite impressive mountains in and near Slovenia. This time we hopped just across the border into Italy...

The first mountaineering challenge after a long while was Jôf di Montasio (Špik nad Policami or Montaž in Slovene), just across the Italian border. With 2,752 metres (9,029 ft) it is the second highest peak of the Julian Alps, surpassed only by Mount Triglav (the highest Slovenian mountain).
This is a guarantee for a nice view at the top. Although on the day of our visit visibility was not perfect, we were not complaining.

The definite highlight of this climb were numerous Alpine ibexes (Capra ibex) we saw on the way. They seemed quite used to mountaineers and let us get as close as a few metres. Females seemed to be the most curious.

If those ibexes alone are not a good enough reason for a visit, there are also other treats waiting for an unsuspecting visitor. Pastures below the mountain are full of Alpine Marmots (Marmota marmota). They were still asleep during our climb, but greeted us with loud whistles on the way down. Unfortunately they are quite a bit shyer compared to those ibexes.
In fact there are so many holes dug by these cute creatures all over the place that a careful step is highly recommended.

Near the starting point of the hike (Pecol) there is also a cottage where one can refresh after returning from the top. Amongst other things they offer a wast selection of dairy products. Most of the cheeses sold in the shop are made right there, but they also offer a variety of products from other nearby producers. Go check it out - they will be happy to give you a taste before you buy anything.

Despite everything I mentioned above, climbing Montaž is not for everyone. There is an impressive via ferrata waiting in the steep side of the mountain, the highlight of which is a 60 metres high Pipan's ladder. If you do not deal with heights all that well, this might not be a perfect choice for you.

Although I did not feel a need for using a harness it can come in handy - some of the sections are quite drafty. However, due to falling rocks, use of a helmet is a must. The rocks are very friable and since the side of the mountain is practically vertical in some sections, it is very easy to send an unintentional surprise towards the bottom. Even if there are no climbers above you, there are many ibexes that can also send an avalanche of rocks your way.

From a parking lot to the top there is about 3 hours of a relatively slow climb. The first half of it is a hike up to the base of the mountain side (a section of pastures is followed by a large scree). The second half is climbing the via ferrata section and then a short walk across the ridge to the metal cross set on the top of Jôf di Montasio.

If you enjoyed the photo material in this post, you should probably also check out another photos-only post from the top of Montaž.

Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal them all in a much more flattering resolution.


Monday 29 July 2013

Ostia Antica - the harbour city of ancient Rome

If during a visit to Rome you wish to escape the city bustle for a day, a magnificently preserved old city awaits not far away. It is located just next to the today's seaside destination town of Ostia. It is located 30 kilometres south-west from Rome.

It is interesting that a port town is not located by the sea. Ostia once definitely was a seaport, but due to silting and a changed course of the river Tiber it now lies 3 kilometres away from the sea.

Ostia got its name from its position at the mouth (ostium) of the river Tiber. This was perfect for various trading activities but not so much from the defensive point of view.

The city was founded in 7th century BC but the oldest preserved buildings currently visible are from the 3rd century BC. The downfall of once thriving harbour city started with recurring pirate sackings. After a naval battle between Christian and Saracens in 9th century AD the remaining inhabitants finally had enough of it and moved to a nearby city of Gregoriopolis.

The place is massive - it stretches for well over a kilometre in length! One should definitely keep that in mind while setting the viewing pace. It took us a whole afternoon to more-or-less walk through it. Whenever we ventured into one of many side streets there was an interesting surprise waiting for us just around the corner.

Among the highlights of this site are many ancient buildings, magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics - all of them nicely preserved. The sheer size of the place was a definite highlight for me. Apart from that the state of buildings and mosaics is truly amazing.

Apart from beautiful mosaics there are also many buildings one should definitely not miss. These are my personal favourites in no particular order:

  • The Amphitheatre of Ostia Antica definitely deserves your attention. It is a perfect spot for a midday snack (on a cloudy day).
  • Just next to the theatre there is also an ancient market full of beautiful mosaics with representations of various vendors through their goods and trades.
  • I loved perfectly preserved public latrines, organized for collective use as a series of marble seats that also served as an important social moment apart from their obvious use. They were connected to a practical sewage system, spread all over the city.
  • Multiple public baths with beautiful mosaics and remains of ingenious central heating systems are something not to be missed.
  • I also really liked a nicely preserved bar on Via Casa di Diana (yes, there are streets in Ostia Antica). The inn called the Insula of the Thermopolium gives you a perfect idea of such a place back in those days. Shelves for food and drinks for sale can still be seen. It is not all that much different from modern bars.

How to get there? You can easily reach Ostia Antica from Rome by train. Take the city Metro (Line B) to the Piramide station. When you get to the station use the stairs/escalators at the north end of the tracks. Once you reach the top, head left until you reach a different set of tracks of the ROMA-LIDO (beach) train. Your metro pass can be used on this train and it will take you directly to the Ostia Antica station. The trains leave about every 15 minutes during peak season. You can buy your return ticket either at the beginning of your trip or use a ticket machine on Ostia train station before your trip back.

Really cheap and easy! Well worth the effort - especially since you can combine a visit to Ostia Antica with some beach time on the nearby Ostia Lido.


Wednesday 24 July 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Roman stone ornaments

Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal them all in a much more flattering resolution.


Monday 22 July 2013

Top coffee places in Rome

If after a meal at one of the places I suggested in my recent post about where to eat on a budget in Rome you feel like you need a cup of strong coffee, you should keep reading.

Neither M. nor I are true coffee lovers. That does not mean we can not appreciate a good cup of coffee and every time we visit Italy, we treat ourselves with a cup or two. Rome was no different.
We have had a couple of not-so-great coffee experiences during our trip, but mostly it was great stuff and not at all expensive. That is if you take it as locals usually do - at the bar.

Among the places we have been to, these two impressed us the most:

  • Antico Caffè Greco on Via Condotti 86 (just a stone-throw from Spanish steps) is a centuries old classy institution. They serve (in my humble opinion) the best coffee in Rome. You can get an excellent espresso for 0,80 Euro - if you drink it at the bar. On the other hand, if you choose to order a cappuccino at one of those classy looking tables you can however expect to pay 8 Euro. You will be served by a classy waiter in white gloves but nevertheless the price seems a bit high by my standards.
  • Tazza d'Oro on Via degli Orfani 84 is also a famous coffee place located near another popular sight - the Pantheon. They serve many varieties of coffee which they roast and mix themselves. It is a perfect place not only for drinking a cup of coffee, but also for buying a pack of it for your coffee-drinking friends back home. The best thing is you can try it out before you buy it. An excellent value for the money.

Regardless if you are or are not a coffee person I strongly recommend you to stop for a cup at both places mentioned above. After all you will probably find yourself near the Spanish steps as well as the Pantheon at some points of your stay in the Eternal city.


Friday 19 July 2013

Best desserts Rome has to offer

It may be impossible to pick just one out of a number places in Rome claiming to offer the best ice-cream, chocolate cake, tiramisu and tartufo. If ice-cream is your thing you should probably check out which are the best ice-cream places in Rome in our opinion. Italians really do know a thing or two about the art of making good ice-cream.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but apart from ice-cream there are also some other, at least just as delicious desserts to be found in Rome. Among the things we got to taste there are at least two places that stand out:

  • Pompi on Via Albalonga 7 is where you want to be when you feel the need for a dessert. Here you can get (supposedly) the best tiramisu in Rome for 3,50 Euro - if you take it with you. You can obviously expect to pay more if you choose to eat it sitting down. They serve generous portions of tiramisu deliciousness in various flavours. In addition to Tiramisu classico al caffé you should also try the Tiramisu al pistacchio variety.
  • Tre Scalini on Piazza Navona 28 is a somewhat pricey restaurant with an impressive confectionery section. That is where they make their famous Tartufo. It will cost cost you a hefty 5 Euro and you can double that if you order it sitting down. No point in doing that since you can enjoy a great atmosphere anywhere on Piazza Navona, just a few steps away. Despite the price it is worth a try.

Either of those things might not seem all that cheep for a dessert but you should keep in mind both come in pretty large portions that might easily satisfy two persons each.

You are very welcome to share your own experience of sweet Rome in the comments section.


Wednesday 17 July 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Rome with a Tilt-shift twist

Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal them all in a much more flattering resolution.


Monday 15 July 2013

Top budget food choices in Rome

Those of you who also follow me over Instagram (@travel_pb) have probably already seen a photo with this catchy slogan: Italy is Eataly. It is a slogan of an Italian gourmet food and wine marketplace chain Eataly.

I spotted one of their billboards while in Rome and found it really cute. I know nothing about the food chain and have never been inside one of their places, but their slogan addresses a very important part of Italian culture - food.

In my opinion Italy is as much about good food and wine, as it is about history and art. Combine it all together and you get a perfect mix and a strong tourist magnet. Every time I visit Italy I try to get a taste of every one of those things.

Rome was no different. Apart from good wine and excellent Roman artisan ice-cream I already wrote about, we also had to eat once in a while during our week-long trip. You are welcome to check out our Roman wine tasting experience as well as the tour of Frascati vineyards we really enjoyed.

I am glad to report we had no bad food experiences during our stay in the Eternal city whatsoever. The worst two things we got were an overpriced cup of mediocre coffee and a glass of undrinkable house-wine. That is it - everything else exceeded our expectations or was at least as good as we had expected. A much better outcome than were hoping for.
We were obviously not depending only on our luck and instincts - I also checked for some on-line recommendations. Smartphone support (with Tripadvisor app and web access) can also be a very welcome help in some situations.

We tried to eat as many local dishes as possible and stay on a budget while doing it. I was pretty sceptical about this before the trip but as I learned, it is actually quite possible to eat good food for a reasonable price in Rome.
However, a glass of good wine (by my not so low, European standards) was quite a bit more expensive than back home in Slovenia.

These are the places I can gladly recommend. Please keep in mind these are mostly budget options and the ambient might not always be the best, but it definitely is authentic. Above all, they serve delicious local food.

  • Pastificio on Via della Croce 8 (located a couple hundred metres from Spanish steps) is actually an artisan pasta shop, offering pasta meals every day from 13:00 to 14:00 for 4 Euro. A glass of quite drinkable wine is included. Each day they have a tasting of two different pasta/sauce variations. They serve it until they run out - so make sure you are there on time. Food is served on plastic plates with disposable cutlery but it is delicious.
  • La tavernetta 48 on Via degli Spagnoli 48 is actually a very good and moderately priced restaurant. It does however offer budget (usually typical local) two course fixed meals for 13 Euro every day at lunch time only.
  • Formula 1 is a pizzeria located on Via degli equi 13. It may not look like much and it is also not set in one of the attractive parts of the city, but they serve good food at budget prices. You can get a tasty pizza for as low as 4 Euro. You should also try some of their many fried local specialities. Unlike most other pizza places they are also open during lunch time.
  • Navona Notte on Via del Teatro Pace 44 (a short stroll from piazza Navona) is another moderately priced pizzeria with a wood-burning oven. You can expect to pay one or two Euro more compared to the one mentioned above but it is located in a very touristy area. In addition to a wide range of pizzas, here you can also choose among many other typical dishes.
  • Checchino dal 1887 on Via di Monte Testaccio 30 is NOT a budget option, but if you decide to spend a bit more on a special occasion this is my recommendation. They are as authentic as they get and (supposedly) never disappoint. This is a true Roman institution and they serve all the typical local dishes like Caponata, Saltimbocca, Spaghetti alla Carbonara and many more. Since it is quite popular it is wise to make a reservation.

If you just came back from Rome and would like to relive some of those great tastes of Cuccina Romana, I have a treat for you. Here are two recipes by no other than Elio Mariani - the chef and co-owner of Checchino dal 1887 restaurant himself. Let him share his secrets while you watch him prepare Saltimbocca alla Romana and Spaghetti alla Carbonara - two typical Roman dishes. Bon Appétit!


Friday 12 July 2013

Best time for visiting Rome

As it is evident from my recent posts we have been on a week-long trip in Rome. Me and M. both wanted to visit The Eternal City since we drove past it some 10 years ago on our road trip to Sicily. This year we finally made it back to Lazio region in central Italy.

There were a couple of times when Rome popped up on our travel destinations shortlist before, but usually we dismissed it for one reason or another. I think everyone should take into consideration the following things before scheduling a trip to this great city:

  • Ferragosto. When Italians go on their main summer vacation (roughly from mid-July to mid-August) it is quite a challenge to travel around Italy. If you choose any of the popular (usually seaside) destinations within or near Italy, in addition to all other tourists, you will also have to deal with a loud crowd of Italians.
    Since Rome is not a seaside destination you might have to face a different kind of challenge. Many places simply shut down and others often change their working hours.
  • Reserve enough time to see the real Rome. Make sure you have enough time to REALLY see the city. Racing from one attraction to the other just to cross them from your list is not the way to do it. Take time to relax and try to take a look at the city from the local perspective.
  • Plan your trip at least a few months in advance. Waiting for a great last minute deal will probably not end well. Flight tickets as well as accommodation costs all tend to go up as the date approaches. This might not be all that evident in low season, but in the most popular times of year it might prove to be essential.
  • Do your research. Rome might be there for a long time and many things have stayed the same for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, some things are definitely worth looking into.
    For instance, if you are planning only a short stay in the city it would be a shame to spend half of your time standing at entrances of the most popular attractions. You should definitely book some tickets ahead of time over the internet.

In my opinion the best times for visiting Rome are in spring (late March through mid-May) and fall (September through early November). You should expect at least a few rainy days both in spring and autumn. Due to longer days I prefer spring.

This time I had enough time to do some research before the trip and I must say it was really worth it in the end. We just got so much out of it for less money and we also got to enjoy some things we would have never found out about by ourselves.

Usually it all begins with a search for a flight ticket but since I live in a neighbouring country (Slovenia), this time I also considered driving there myself and using a train. After some research, this time we chose to use the train - it proved to be the cheapest of the three options. I suggest you keep this often overlooked mean of transport in mind when planing your trip. In some parts of the World you can travel over large distances even faster using one of those super-fast trains, compared to air-planes (mostly due to airport security and regulations).

Also making a detour is very easy when using a train. Depending on which part of Italy you might be crossing, there are many great cities more than worth a detour. Turin, Milan, Florence and Venice are just some that well deserve the attention. You can easily find a high-class accommodation in Milan that will make you love the city even more.

Since we were passing through Florence on our way we were thinking about a short stop but decided against it after some consideration. We figured it might be wiser to spend all of our time in the Italian capital this time. We did not regret our decision.

We stayed in Rome for a week, taking it in from early mornings to late afternoons but still felt like there was so much of it left undiscovered. It might not happen soon but we would not mind returning one day and spending some more time in this lovely city.

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