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Mural on a Pemex station wall, adjacent to Guadalajara's Parque Revolución

Mural on a Pemex station wall, adjacent to Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución

For those who have sated themselves on Guadalajara’s high profile tourist attractions, the neighborhoods of the city’s midtown offer a change-of-pace urban experience that invite the visitor to return again and again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tren Ligera's Juarez Station, Parque Revolución, Guadalajara.

The Tren Ligera’s Juarez Station, Parque Revolución, Guadalajara.

 

 

 

From working-class neighborhoods on its eastern edge that offer up colorful mom-and-pop shops, newsstands, and street food vendors to the stately boulevards and historic mansions on its west end, midtown is a great weekend experience.

 

 

 

Students on a break in Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Students on a break in Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

 

 

 

A nighttime stay-over is a must, because while daytime browsing is great fun, it’s in the evening, that these neighborhoods really come alive.

 

 

 

 

 

Street merchants line the entrance to Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Street merchants line the entrance to Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

A weekend stay-over is made even sweeter by bargain rates on hotels that cater to businessmen during the week.

 

Doing homework in Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Doing homework in Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

 

 

Midtown is home to museums and monuments, sidewalk cafés, bookstores, bars and clubs with live music, and a checkerboard of eclectic and sometimes funky shops.

 

 

 

 

Flower merchant, Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Flower merchant, Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

 

 

 

 

At its heart is the Parque Revolución, located where the Avenida Juarez becomes the Avenida Vallarta at the intersection of Calzado de Federalismo.

 

 

 

 

 

Student relaxing in Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Student relaxing in Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

 

 

It’s hard to miss.  An ever-changing mural which covers the billboard-sized wall of a Pemex station is visible from blocks away.

 

 

 

Taco stands about in Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Taco stands about in Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

The Parque Revolución is only a 20 minute walk from the Centro Historico, or two subway stops from the San Juan de Dios Market station, which is located adjacent to the market on the side facing the Plaza de los Mariachis.

 

Hanging out in Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Hanging out in Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

Here the lines of the Tren Ligera subway system converge just blocks from the University of Guadalajara.  While there’s no question that the concentration of students fuels much of this neighborhood’s ambiance, it’s a also convenient place for workers from nearby shops and offices to grab lunch.

 

Students hanging out, Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Students hanging out, Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

 

Here you can enjoy a street taco, buy indigenous art and crafts or a bouquet of flowers, and get a haircut or shoeshine.

 

 

Heading to class at Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Heading to class at Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

 

Or you can just order yourself a paleta, pick a shady bench, and soak up the atmosphere.

 

Barbacoa (barbecue) taco stand in Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Barbacoa (barbecue) taco stand in Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

 

 

 

 

On a weekday afternoon, students on their way to and from classes – or just in between classes, study and congregate on the Parque’s north side, where a collection of street vendors holds permanent court.

 

Hanging out in Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Hanging out in Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

 

 

The mood here is nothing if not mellow, and has the familiar feel of parks near universities worldwide.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting a haircut in Guadalajara's Parque Revolución.

Getting a haircut in Guadalajara’s Parque Revolución.

 

 

There’s more to see here than can possibly be covered in a single post, so my next posts will take you on a walking tour of midtown, where you can enjoy the Guadalajara that tourists rarely experience.

Milano’s spectacular Duomo

Front facade of the Duomo, Milano, Italy.

Front facade of the Duomo, Milano, Italy.

The Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano) is the city’s cathedral and the home church of its archbishop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duomo capped by the "Madonnina's spire, Milano, Italy.

Duomo capped by the “Madonnina’s spire, Milano, Italy.

 

 

 

This cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is Italy’s largest, Europe’s third largest, and the world’ 5th-largest church.

 

Gothic spire detail, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

Gothic spire detail, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

 

The Duomo occupies what was the center of the ancient Roman city, but its construction did not begin until 1386.

 

Facade detail, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

Facade detail, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

 

The signature “Madonnina’s spire”, which rises to more than 300 feet, was not erected until nearly 400 years after construction was begun.

 

Facade detail, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

Facade detail, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

 

Given Milan’s damp and foggy climate, the Milanese consider it a fair-weather day when the Madonnina is not obscured by mist.

 

Facade detail, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

Facade detail, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

 

 

The Duomo’s facade was not added until its completion was ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte, who was crowned King of Italy there.

 

The last details of the cathedral were finished only in 1965.

 

 

 

Facade detail, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

Facade detail, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

 

 

 

Many Milanese, reminded by the centuries needed to complete the Duomo, use the  term “Fabbrica del Duomo” – built like the Duomo – as an adjective to describe an extremely long, complex task.

 

The Duomo’s rooftop is open to the public, and is reached by an elevator.

 

 

 

Rooftop deck, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

Rooftop deck, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

Architectural detail invisible from the street below suddenly becomes full sized, and statues, gargoyles, and spires tower over roofwalkers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gargoyle, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

Gargoyle, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

 

 

 

The effect of pollution on the Duomo requires diligent maintenance, and officials recently announced a campaign to raise funds for its preservation that asks patrons to adopt the building’s gargoyles.

 

 

 

Rooftop view of the city, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

Rooftop view of the city, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

 

 

Donors who contribute €100,000 or more can now have their name engraved under one of the grotesque figures perched on the cathedral’s rooftop.

 

Downtown skyscrapers visible through stone lattice work, Duomo rooftop, Milano, Italy.

Downtown skyscrapers visible through stone lattice work, Duomo rooftop, Milano, Italy.

 

There can be a stiff breeze up here, and from this vantage point the skyscrapers of modern Milano tower in the distance. On a clear day, the Alps are visible on the horizon.

 

Spires seen from the rooftop, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

Spires seen from the rooftop, Duomo, Milano. Italy.

As I walk the rooftop, I can’t help but be reminded that the weight of this building rests on columns and arches made of interlocking stones without any structural steel.  It seems a gravity-defying feat.

 

Northern Italy 269 Milano

Entrance to the Galleria, from the Dumo rooftop.

“10 Days In Italy” has now gone full circle, and it’s time to depart from Milan’s airport with a long list of more to see “the next time.”

And for anyone who’s been here, the fondest wish is that there will always be a next time.

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

Understated Milano

Clocktower, Milano. Italy.

Clocktower, Milano. Italy.

Milano is often omitted from lists of  Europe’s top cities, and yet only London, Paris, Madrid, and Germany’s Ruhr Valley are home to more people.

 

Milano may be most well-known as a global fashion and design center.

 

It is headquarters for designers including Armani, Versace, Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Missoni, and Moschino.

 

Residential street, old city, Milano, Italy.

Residential street, old city, Milano, Italy.

 

The city hosts international events including Milan Fashion Week and the Milan Furniture Fair, the largest of its kind in the world.

 

It’s no surprise that one of the world’s oldest shopping malls, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is located here.

 

Entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milano, Italy.

Entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milano, Italy.

 

Housed within a four-story double arcade, it was completed in  1877.

 

The arcade is principally home to luxury retailers selling haute couture, jewelry, books and paintings.

 

It is also full of restaurants, cafés, and bars, including some of Milano’s oldest, which include the Biffi Caffè the Savini restaurant, and the Art Nouveau classic Camparino.

 

Interior, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milano. Italy.

Interior, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milano. Italy.

 

In 2012, a McDonald’s restaurant was prevented from renewing its tenancy, after 20 years of occupancy

 

The Galleria is such a common Milanese meeting and dining place that it has been nicknamed il salotto di Milano (Milan’s drawing room).

 

Interior detail, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milano, Italy.

Interior detail, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milano, Italy.

 

While the city’s economy has been diversifying in recent years, it has historically been Italy’s manufacturing powerhouse.

 

Both Pirelli Tires and Alfa Romeo Motors are headquartered here, and the city’s older neighborhoods still have a working class feel.

 

Baptistry, Milano. Italy.

Baptistry, Milano. Italy.

 

Like New York City, Milano is the nation’s main industrial, commercial, and financial centre

 

It is home to Italy’s main stock exchange, the Borsa Italiana, and the nation’s largest banks are headquartered here.

 

Restaurant in Milano, Italy.

Restaurant in Milano, Italy.

 

Milano may also be Italy’s most cosmopolitan city.

 

It was for centuries the object of conquest by the Franks, Goths, French, Austrians, and Spanish. Architecture here leans toward the Gothic and Romanesque more than toward Renaissance.

 

Sforza castle tower entrance, Milano. Italy.

Sforza castle tower entrance, Milano. Italy.

The foreign influences are everywhere evident in the city’s buildings, and Milano arguably feels the least Italian of the cities visited on this tour.

 

Milano’s historical heyday occurred during the late Middle Ages under the tutelage of its ruling Sforza family.

 

Courtyard, Sforza castle, Milano, Italy.

Courtyard, Sforza castle, Milano, Italy.

The family’s fortress castle survives today.  This is no fairy-tale castle.  Its lines are simple and unadorned.  This place exudes a sense of brute power.

 

About a kilometer from the Sforza castle is the basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie, decorated with Leonardo da Vinci paintings including The Last Supper.

 

Basilica Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milano. Italy.

Basilica Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milano. Italy.

 

It was in Milano that Fascist leader Benito Mussolini organized his Blackshirts between the world wars, and the city later suffered extensive damage from Allied bombings.

 

When German forces occupied northern Italy in 1943, Milano became  a center for the Resistance.

 

Baptistry entrance, Milano. Italy.

Baptistry entrance, Milano. Italy.

 

Partisans seized control of the city and hanged Mussolini, his mistress, and other Fascist leaders in the Piazzale Loreto.  It was the same spot on which only a year before fifteen partisans had been executed.

 

For this evening’s meal, the choice is completely impromptu.  The Trattoria de la Trebia looks inviting, and even though not a soul in the place speaks English, the welcome for this unexpected traveler felt like the return of a prodigal son.

 

Next… the last of 10 Days in Italy is reserved for spectacular rooftop views from the Milano Cathedral, a gothic masterpiece and the Europe’s third largest.

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

Parma’s palate

Parma has the look of prosperity.

Parma has the look of prosperity.

Parma is more or less halfway between Florence and Milano, and the drive via the A1 autostrada is a little over two hours, but the road through the mountains from Pistoia to Sasso Marchoni affords an opportunity for a more leisurely drive and scenic stop-offs.

 

The gas station just beyond Pistoia has the look of the last one for a few hours, and the mountains are no place to run out of fuel.

 

A grocery dedicate to Parma's favorites.

A grocery dedicate to Parma’s favorites.

 

Incredibly (anywhere but Italy),  the little mom-and-pop establishment has an espresso machine inside and the cashier brews up a world-class cappuccino while the attendant fills ‘er up.

 

The back road experience is well worth the hour or so that it adds to the trip.

 

Parma's signature ham and cheese in a local grocery.

Parma’s signature ham and cheese in a local grocery.

 

The road winds through the mountains past picturesque villages, and lake-and-valley views are beautiful.

 

About halfway into the mountains, the highway crosses from Tuscany back into Emilia-Romagna, a reminder that Parma, like Bologna – is another Italian town with a great culinary tradition.

 

Parma sits within Italy’s Po River Valley breadbasket and is an major agricultural center, but its two claims to culinary fame are Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and prosciutto dry-cured ham

 

Disability is no obstacle for this cyclist in Parma, Italy.

Disability is no obstacle for this cyclist in Parma, Italy.

 

The production techniques for both nurture these products with all of the care of fine wine-making.

 

This hard, pale yellow cheese less often eaten by itself than it is grated and used as a condiment for pastas, salads, and pizza.

 

In the U.S., the name “parmesan” is used for any cheese inspired by Parmigiano-Reggiano.

 

Prosciutto hams curing in Parma, Italy.

Prosciutto hams curing in Parma, Italy.

 

Within the European Union, the term is origin-controlled and may only be used to refer to authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano.

 

Prosciutto is an uncooked, dry-cured ham – a prosciutto crudo – that’s usually served thinly sliced.

 

Each ham is cleaned and salted, then is gradually pressed over a period of weeks until the meat is thoroughly dry.

 

Bridge over the Torrente Parma, Italy.

Bridge over the Torrente Parma, Italy.

 

 

It is then washed to remove the salt and hung in a dark, well-ventilated environment.

 

When the ham is completely dry, it is hung to air to further cure for up to eighteen months.

 

Cold climates yield the best results, and in the days before refrigeration, prosciutto was customarily cured in winter.

 

Food specialties like these have made Parma into one of Italy’s most prosperous cities, and its well-kept streets look the part.

 

Palazzo del Governatore, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, Parma, Italy.

Palazzo del Governatore, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, Parma, Italy.

 

There is easily a day’s worth of sites to see here for anyone passing through at a more leisurely pace.

 

The Teatro Farnese is a four-hundred year old theater that has been restored following damage by Allied bombing during World War II.

 

The University of Parma maintains a botanical garden here, and the birthplace of favorite son Arturo Toscanini is now a museum commemorating his life and achievements.

 

The main cathedral and its signature hexagonal-shaped bapistry are also worth a visit, but in truth Italy has so many cathedrals, baptistries, basilicas, and convents that the visitor soon learns to reserve time only for the most unique or historically significant.

Astronomical clock, Palazzo del Governatore, Parma, Italy.

Astronomical clock, Palazzo del Governatore, Parma, Italy.

 

There are also several hot spring spas within half an hour’s drive.

 

This Parma stopover, though, is limited to a long lunch hour, and after a walk through the city streets of the city center, the place which suggests itself is an outdoor cafe on the Piazza Giuseppi Garibaldi in front of the Palazzo del Governatore.

 

Its astronomical clock is claimed to be the world’ largest, and dates from the late 1500’s.

 

Lunch on the piazza, Parma, Italy.

Lunch on the piazza, Parma, Italy.

 

As in Bergamo and Ferrara, a mid-day stopover in Parma has proven to be yet another pleasantly impromptu surprise.

 

Now it’s on to Milano and the last two days of 10 Days In Italy.

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

View of the Pitti Palace overlooking the city of Florence, Italy.

View of the Pitti Palace overlooking the city of Florence, Italy.

Today, Florence’s Pitti Palace houses some of the city’s most important museums, but it was for most of its life a private residence.

 

It lies about a kilometer south of the Duomo across the Ponte Vecchio, adjacent to the vast Boboli Gardens, which are also part of the estate.

 

 

 

Tourists sun themselves in front of the Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy

Tourists sun themselves in front of the Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy

 

 

The palace takes its name from the family for whom it was originally built by architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who also designed and built Florence’s famous Duomo.

 

A century later, the property was acquired by the Medici family, and became its primary residence.

 

Pitti Palace with formal garden and skyline view, FLorence, Italy.

Pitti Palace with formal garden and skyline view, Florence, Italy.

 

The Medicis remodeled and dramatically expanded the structure, and it rivals many palaces of European royalty in its size and grandeur.  The family lived in the palace for nearly 200 years.

 

Pitt Palace with formal garden, Florence, Italy.

Pitt Palace with formal garden, Florence, Italy.

 

 

Today, its first floor is occupied by the Palatine Gallery, a collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings by artists including Raphael, Titian, and Rubens.

 

It also houses the Royal Apartments.

 

 

 

Close-up of the view of Florence from the Pitti Palace,

Close-up of the view of Florence from the Pitti Palace,

 

The Silver Museum, located on its ground floor and mezzanine, contains a staggering collection of Medici household treasures.

 

The Gallery of Modern Art occupies the top floor, and  houses a collection of Tuscan 19th and 20th century paintings.

 

The Palazzina of the Meridiana is home to the Costume Gallery, a showcase of the fashion spanning 300 years.  It is the only museum of fashion history in Italy and one of the most important in the world.

 

The Grand Boulevard entrance to the Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

The Grand Boulevard entrance to the Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

The Pitti Palace overlooks the city of Florence, and the vistas of the city are spectacular.

 

Behind the Pitti Palace are the Boboli Gardens, which are among the first and most familiar of the 16th-century formal Italian gardens.

 

Ramses Ii obelisk, Boboli Gardens. Florence, Italy.

Ramses Ii obelisk, Boboli Gardens. Florence, Italy.

 

The Medicis also initiated work on the adjacent Boboli Gardens at about the same time that they expanded the palace.  The garden’s open design was unconventional for its time.

 

Pegasus, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

Pegasus, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

It is an outdoor museum of garden sculpture that includes Roman antiquities as well as 16th and 17th century works.

 

Grotto with statue of Paris and Helen of Troy, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

Grotto with statue of Paris and Helen of Troy, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

 

It contains expansive promenades, sculpture galleries, fountains, and intimate grottos decorated by statuary and frescoes.

 

Here there’s a space to suit almost any mood, and the sense of tranquility transcends even the hordes of tourists who seem insignificant in its expanse.

 

Triton Fountain, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

Triton Fountain, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

 

During the Medici residence, no one other than members of the immediate family were allowed access to the gardens, and no entertainment or parties were ever staged there.

 

The garden lacks a natural water source, and its elaborate irrigation system is fed by a conduit from the nearby Arno River.

 

Perseus On Horseback, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

Perseus On Horseback, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

 

On the Garden’s upper slopes, the Palazzina del Cavaliere pavilion houses the Porcelain Museum.

 

The gardens have been enlarged and restructured several times, and currently occupy 111 acres (45,000 square meters).

 

Clear water fountain, Boboli Gardens, FLorence, Italy.

Clear water fountain, Boboli Gardens, FLorence, Italy.

 

Catherine de Medici was born here, and when she became queen of France commissioned work on Paris’s Luxembourg Garden, which is inspired by the design of the Boboli Gardens.

 

The Palace and Gardens are a fitting end to a tour of Florence.  Tomorrow it’s on to Parma.

 

Dwarf Bacchus statue, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

Dwarf Bacchus statue, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

See my related post on Luxembourg Garden

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

 

Fabulous Florence

Arno river bridges, Ponte Vecchio in foreground, Florence, Italy.

Arno river bridges, Ponte Vecchio in foreground, Florence, Italy.

The much-photographed Ponte Vecchio is only one of the bridges which tie the halves of Florence together across the River Arno.

 

It looks less like a bridge than like a village hovering above the water.

 

Most of it is lined with shops, among which some seem to cling precariously to the bridge.

 

 

 

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.

 

 

And it is packed with tourists.

 

In fact, the real challenge in Florence is finding any spot in which there is not an ever-present reminder that visitors often outnumber locals, or that the twentieth century is ever pressed against this bubble of history.

 

 

Musician plays for tips on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.

Musician plays for tips on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.

 

 

This city’s modest size belies its role as, arguably, the cradle of modern civilization.

 

The list of notables who were either born or worked for much of their lives here is a list of Renaissance Who’s Whos.

 

Carousel in piazza, Florence. Italy,

Carousel in piazza, Florence. Italy,

 

Writers Dante, Boccacio, and Machiavelli.

Artists Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Donatello.

Navigator and mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci.

Architect Brunelleschi, who designed and built Florence’s signature Duomo.

Ice cream cones in Florence street window

Ice cream cones in Florence street window

 

Tourists take a break to sun themselves, Florence, Italy

Tourists take a break to sun themselves, Florence, Italy

 

 

And, of course, the Medici dynasty, whose power extended to Papal Rome and the court of Paris.  The family’s legacy survives as the private art collection now open to public viewing in the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace.

 

In Florence, works of art are not just reserved for museums and galleries.  Classically inspired sculptures fill its piazzas and crown its fountains, turning the mundane into public works of art.

 

Michelangelo's Davids abound in Florence, Italy

Michelangelo’s Davids abound in Florence, Italy

The Duomo of Florence’s signature Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore rises up out of the surrounding neighborhood as if it had been thrust up from the depths of the earth.   It is the first structure of its kind ever raised without supporting framework.

 

Its scale is so staggering that it is visible only in piecework glimpses from the surrounding streets, and in their dim light it often appears in monochrome.

 

Homework sits in a sculpting workshop, FLorence, Italy.

Homework sits in a sculpting workshop, FLorence, Italy.

Duomo and baptistry mark the signature skyline of Florence, Italy.

Duomo and baptistry mark the signature skyline of Florence, Italy.

 

It’s hard to appreciate the effect that this place must have had on the ordinary citizens who went about their daily business in its shadows.

 

 

 

 

To approach the cathedral is to fall deeper and deeper into an image that continually reveals new details unseen in full frame.

 

The scope of the elaborate, hand-chiseled details is mind-boggling.

 

 

 

Duomo and facade, Florence, Italy.

Duomo and facade, Florence, Italy.

 

It’s no surprise that it took more than 140 years of labor before first services were held, or that the final touches were not added to the facade until 500 years after construction was begun.

 

Duomo facade, Florence, Italy.

Duomo facade, Florence, Italy.

 

It’s about a ten minute walk through narrow city streets to the piazza from which the facade of the smaller Santa Croce Basilica is fully revealed.

 

 

Duomo facade, Florence, Italy.

Duomo facade, Florence, Italy.

 

Medieval buildings around the piazza add to its sense of timelessness.

 

Medieval facade across from Santa Croce Basilica, Florence, Italy.

Medieval facade across from Santa Croce Basilica, Florence, Italy.

 

The Basilica is the largest Franciscan church in the world, and the Franciscans’ appears prominently on the facade of the temple.  Santa Croce is the burial place of notables including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile and Rossini.

 

Santa Croce Basilica, Florence, Italy.

Santa Croce Basilica, Florence, Italy.

 

 

It’s an interesting bit of historical trivia that the basilica’s 19th-century neo-Gothic facade was designed by Jewish architect Niccolo Matas, who worked a Star of David into the composition.

 

As a non-Catholic, he was denied permission to be buried among his peers within the church’s walls, and was instead buried under the porch.

Gold leaf workshop, museum at Santa Croce Basilica, Florience, Italy.

Gold leaf workshop, museum at Santa Croce Basilica, Florience, Italy.

 

 

 

The Basilica museum has preserved the workshop of monks who worked gold leaf for application to sculpture and to create beautifully illuminated manuscripts

 

Tomorrow is reserved for a visit to the nearby Boboli Gardens.

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

 

Appetite for Bologna

Narrow streets of the old city, Bologna, Italy

Narrow streets of the old city, Bologna, Italy

A self-driven tour allows for lots of flexibility and spontaneity, but it has occasional drawbacks.

 

 

One is finding a place to park in the narrow streets of historic city centers.  Another is finding your way about them.

 

 

 

 

 

Portico and promenade, Bologna, Italy.

Portico and promenade, Bologna, Italy.

 

The hotel was easy to find on a map, but challenging to find from behind the wheel of a car.

 

With each turn, the ancient, one-way streets became narrower and narrower.

 

Just when it seemed that they could no longer accommodate a car, a major intersection appeared and the hotel was soon in sight.

 

With much of the afternoon still remaining, there was easily enough daylight remaining for a walk around the city center.

 

 

 

 

University of Bologna, Italy.

University of Bologna, Italy.

 

Bologna is ancient, even by Italian standards.

 

More than 3,000 years old, it pre-dates not only the Romans, but also the Etruscans.

 

The University of Bologna, founded in 1088, is among Europe oldest universities, and is Italy’s first.

 

 

 

Sidewalk caffè in Bologna, Italy.

Sidewalk caffè in Bologna, Italy.

 

The old city is expansive and well-preserved, and eminently walkable.

 

There are narrow lanes and porticoed promenades, and the Italian palette is played across the city in ochre and mustard and olive.

 

There’s a sophistication about this place.

 

Posters for art exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical performances appear everywhere, and there’s a sense that the locals are very urbane, if unpretentiously so.

 

Neighborhood grocery, Bologna, Italy

Neighborhood grocery, Bologna, Italy

 

Bologna seems the perfect stage for La Dolce Vita

 

But Bologna is a feast not just for the eyes.

 

In a nation which takes its food perhaps more seriously than any other, this city is recognized by many as Italy’s gastronomic capital.

 

 

Neighborhood grocery, Bologna, Italy.

Neighborhood grocery, Bologna, Italy.

 

 

 

The reason becomes soon apparent.

 

Arrayed on grocery stands are fruits and vegetables so flawless and colorful that they look like wax.

 

 

 

 

Pasta artisans at work, Bologna, Italy.

Pasta artisans at work, Bologna, Italy.

 

Foods that account for a single shelf in chain supermarkets are available here in so many varieties that shops are often dedicated to only one.

 

There are those which make and sell only pasta, and those that sell only aged balsamic vinegars made from a staggering array of varietal wines.

 

Pasta comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors in Bologna, Italy.

Pasta comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors in Bologna, Italy.

 

Aging hams and cheeses hang in storefront windows and from shop ceilings.

 

Shoppers are so routinely offered a taste by friendly merchants that it’s easy to spoil a dinner appetite.  Pacing is the key.

 

The afternoon walk wanders along the Via della Grada past Ristorante Posta.

 

 

Even though Bologna sits in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, the menu here is billed as Cucina Tipica Toscana, and is irresistible.

Inside a neighborhood grocery, Cologna, Italy.

Inside a neighborhood grocery, Cologna, Italy.

 

Ristorante Posta so highly regarded that reservations must be made well in advance.

 

It takes a combination of  wheedling, begging and flattery to produce a table early in the evening on the condition that it will be vacated by the time guests with reservations begin arriving.

 

The trade-off proves well worth it, and this spur-of-the-moment meal turns out to be another delightful Plan B.

 

As the restaurant begins to fill, this is an evening destined to end on the streets of the old city with a gelato and an espresso.

 

 

Mountain lake, road from Bologna to Florence, Italy.

Mountain lake, road from Bologna to Florence, Italy.

 

 

Bologna begs for a longer visit, but the ten day itinerary calls for check-in at Florence on the next night.

 

The drive there promises to be as memorable as the destination.

 

Although Bologna’s altitude is less than 300 feet above sea level, it sits at the edge of Italy’s Apennine Mountains, and the road to Florence passes through them.

 

The climb begins almost immediately, and less than twenty minutes outside the city, the drive begins winding past mountain lakes and through hillside villages that look almost Alpine.

 

 

Apennine village, road from Bologna to Florence, Italy.

Apennine village, road from Bologna to Florence, Italy.

 

Peaks in this part of the mountains reach up to 2,500 feet.

 

Tomorrow’s drive from Bologna to Florence is a bit over 100 kilometers – around 60 miles – which allows for plenty of stops along the way to admire the scenery or grab a bite and drink in one of the villages.

 

There will still be plenty of daylight left by arrival in Florence.

 

 

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

 

Unexpected Ferrara

Gate through the old city wall, Ferrara, Italy

Gate through the old city wall, Ferrara, Italy

Travel is full of surprises, and the seasoned traveler is always open to a ‘Plan B’.

 

Even after the workout of wandering the streets of Padua all morning, the satisfying breakfast at the hotel in Venice still makes the case for a late lunch.

 

So it’s back to the autostrada and on toward Bologna in search of a lunchtime ‘Plan B’.

 

 

Fortunately, the city of Ferrara sits just off the autostrada between Padua and Bologna, and the impulse for an unscheduled stop proves irresistible.  Sometimes the best Plan B is the one that presents itself to you.

 

Facade of the Cathedral of Ferrara, Italy.

Facade of the Cathedral of Ferrara, Italy.

 

Another of Italy’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites, Ferrara is about half the size of Padua, and the feel of this place is decidedly more intimate and timeless.

 

This is not a town of ornate marble and Baroque as much as one of brick and Romanesque.

 

 

 

Moat around the Castello Estense, Ferrara, Italy

Moat around the Castello Estense, Ferrara, Italy

It’s still surrounded by more than 6 miles/9 kilometers of ancient walls which are among the best preserved in Italy.

 

Maybe that’s because Ferrara’s medieval and Renaissance history are considerably less turbulent than those of many neighboring towns.

 

Tower of the Castello Estense,  Ferrara, Italy

Tower of the Castello Estense, Ferrara, Italy

 

In fact, one of the most violent episodes in Ferrara’s history occurred in 1944, when  a synthetic rubber plant located here became the target of Allied bombing.

 

The city’s silhouette is dominated by its signature Castello Estense, a once-fortified castle.  It’s still surrounded by its original moat, which makes it a sort of urban island.

Gothic arch at the entry to one of the old city's streets, Ferrara, Italy

Gothic arch at the entry to one of the old city’s streets, Ferrara, Italy

 

The best way to see Ferrara is to park at the edge of town and walk or cycle in.

 

Not surprisingly, Ferrara is known as the ‘City Of Bicycles’…  no small achievement in a country where bicycles often outnumber motor vehicles on historic streets.

 

Hotels here are even known to furnish bicycles to their guests, and bikes can also be rented in many points within  the city.

 

Whether you walk or cycle Ferrara, it’s a place where you’ll not have to vie with motor traffic.

Bicycles really do outnumber cars in the old city, Ferrara, Italy

Bicycles really do outnumber cars in the old city, Ferrara, Italy

 

Ferrara’s Corpus Domini Monastery is the tomb not only of local notables, but also of Renaissance-era princess and femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia, whose third and last husband was the Duke of Ferrara.

 

The Ferrara Synagogue and Jewish Museum is located in the former Jewish Quarter, which was maintained as a ghetto for over 300 years, until the unification of Italy in 1859.

 

No Italian piazza is complete without its clock tower.  Ferrara, Italy.

No Italian piazza is complete without its clock tower. Ferrara, Italy.

Few Italian towns this size have so many palaces, but their more modest scale only adds to the city’s intimate ambiance.

 

Visitors with more time to spend here will want to see the Palazzo dei Diamanti, which is now home to the National Picture Gallery, and the Casa Romei.  The Palazzo Schifanoia is now home to an impressive collection of Renaissance artifacts.

 

Jewish synagogue and museum, Ferra, Italy.

Jewish synagogue and museum, Ferra, Italy.

 

Those with even more time and a cycling inclination will find the surrounding countryside laced with excellent bicycle routes over unchallenging terrain.

 

Ferrara is on the main rail line from Bologna to Padua and Venice.  It’s also connected by rail to Ravenna, the last Italian capital of the Roman Empire.  The trip one-way takes little more than an hour.

Afternoon sun casts a warm glow on brick walls, Ferrara, Italy.

Afternoon sun casts a warm glow on brick walls, Ferrara, Italy.

 

The point of this impromptu visit, though, is finding place to have lunch.   A perfect setting  presents itself as an outdoor table beneath the canopy of a trattoria facing the piazza.

 

There’s nothing quite as quintessentially Italian as people-watching while you savor a freshly pressed panini… or sip a cappuccino, Campari, or Cinzano.

 

 

Piazza in Ferrara, Italy.  A perfect place for lunch.

Piazza in Ferrara, Italy. A perfect place for lunch.

The piazza cafe is an experience that can be had in just about any town in Italy, but in Ferrara it’s particularly tranquil and unhurried.

Far less trafficked by tourists then larger or more well-known destinations, it’s arguably the most laid-back stop of these 10 Days In Italy.  It’s only half an hour’s drive further to Bologna, where a room in the old city and a ‘foodie’ heaven await.

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

Padua walkabout

Street scene, Padua, Italy

Street scene, Padua, Italy

Padua (in Italian “Padova“) is less than half an hour’s drive from Venice, and even the time spent on a farewell breakfast at the hotel on Lido and a ferry ride back to the mainland to retrieve the car still allows for a mid-morning arrival.

 

In fact, the distance between each night’s stay for this trip rarely exceeds 100 miles, and the short travel legs make for plenty of time to wander off the beaten path.

 

Belltower, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

Belltower, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

 

Like stops earlier in this trip at Bergamo and Verona , Padua is a destination omitted from shorter Italian itineraries, despite the fact that autostradas place it within easy reach of Venice or Florence.

 

On this morning, the itinerary is very off-the-cuff, and Padua is a place which lends itself well to such spontaneity.

 

Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

This city is perhaps most well-known as the final home of Saint Anthony of Padua, buried in his namesake basilica.

 

A Portuguese-born Catholic priest and Franciscan friar first renowned as an eloquent preacher, and later as the patron saint of finding lost people or property, he was a saintly superstar canonized within a few years of his untimely death around the age of 40.

 

Courtyard, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

Courtyard, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

 

As elsewhere in Medieval Europe, relics of the saints held a pre-eminent spot in Catholic practices, and among the grisly relics on display here are his skeletal remains and what is purported to be the great orator’s tongue!

 

This city is also home to the University of Padua, one of Europe’s earliest.  Older than any Italian university except the  one at Bologna, it once numbered Galileo among its lecturers.

Going to market, Padua, Italy

Going to market, Padua, Italy

Padua claims to be the oldest city in northern Italy, settled almost 1200 years B.C.E. by a Trojan prince who led his people there from Turkey’s Black Sea coast.  A sarcophagus reputed to hold the prince’s remains was unearthed there two-and-a-half millennia later.  By the time of Christ’s birth, Padua had become a Roman town with a population of nearly 40,000.  (Today it’s over 200,000.)

 

Like many cities in this part of Italy, Padua suffered barbarian invasions as the Roman Empire collapsed, and through the Middles Ages was dominated by – and frequently traded among – he region’s city-states and puppet kingdoms.  It nonetheless has a tradition of constitutional government dating back more than a millennium.

 

Wooden sculpture, Padua, Italy

Wooden sculpture, Padua, Italy

During the wave of revolutions that in 1848 swept Europe and Latin America,  Padua’s students and citizens staged an unsuccessful revolt against the Austrians that turned the University and the city’s famed Caffè Pedrocchi into battlegrounds.

 

The Italian Army made its headquarters here during World War I.

 

 

At the war’s low-water mark, the city was within range of Austrian artillery and was bombed several times, but it was also in Padua that the Austrians surrendered to the Italians when the armistice came.

 

Street musician, Padua, Italy

Street musician, Padua, Italy

During the Fascist era, Padua was the venue for one of Benito Mussolini’s largest rallies, where a crowd of more than 300,000 attended his speech.  During World War II, the city was bombed by Allied planes.

 

Notwithstanding its contentious history, Padua remains a picturesque town.

 

Bridge over the Bacchiglione River, Padua, Italy

Bridge over the Bacchiglione River, Padua, Italy

 

It sits on a bend of the Bacchiglione River, which once fed a moat surrounding the city walls, and make of it a city of bridges, among which several date back to the time of the Romans.

 

 

The old city is criss-crossed by a labyrinth of streets which open into large piazze that make it a great place to just wander about.

 

Pedrocchi Café, Padua, Italy

One of the most memorable sites is the city’s famed Caffè Pedrocchi .  The original part of this cafe dates from 1772, although it was expanded more than once in the century following.

 

Caffè Pedrocchi  follows in the tradition of European coffee houses where students, artists, and activists met to exchange ideas and plot revolution.

 

Pedrocchi Café, Padua, Italy

Pedrocchi Café, Padua, Italy

 

The owner’s heir willed the café to the City of Padua in 1891, charging the city fathers with “the solemn obligation to preserve the building as it exists today in perpetuity for public use “.

 

Today’s travel plan is to spend the afternoon and evening in Bologna, but just before the departure from Padua, a stroke of good luck carries this city walk past an open market in a piazza.

 

 

Piazza market, Padua, Italy

Piazza market, Padua, Italy

 

The fresh produce under the canopies is eye-popping, for the Italians take little as seriously as eating well, but this is  also a great spot to people-watch.

 

It’s been a morning delightfully spent, but it’s time to return to  the autostrada and the promise of Bologna well before nightfall.

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

Venice’s Piazza San Marco

Piazetta, Venice, Italy

Piazetta, Venice, Italy

Anchored by its iconic Basilica and campanile, the Piazza San Marco – St. Mark’s Square – is  as an essential part of Venice’s identity as its canals.

 

Its main entrance is the Piazetta corridor adjacent to the Doge’s Palace that connects it to the Grand Canal.

 

 

Basilica San Marcos and campanile, Piazza San Marcos, Venie, Italy

Basilica San Marcos and campanile, Piazza San Marcos, Venie, Italy

 

 

 

The Basilica San Marco reflects the conviction held by Christians in the Middle Ages that physical remains of a holy site or person had healing powers, and that  possession bestowed honor and privileges upon their owners.

 

 

 

 

Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

 

Tradition holds that St. Mark Christianized Venice in the first century before his martyrdom in Alexandria, Egypt, from which a body believed to be his was stolen by two Venetian merchants in 828.

The city quickly adopted St. Mark as its patron, and built the first church of San Marco as its sanctuary.  It also adopted the saint’s winged-lion symbol as its own.

 

Facade detail, Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

Facade detail, Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

 

 

 

When Constantinople was sacked during the 4th Crusade, plunder shipped back to Venice included the two pillars which still stand where the Piazzetta meets the canal, along with marbles and mosaics installed on the Basilica’s west facade.

 

 

 

Four Horses of St, Mark's

Four Horses of St, Mark’s

 

The booty also included the bronze Triumphal Quadriga – the “Four Horses of Saint Mark”.  Originally part of a larger Roman monument, they stand on the Basilica’s loggia above the porch.

 

It’s an interesting bit of trivia that the heads were detached in order to transport these bronzes, and collars were added to hide the cuts during reassembly.

 

Promenade, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Promenade, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

 

In the late Renaissance, the original campanile was replaced to house a new astronomical clock, and the Piazza was enlarged to its present size.

 

Today, the only pre-Renaissance buildings and monuments still standing are the Basilica San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale – the Doge’s Palace – and the two great columns in the Piazzetta adjacent to it.

 

Caffè Florian (founded 1720), Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Caffè Florian (founded 1720), Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

 

When the Venetian Republic ended with Napoleon’s conquest 1797, stonemasons were ordered to destroy images of the winged lion, which Revolutionary France saw as a symbol of aristocratic rule.

 

Wedding party, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Wedding party, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

 

The Four Horses were sent to Paris along with the winged lion perched on one of the columns in the Piazzetta.

 

The headless statues were later replaced by copies, and both the winged lion and Four Horses were returned in 1815 following Napoleon’s abdication.

 

 

Doge's Palace and Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Doge’s Palace and Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

 

The Palazzo Ducale – the Doge’s Palace – faces the canal adjoining the Basilica and the Piazzetta.  It was not just the Doge’s residence, but the center of government.

 

It was here that foreign delegations were received and from here that communications with ambassadors and regional governors were managed.

 

 

 

Basilco San Marco from the Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Basilco San Marco from the Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

It was here that the meetings of the Great Council and the Senate were held, and from here that justice was administered.

 

It was from here that recruitment of crews for Venice’s war galleys and the outfitting of its fleet were coordinated.

 

Senators' courtyard, Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Senators’ courtyard, Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

While the Doge served for life, the Republic maintained a strong system of checks and balances.

 

It is a testament to this ingenious system that the Council was compelled to remove only two of the 120 Doges who served continuously from 717 to 1797.

 

Campile from Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Campile from Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

The Great Council was made up of all male members of patrician families over the age of 25.  Smaller councils carved from it had responsibilities including assuring punishment of the guilty, redress for the innocent, and enforcement of regulations concerning the practice of law.

 

The Venetian Senate dates back to the 13th century.

 

Window in the Doge's palace, Venice, Italy

Window in the Doge’s palace, Venice, Italy

 

State Censors were charged with preventing electoral fraud and protecting public institutions.

 

State Advocates safeguarded the rule of law and verified marriages and births to preserve the legitimacy of the patrician ruling class.

 

Whistleblower mailbox, Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Whistleblower mailbox, Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy: “For secret denunciations against those who conceal favors and services or conspire to conceal revenue.”

 

The Doge’s private apartments are well-appointed if not large.

 

The walls of the Palazzo’s rooms are covered in gilded wood, frescoes, and paintings by Renaissance masters.

 

Bridge of Sighs, Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Bridge of Sighs, Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

 

 

The Ponte dei Sospiri – the Bridge of Sighs – links magistrates’ chambers in the Palazzo Ducale to the New Prisons, from which Casanova is reputed to have escaped.

 

The bridge’s name refers to the last look at freedom it afforded to those on the way to prison.

 

Local legend holds that lovers kiss on a gondola at sunset under the bridge as the campanile’s bells toll will be granted eternal love and bliss.

 

Tomorrow it’s back to the Italian mainland, and on to Padua by autostrada.

 

 

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