Category: Italy


Pigeon girl

Pigeon girl

Stocked up on pigeon feed

Stocked up on pigeon feed

Another day, another pigeon-feeding opportunity

Another day, another pigeon-feeding opportunity

Much needed gelato-break.  Venice in August is HOT.

Much needed gelato-break. Venice in August is HOT.

A masked princess and her Daddy

A masked princess and her Daddy

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Final pigeon day, this time with arms covered!

Final pigeon day, this time with arms covered!

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Some people travel to Venice for the romance, for the art, for the canals and the gondolas (or the gondaliers!)…and once upon a time there was a 6-year old girl who had her heart set on feeding the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square.

As we checked into our fabulous Airbnb apartment rental located a stone’s throw from St. Mark’s Square in a sixth-floor walk-up with a view of the Doge’s Palace, Zara was vibrating with excitement about feeding the pigeons, even though I had already mentioned that there may be a pigeon-feeding ban. As our host showed us around the apartment, Zara couldn’t contain herself (and was oblivious to the warning looks I was shooting her way) and started chattering enthusiastically what she would feed to the pigeons.

“It’s illegal to feed the pigeons,” our host said.  And with that simple sentence, Zara’s face crumpled.

Fortunately, the Venice police didn’t make enforcement of this ban a high priority — their primary targets were the birdseed sellers, not the enthusiastic tourists who gather to be pecked at and accosted by these flying rats.

Thus, one of our daily rituals became passing through the square so that Zara could feed the pigeons while hundreds of Chinese tourists made her the focus of their photo shoots.

Warning:  Pigeon-feeding requires appropriate attire–wear long sleeves. Zara’s bare arms were covered with pigeon scratches after a particularly long feeding session and I spent the rest of the day worried about whether the scratches had broken the skin and infected her with a pigeon virus. (I’m relieved to report that three weeks on there have been no worrying symptoms.)

When we weren’t feeding pigeons, we were sweating as we jostled our way through crowds and eating overpriced, mediocre Italian fare.  And of course we took a gondola ride (the day after an unfortunate German tourist had been crushed to death in front of his family when his gondola collided with a vaporetto in the crammed canals).

We also spent a couple of hours at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, viewing the heiress’s modern art collection, which is housed in her former home on the Grand Canal, although there were at least a few contemporary pieces that had Jonathan literally crying out in disbelief at the “art”.

The Rose (but you'd be forgiven for calling it mistaking it with graph paper)

The Rose (but you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for graph paper)

On the positive side, the heat provided a convenient excuse for Aperol Spritzes, although Italians never seem to need an excuse to drink (wine before noon is a common sight).

I’m not sure that I would choose to visit Venice again in August. The crowds were like locusts swarming every popular site and the heat was, well, HOT.  On the plus side, it didn’t smell as “ripe” as I’d feared and we didn’t have any flooding.

In all seriousness, I love Venice, just maybe not in August.  I think that this applies to Italy generally.  At least I didn’t have to drive in Venice…

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Portofino

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From atop Castello Brown

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Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

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View from Rapallo Promenade

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Boat to Portofino

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Tigullio Gulf

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Portofino – in front of whimsical sculpture garden

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Climb to Castello Brown–seeking temporary relief in the shade

View of Portofino from Castello Brown

View of Portofino from Castello Brown

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Panorama from above Portofino

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Zara in private reverie (singing to Bailey)

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On pebbly beach near Abbey of San Fruttuoso

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Abbey of San Fruttuoso

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Waiting for a boat

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Aperol Spritz and tower of delicious, complimentary appetizers

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Rapallo – at night

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Cinque Terra

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Zara’s favorite spot

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Soaking in the view

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Vernazzo beach – Cinque Terra

As we approached the coastal town of Rapallo on the Italian Riviera, I could already sense that I was going to like it here.  The scenery resonated with me in a way that the more dramatic but dry and precipitous cliffs of Amalfi had not.

We had booked a couple of nights at Il Gatto, a charming but reasonably priced boutique hotel within a 5 minute walk of Rapallo’s promenade.  Zara adored the hotel’s cat theme (and the actual cat roaming the lobby) and we felt so comfortable in the hotel (and in Rapallo) that we extended our stay by another night.

Rapallo is a town of about 35,000 people and is located a few kilometers west of the much more ritzy Portofino (just a 20 minute boat ride away).   It feels like a regular town, not one only targeted towards tourists or the mega rich, and I could easily imagine living here for a few months, unlike Portofino where owning a luxury yacht seems a requisite to residency.  (Portofino IS just as attractive as you’ve heard though–I can understand why it has long been a haunt of the rich and famous.)

Rapallo had a lovely promenade where the vacationing crowds strolled late into the evenings.  It was on this promenade that we were introduced to our first (but not last) Aperol Spritzes, a delicious aperitif with an appealing orange hue that perfectly befits a warm summer night.   And we were delighted to discover that when ordering drinks in Rapallo’s restaurants during cocktail hour, you’re treated to a tower of free and delicious appetizers, enough to suffice for dinner if you aren’t ravenous.  (Of course, we still always also ordered dinner!)

On our final day in the area we took a 1-hour journey on a packed train (without AC) to Riomaggiore, the southernmost town of Cinque Terra.  I’d always dreamed of visiting Cinque Terra, but July may not be the best time to do it if you dislike crowds.   We’d all donned our hiking boots with the expectation of walking on at least a portion of the hiking trail linking the five villages, but learned upon arrival that the section we’d planned on hiking was closed due to some landslides from 2012’s torrential rains.  In a way, I was relieved to get out of hiking in the heat.  Instead, we spent about an hour exploring Riomaggiore and then hopped on a boat which took us to Vernazzo where we stayed for a few hours, ate lunch, relaxed on the pebbly beach and swam in the sparkling sea.  We caught the train back to Rapallo from the most northern (and largest) village of Monterosso.  This time it was an express train that thankfully was air-conditioned.

Three days here wasn’t enough.  Trails in the green hills still beckoned, countless beaches were left unexplored and more evenings spent sipping Aperol Spritz’s tempted us.

I know we’ll return to the Italian Riviera some day–just maybe not in July.

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Elba in the distance

We headed north after departing the Amalfi Coast, our ultimate destination being the Italian Riviera, but we broke up the drive with a stay in Tarquinia.  I’ve rarely been as happy to leave a place as I was the Amalfi Coast.  What a relief to be on level ground again!

I’d never heard of Tarquinia, but I was eager for a place off the beaten tourist path but with some interesting history.  Tarquinia was a big win on both fronts.

It’s the site of an Etruscan Necropolis, with tombs dating back almost 2500 years.  They are located under a large grassy field on a hilltop just outside of town and at first sight are unassuming mounds of the earth.  However, each tomb is reached by entering a shelter adjacent to the mound and descending a staircase about 30 feet, where the burial chambers are carved into rock and brightly colored paintings depicting Etruscan life still adorn the chambers.  The entire site was very quiet–just a few other visitors–which was such a welcome change after the crowds of the prior weeks.

Etruscan tomb mounds in Tarquinia

Etruscan tomb mounds in Tarquinia

Etruscan tomb paintings over 2000 years old

Etruscan tomb paintings over 2000 years old

The town itself was also lovely and populated primarily with Italian tourists.  A perfect place to while away a few hours in one of the town squares cooling off with some of the local frizzante.  It’s the type of town that it is easy to imagine spending a few relaxing weeks (or months) in.   On the way home from dinner, we met a Swedish woman and her teenage daughter (out walking their cats on leashes (!)) who have lived a nomadic life for years, but are currently calling Tarquinia “home” (a cave in Spain was another recent abode).

Pisa

As we headed north the next morning, we stopped for coffee in the seaside town of Piombino, where we could see Elba in the “not far enough” distance. (I hadn’t appreciated how close to shore Elba is and it clearly wasn’t remote enough for Napoleon’s exile.)  After we fueled up, our next stop was Pisa and its leaning tower.  The contrast to the Etruscan Necropolis couldn’t have been greater, with busloads of tourists and day-trippers from Rome.  Still, it was surprisingly cool to see in person.  Interestingly, we learned that when Jonathan visited in 1988, it had leaned nearly twice as much as it does now, as they closed it in 1991 for about eight years to stabilize the tower after another one nearby unexpectedly toppled and the stabilization included some necessary straightening but not enough to take away the tourism appeal!

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