Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reggia di Caserta

... otherwise known as the Palace of Caserta or the Versailles of Italy. It's actually the largest royal residence in Europe and boasts some impressive grounds as well.

A friend and I visited over the Pasquetta holiday (Monday after Easter) which I mistakenly thought would be quiet. Come to find out, a picnic at Caserta is something of a local tradition. There were some serious crowds.  Luckily we arrived before the majority and had a nice walk through the grounds and the historic apartments indoors.  It wasn't quite as interesting as expected - no famous art and nothing very interactive - but it was beautiful and I'm glad we got out and had an adventure.

From the front

And the back... the way back that is

To give you a sense of the scale this is not even half way between the waterfall and the palazzo.

Here are the falls up close. They really are gorgeous and if you have any mobility issues you can take a mini bus from the palazzo for 2.50 or a horse drawn carriage for 10 or rent a bike for somewhere in between. Also, the English gardens (closed for Pasquetta) are at the very end by the falls so it's worth your time - promise!

Even though the monarch would have needed binoculars to see them from his house, these statues at the base of the falls were just lovely.

Back in the palace these stairs are famous (and you can spot them in several films including Star Wars Episodes I and II.)

There were lots of huge chandeliers...

And frescoed ceilings...

 I really like this "little" changing room! 

Here's the front lawn before it hit peak craziness. See that line off to the right? It actually continues all the way around to the front door out of frame off to the left (meeting up with the main sidewalk). Judging by how long the line was when we arrived and how long it took to get inside I'd say that's a two hour wait. Easy. Yeah, Italians are serious about their history. Also, Vesuvius!

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Well, it only took me a year and a half but I finally made it to Capri with a little help from my long lost cousin B.

I am happy to report it was well worth the wait and definitely should make your short list if you get the chance to visit. My only caveat is that we didn't visit during the high season so it might be a good deal more crowded if you want to arrive in say, July.

Marina Grande - your entry point to Capri via ferry. We took a train from Rome and from Napoli central train station it was an easy hop on the metro Line 1 to Piazza Municipio where we bought tickets on the 50 min ferry. Upon arrival there are regular buses that will deliver you to the town of Capri at the top of the hill. Total travel time is about 3 hours. 

Best Airbnb I've stayed in so far. The view was just intoxicating. Pro tip: aim for lodging that comes with a kitchen. Restaurant meals were overpriced and in my opinion nothing special.

Our first afternoon was spent at the rock beach down at Marina Piccola (a 20 min downhill walk from Capri town).

The water was so beautiful. Ice cold, but beautiful.

We also had a nice long walk around town to see the main piazza and window shop. We loved these flowers which were everywhere.

Day 2 I was up at dawn to catch the sunrise over the island.

We caught the bus to Anacapri and, after some exploring and cappuccino, we caught the chair lift up to the top of Monte Solara.

The views were kind of nice, if you like that sort of thing. ;)

We then made our way down the trail back to Capri. It started as a beautiful meadow walk ...

And took a seriously crazy turn where we ended up basically rappelling down this cliff. 
Really, this was not remotely safe -  don't try it with kids or anyone who has even mild mobility issues.

In the end we did get to walk through some beautiful, serene forest. I have to admit that it was a real treat to have all this nature to ourselves in such a popular vacation spot.

Our afternoon was spent sunbathing some more and shopping. If Gucci and Prada are a bit out of your price range consider a perfume - this brand is special to Capri and the scent is just lovely.

Our last morning in Capri was spent visiting the Gardens of Augustus. 

The gardens were lovely, and after all the stair climbing of the past two days the low impact stroll was just right.

And the views weren't bad either.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

April Fools!

Returned from a lovely few days out of town with my cousin to find a very Italian "prank" on my balcony.  

Spaghetti Attack!

Don't worry. The spaghetti attack was probably not malicious given the fact that my upstairs neighbor is suffering from dementia.  

Just another day in my favorite beautiful and quirky Italian city... I'll post some pictures from our trip soon.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

La Scala

Last weekend I had the truly once in a lifetime opportunity to attend an opera at the world famous La Scala theater in Milan.  It was every bit as elegant and beautiful as I had imagined.  The show lasted 5 and half hours(!) but the music was beautiful and I don't regret a minute. What a night!

The boxes!  I highly recommend splurging on a box seat (and definitely would urge you to get one close to the center so the angle is ok to see the stage. If that's a little rich for your taste the Galleria (up top) apparently always has cheap seats available if you're willing to stand at the balcony to see the action.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Free museum day in Rome

As in a number of other cities, there is one Sunday a month when some of the major museums in town (and throughout the country in fact) open their doors for free.

A friend and I recently took advantage of one of these free days to see .... a not-free museum. It's a long story, but we did miss most of the crowds!

Now I can finally say that I've made it to the Capitoline museum - apparently the first museum in the world, though I'm sure that title is disputed.  In any case, it didn't disappoint, from the courtyard designed by Michelangelo to a ceramic collection that my friend who came me with just adored. Because this museum is split into two large buildings I would suggest that you give it 2+ hours and have lunch halfway through. I'd also suggest picking a few things you really want to see and spending your time accordingly rather than trying to see it all.

In no particular order, here are some of the highlights:

The Spinario - very old, very famous

Perhaps even more famous, Romulus and Remus being raised by a wolf. This bronze has become a symbol of the city of Rome

A bust of Medusa by Bernini 

A somewhat graphic depiction of a lion and his lunch. (The theme of animals brutally killing other animals came up a lot in this museum for some reason.)

A Caravaggio I'd seen before (I guess he made several copies of this one - I bet you wouldn't have guessed that's supposed to be John the Baptist.)

And another Caravaggio - the fortune teller

Finally, there were a weirdly large number of paintings featuring St. Sebastian. Not sure who's choice that was.  I really wish someone would do a ranking of them all, in order of actual martyrdom, because he usually looks like he doesn't particularly mind being shot full of arrows.

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Ok world, prepare yourselves for giant photo dump from my architecture tour of Barcelona.

First up: Casa Battlo (pronounced bah-yoh or badg-oh by the locals I spoke with)

This one is considered by many to be Gaudi's masterpiece and he designed everything from light fixtures to door handles and even created a special font just for the apartment numbers.  Everything was carefully designed for functionality and obviously - flair.

The building has a nautical/animal theme with the front structures being compared by many to bones. Apparently Gaudi was heavily influenced/inspired by nature and themes like rib cages and fish scales appeared again and again.

It's even stranger to see the house in context, next to perfectly normal apartment buildings and commercial spaces.  Below you can see what Gaudi started with - and how much his vision came to modify the existing structure.

Even the servants' quarters were carefully laid out - those slats along the right side were designed to
ventilate and light the space, while protecting from rain.

 I didn't take enough pictures of the details, but in this space you can see the windows (they have a really fascinating and unique design), slats below the windows designed to ventilate the space, and some of the handles - designed to perfectly mold to the shape of a human hand. - I tried it, it's true, they're super comfortable.

I somehow deleted the picture I took of the mushroom shaped fireplace alcove so you'll have to use your imaginations.

Next up: Casa Mila, right down the street

It's mostly known for the exterior - seen here:

... and the rooftop (below).  Otherwise the building is mostly in use for residential units, so the tour consists of the attic museum, one restored apartment, and the roof.

Gaudi filled the roof with these pillars (they hide chimneys and other functional structures) that seem like something that would be right at home on Tatooine.  Talk about before his time - Gaudi designed this and his other works in the early 1900s.

And finally, the main attraction, La Sagrada Familia:

Don't mind the construction - supposedly it will be finished in 10 years although with so many structures still remaining that timeline seems ambitious - especially considering that it's already been under construction since the 1880s.

The truly surprising characteristic of the church - at least to me - was how colorful it was inside.  I'd always seen pictures of the exterior and I assumed the inside would be the same... kind of cave-like. In fact, the stained glass windows fill the whole church with color.

On one side warm yellows and reds...

On the other cool blues...

The sunlight produced a really beautiful 'Skittles effect' (that's the technical term). If you can imagine my camera couldn't even catch all the color, this is just a faded imitation of the real thing.

The whole church is supposed to give you the impression of being in a giant forest.  Can you see it?

It wasn't all Gaudi's design - for example, the facade below is actually by a more modern artist who was doing his best to represent Gaudi's avant-garde ideas (while certainly making a distinct mark of his own).

Well, that's it! I highly recommend a visit if you get the chance.