Friday, 18 April 2014

Munich in April - the flowers, the beer gardens and the quirkiness

Who knew that in April Munich  was so full of flowers! From tulips of all colours to  yellow daffodils, when I visited the city was full of beautiful flowerbeds, carefully tended and very pleasant to see. This is the thing that has struck me the most about Munich.
Munich and the flowers
Flower beds in Munich
I don't know if the wooden structure in the picture above is the cover of a fountain for the winter or if that weird but cute square stays like that all year round!
Munich and the flowers2
Flowers in Munich

Sure, there is also Marienplazt with its famous glockenspiel, the Theatinerkirche with its yellow-painted façade, and of course the lovely Englischer Garten. I really enjoyed walking through the latter, which is the main park in Munich. The city is rich in green areas, but Englischer Garten is one of the biggest city parks in the world. It's bigger than Central Park in New York, can you believe it? It draws its name from the way the English used to lay out of the landscape. Like English gardens, it is scattered with pavilions.

Englischer Garten, Munich
Englischer Garten

The most famous pavilion in the park is the lovely Chinese Tower (Chinesischer Turm), which  also hosts a famous biergarten. I think we should really thank German people for beer gardens: such a cool place to relax with a beer and a bratwurst. Did you know that you can also bring your own food and picnic there? The Chinese Tower is a wooden structure built for the first time at the end of the eighteenth century, and inspired from Chinese architecture. Who knew that they built these kind of places so long ago! It also reminds me of the temples in Bali! Here traditional folk music is played, while people enjoy a beer and traditional German food. 

Chinese Tower, Munich
Biergarten at the Chinesische Turm

Of course I couldn't help having a beer and a bratwurst, while with my friend Irina I explored the city. The atmosphere is relaxed and nobody will rush you. I must add that the weather was excellent when I visited!

With a beer

I found Munich to be a clean, tidy city. Its austere architecture may put you off at first, but you'll soon notice the good vibe of the city. It's very clear, while you're walking down the streets of Munich, that you are in a lively, energetic city that's projected towards the future. There is hope in Munich, and people seem happy: the restaurants are full, and the people have money to spend.

Flowers in Munich
Flowers in Marienplatz

There are some pretty quirky things here to visit as well. First of all, I loved all of its statues. The city is scattered with unusual and fanciful statues, like that of Red Riding Hood. Perhaps the connection is through Grimm's fairy tales. Another statue I encountered near Marienplatz is one of Juliet from Shakespeare's play, where - like in Verona - it brings good luck to touch the woman's boob.

Statue, Munich
Juliet statue near Marienplatz

The weirdest attraction of Munich is not a statue, though. While I was walking in the city centre with my friend, we passed in front of the Bayerischer  Hof, a 5-star hotel, and we found this shrine dedicated to Michael Jackson. Apparently he stayed at this hotel some time before his death, and people began leaving flowers, photos and candles in front of it. The memorial is of course unofficial, as the monument is dedicated to another person, an Orlando di Lasso who I am sure is not very happy about this arrangement. There were some ladies taking care of the shrine, and I wonder if they are MJ's fans.
Shrine to Michael Jackson, Munich
Shrine to Michael Jackson in front of the Bayerishcer Hof
By the way, I have declared Germans the weirdos of Europe (in an affectionate way). Who else could come up with the idea of surfing on the permanent wave of a river in downtown Munich? 

I'll end this post by talking of Viktualienmarkt. It is a really cute open-air market where you can find everything from fresh smoothies to decorations for your home. 

Viktualienmarkt, Munich
Fruit stall in Viktualienmarkt
I have more to write about Munich, but I'll save it for another post! Bis bald, Munich!

The old town hall

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Insider tips for a hassle-free visit to Venice

Many people have come visit me in Venice throughout the years. Over time I have come up with some tips that will make your visit to Venice more rewarding and completely free of hassles. As a hyper-touristic city, Venice is not always easy to navigate without passing dozens of shops with tacky souvenirs, expensive restaurants and hordes of people with cameras and shorts, but I have done my best here to show you how to enjoy Venice.

Ponte dei Sospiri, Venice
Ponte dei Sospiri

Try to avoid July and August! During the summer Venice is so full of tourists that it's almost impossible to appreciate its beauty. With all those people taking the same photo from the Accademia Bridge or fighting to have their picture taken in front of Ponte dei Sospiri, you'll find yourself fighting for space. Most people who have visited Venice and have hated it came in the summer, stayed only one or two days, saw how packed it can be and left disappointed. Moreover, Venice can become uncomfortably wet when it's hot. Try to come in spring (April or May are perfect) or in autumn (September is great). Winter can also be an interesting time to visit, because the city is often covered in fog, and there's hardly anywhere around.

Nightmare in Venice, St. Mark's Square

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Treviso: not just the Ryanair airport

Treviso is the town in north-eastern Italy where I went to school, and the village where I grew up is only half an hour away in the countryside. I don't go often to Treviso nowadays, but the other day I coupled my walk in the historic centre with a visit to an exhibition held at Ca' dei Carraresi on classical India and its charms.

Treviso is a sleepy town with absolutely no tourists, half an hour away from Venice by train, and it's full of medieval buildings, quiet canals and also stylish boutique shops. It is smaller than Verona or Vicenza, and life here runs slowly. Even though it's not a touristic town, there are some cute corners if you know where to look. The fact that there are virtually no tourists made me look strange with a camera in my hands: people were staring at me and wondering why I was taking pictures! Has that ever happened to you?

Canale dei Buranelli, Treviso
A view of Treviso (Canale dei Buranelli)

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

My next trip: Austria & Southern Bavaria

In April I will be attending a conference in Innsbruck, Austria. I thought that it would be nice to have a look around the area, before and/or after the 5-day conference. I've already been to both Austria and Germany, but there are many places I haven't visited in both countries, including this Alpine town famous for its ski facilities. 


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Travel guides vs. travel blogs

Do you use travel guides, either when you're planning your next holiday or when you're on the road? In spite of the fact that I read a lot of travel blogs, I do use guide-books as well. In fact, I love them!

Some travel books I keep in my room

Compared to travel blogs, I find guide-books on specific destinations more reliable on things concerning history and cultural insights. I tend to dislike people who don't make the effort of reading a little bit about the place they're visiting or they're going to visit. And mind that this doesn't mean only jotting down the names of a couple of places where you can eat or drink! Some of the most famous travel bloggers take pride in avoiding travel guides at all costs, but sometimes they misinterpret the places they are visiting, even inserting a couple of wrong historical facts in their posts. This hurts me, especially when it happens with my country, Italy, or the town where I'm living right now, Venice.

On the other hand, I find resources on the web more useful for things like updated information about bus timetables, hostel reviews and the like. Moreover, travel blogs can give you that personal experience a travel guide-book can never have. I read travel blogs because of the people who write them. I want to know what they found cool and what they found disappointing, I want to read about their misadventures and their discoveries. Above all, I like to read their personal opinions and views on the places they visit. 

There are two favourite books I love to browse.

The first is Travel Eyewitness (published in Italian by Mondadori). It's a book full of images and can be very helpful when you're planning what to see, because it gives you a comprehensive view of a country or a city, together with plans of the main attractions, just to give you an idea on how big and how many things there are to explore. The Travel Eyewitness series also helps me identifying things and paying attention to details: it has plenty of pictures of architectural details, which I love. It's also an excellent book to keep at home and it's perfectly enjoyable to browse after your trip. 

Reading about Campo Santo Stefano while looking at the church of the same name

I prefer a Lonely Planet guide when I'm on the road for many reasons. One is that Lonely Planet is geared towards independent travellers and it gives plenty of advice on how to get from A to B with public transport, and it provides you with detailed maps for when you need to find that bus station or the exact location of a museum. It also gives good advice on restaurants and cheap eateries. I like to read about the options I have - in terms of attractions and activities - before leaving, and then I store my guide in my backpack (if it's not full already!).   

Planning my trip to Crete

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Austrians in Venice

So, I'm going to Austria next month. By the way, did you know that Venice was occupied by Austria in the 19th century? But what did the Austrians do in Venice? I guess that they didn't just sit and stare at the beauty of the town.

In 1797 Venice was invaded by Napoleon, after more than 1000 years of independence. Napoleon gave it away in the peace treaty with Austria. The Austrians were never really accepted in Venice and in 1848 the city organized a rebellion against the Habsburg Austrian empire that resulted in the formation of the republic of San Marco, which lasted a year. Venice and its territories remained Austrian until 1866, when the former independent Republic was annexed to the newly unified Italian kingdom.

  • The spritz.

The origins of spritz are unknown, as it is the case with many of Venetian dishes, included tiramisu, but it is believed that the Austrian soldiers stationed in Venice created this drink, by watering down Venetian wines with sparkling water because they found them too strong. Later, other "corrections" were added, and nowadays spritz is mostly made with either aperol, select, or bitter, all aperitif drinks. There are endless variations to the spritz, also changing from city to city. The spritz is now popular all over northern Italy, and it's spreading to other parts of the country, as well as to other cities. I've seen it in London, for example!

Holding a spritz

  • I Nizioleti

"Nizioleti" are the beautiful squared frescoes that indicate the names of calli, bridges and campi in Venice. Sometimes they have funny names, like Ponte delle Tette ("bridge of the boobs"), or Sotoporgego del Casin dei Nobili ("close of the noblemen's casino"). The former indicates an area that was supposedly inhabited by prostitutes, who showed their "merchandise" from the windows. The latter also reveals the libertine past of the city, as it recalls a casino frequented only by noblemen. The nizioleti were adopted during the Austrian domination. Before that, only the number on a street door could indicate that you were at the right address, and people knew the name of the streets by heart. As a matter of fact, in Venice houses are numbered within districts, not streets, so that your address could be simply San Marco 3567. Even today, when you give a Venetian address, you give the name of one of the six sestieri, the neighbourhoods, and the door number, but never the name of the street. 

    Me pointing at a 'nizioleto' displaying the name of the town where I come from, Treviso

  • The railway bridge.

The Austrian emperor, Ferdinand I, decided he wanted a railway connection from Milan to Venice, the two biggest cities of the Lombardo-Veneto. In 1842 the first part was inaugurated: it was the third railway ever constructed in Italy. At the beginning the railway connection arrived until Mestre,  in the mainland, and from there people had to take a boat to reach Venice. In 1846 the railway bridge that connects Venice to the mainland was inaugurated. You still cross that railway bridge if you arrive to Venice by train or by car. It is very scenic because you can see all the lagoon in its beauty.

Verso il Ponte della Libertà.
What you can expect to see from Ponte della Libertà (photo by Marco Trevisan)

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Carnival of Venice: the good and the bad

The world-famous Carnevale di Venezia, the carnival of Venice, is one of the most attended festivals in the area. Carnevale is a long-standing tradition in Venice, but nobody knows when it started and why. What we know is that it became very famous in the eighteenth century, when Venice was famous for its libertines and mask balls.

Photo I took of my friend and travel blogger Diana (Close to Eternity) at the Venice Carnival

Carnevale is celebrated everywhere in Italy, but only in Venice it acquires this characteristic aura, with traditional masks walking down the narrow calli or celebrating in St. Mark's Square. Some masks have become famous, like that of Colombina, who originally was a character from commedia dell'arte, or that of il dottore della peste (the plague's doctor), with the characteristic long nose to protect himself from the bad smells of the infected people. Some of the costumes are very expensive, others are "knocked together" from random clothes and old costumes you have at home.

Masks are sold all year around in shops in Venice, you can buy one for 5 or 50 , according to the material, the design, and the complexity of the decorations.

Masks for sell around Campo Santo Stefano
There are entertainment and music events everywhere in town, and people are up to pranks like shoving the famous coriandoli (confetti in English) up your face.

Things you can eat during Carnival: frittelle (fritters with cream or other fillings), and galani (a fritter-biscuit sprinkled with icing sugar). You can buy some in any pasticceria (pastry shop) around town.


The Carnival of Venice is the best and the worst moment to visit Venice. It is certainly a unique celebration, but it falls on a season that is relatively cold and wet, and the streets can get really crowded, to the point that you'll have to shove your way through the main streets.  The city gets flooded with a jovial atmosphere, but it's nearly impossible to get on a vaporetto (water boat). I suggest that you weigh these points BEFORE going. If you don't like crowds, don't go! If you like fancy costumes, don't mind a bit of confusion, and you have already seen the main sights in Venice, it's a fun moment to be in town.

Another picture from the Venice carnival

On two separate Sundays in St. Mark's Square you can see Volo dell'Angelo (Angel Flight) and Volo dell'Aquila (Eagle Flight), when a girl is chosen to be sent on a rope from the clock tower to the centre of the square. This year for Volo dell'Aquila the girl chosen was Carolina Kostner, a famous Italian ice skater who won a medal at Sochi Olympic Games.

Volo dell'Aquila with Carolina Kostner

I must be honest: I have never been a huge fan of the Venice carnival. I much prefer the celebrations in small towns, where you can simply enjoy the parades of allegorical floats. Perhaps I have seen the Venice carnival too many times, and perhaps it's that I don't like the crowds when I have to do my daily chores or I go out for a drink with my friends. Moreover, even though Italians celebrate carnevale all over Italy,  in Venice the celebrations  seem to be geared towards tourists rather than locals. Everything is about reviving the traditions that were almost lost, rather than observing a celebration that has been going on in the same way for centuries. As a matter of fact, the Carnival in Venice as a huge festival has been"recreated" since 1979 only.

Unofortunately, this year the Carnival has been exceptionally wet, with days when the horrible weather even stopped the concerts and the celebrations around town.

A rainy Carnival in St. Mark's Square
What do you think: would you go to the Venice Carnivel in spite of the crowds and the cold weather?
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