Posts Tagged With: coast

Exploring Liguria, Pisa and Sardinia…

Buongiorno a tutti,

I hope you’re all well. Following on from my post earlier in the week recounting Leg 1 of my Italian Tour, here’s what we did in Leg 2…

After a week or two at home following the Naples/Amalfi trip, I drove to Santa Margherita in Liguria (near the knee of Italy’s boot!) to meet up with the same friend I holidayed with for Leg 1.

Santa Margherita is a lovely town on the Ligurian coastline. Despite having two nights in an apartment not far from the center we didn’t spend too much time there. Our first evening, we went out for an aperitivo and dinner followed by a refreshing night swim. This kind of behaviour is frowned upon by almost all Italians because a) they believe you will die if you swim after eating and b) it was night and so therefore ‘cold’ (it wasn’t really) and consequently you will get some terrible illness as a result. I’m pleased to say though that it was fabulous and neither of us died or contracted a terrible illness.

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Just after swimming!

The next day we had an unexpected stop in Sestri Levante as our train was delayed on the way to the Cinque Terre. It’s a nice little town with a cute shopping street but the thing that sticks out for me most in that town were the trompe l’oeil effect paintwork on almost all of the buildings. It was so realistic that in order to work out whether the shutters were real or painted or the walls were bricks or flat concrete, you had to change your angle or get up close enough to touch it. Of the pictures below, only the windows and shutters are real. I was very impressed and would love to give it a go when my house eventually gets rebuilt!

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The thing we really wanted to explore was the Cinque Terre. I’d been there once before a few years ago (read about it here). Cinque Terre literally means “five lands” which refer to the five colourful little towns dotted along the lush green coastline. There are several ways to explore it. They’re not easily reached by car so the best ways are by train, walking or boat.

The trains run reasonably often between all the towns and are cheap. There’s a walking route which joins all the towns but unfortunately due to a landslide a few years back there’s a couple of sections that now you can’t walk. They are planning to repair them though and rumour has it that it will be ready for 2020.

We were limited on time and we both love the sea so we decided to go on a boat trip. We were slightly disappointed by the masses of people on the trip we did in Amalfi so this time we decided on a smaller boat tour from one of the towns, Riomaggiore, by a company called Cinqueterre dal Mare.  We were glad we did. The beauty of the smaller boat tour was that with only 6 of us in total it was a lot more personal,  we stopped off and went for a swim a couple of times, used their phone chargers and put our drinks in their fridge. It was a great way to see the towns too. We stopped off in Vernazza for an ice-cream and finished the tour in Manarola followed by an amazing aperitivo overlooking the town in a lovely bar/restaurant called Nessun Dorma. We could have stayed there all evening but there was quite the queue to get in!

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Riomaggiore

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Taken from Manarola’s harbour

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I thoroughly recommend stopping for something to eat and drink here at Nessun Dorma because then you can relax and look out over…

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This at Manarola.

The following day we drove to Portofino just 20 minutes up the coast from Santa Margherita.

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It has to be the nicest stretch of coastline I’ve ever seen and is home to some of the nicest boats I’ve ever seen too. The road snakes around numerous bays and the water is so clear you can almost see the fish swimming by as you’re driving. We wanted to stop off at the public beach / bay in Paraggi but there was unfortunately no parking and we were limited on time. On reflection we should have walked to it in the early morning from Santa Margherita or taken the bus. It looked absolutely idyllic (not the private beach mind, which was filled to the brim with sunbeds and umbrellas).

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Look at this water! It was at least 2 meters deep here.

From there we headed to Pisa to catch a flight to Cagliari in Sardinia. We got there in plenty of time for the flight so as a good tourist, I made sure to prop up the tower.  Pisa is tiny! I imagined it was a big city like Florence or Siena but it’s not like that at all.

 

We got to Cagliari in the evening and headed to our apartment at Poetto beach, a very long stretch of wide sandy beach dotted with beach bars and restaurants.

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It was a bit stormy on the first day when I took this picture.

I didn’t warm to Cagliari as a city, though admittedly we only had one evening wandering around the streets and old town. The locals are very proud of their city so I can’t help but think I was missing something!

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I did discover a great new pasta dish though which is impossible to pronounce, Culurgiones. In my attempts to pronounce it, I come out with ‘coglioni’ which means testicles. Not wanting to order testicles (I’m vegetarian!), I usually settled for doing the typical tourist thing of pointing to the item on the menu. They’re like ravioli but filled with cheesy potato goodness.

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Food photography is not something that interests me so apologies for the blur, I was more interested in eating it than taking pictures of it. One of the great mysteries of Italy: If you order tagliatelle, they give you such a large portion you can barely finish yet if you order ravioli you need to have another 3 courses just to take the edge off your hunger after.

The other thing to try is a ‘dolce’ called Seadas (pronounced say-ah-das). It’s a fried pastry filled with cheese and then covered in honey.

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Filled cheesy pastry. This one was a bit dry, you need to have it with lots of honey!

To continue with our boat theme, the following day we had a trip around the coastline on a sailing yacht. There’s something special about sailing and it was nice to finish our trip on a high like that. We sailed to a bay an hour or two down the coast and then dropped anchor for lunch, a swim (or 5) and a sunbathe on the boat.  All in all it was a great experience but by then I was spoilt by the Ligurian coastline and in my opinion the Sardinian coastline (around Cagliari at least) is dry and characterless in comparison!  If we were staying for longer, we’d have hired a car and perhaps explored the Emerald Coast which is supposed to be more impressive.

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I did like a couple of pictures of the coastline but I’m having problems uploading them. Here’s a picture of a jellyfish and one of his team of fish that we captured and photographed instead! Strangely beautiful I think!

That about sums up Leg 2 of our trip. If you’ve been to any of the places I’ve mentioned and/or got any thoughts about them I’d be interested to hear!

In other news, on the weekend of the 13th/14th October, I’ll be selling my artwork at the Sapore D’Autunno (Taste of Autumn) festa in Montefalcone if anyone is local and fancies popping by!

A presto,

x

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Naples Part 2: Top 10 Things to Do

Buongiorno!

There are so many other things in Naples that I would love to have seen had I had more time. I definitely want to go back. There’s a whole world below the streets of Naples that I would have liked to explore – catacombs and caves. I only touched the surface as it were! If you’ve been to Naples and got any thoughts on what to see next, please do drop me a line in the comments below. Meanwhile, my top 10 favourite things to do are:

1. Sunset walk from Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg! More on that below) to Mergellina  (a coastal suburb) along the sea-front. Naples has a very Mediterranean coastline with beige, orangey and pinky buildings that, from a distance, seem to grow out of the sea. From Mergellina you can see lots of Naples, Castel dell’Ova and Vesuvius all bathed in a warm glow. There are lots of cats roaming about the marina here – presumably the fisherman let them have a few fish when they come in. Someone had even built them a little house on the rocks.

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Look at this cat box in Mergellina 🙂

2. Check-out Castel dell’Ovo. Legend has it the great Roman poet Virgil put an egg into the foundations – if it breaks, disaster will strike. Now the castle is used as offices and exhibition halls but it still has it’s old charm.  It’s free and interesting to wander around. It’s set on a little islet, connected to the seafront by a bridge. At the base of the castle there’s a collection of nice looking  restaurants facing onto the harbour. There are some nice views when you get to the top. This month there is a contemporary art exhibition by Lello Bavenni – it wasn’t ‘my cup of tea’ but it’s free and it’s set in a cave which is always good!

3. Get lost in the area called Santa Lucia to the left of Via Toledo (one of the main shopping streets in Naples). It’s maze of streets are interesting to walk around during the day and you get the feeling this is the ‘real’ Naples. In the evening it’s positively bustling and full of places to have an aperitivo. If you keep walking up as high as you can go, you get to a nice panorama of the city alongside an old abandoned military barracks.

4. Explore the old town around ‘Spaccanapoli‘ (‘Divides Naples’) which is where the majority of shops are. Many are dedicated to selling tourist stuff like ‘portafortuna’ (good luck charms), primarily of the red “corna” or horn variety. If it’s not a shop selling those, then it’s selling models for “presepe” (nativity scenes) the making of which is a big tradition in Naples. They sometimes apply mechanics to the models so they move. I took pictures of my favourites less religious models (below): a dentist leaning repetitively into the mouth of this poor bloodied man and even George Michael and Prince (and someone else familiar I can’t put my finger on!).  There are lots of food and drink places here too and a heavy smattering of churches.

5. Watch people try and walk through the two horses in Piazza Plebiscito blind folded. Apparently it’s a tradition (to do it, rather than watch it).

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My favourite thing about Piazza Plebiscito are the sculptures of past Kings on the Royal Palace which borders the piazza, particularly this one…

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I imagine he was captured mid-conversation after someone asked him why he had a chicken on his head. “Who? Moi?”

5. Check out Galleria Umberto, near Piazza Plebiscito. It’s absolutely stunning with its glass ceilings. It’s a shopping mall so free to get in.

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6. Walk up to Certosa di San Martino. It’s a very elegant building on top of the hill. You can get a funicular train for only 1 euro but it was shut when I tried. Alternatively, you can walk up there from the main road using the ‘Pedantina’ (this word means basically ‘nice pretty little walkway’ but in my opinion it was a ‘Pedantaccio’ (‘horrible walkway’) which seemed to go on forever and was covered in broken glass which I can only assume is the result of the youth  launching bottles from the top piazza to the path below. The Certosa is 11 euros including an audio guide. Unless you’re an absolute art aficionado, the audio guide probably doesn’t add a lot. There’s impressive murals and veneered artwork and other interesting permanent exhibitions like the presepe (nativity scenes which Naples is known for), carts and boats which are all interesting to see. However, for me the views from the terraces and garden were well worth the price of the ticket.

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And just look at this ‘presepe’ complete with flying angels!!!

My favourite picture in the Certosa was:

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I think the artist has perfectly captured the  ‘exhausted mother expression’ showing us no parent is exempt: “No I don’t want to play ball, perhaps if you let me have a wink of sleep this last week I wouldn’t be quite so exhausted”.

7. Visit the Santa Chiara monastery. It’s 6 euros to get in. There’s a museum element to the building but it’s worth paying just to have a few minutes relaxing amidst the orange trees and sit in the shade of the cloister. The decor is vibrant in the square to say the least, a little bit like a tacky seaside resort but it actually rather works I think!

8. Marvel at photo’s of the renown Veiled Christ marble sculpture on your laptop comfortably in your hotel room. Alternatively, spend 7 euros at Cappella di Sansevero queuing to see it, have your view blocked by tourists (pesky tourists) and then leave 5 minutes later (because there’s nothing much else to do there) without even being allowed to even take a photo.  The statue is very impressive indeed, a real work of genius by Giuseppe Sanmartino in 1753, but in my opinion you can view it in more detail and get the same, indeed more of, a sense of awe from photos when you’re not surrounded by loads of other people. On the other hand, thousands of people on TripAdvisor have judged it the top thing to do out of hundreds of things to do in Naples so what do I know!

9. Have a sit down and relax in the Gesu’ Nuovo church. It’s pretty ugly on the outside but lovely, spacious and cool on the inside! There’s lots of other churches to see too and it’s worth popping into them to have a look when you go past one.

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10. Whilst you’re in Naples, it’s important to try some traditional Napoletano delicacies!

  • Margherita Pizza. I had mine at Acquolina on the coast at Castel dell’Ovo. Neapolitan pizza is doughy and soft; thin in the middle and bready and thick at the edges. Ask for Mozzarella di Buffalo which is the more superior mozzarella – you can really taste the difference. I’ve always preferred thin and crispy pizza’s but I could be converted by the one I had here. Great service too. I got two complimentary glasses of prosecco and a limoncello!
  • Espresso Naples style. Have this at the Gran Caffe’ Gambrinus on the corner of Piazza Plebiscito. The woman at the till was horridly grumpy (you have to pay at the till first and then take your receipt to the bar to get your drink) but the barmen more than made up for it. You have to ask for a “caffe” and try not to feel short-changed that you’re getting about 3 millimeters of coffee in a cup that will burn the skin off your lips. Apart from being scalding, it really was a good espresso – not bitter at all. AND it came with a refreshing glass of fizzy water (which I assumed was to take the taste away of the coffee but it seems to be used as a palate cleanser before it).
  • Sfogliatelle. These are traditional flakey pastry delights with a creamy centre. Mmmm.
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Not the best photo of a traditional margherita pizza but I was trying to be quick before I was seen!

On a slightly separate but related note; watch out for the waiters weaving in and out of traffic wielding cups of coffee. Good coffee seems such an important thing here people order it in rather than just making a cup in their office kitchen!

If you’ve seen Naples or have anything to add please do leave a comment…

Tune in for Part 3: Pompeii & Herculaneum.

x

 

 

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