Archive | February, 2013


8 Feb

Italian Lakes, the name evokes romantic images of twisty roads and James Bond car chases, palatial lakeside villas owned by movie stars, a daring rowboat escape in A Farewell to Arms, and young Darth Vader in love. Luckily, you don’t have to be a Jedi or George Clooney to enjoy what the region has to offer. The Lakes are best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, but if you only have two days to explore the area you can still cover a lot of ground and get a good taste of both the Swiss and Italian sides of the border.

Throughout the European Union traveling across the border can be boring to the point of blink and you’ll miss it. We’ve all seen the movies, you know? When you drive up to the border of another country and there is a cranky border patrol officer insisting on your passport and papers. That panic as you rifle through your satchel bag ( by the way, real men use them ). You start sweating, where is the bloody passport, all sorts of visions go through your overdriven imagination. Oh here it is, only a glance and your through. Switzerland has that type of border control, although as luck would have it, for us not the case. Giuseppe had informed his family on the bus to have our passports at the ready, put away your cameras and phones. The border patrol through Switzerland is expensive and can be at times annoying. Normally as a rule of thumb the busses are normally not stopped for more than a few minutes and waved through, on a previous tour we were told of a tourist who silly enough to take a photograph from the bus, border security is strict. The bus was boarded and passports asked for and the offending camera had photos deleted. You can imagine the weird silence on the bus as we wind our way down to the crossing. It sounded exciting to me, although it was business as usual, we were waved through.

The city of Lugano lies on Lake Lugano, surrounded by the mountains of the Lugano Prealps. Its warm summers and the fact that in recent years it has attracted an ever growing number of celebrities, entertainers and successful athletes have given it the nickname of the “Monte Carlo of Switzerland”. The shores of Lake Lugano have been inhabited since the Stone Age. Within the modern city limits a number of ground stones or quern-stones have been found. In the area surrounding Lugano, items from the Copper Age and the Iron Age have been found. There are Etruscan monuments at Davesco-Soragno (5th to 2nd century BC), Pregassona (3rd to 2nd century BC), and Viganello (3rd to 2nd century BC). Graves with jewelry and household items have been found in Aldesago, Davesco, Pazzallo and Pregassona along with Celtic money in Viganello.
The region around Lake Lugano was settled by the Romans by the 1st century BC. There was an important Roman city north of Lugano at Bioggio.There are fewer traces of the Romans in Lugano, but several inscriptions, graves and coins indicate that some Romans lived in what would become Lugano.

Lugano is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Switzerland. The city is home to a number of historic buildings and museums, whilst the surrounding area has many natural sights. Both Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains provide a wide variety of outdoor activities. The area surrounding Lugano is home to over 300 kilometres of mountain biking trails, the largest net of trails in Switzerland. There are 17 sites in Lugano that are part of the Swiss heritage site of national significance. The city of Lugano, the villages of Barbengo, Brè, Gandria and Biogno, and the sites of Cantine di Gandria and Castagnola are all part of the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites. The heritage sites of national significance included two libraries, the Biblioteca Cantonale and the Biblioteca Salita dei Frati as well as the Swiss National Recording Archives (Fonoteca nazionale svizzera). There were three churches; Cathedral of S. Lorenzo, Church of S. Maria degli Angioli and the Church of S. Rocco. There were three museums; the Museo cantonale d’arte, the Museo cantonale di storia naturale and the Villa Ciani complex with the Museo civico. The cemetery complex at via Trevano is also one of the sites, as is the Radiotelevisione svizzera di lingua italiana (RTSI) Italian-language broadcast facility. The rest of the sites are notable houses throughout the city. They include; the Palazzo civico at piazza della Riforma, the Palazzo e cinema Corso at via Pioda, the Palazzo Riva at via Francesco Soave, the Palazzo Riva at via Massimiliano Magatti, the Palazzo Riva at via Pretorio 7 and Villa Favorita in Castagnola.

The Palazzo dei Congressi is the performing arts center for Lugano. It is a main hall for the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana. The Lugano Festival runs during April and May, followed by the related “Progetto Martha Argerich” in June. Estival Jazz arrives in July. The Blues-to-Bop Festival in late August and early September turns the city into a hive of activity as thousands crowd the streets and piazzas for free open-air concerts.

The footpath along the waters edge or boardwalk is truly one of the highlights. The mountains are covered in snow and are close enough to touch, better yet the tulips are in flower, all the way along the water. The light for taking photos was fantastic. Some of my best photos were taken this day.

The Swiss are quite famous for their chocolate, something I have a liking for whenever put in front of me, so we trudged into the local department store to stock up on kilos and kilos of chocolate to hopefully bring home and give out as pressies. Yes, you can buy chocolate anywhere in the world but this was Swiss. The next thing to tick off was a nice mug of hot chocolate out in the town square where its freezing. So four mugs ordered and we are rubbing our hands in expectation and delight. Hmmm, what a let down, out came 4 mugs of hot milk with a sachet of that powdery chocolate you only use when on picnics. Oh well we at least had an interesting story to tell later on.

Once again back on the bus, time to travel back to Italy, it sounds bizarre, we are starting to learn just how small some of these countries are, our next place of visit will be lake Como, famous for many places whether it be celebrities living there to which movie was filmed. Looking forward to our small little cruise. This post was relatively short as we weren’t in Lugano for very long, although its another place to go back and see more of.












8 Feb

Verona is a city straddling the Adige river in Veneto, northern Italy, with approximately 265,000 inhabitants and one of the seven chef-lieus of the region. It is the second largest city municipality in the region and the third of northeast Italy. The metropolitan area of Verona covers an area of 1,426 km2 (550.58 sq mi) and has a population of 714,274 inhabitants. It is one of the main tourist destinations in northern Italy, owing to its artistic heritage, several annual fairs, shows, and operas, such as the lyrical season in the Arena, the ancient amphitheatre built by the Romans.

The precise details of Verona’s early history remain a mystery. The origin of the name Verona is also unknown. One theory is it was a city of the Euganei, who were obliged to give it up to the Cenomani (550 BC). With the conquest of the Vaecame Roman (about 300 BC) Verona became a Roman colonia in 89 BC, and then a municipium in 49 BC. After Verona was conquered by the Ostrogoths in 489, the Gothic domination of Italy began. Theodoric the Great was said to have built a palace there, and according to Irish legends that is what Verona was named after. It remained under the power of the Goths throughout the Gothic War (535–552), except for a single day in 541, when the Byzantine officer Artabazes made an entrance. The defections that took place among the Byzantine generals with regard to the booty made it possible for the Goths to regain possession of the city. In 552 Valerian vainly endeavored to enter it, but only when they were fully overthrown, the Goths surrendered it.

Because of the value and importance of its many historical buildings, Verona has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Verona preserved many ancient Roman monuments, no longer in use, in the early Middle Ages, but much of this and much of its early medieval edifices were destroyed or heavily damaged by the earthquake of 3 January 1117, which led to a massive Romanesque rebuilding. The Carolingian period Versus de Verona contains an important description of Verona in the early medieval era.

Verona is famous for its Roman amphitheatre, the Arena found in the city’s largest piazza, the Piazza Bra. Completed around 30 AD, it is the third largest in Italy after Rome’s Colosseum and the arena at Capua. It measures 139 metres long and 110 metres wide, and could seat some 25,000 spectators in its 44 tiers of marble seats. The ludi (shows and gladiator games) performed within its walls were so famous that they attracted spectators from far beyond the city. The current two-story façade is actually the internal support for the tiers; only a fragment of the original outer perimeter wall in white and pink limestone from Valpolicella, with three stories remains.The interior is very impressive and is virtually intact, and has remained in use even today for public events, fairs, theatre and open-aired opera during warm summer nights.

Verona was the birthplace of Catullus who was a Latin poet of the Republican period. His surviving works are still read widely, and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art. It’s also the town that Julius Caesar chose for relaxing stays. In its history many important names passed and events happened that were relevant for the European history, like Theodoric the Great, king of Ostrogoths, Alboin and Rosamund, the Lombard Dukes, Charlemagne and Pippin of Italy, Berengar I, Dante. Conclaves were held here, as were important congresses. Verona was in the travel diaries of Goethe, Stendhal and Paul Valéry.

Juliet’s House (Casa di Giulietta), Via Cappello, just off the Piazza delle Erbe. Supposedly the location of the famous balcony love scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The house is a major destination for tourist pilgrimage, as the tiny courtyard is normally packed with lovestruck teenagers photographing each other on the famous balcony. In fact, the house has no connection with Shakespeare’s fictional characters – although the house is old, the balcony was added in 1936 and declared to be “Juliet’s house” to attract tourists. You can visit the house itself (€4 entry) – it contains a sparse collection of Renaissance frescos rescued from other demolished palaces, and the bed from Zeffirelli’s 1968 movie, but not a lot more. The balcony overlooks a tiny courtyard containing a statue of Juliet. There is an unbelievable amount of graffiti and general scrawling on the walls, floor, seats, anything that will hold ink – there is a tradition of writing love messages to Juliet, and visitors leave notes, trinkets and bits of chewing gum fashioned into love hearts. Juliet’s house is a popular romantic shrine, but its popularity belies its value; compared to some of the treasures around Verona, Juliet’s house has very little to offer. So, if Juliet lived here, what about Romeo? A couple of streets away the house at 4, Via Arche Scaligere has been designated as his home. It is private, so other than a sign on the wall there is nothing much to see.

Piazza delle Erbe is the main square in Verona. Once it was the town’s forum during the time of the Roman Empire. The northern side of the square is occupied by the ancient town hall, the Torre dei Lamberti, the Casa dei Giudici (“Judges Hall”) and the Mazzanti Houses. The western side, the shortest one, features the Baroque Palazzo Maffei, decorated by statues of Greek gods. It is faced by a white marble column, on which is St. Mark’s Lion, symbol of the Republic of Venice square’s most ancient monument is the fountain, surmounted by a statue called Madonna Verona, which is however a Roman sculpture dating to 380 AD. Also historical is the capitello, dating to the 13th century, during which it was used for several ceremonies, including the oath of the city’s medieval podestà and pretors. Towards Via Cappello is another column, with a 14th century aedicula with reliefs of the Virgin and the Saints Zeno, Peter and Christopher. For us as visitors the square had many nick-nacks to buy as souvenirs, more importantly it was the first time we were able to buy good quality fresh fruit sold in little cups that was devoured quickly.

Shopping in Verona is quite easy as the main shopping area corresponds to the main tourist area. There are great shops in Via Mazzini, Corso Portoni Borsari, Via Roma, Via Cappello, Piazza Erbe and in many other streets. You can easily find clothes, shoes, music, souvenirs, perfumes, etc everywhere around the central area. If you’ve got money to spend you’ll find famous brands like Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, etc walking around the main streets but you will also find more affordable shops. If you are looking for CDs, DVDs, books in Italian, English, French, Spanish, travel guides, computer games, mobile phones and cameras, you can go to the Fnac store in via Cappello, 34, not far from juliet’s balcony. One of my favorite purchases was Roma Cologne by Laura Biagiotti, launched by the design house of laura biagiotti in 1994. Roma is classified as a sharp, oriental, woody fragrance. This masculine scent possesses a blend of a crisp oriental blended with sandalwood and patchouli. It is recommended for daytime wear. It’s a great scent, to be used sparingly as I’ve yet been able to find anywhere to get more until now. Whenever I put it on I instantly think of Italy.

This post has been some time in being typed as a few would know I accidentally deleted my original post that combined Verona, Lugano and the Italian lake area, this is one has been revised several times and I’ve decided to do the three separately.