Third Stop – Italy (part 2 – A few more days, more cities, I, myself and me)

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After Catherine returns to Greece, I will remain solo in Italy for a few days. Our ways part in Bologna and my first stop is the small state of San Marino. I admit, it seems a bit like a tourist trap, but I’m curious enough to visit the country and even spend an evening there, when most of the tourists will have left the place for nearby Rimini, which seems to experience very lively nights, as it is situated on the Adriatic shores.  Anyway, the most celebrated attractions of San Marino are its three towers, depicted on the national flag, of which only two are accessible, as Montale is not open to public (De la Fraita and the most famous  Guaita are). Besides that, there’s Palazzo Pubblico (Government seat), the Piazza della Libertà and the Basilica of San Marino as well as the Museo di Stato. There are several museums that seem like tourist traps, but there is also a peculiar site, the San Marino Jinja, far from the main town, but I ‘d like to try and pay a visit if I have the time to do so. It is supposedly built by a controversial Japanese religious group, claiming that the building is the only Shinto temple in Europe, and they built it on the occasion that Japan is the most ancient Empire continuously existing, while San Marino is the most ancient republic.

Be that as it may, next morning I’m off to Florence, where I’m going to spend a couple of days. That is too limited an amount of time to stay there, and I have to plan very carefully, but I mostly have to accept that there are many places I am going to pass. After thinking quite hard about it, I have decided to freely walk the city streets and follow a very loose plan. I can certainly try to visit some very important museums, but the lines that form at their entrances are a deterring factor to visit. There’s a combo ticket for the Uffizi gallery, Pitti palace and Boboli gardens at nearly 40 euro, but you must state the time of your arrival at the Uffizi and that means I have to plan quite accurately and I do not have the time to do so.

Therefore, I’m going to try and spend a very loose weekend at Florence, with the less amount of worries regarding my visit. If I get a chance to visit a place, then it’s ok. If I don’t, it’s still fine. Of course, places featuring in my Florence bucketlist are: Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto’s Campanile and the baptistery of St. John, all three situated close to each other and can be visited with a combo ticket. On the one side of the river, there are Bargello National Museum(many statues created by famed artists), Piazza della Signoria (copies of famous statues and originals of Donatelo and others) , Palazzo Vecchio and of course Uffizi gallery as well as Santa Croce [burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiaveli, the poet Foscolo (influenced our national poet D. Solomos), Rossini, featuring works of Donatello and Giotto], the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella (an early work of Boticelli), Mercato del Porcellino and Orsanmichele (Donatello, Verocchio, Giambologna), San Lorenzo (burial place of teh Medici), San Marco (a work of Fra Angelico, but also the seat of Savonarola). Crossing  Ponte Vecchio, one can find Boboli gardens, Pitti palace (Should pay a visit solely for Artemisia), Basilica di Santo Spirito (Michelangelo’s crucifix among other minor works), San Miniato al Monte, one of the most scenic churches in Italy. Piazzale Michelangelo (Just the view would suffice),

I’ll probably skip the Galleria dell’ Academia, a very popular and significant place, housing Michelangelo’s David.

The trickiest part of this trip will be the next couple of days, which I intent to spend along Via Francigena, an ancient road, leading pilgrims from England to Rome. I’ll try to walk along that road from Monteriggioni to San Gimignano and Gambassi Terme, for my first day there. While on the second day, I’ll try and walk from Gambassi Terme to San Miniato, where I’ll catch a train to Pisa. Time permitting, in case I skip walking and use buses, I may visit one of the following places, Siena, Certaldo, Vinci or Lucca, with Lucca being the most probable city to pay a visit to, since there will be not enough time to get to Siena and Vinci is way out of my way. Certaldo on the other hand is close to Gambassi Terme and a short visit might be possible, in case I skip walking all the way to San Miniato.

Third Stop – Italy (part 1 – A couple of days, a couple of cities, a couple)

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Well, the neighbors… We’ve met many Italians over the years, yet we never had the chance to visit their country. If Italy is half as good and elegant as the Italians we’ve met (we know it is) we’ll definitely have a great time there. I know I will, since half of our stay I’m going solo, as Catherine must return to Greece, while I will be prolonging my stay for a few days. Therefore, the plan is that we are going to land to Genoa, late at night, so we won’t have a chance to view the city, but next day we might head to nearby Pisa, while we are certainly going to roam the five main villages that form Cinqueterre (Map of the villages here).

It will be quite a demanding day, before taking the last bus from La Spezia to Bologna, where we’ll split. Our first day in Italy will begin with a short visit to Pisa, before visiting nearby La Spezia, where we’ll catch a train to the northern of the five Villages, Monterosso al mare and then we will walk south to Vernazza (3,5 km in total) and possibly catch a train to Corniglia (the route seems closed) and then walk to Manarola before using the train to get to Riomaggiore. There are train tickets that are valid for a day (16 euro) and will allow us to move between the villages, while we are also going to walk along the famous paths for some part of the route (current situation of the paths). As I understand the most popular paths, between the southern villages are closed (some until as late as 2021) therefore the train ticket is a necessity. What can we expect to find in that place though? Honestly, I don’t know, but we imagine that the views of the cliffs falling to the sea and the beautiful villages climbing up the rocks as we walk through the natural landscape will be a great sight. At least that’s what we can make out from the pictures we saw.

In the Evening we must return to La Spezia to catch a late bus to Bologna. We are staying near the center and we’ll have a great deal of time to enjoy some morning coffee and a walk to some of the sights the city offers, like piazza Maggiore, Basilica di San Petronio, Palazzo d’Accursio and the fountain of Neptune. Of course, there are much more to see there, but time is not on our side, as Catherine will return to Greece and I will go solo for a few days visiting San Marino and Tuscany.

Next stop on our trip – Malta

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Second stop on our trip will be Malta, an island with lots of sun, history, traditions and lots of settings of movies and series. We’ll be staying at Rabat in the mainland, but the island – although bigger than Gozo, is quite small, so we guess that most places will be pretty accessible. Near Rabat, we are close to Mtahleb cliffs, where we can enjoy some trekking and some views of the Mediterranean from these high cliffs that were part of the scenery in GoT. Quite close is another GoT location, Verdala palace, the official summer residence of the President. That is closed to public, but nearby Buskett Gardens and the local village of Siggiewi offer stunning views of the palace. Another GoT location is the Church of St Dominic & The Blessed Virgin, while an interesting location to visit are St Paul’s Catacombs (very interesting Baldacchino tombs there), while more GoT locations lay ahead as Mesquita square, acted as a setting for the facade of Little Finger’s brothel, while the Mdina Gate is the place where Catelyn and Ned Stark last said goodbye. Nearby is also the Mosta Rotunda, a church that was hit by a bomb during Mass in 1942 (A replica of Bomb can be seen inside). Finally, San Anton Palace gardens is another GoT location to visit.

We are definitely going to visit Comino as well, but we have no idea if we’ll be doing that right after we leave Gozo or whether we’ll return up north to visit the small island, famed for its Blue Lagoon. Any visit to the island without a view of its Capital, would be a waste, so we are definitely paying Valletta a visit. We’ve narrowed down our options while there to Teatru Manoel, one of the oldest working theatres, we may also visit Casa Rocca Piccola, but its imperative to view the Valletta Waterfront-Upper Barrakka Gardens for the salutting Battery (12.00 and 16.00) among other things, as well as the Royal Opera House Site. Our visit will be concluded at St. Augustine Church and at the National Museum Of Archaeology.

There are more sites to be found further South, most of them ruins of Megalithic temples like Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim or the neolithic Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, as well as the Tarxien Temples and the prehistoric Ghar Dalam Cave, before concluding our visit to the Blue grotto.

Of course we are also going to try and attend a Maltese Festa. It is a religious celebration with brass bands and some alcohol is involved in the festivities. There seem to be around five of them scheduled during our stay, Two in Mġarr & Dingli (celebrating The Assumption of Our Lady) another in Sliema (Our Lady Star of the Sea), in Paola (Our Lady of Lourdes) and Birkirkara (St. Helen of Constantinople). Sliema and Birkirkara seem like they would be the most prestigious ones, so we’ll probably choose one of them. Before leaving the island to fly to Italy, we’ll have a full day to spend, as our flight is in the evening, so we are also going to chill out around the island discovering more of it.

 

Scheduling for this year’s journey (A couple of days at Gozo)

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As you know, this year we are starting our journey from the Maltese archipelago. We are going to visit the main island as well as Gozo and of course Comino, which stands between these two larger islands. Now, the plan is to start by spending a couple of days at Gozo, where we are going to stay near the main harbor, at Mgarr. According to the instructions we received from our hotel, we need to get the X1 bus to Cirkewwa ferry terminal and then the ferry to Gozo.  We are only going to spend a couple of days at the island, so we’ll split our Gozo itinerary into two days. As is the case on the main island, Gozo also has a lot to offer to hungry eyes and minds and we’ll spend time swimming in beaches, sunbathing, sightseeing and enjoying a few drinks. We’ll use local buses to get around and thankfully it seems that the bus company has a well informed website (routes 301-309 and 310 – 330 apply to Gozo).

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We expect to arrive a bit early at noon, so there will be plenty of time ahead to enjoy some sightseeing, although we will probably avoid getting to tired. I guess we will visit Rotunda St. John Baptist Church, a 20th century building with a medieval twist as it is the spiritual seat of the Knights of Malta. We may also swim in the nearby Mġarr ix-Xini, a bay where a small restored watchtower reminds of the island’s past. Then we may visit the majestic Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs, to enjoy the scenery and view some of the archeological remains near Sannat before heading to Mgarr El Xini bay and Xlendi Bay for another dive in the water.

During the next day, the last on Gozo we’ll continue our exploration of the island at the temples of Ġgantija the neolithic era monuments that predate the pyramids, before hitting the beach once more, possibly approaching Calypso Cave for a view of Ramla Beach, before moving to San Blas beach for a swim.

After a break we’ll continue with part 2 of this day’s schedule, visiting Wied Il-Mielaħ, window (would be a comfort to see another sea window in Malta, after the destruction of the azzure window) and then visit Ta’ Pinu church and the main square of Gharb village.

Finally there’s a group of sights located nearby, the Inland Sea and the site of the Azzure window as well as the Blue hole (I don’t know whether we’ll do any diving though) and Fungus rock, an islet where a smelly plant grows that medieval doctors used as a prized medicine (because you know, if something is stinky it must be a good medicine – just joking, please do not try this).

PS We haven’t actually had the time to plan everything for this trip. We’ll probably go blind for most of the way. Still we are not getting lazy. Personally, I had an offer to publish my thesis, so I’m currently translating it to English, while I’m also working on a magazine article. There are numerous things I want to do right now and sadly there’s so little time. However I’ll try and keep updating on this trip’s scheduling.

Our Mediterranean summer

Well, all of our summers are Mediterranean, since we live in Greece, but on this occasion we refer to this year’s trip. Planning ahead for this summer has been a very close call, since we are still renovating our house (we’ve just finished the first phase of our renovation plans) and I was too busy being awarded my phd. Still, we have once more managed to issue a travel plan, which will first take us to Malta and then to Italy.

This year we’ll explore the Maltese archipelago, visiting all three main islands, enjoying the sea, the sun and the rich history of the place, also visiting some GOT filming locations along the way. Then we are off to Italy, where we are going to spend a day exploring the Cinqueterre villages and possibly making a short visit to Pisa, before we head for Bologna, where things will get a different turn.

You see, at that point of the trip, Catherine will return to Greece, while I will remain solo to climb up the Apennines and visit the most serene republic of San Marino, before venturing forth to Florence to admire the best of renaissance Italy. My steps will carry me along the Via Francigena, the road of the pilgrims, where I am going to get a taste of the Tuscan countryside and places like San Gimignano, San Miniato, Gambassi Terme and Monterigioni. My Plan is to hike about 60 km of this route in a couple of days, making a few stops along the way and spend a night at one of the places that feature on my bucket list. Finally, I’ll head back to Pisa and return to Greece. Well we’ll just have to see how this goes…