Monthly Archives: December 2015

Touring Berlin…

Buongiorno a tutti!

Well I’ve had a lovely few days in Berlin with my friends who have an apartment out there. Here’s an update…

I’ve been to Berlin before, a few years ago. It’s a really lovely city, in fact, one of my favourites. In my opinion, a visit there at Christmas time at  least once in a lifetime should be mandatory! In December, the whole city lights up and what is already a pretty city becomes even prettier. It seems there’s a Christmas Market on every street selling all manner of things, including the delightful Glühwein (mulled wine for us, Vin Brule’ for the Italians).

Berlin reminds me of London only it’s a lot more open – the streets and pavements seem wider and it feels a lot more spacious as opposed to a bit claustrophobic like some parts of London feel to me!

I arrived at Schönefeld airport on the outskirts of Berlin. If you ever go, go prepared! I wasn’t! I thought there might be information or people to ask about how to get into town. Ha! There was no visible information office or people to ask. I managed to locate only two faded small tube/train maps but trying to find out where the airport was, was like a game of Where’s Wally only harder. You can only buy your tickets from ticket machines and the machines that I went to didn’t take card or notes (actually it turns out they do take cards but “Maestro”, which we don’t use in the UK generally).

For what it’s worth, I took the train (the RB14) to Berlin HBF from platform 6. You have to stamp your ticket before you get on the train and there’s a handy red stamping box at the top of the stairs on the platform. It took 20 minutes or so to get to Alexanderplatz. Single tickets cost €3,20 I think, the day pass was something like €7.

I spent the first day wandering around the city. I walked about 234059234859 miles and as a result, I finally feel like I have my bearings. The city is served by overground trains (s-bahn) and underground trains (u-bahn) and lots of buses but it’s easy to walk around too. Bike hire places are everywhere and you can hire one for a day for €10.  Many of the streets have cycle lanes too.

These are some photos from my little walking tour…

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There are some lovely parks in Berlin. This was Volkespark near Gesundbrunen station. Gesundbrunen, by the way, has a good shopping centre!

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The Reichstag

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This rather snazzy building was close to the Jewish War Memorial

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View across the river…

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I’ve no idea what this building is – looks like it should have concerts there though!

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And this is the Siegessaule, or Victory Column which was built to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War

The thing that’s most noticeable for me about Berlin is its connection to the war.  There are memorials everywhere to the millions of people that lost their lives (I’ve just checked on Wikipedia – over 60 million people killed in WW2. What a terrible and unfathomable number). It’s very poignant. The memorials are all beautiful, all very somber and thought-provoking. But from a personal perspective, I’m not sure how I would feel if I were a Berliner. Of course it’s important to remember the war and what happened but there’s just soooo much of it that I do wonder whether they’ve got the right balance between remembering the past and moving on with the future.  The past and the mistakes that were made are a lesson for us all, not just the people of Berlin. Anyway, here are some of the memorials…

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This is a peace mosaic designed by school children

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Memorial in Tiergarten park, the main park in Berlin

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This is where the Berlin wall used to be on Bernauer Street

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This is the Brandenburg Gate which has also become associated somewhat with the Berlin wall and the war

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This is Neue Wache, another memorial for the victims of war and dictatorship…

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And then there’s the poignant Jewish War Memorial…

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…Which is lovely to photograph!…

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…Lots

The second day we investigated the Charlottenburg area of Berlin. This included a famous bombed out church (here I excelled in my knowledge of architecture by not actually being sure whether the church steeple was designed in the way it was or whether it was indeed evidence of bombing activity). We also conducted further quality control tests of the glühwein there. It’s a hard job but somebody has to do it. We had a wander around the shops and warmed up in a lovely little cafe’ overlooking the zoo.

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The bombed church has a concrete monstrosity next to it which turns out to be significantly prettier on the inside than the outside. Here it is from the inside.

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Just one of the pretty market stalls…

That night we went to the Piano Saloon in Wedding (Wedding is a northern region of Berlin), a very cool warehouse kitted out stylishly in bits and pieces from pianos.  The pianist played what I think must be “discordant jazz” and though it wasn’t particularly my style (if my headaches could play the piano, this is exactly what they would play), he was absolutely brilliant.

The next day we headed to a Vegan Market in the Friedrichshain region (East Berlin). The area was noticeable for it’s completely rundown feel but the graffiti was excellent! There are some very talented delinquents in Berlin 🙂 We loved the Vegan market. I know it might not sound thrilling to many of you who are not vegans but actually, it was very good indeed. The thing with veganism is that you have to be very inventive. You don’t just eat bog standard waffles, you have waffles made out of polenta and grated veg and other things. And you don’t buy leather wallets, you buy them  out of recycled car tyres. Vegans are cool.

Then we went to see the part of the Berlin Wall that still stands, called the East Side Gallery. Again, covered in graffiti, but really nicely done graffiti!

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At this point we were thoroughly freezing so we went to one of my favourite places in Berlin, Soho House, for an hour or so in the spa. German spa-ing is unlike spa-ing in the UK. It’s frowned upon to go into a spa with your swimming costume (which is handy because I didn’t have one). We chatted about it briefly in the sauna. It seems to be considered somewhat disgusting to wear one because of the close proximity of the swimming costume fabric to your body whilst you’re sweating. I suggested that this would imply that going to the gym would also need to be conducted in the nude but apparently the fabric is an acceptable distance away from your body to make it perfectly acceptable. So that clears that up then.

All in all it was a lovely weekend and I was sad to leave! I thoroughly recommend Berlin to you all 🙂

Meanwhile I hope you’re all having excellent weeks.

x

 

 

 

 

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Touring Forli…

Buongiorno a tutti!

I’ve been on a Blog Tour! Never heard of one of those? Neither had I until a month or so ago when I was invited along as part of a tour by Romagna Fulltime and the Camera di Commercio di Forlì to explore the city of Forlì (note the accented “i” which means you pronounce it Forleee!). There were only seven  other fellow bloggers here with me so I felt thoroughly honoured to be invited along. As it turns out I’ve been following some of these bloggers for years so it was lovely to meet them in person and I’m thrilled to have discovered some new blogs too. We were a diverse bunch, each with  our own individual perspectives. My fellow bloggers are experts in art, history, wine, food and architecture and then there’s me of course, more of a jack of all trades and master of none!!!!!!!!! Anyway, to hear what the others have to say about Forlì, check out these blogs:

As a bit of background, Forlì is a city in Emilia-Romagna (the next region to the north of Le Marche where I live). It’s a nice city. It doesn’t have the grandeur of places like Rome and it’s definitely not quaint. In fact, the city initially has a bit of a utilitarian feel to me. From a purely superficial standpoint it would be easy to overlook Forlì because of that, but don’t! It’s interesting BECAUSE of that. It’s the architecture, and the history behind it that sets it apart from other Italian cities and makes it well worth a visit. Apart from the cultural and architectural aspects, the town authorities are passionate about Forlì as a base for art and exhibitions. I visited Forli for the first time earlier this year to see an exhibition of one of my favourite artists Giovanni Boldini, an absolutely amazing portrait painter from Ferrara (one of the nearby towns). It was an excellent exhibition so I was already somewhat pre-dispositioned to like Forlì  from an artistic perspective anyway.  However, we had a whirlwind tour of three other exhibitions (some of which served to further my  confidence in my own artistic abilities!) and it’s only added to my esteem in that regard.

As an aside, if I’ve got any of the information in this blog wrong, then it’s entirely my fault. The talks and the Guides were excellent but my Italian translation skills at speed, particularly after wine and massive meals sometimes leave a little to be desired!

Anyway, here are some photos taken around the town…

 

 

Architecture – Fascist and otherwise

We had a very interesting walking tour from Bernadette, our guide, focusing on the architectural side of the city. If you want to do this yourself, everything is in very easy walking distance of the center and there are lots of maps to help you find your way at the Information Tourist Office.

Mussolini, the Italian Dictator, was born 15km away from Forlì in a town called Predappio. I don’t think this was adequately impressive enough as a town in its own right so Forlì took on the role of being his more public “home”. It was an important place for him and his regime and there are a lot of reminders of that around the city . There are a lot of people who like Mussolini in Italy, including most of my neighbours. We learnt about him in school in the UK, none of it particularly good, so it was a surprise coming to Italy and hearing about how many still to hold him in such high regard. However, in Forlì, I can see why people might have liked him and still do. There were vast parts of Emilia-Romagna completely under-developed and covered in bogs. Mussolini extended railway networks, built schools and housing and developed industries on otherwise unused land.

My favourite part of the tour though was a stop off in what is now a school but previously, was the ex Collegio Aeronautico (Aeronautical College, Piazzale della Vittoria). A series of black and white mosaics cover the walls and show the history of air travel from start to finish (well, not quite  “finish”, things have carried on a bit since then). It was fascinating! Click on the images for more information…

If you’re interested in Fascist Architecture, then check out the Atrium Route. It’s a tourist itinerary connecting several countries in Europe which have cultural heritage of different totalitarian regimes. Forlì is on the route, as is Predappio (Mussolini’s hometown). The pack we received as part of the tour is pretty extensive and comes with information cards for each of the main sites. I’ll be keeping it in mind if I venture further afield.

Though there was a focus on the Fascist architecture on the tour, actually for me, of note are the number of houses that have frescos just beneath the roofs, all with different designs. Really quite pretty. You don’t see that in my area!

The Verzocchi Collection at Palazzo Romagnoli

This exhibition was in Palazzo Romagnoli, an interesting building in itself with frescos on almost all of the ceilings. It’s a nice place to wander around. Verzocchi was Forlivese (meaning someone that comes from Forlì) and an entrepreneur. He commissioned paintings with the theme of “Work”. There are about seventy all in all and they show not just a slice of history in terms of the type of work back in those days, but also the style of paintings. They all had his brand “V&D” painted into the picture, usually on a brick. It’s quite a challenge to find some of them! My thoughts on this exhibition? I really like the idea that this entrepreneur requested paintings from people with only two criteria – the theme and the brand. There should be more of that! From a wanna-be-artist perspective, I found this collection an odd mix of inspiring and frustrating. I’ve included below three of the ones I found most inspiring/frustrating with  my rationale.

So, in summary, I’m always worried to present myself as an “artist” but no more; if these guys can get away with it, so can I (and now you can see perhaps why I’m not a famous art critic). On a separate note, there’s little information about this collection online. If you’re interested, visit!

Afro, Pensieri nella mano at Musei San Domenico

This building is ideal for exhibitions. It’s a converted ex-convent and where I saw the Giovvani Boldini exhibition a few months back. Currently the downstairs is dedicated to the works of Afro Basaldella, an Italian painter  (1912 – 1976). Afro seemed to do a bit of everything; painting, tapestry, jewellry makingand printing.

His works are a bit too abstract for my liking but I appreciate his diversifying into different mediums!

Steve McCurry at Musei San Domenico

Now this was spectacular. I suspect many of you will know some of his most famous photos, even if you didn’t know his name. The exhibition is entitled “Icons and Women” and is a photo journal of his time travelling the world. His photos are amazing. The subject matter, the composition, the photos themselves… they’re just absolutely stunning, each and every one. Our guide was very knowledgeable and was able to recount the stories behind many of the photos making it even more interesting. The exhibition is breath-taking. I thoroughly recommend going!

The next exhibition at the San Domenico Museo is dedicated to Piero della Francesca, Indagine di un Mito (Investigating a Myth) from the 13th February 2016. We had a sneak peak at some of the paintings (or at least, photos of the paintings) that would be included in the exhibition and there are some I recognised from other exhibitions in the area. I think my favourite painting of his is of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino. I always thought with portraits that you’re supposed to paint your subject with an element of flattery. Poor Duke. Piero must have been a brave man. Anyway, it’s an interesting style of portrait. You don’t often see portraits in full profile and the vast background makes it pretty unique. I’m hoping to go back to Forlì to see the rest of the exhibition.

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Churches

My neighbour has drilled it into me that I must visit every church I come acrosss. I did my duty in Forli. Evidence included below.

She often tells me that the churches are where most of the artistic masterpieces are and she’s right. This is my new favourite statue…

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Where better place to keep your creepy looking lion?

 

Where to eat

As part of the tour we ate at a couple of restaurants. On the first night we went to Salume’.  It’s highly rated on TripAdvisor and I can see why. The food was great. They had some good vegetarian options too and a massive selection of wine it seemed. The service was good and the restaurant stylish and intimate. The mascarpone cream desert was gooooooood.

The next day we had lunch in Eataly, a chain of restaurants and seller of Italian food products. The Eataly in Forlì is the first one I’ve come across but there are others around Italy too. It was in a superb location, in the main square (Piazza Saffi) and there are great views from the piazza from the third floor where the restaurant is.

Where to stay

We were based in Hotel Massini which is a minute or so walk from the main piazza so very central. The service was good. They didn’t even complain when I forgot to check out!

Travelling around

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It’s easy to get around the center in Forli just on foot but there are bikes to hire if you’d like and if you want to go further afield, there are buses and good train links to the local area.

Summary

All in all, it was an interesting couple of days and I’d certainly recommend a visit. If you’re coming from outside the area then it would be easy to combine it with a tour taking in Ravenna (click here for my review of Ravenna!), Rimini, San Leo and San Marino (I went to those in one fell swoop – read about it here). There’s even a Romagna Visit Card which will allow you to get into some of the main sites at a discount or for free.

Finally, something that made me chuckle (but not the woman at the stall)…

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Forli is the only place I know of where you can buy wallets made of man skin (ok, OK, I can see that perhaps the more likely translation is that these wallets are made out of leather and are for men but I prefer my version!).

If you have any questions on Forli, or if I’ve made any heinous errors, or if you’d like to  invite me on a Blog Tour (I would like to make it clear that I’m available to travel abroad too… the Maldives, the Bahamas…), then please get in touch!

Have good weeks all,

x

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Alcohol improved drawings, snow-capped mountains and piadina making…

Buongiorno a tutti!

How is everyone? There’s not much to report I’m afraid this time around. I’ve been busy doing a bit of teaching, going to the art course on Wednesday’s and I’ve also been doing some ‘arty’ things at home. The art course was quite interesting last week. We drew using a biro and then poured alcohol over it (pure alcohol – the remnants of your wine bottle won’t work). It has quite an interesting effect! I’ll continue experimenting this week and when I’m actually happy with something I’ll post up a photo 🙂

We have snow capped mountains! It’s so pretty! I can’t wait to go snowboarding this year. I’ve just bought some more snowboarding gear too. My nearest snowboarding place is Sassotetto,  only 25 minutes drive away 🙂

I have been out and about, evidence below:

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Look, caps of snow on the mountain!!!!!!!!

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Before the snow came, in fact just the day before, I decided to have a drive in the mountains because when it gets snowy a lot of the roads are blocked off. I had plans to take some nice sunset photos but it was so windy that the tripod kept blowing over.

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This is taken from one of my favourite beaches – San Michele. 

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And this was taken from the other end of the beach. That’s Monte Conero ahead. Apparently it’s shaped like a lion’s head. I think you need to squint to get that.

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This was Sarnano taken at the crack of dawn before the snow came.

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And this is one of my new favourite mountain places near Amandola.

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At the weekend I went to a “Degustazione”, a sort of tasting event of Brunello and Chianti wine, where an excellent country band called Backroads were playing.  These guys sung in perfect South American accents (I checked and they were indeed Italian). Very impressive! Here I was able to show my prowess of wine knowledge by accidentally orchestrating the mixing of the Brunello and Chianti wines in one glass to create an interesting mix. Apparently this is not the done thing (but I can confirm it still tasted of red wine).

I also went on a Piadina making course at a lovely local B&B called Residence VerdeQuiete which has a great open space they use occasionally for running courses. Piadinas are a type of flat bread -a bit like a tortilla but perhaps a bit thicker and a bit more rigid. The course was great, run by Simonetta Sfoglina.  At the end of the session, we had a very tasty “degustazione” (the term works for piadinas just as well as wine!). We ended up with 6 or so piadinas to take away with us. I have to admit, I hanker after Mexican food which is hard to come by here so I somewhat corrupted the italian nature of mine and made fahitas with them!!! Mmmmmmm………………….

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Piadina! Traditional fillings are usually cheese, salad and/or meat based.

The next couple of weeks will be quite busy. On Thursday and Friday I’ll be heading to Forlì (it’s a city  in Emilia-Romagna, about 2 or 3 hours from here)  to meet with some other Italian based bloggers for a tour of the city. We are to be shown some of the local cuisine and to check out the art and museums, so I can’t wait for that. I shall report back at the weekend.

Then there’s a “Ciaspolata” (snowshoeing walk) on Sunday on one of the nearby mountains. I’ve never done that so I’m quite excited about that too. Then on Wednesday I’m off to Berlin for a few days before going back to the sunny UK for Christmas! I’m looking forward to being in a house with central heating. My bathroom is so cold that I’m considering getting a commode to put by the fire.

I think that about covers the last few days. I hope you are all having good weeks!

x

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