Santorini in a Hike

How to see Santorini? Take the scenic 10k hike from Fira to Oia.

Here is the map of the Hike with all the worthy stop points.

  • Start early if it’s a hot day.
  • Have plenty of water  There are no more than 2 snack shops on the way.

Start the hike in Fira, by the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral along the Caldera. You will pass by all the cafes, restaurants and little shops. Keep going up. The view gets better and better.

View Fira

You will pass by the Three Bells of Fira before arriving at the first village, Firostefani.

Firostefani

Next village is Imerovigli. Make sure to explore the small alleys, they all lead to the blue Caldera view. Make a stop at the Anastasia Church.

You can add a side trip by going to the Skaros Rock , it will add about an hour to your hike.

From there, keep hiking up, You will walk along the Caldera passing by the resorts like Cavoo. There will be no snack shops or any restaurant for a while. You will pass by beautiful churches like the Ekklisia Profilis Ilias on top of the hill. After that long stretch, you will finally get to a snack shop. Time to refuel.

You will then have to go up a hill; if there is a donkey, take it. It will save you some sweat. At the top of the hill, there is the Church of Panagia.

You can finally see Oia on the horizon. Oia is a smaller town than Fira but very charming. Explore the alleys and art galleries. Stop at the unique bookshop called Atlantis.

End the day at Amoudi Bay where everybody gathers to watch the sunset.

Oia sunset

Take the bus to get back to Fira at night.

 

 

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Athens and Greek Mythology

Athens, the city of Gods, is where many myths and Greek mythological legends were born. Here are some of them as we are walking through the remains of that ancient world. Here is a guide on how to wander in Athens and relive the Greek Mythology stories in 2 days.

The name Athens is coming from Athena, the goddess of wisdom, intelligent activity, arts, and literature. Athena was the daughter of Zeus, she came out of Zeus‘ forehead. She became the city’s patron goddess after winning a contest against Poseidon. The victory came to the one who will offer the best gifts to the Athenians and Athena with her offering of the olive tree, a symbol of prosperity and peace, won and became the patron goddess.

Electra palace sunset

Day 1: Objective Acropolis

Practical advice: get a 2-day pass at one of the sites that will allow you to go to all the must-see archeological sites without having to wait in line and pay for each separately. And of course, it does come out cheaper as well.

Start your day at Syntagma Square where, every hour, you can witness the change of Evzones, a special unit of the Hellenic Army, in front of the parliament. Their old fashion guard outfit is what makes those guards unique. Other info, they are doing this for free. It is a service to the nation.

Behind the square, you have Athens beautiful and peaceful National Garden. It is a Greek heaven in a middle of a busy city. Take a morning walk through the park and when you get out from the opposite side you will found yourself in front of The Panathenaic Stadium.

The Panathenaic Stadium, which means “beautiful marble”, was built by Herodes. The stadium steps and seats are indeed made out of marble. It held the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and the latest one in Greece in 2004. Today, you can visit it and take a seat where the emperors used to seat. I will talk later on about Herodes, as he has other monuments dedicated to him.

Next stop, The Temple of Zeus. Tall columns and ambitious layout, the temple of Olympian Zeus reflected the height of the god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods. The ruins are still impressive. You can take a close look at the Doric Column, a vertical fluted column shaft, thinner at its top, with no base and a simple capital below a square abacus. It is one of the marks of Greek Architecture. The Temple was built over several centuries starting in 174 BCE and only finally completed by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 131 CE.

Hadrian was a Roman emperor from 117 to 138. As an admirer of Greece, he wanted to make Athens the cultural capital of the Empire.  Between 124 and 132 CE a monumental arch, 59ft high, Hadrian’s Arch, was built by the entrance of the temple of Zeus, in honor of his many benefactions to the city.

Hadrian Arch

From there, head to the Acropolis Museum. How amazing it is to visit a museum and have under your feet the ruins of an ancient world. The museum is filled with the ancient history statues.

Acropolis museum

Acropolis museum

Take a Break: The small streets around the museum will lead you to Plaka, where you can have lunch or do some souvenirs shopping.

Plaka stairs

You can finish the day by going to the Acropolis. Start from the bottom and make your way to The Parthenon. You will pass by:

Athens

Dionysus is the god of the grape harvest, wine, and theater in ancient Greek religion and myth. The Theater of Dionysus in Acropolis was built at the time when ‘drama’ or ‘theater’ was first being created in the late 6th Century BCE. The plays were performed during the Dionysiac festivals, as part of the cult celebrations of Dionysus.

Theatre of Dionysus

Herodes Atticus, the “patron of the arts and letters” built the amphitheater below the Parthenon in 161 AD in memory of his wife. It is one of the rare ancient constructions that is still used today; one of the best places to experience a live classical theater performance.

Herodes Atticus Odeon

Asclepius, the God of Medicine as told in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, was a physician to soldiers wounded on the battlefield at Troy. By Hippocrates’ day, he had become elevated to the status of a god. His temple, on Acropolis, was a healing temple, a place where patients would visit to receive either treatment or some sort of healing, whether it was spiritual or physical.

The Parthenon, like all temples in Greece, was designed to be seen only from the outside; no need to step inside to see the statue of Athena it once housed. As you can notice, the Greeks loved marble. When you walk around the Parthenon you will realize the floor was in marble. The best marble came from the islands of Naxos or Paros.

The Temple of Athena built in Acropolis was to honor Athena Nike, the goddess of victory and Athens’ patron goddess.

Athena

 

Day 2: Agoras

The discovery of different Greek Gods and Goddesses continue with a visit from the Ancient Agora and The Roman Forum – Agora which means market-.

Take a Break: On your way there, you will pass by Monastiraki Square. It is a colorful square with a beautiful old church. You can head to the small streets from some flea market shopping or go towards the water for relaxing at one of the cafes.

Monastiraki

Hadrian, he again ordered the construction of Hadrian’s Library that was created in AD 132 by the Ancient Agora.

 

Hephaestus was the Greek god of blacksmiths, sculptors, metallurgy, fire, and volcanoes, has his temple on top of the Roman Agora. There were numerous potters’ workshops and metal-working shops in the vicinity of the temple, as befits the temple’s honoree.

A stoa, another mark of Greek Architecture, is a long, narrow row of columns backed by a plain wall and roofed. It is often placed at right-angles to create an enclosed open space. The Stoa of Eumenes in the Roman Forum is the perfect example of it.

Stop Ancient Agora

 

Last Mythology Story:

If you go towards the port of Athens, you can take the boats to go on the Aegean Sea. The city was also the starting point for the story of Aegeus and Theseus. Aegeus was the king of Athens; When the son of King Minos of Crete was killed,  Minos waged war against Athens, emerging victorious. As punishment, Athens was forced to send young men and young women to Crete annually, in order to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, who dwelt in the labyrinth under the palace of Minos. At some point, though, Theseus, son of Aegeus, decided to go as part of the sacrifice, planning to kill the Minotaur. He was successful in his quest, but upon returning to Athens, he forgot to change his ship’s sails to white; when Aegeus saw the black sails, meaning that Theseus had died in the labyrinth, he fell into the sea, and drowned, giving his name to what now is called the Aegean Sea.

 

Istanbul in 3 days

“If one had but single glance to give the world, one should glance on Istanbul” Alphonse De La Martine

Here is how to follow La Martine in 3 days

I think the best place to stay is in the Sultan Ahmet neighborhood by all the must-see attractions. Beside Dolmabahce you can walk everywhere.

Day 1: 

Take a cab to Dolmabahce

Dolmabahce, that means filled garden, has, of course, a beautiful garden with gates that open to Bosporus. How crazy it is that you can see another continent, Asia, on the other side of the water. Take time to walk around the garden and admire the architecture of the palace. The Palace and the Harem can only be visited with a tour and no pictures can be taken. The last room of the Palace, Ceremonial Hall, with the chandelier that was offered by Queen Victoria is majestic.

 

 

From there head to Galata Tower. The tower situated on a hill will give you the perfect 360-degree view of the city. Don’t you feel like you conquered the beauty of a city when you get to view it form the above?

 

 

View from Galata Tower

From the tower take the small streets, enjoy the small shops and cafes and head to Galata Bridge. Under the bridge, you have all the fish restaurants. During lunchtime, it smells like fresh fish … so tempting.

On the other side, you have the Bosphorus tours boats. It’s a 1h30 minute ride on the Bosporus. Take the boat and you will get to see Istanbul in the best way possible. You will pass by all the monuments. Especially if you don’t have to go to all the sites this is the best way to admire the architecture of that city.

Bosphorus Boat Tour

Day 2:

Start the day by a walk at the Gulhane Park. The imperial park will lead you to Topkapi Palace and Museum. Topkapı Palace is part the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a group of sites in Istanbul that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Enter the museum from the Imperial Gate. The back garden gives you a breathtaking view of the Bosphorus as it is overlooking the Golden Horn, where the Bosphorus Strait meets the Sea of Marmara. The Harem section of the museum is gorgeous. Topkapı Palace

 

 

 

After Topkapi, head to Hagia Sofia that Mosque that was a Cathedral before. You can see signs of both religions under one roof. It was a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal Basilica until 1453, later an Ottoman imperial Mosque until 1931, and now a museum.

Hagia Sophia

 

On the other side, you can see the Blue Mosque. Its official name is The Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It has five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. Impressive.

 

 

snapseed-7

Along the Blue Mosque, you have on one side the Hippodrome with the German Fountain, the Serpentine Column and the Obelisk of Thutmose III. Hippodrome of Constantinople was a circus that was the sporting and social center of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire.

 the Serpentine Column and the Obelisk of Thutmose III

On the other side the Arasta Bazaar. It is a small bazaar that has great stores for souvenirs shopping especially if you love Swirling Darvish or evil eye objects.

Day 3:

Start your day at the Spice Bazaar. Enjoy the colorful alleys of that market. For shopping head to the Grand Bazaar where you can found anything you need, want or didn’t want. Wonder in the alleys, you will for sure found something to buy.

 

 

Finish your day at the Hamam for a relaxing afternoon. Enjoy the bath, the massage, and the Turkish coffee after it. One of the oldest one and most famous one is Cagaloglu Hamami by the Blue Mosque. It is truly a relaxing place.

Cagaloglu Hamami

If you have time:

  • Visit the cistern
  • Go to the Busy Taksim Square
  • Go see a Sufi Dance Session

http://www.istanbullife.org/whirling-dervish-sufi-ceremonies-in-istanbul-turkey.html

Must Eat:

  • Baklava from Hafiz Mustafa
  • Turkish Coffee
  • Try to drink Raki – 40%  alcohol!
  • Have Simit Bread

 

 

 

 

Florence in 2 days

Florence, the symbol of the renaissance is an open-air museum. No need to go inside any monument; the walk through the city is the way to see the beauty of the 600 years of artistic work. Here is a 2-day walking guide to admire that chef-d’oeuvre.

My travel App: Ulmon. It has all the sightseeing places saved and most of the restaurants and bars as well. It can be used offline which is very practical.

My booking site: Tripmasters.com . This is my 3rd time going through them to arrange my travel plans and I love the site. They have a great itinerary suggestion, hotels and all for a great price.

My Hotel: Hotel Vasari Palace, a former monastery, is a beautiful traditional hotel situated by the train station in a pedestrian zone.  I love to stay in traditional hotels where I can feel the charm and the history of the city. Great location, great service, great room and great price.

Must eat : Hotel Chocolate at Café Rivoire. Lunch at Le Volpi e L’Uva. Happy Hour at Caffe Cibreo . Dinner at Cantinetta Verazzano. Gelato at la Carraia.

Day 1

Start at the Train Station from where you can see the Church of S Maria Novella. Take the small pedestrian streets to get to San Lorenzo Basilica and Palazzo Medici. You can quickly go inside both monuments if you want, but again I don’t think it’s worth it. However, take a moment to admire the San Lorenzo Basilica from outside and go to the courtyard of Palazzo Medici to see the David by Donatello. Then, head to San Lorenzo Food and Flea Market. The covered food market is the perfect stop for lunch and the flea market is the perfect place for some souvenir purse shopping. After that cultural break, walk to the Duomo and the Baptistery. The entrance to the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore is free but to go up the Duomo you will have to get tickets in advance. In front of the Duomo, in the middle of the Piazza you will see the Baptistery and the east door of it called Gate of Paradise. The Duomo Piazza and the Cathedral are just breathtaking. The Piazza next to it via the pedestrian passage of Via de Calzaiuoli is where is Piazza Signoria with Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi, a lodge full of inspiring statues. Palazzo Vecchio is not an impressive palace if you have been to Versailles. You can easily skip it. You can seat at one of the cafes on that square like the Rivoire Café to take a moment to absorb all that beauty. Walk then towards Ponte Vecchio by passing by Uffizi Gallery Courtyard where you can admire statues and check out the work of the painters in the courtyard.  You can admire the sunset from there or even better from the bridge next to it Ponte Trinite. The neighborhood of San Spirito next to those bridges is not that touristy yet and is full of great locals’ restaurants and bar. Great way to finish that first walking tour day.

Day 2

Start your day at Galleria dell Academia. Make sure you bought your ticket in advance as the line can get very long very fast. The museum is fairly small and the main attraction is the Statue of David by Michelangelo. David is enthroned in the middle of the museum.  You should then walk towards Via de Tomabuoni the shopping street of Florence for why not shopping session. Then cross that Ponte Trinite to go to Pitti Palace. The ticket will allow you to visit the palace, the exhibition, the Boboli Garden and the Bardini Garden. The only attractions worth visiting, I believe.  The palace is beautiful and you will get the feel for the grandeur of the Italians monarch. The Boboli gardens are beyond beautiful and as you go up you get to see more and more of that legendary Florence from the above view. There is a cave on the corner of the garden; don’t miss it. It is one of the unusual things to see in Florence. You can go up the small narrow street of old Florence, classified UNESCO World heritage to go to Giardino Bardini Gardens. The Building is a museum and has a very interesting exhibiting. The gardens are bigger than Boboli garden and majestic. Finish your walk uphill at the Forte di Belvedere where you will have the best view of Florence and the sunset. For dinner, you can head across the Arno River to Santa Croce.

Lucca Walking Guide

Here is a map and the guide to see that beautiful historic city.

Lucca-Italy-Tourist-Map.mediumthumbedit (3).jpg

Lucca is a walled medieval city a few hours away from Florence. It is the perfect carpe diem day getaway destination if you decide to spend some time in Tuscany.

Take the train; the best way to visit Italy. The train station is right outside of the walls. Enter the fortress city and the first thing you will see is the Lucca Cathedral. On Sundays, there is a flea market from the front of the Cathedral to Napoleon Square. On Napoleon Square, there is the Sunday food market. it is the perfect place to get a local food for lunch and then go sit on the rampart to enjoy it. The ramparts are the place to take a lunch break or bike around the city. Passagiate delle Muro or the tree line pathway on that 16th, 17th-century ramparts is very peaceful and magical.

From the Cathedral, walk towards El Torre Guinigi. Make the effort to go on top of the tower to have a great view of the brick roof city. There is also a garden on top of the tower; a garden in the sky.

Walk towards the main square, Piazza Amfiteatro for all the cafes and little stores. The Frediano Church is in front of the piazza.

Piazza Amfiteatro
Piazza Amfiteatro
Frediano Church
Frediano Church

Take the small streets of the old town to St Michele Square full of cafes like the Buccellato Taddeucci café bakery.

St Michele in Foro
St Michele in Foro

For a sweet break, go to Gelaterium, where you can have a gelato and swing! Going back to childhood feels great. It is by Napoleon Square.

Gelaterium
Gelaterium

Top 10 things to do in Lucca

  1. Bike on the ramparts around the walled city
  2. Have a gelato and swing at the Gelaterium
  3. Get lost in the old town
  4. Have coffee and a cake at Buccellato Taddeucci café bakery on St Michele Square
  5. Have a bread a Forne a Vapore Bakery
  6. Have Pizza at Pizza da Felice
  7. Have more bread at Forno Casali Bakery
  8. Visit Lucca Cathedral
  9. Visit the Frediano Church famous for its mosaic
  10. Go up the Torre Guinigi. for a breathtaking view of the walled city.

South of Italy

The Best way to see South of Italy is by Public Transportation; train, buses and boats.

I started my Italy Journey in Venice and got to Naples by Train. For the big city connections, I made all my reservations online at trainialia.com. But for the one day trips it is better to just get the ticket once at the train station. The Italian trains, frecciarossas, Red Arrows in English, are the best way to visit different cities in Italy. They are indeed as fast as an arrow.

Naples

I got to Naples by train then. Naples can seem chaotic compare to the other Italian cities like Florence; cars are double parked, everybody in honking and the streets are so narrow. But somehow, it is charming. By the train station stop eat Da Michele Pizzeria, you will have the best pizza in the world.

Da Michele Pizza
Da Michele Pizza

Naples Old Town, protected once by the walls is now a very busy charming historical center of the city full of souvenir shops, cafes and pizzerias. Make sure to have a pizza at Sorbillo, one of the most famous pizzeria in Italy. Have the local pastry called Sfogliatelle at Scaturchio café right in the heart of the historical center in front of one of the most prominent churches of Naples, San Domenico Maggiore. You can get lost in the small streets and just enjoy the different churches. If you walk towards Piazza Dante, you will pass by few bars by a square; that square gets very animated at night and it is a lively place to go after dinner and grab few drinks with locals and students. Continue your walk; you will pass by the booksellers streets. You can start seeing why Naples, despite being a big busy city, it kept its southern charm.

The other great neighborhood in Naples is the port area. Take the metro to Castel Nuovo. You can visit Castel Nuovo from where you can have a great view of the port. Stop at Piazza de Plebiscito to admire the architecture of that square with the colorful houses behind it that makes a great contrast. From there you can visit the Royal Palace. Walk down toward the port. In front of you the ocean with when the sky is clear Mt Vesuvius on the background, on the right Castel Dell’Ovo and behind, those narrow streets with, at every window, linen stretched for drying.

Last neighborhood in Naples worth going is Vomero. Take the funicular all the way up to Vomero. Skip Castel Sant’Elmo and continue your walk toward the view point. From there you will have Naples under your feet. You can now take the stairs, Scale della Pedamentina, down .The view from the above of Naples doesn’t get any better. On your way down, you will have to take Spaccanapoli the narrow straight street that literally splits Naples in 2 parts.

 

Pompeii

From Naples, there is a train every 30 minutes to Pompeii. Only one hour away from Naples, the ruins of Pompeii “provide a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world”. Despite the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 that destroyed a lot of the town, there are still a lot of remains of that ancient Roman civilization that show us how they used to live. As I walked  through the streets well structured, pass by the very first pedestrian crosswalks ,the houses, temples and  theaters , I could see how smart and sophisticated they were , how they were managing their city and how they gave importance to art, religion and politics. We did learn from that civilization and it is indeed important to preserve that past.

 

Amalfi Coast  

Only few hours away with train from Naples, the Amalfi Coast is formed by small villages that are clinging to the mountain. The bus ride between the villages through the very curvy road can be hard to handle for some people but the view is priceless.  The famous villages that you can go to with the SITA bus are Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello and Salerno. Each village will dazzle you with its colorful houses, breathtaking costal view and amazing food. ‘Costiera Amalfitana is an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution.

The train from Naples will take you to Sorrento and from there you can take the bus to go to the other villages. Then take the train back to Naples at the last village, Salerno. My favorite village is Positano so if you only have a day , spend it mostly at Positano. The bus will drop you off on top of the village. Walk down to the village; enjoy the view of that city snugged to the mountain. Stop at the Il Capitano for lunch. No other restaurant will beat that view. At the village, you can enjoy some sun at the beach or shop at the small shops in the alleys.

At Sorrento , check out the unusual  Vallone dei Mulini an old sawmill that has been abandoned and surrounded by nature and sea now. At Amalfi, admire the Amalfi Cathedral, imposing in the middle of the square or the fountain that is also a nativity display scene.

 

Capri

Take the boat to Capri form Naples Port. It is only a 50 minutes ride. You can’t see everything in 1 day in Capri so you have to choose between seeing the Blue Grotto and have a tour of the island or go to Anacapri and Capri Village.

I’ve heard so much about the Grotta Azzurra that as soon as we got to Capri main port, Marina Grande I took the island tour that also takes you to the famous cave. There is always a wait to go inside of the cave but it’s worth it. You will get on a small boat and go inside of that cave where the water is unbelievably blue.  You will get to stay in that magical place for few minutes. Take time to admire that water, your rower might start singing some old Italians songs and make the moment even more dreamlike.

You will then make a tour of the island , passing by one of the oldest Lighthouse at Punta Carena. You will then stop at Grotta Verde, a sea cave where the water seems green.  You will pass under the natural arches and the Lover Arch.

You can take the funicular to go to Capri Village. It has a main square with all the restaurants and shops around it. Take the stairs down back to the port; you will have a great view of the island on your way down.

Rome History and Beauty

There’s a French proverb that says “Rome wasn’t built in one day” which means it takes time to do things. Indeed, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Per the Roman Mythology, the twins, Romulus and Remus wanted to found a new city to reign. Romulus wanted to build the city on the Palatine Hill and Remus on the Aventine Hill. After a battle between the two brothers, Remus is killed. Rome is then built on Palatine Hill. We can now visit the Roman Forum Ruins on the Palatine Hill by the Colosseum. Not too far from there, Romulus was entertaining the city with a Festival of horse racing at Circus Maximus. The temples on Capitoline Hill became later on the political center of the city. 

One of the new 7 wonders is the Colosseum. 2000 years after the ancient 7 wonders have been defined, the new 7 wonders of the word committee decided to create global memory again with the new 7 wonders. After the voting in 2007, the Colosseum became one of the new 7 wonders. The majestic amphitheater is well conserved and still breathtaking even after the earthquake that damaged it.

Other attractions :

Trevi Fountain: Per the legend, you need to drink the water for good luck. Nowadays people just toss a coin over their left shoulder for good luck and to come back to Rome.

Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain

Piazza Navona: Construction from Renaissance and Baroque periods like Piazza Novano and Piazza del Popolo are now part of the must-sees in Rome. They can both be accessed from the shopping alter Via del Corso. Piazza Navona has few fountains and the main one is the Fountain of the Four Rivers, majestic in the middle of the Piazza. The Piazza has a delicious gelato place called Tre Scalini. Go through the small street to have a drink at Bar el Fico and shop at the latest Roma store Zaporazzi. 

Pisa Walking Guide

Pisa is all about the Leaning Tower. Half a Day is sufficient to see the city.

From The train station, take the main artery Corso Italia which is the pedestrian passage to get to Piazza Dei Miracoli. By there you have the Piazza del Duomo, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. The Piazza is the place where all the Pisa must see are including the famous leaning tower of Pisa that “had a great influence on monumental art in Italy from the 11th to the 14th century.” You can go inside the tower and while going up you can feel the tower is leaning. You will always be attracted to the walls which make the walking up the stairs a little bit difficult. From the top of the tower, you will have an amazing view of the Piazza and its monuments, the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Cemetery as well as the whole city.

Exit the Piazza to go see the Cathedral of Saint Caterina d’Allessandria and you can stroll in the park in front of it.

Then head the other main square, the Knights’ Square. On that Cavalieri square, that used to be the political center of the city, you have the Church of Santo Stefano dei  Cavalieri, Palazzo de Corovana, and the Clock Tower. Stand in the middle to have a 360-degree view of that beautiful Piazza.

Finally walk back towards the Arno River. Take a leisure walk along all the colorful houses by the river. By the rover, you will see a very small Gothic church. It is the Church of Santa Maria della Spina. It is very unusual to see that small church in the middle of the city between the River the houses. Unfortunately, we can’t go inside of it.

Pisa is a small walled city and if you are on a busy tourist schedule, it is the perfect city to slow down and just enjoy Italy.

Italy and UNESCO World Heritage Site

Did you know Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world?

UNESCO, the United Nations for Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, establishes each year and handful of sites around the globe, World Heritage Sites since 1972. That means those unique and diverse sites are landmarks that have some cultural, historical or scientific value that is important to humanity and they should be legally protected by international treaties. By accepting the World Heritage Site label, the countries where the site is located, promises to carry on the mission established by UNESCO to safeguard the site and promote the awareness around it.

As the UNESCO Committee said: “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”

Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world with 51 sites; 47 cultural and 4 natural sites.

By going to Italy and cross the country from North to South with train I got the chance to come across many of those UNESCO World Heritage Sites.Here are the Cultural World Heritage Sites I passed by and their amazing history and heritage:

Only one hour away from Naples, the ruins of Pompeii “provide a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world”. Despite the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 that destroyed a lot of the town, there are still a lot of remains of that ancient Roman civilization that show us how they used to live. As I walked  through the streets well structured, pass by the very first pedestrian crosswalks ,the houses, temples and  theaters , I could see how smart and sophisticated they were , how they were managing their city and how they gave importance to art, religion and politics. We did lean from that civilization and it is indeed important to preserve that past.

Assisi, the hilly medieval city few hours away from Rome, is a Religious town since it is the birthplace of the Franciscan Order. As a matter of fact, the day I visited the city the Pope was in the Basilica and so nobody was allowed to go in the premises. You will see there the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli that was built around Chapelle Porziuncola to preserve the Chapelle.

I went to Milan few years ago and I had the chance to be able to see “The Last Supper” by Da Vinci. It is impossible to get a ticket as an individual and you have to go with a tour. They make you go to a small room first and then to the big room with the painting on. The first room looks like the disinfestation rooms that you see in the movies. You can’t stay in front of the masterpiece for too long but they give you enough time to appreciate it.

The Amalfi Coast is formed by small villages that are clinging to the mountain. The bus ride between the villages through the very curvy road can be hard to handle for some people but the view is priceless.  The famous villages that you can go to with the SITA bus are Sorrento, Positano, my favorite, Amalfi, Ravello and Salerno. Each village will dazzle you with its colorful houses, breathtaking costal view and amazing food. ‘Costiera Amalfitana is an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution.”

Florence, symbol of the renaissance is an open air museum. No need to go inside any monument; the walk through the city is the way to see the beauty of the 600 years of artistic work. Here is a 2 day walking guide to admire that chef d’oeuvre.

Start at the Train Station from where you can see the Church of S Maria Novella. Take the small pedestrian streets to get to San Lorenzo Basilica and Palazzo Medici. You can quickly go inside both monuments if you want; but again I don’t think it’s worth it. However take a moment to admire the San Lorenzo Basilica from outside and go to the courtyard of Palazzo Medici to see the David by Donatello. Then, head to San Lorenzo Food and Flea Market. The covered food market is the perfect stop for lunch and the flea market is the perfect place for some souvenir purse shopping. After that cultural break, walk to the Duomo and the Baptistery. The entrance to the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore is free but to go up the Duomo you will have to get tickets in advance. In front of the Duomo, in the middle of the Piazza you will see the Baptistery and the east door of it called Gate of Paradise. The Duomo Piazza and the Cathedral are just breathtaking. The Piazza next to it via the pedestrian passage of Via de Calzaiuoli is where is Piazza Signoria with Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi, a lodge full of inspiring statues . Palazzo Vecchio is not an impressive palace if you have been to Versailles. You can easily skip it. You can seat at one of the cafes on that square like the Rivoire Café to take a moment to absorb all that beauty. Walk then towards Ponte Vecchio by passing by Uffizi Gallery Courtyard where you can admire statues and check out the work of the painters in the courtyard.  You can admire the sunset from there or even better from the bridge next to it Ponte Trinite. The neighborhood of San Spirito next to those bridges is not that touristy yet and is full great locals’ restaurants and bar. Great way to finish that first walking tour day.

Start you day at Galleria dell Academia. Make sure you bought your ticket in advance as the line can get very long very fast. The museum is fairly small and the main attraction is the Statue of David by Michelangelo. David is enthroned in the middle of the museum. To see the rest of the museum, you should follow that 2 h guide– click here.  You should then walk towards Via de Tomabuoni the shopping street of Florence for why not shopping session. Then cross that Ponte Trinite to go to Pitti Palace. The ticket will allow you to visit the palace, the exhibition, the Boboli Garden and the Bardini Garden. The only attractions worth visiting, I believe.  The palace is beautiful and you will get the feel of the grandeur of the Italians monarch. The Boboli gardens are beyond beautiful and as you go up you get to see more and more of that legendary Florence from the above view. There is a cave on the corner of the garden; don’t miss it. It is one of the unusual things to see in Florence. You can go up the small narrow street of old Florence, classified UNESCO World heritage to go to Giardino Bardini Gardens. The Building is a museum and has a very interesting exhibiting. The gardens are bigger than Boboli garden and majestic. Finish your walk uphill at the Forte di Belvedere where you will have the best view of Florence and the sunset. For dinner you can head across the Arno River to Santa Croce.

I had the chance to stay in the old town defined by the Aragonese walls where the streets are narrow but full of life with its shops, busy cafes, pizza places and churches (Naples has 448 churches). The old town life doesn’t stop at night as it is close to the university and the students gather in the piazzas to enjoy a drink. By the bay you can enjoy the port and the castles or you can go up the hill to have the view of the whole Naples and Mt Vesuvius.

Capital of the Christian world since the 4th century, Rome is an open air museum with monuments of antiquity  like the Colosseum, the complex of the Roman and the Imperial Forums, construction from Renaissance and Baroque periods like Piazza Novano and Pizza del Popolo and civil and religious buildings like Capitoline Hill.

How many modern cities can say they’ve been built around ancient monuments and they have been able to preserve and promote that heritage? You can add to that heritage the beauty from sites like the Fountain of Trevi or the Spanish Steps. To have energy to visit those sites make sure to have enough past and wine.

San Gimignano is a Tuscan gem. It is a medieval hilltop town. I had the chance to walk through the old narrow passages of that medieval town; the small shops have great souvenirs. You can see the triangular Piazza della Cisterna and Piazza del Duomo where you will found painters working on their art. What you will see a lot on those paintings is towers; indeed the patrician families who controlled the town built around 72 tower-houses as symbols of their wealth and power, however only 14 have survived. Go towards the walls, and it is a high town you will get to enjoy the view of all the nearby wineries.

I took a tour of that city and met the guide at the main square Piazza del Campo. “This Tuscan city developed on three hills connected by three major streets forming a Y-shape and intersecting in a valley that became the Piazza del Campo.” Piazza del Campo is the home to Siena’s Horse race called Palio. That race, organized twice a year, see ten of the seventeen contrada or districts  of the city circle the narrow piazza three times or usually 90 seconds after which there is only one jockey left on his horse. The palio maintains the rivalry that exists between all the contrada and reanimate all the passion people have for their contrada.  We then had and chance to visit the Contrada’s Museum for Contrada of Aquila (Eagle) and learn the history behind that contrada. We then headed to Piazza del Duomo to admire the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta; what a majestic cathedral. We finally walked through the historic center of Siena that has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site to get to Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico.

The Boboli Gardens that you can visit with Pitti Palace are the proof of a sensibility for landscape aesthetics that was developed during Renaissance. The Boboli Gardens are beyond beautiful and as you go up the garden you get to see more and more of that legendary Florence from the above view. There is a bizarre cave on the corner of the garden, the Buontalenti Grotto; don’t miss it. It is one of the unusual things to see in Florence showing the Florentine Mannerist style in a magical and beautiful way.

The Piazza is the place where all the Pisa must see are including the famous leaning tower of Pisa that “had a great influence on monumental art in Italy from the 11th to the 14th century.” You can go inside the tower and while going up you can feel the tower is leaning. You will always be attracted to the walls which makes the walking up the stairs a little bit difficult. From the top of the tower, you will have an amazing view of the Piazza and its monuments, the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Cemetery as well as the whole city.

Cinque Terre has a “cultural landscape of great scenic and cultural value. The layout and disposition of the small towns and the shaping of the surrounding landscape, overcoming the disadvantages of a steep, uneven terrain, encapsulate the continuous history of human settlement in this region over the past millennium.” Cinque Terre National Park situated in Northern Italy, is probably the most famous hiking area in Italy. Trails connect the colorful fisherman villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. The most popular trail is the Blue Trail; it will take you to the perfect hiking journey in that Rainbow Land.

“Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.”

Take a half a day tour of some Venetian Lagoon islands Murano, Burano and Torcello. The boat takes the San Marco Canal and passes along the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and Arsenale to get to Murano. Murano is famous for its glass manufacturing industry. Hence, we got to see a Glassmaking master at work in a factory. It was impressive to see how one can in just few minutes make an animal out of a liquid glass. We then went to Burano, famous for its lace and colorful fisherman houses. It was magical to be able to walk along all those colorful houses. You start your walk at the main square Piazza Galuppi, where you can visit the church of S. Martino, and then walk along the canal to discover the picturesque bright island. The tour ended with the 3rd island Torcello, the first center of civilization in the estuary. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the cathedral and the Church of S. Fosca.

See Venice like locals:

By the St Mark Square area you will see the Bridge of Sighs. You will pass by the uncompleted church of the Pietà by Canaletto but unfortunately it is in restoration and you can’t go inside for now. Then go to the Famous St Mark Basilica, admire the St Mark’s Clock Tower right next to it. You can go visit the tower and learn about the clock machinery by reserving in advance and go on top of St Mark Campanile Bell Tower. That elevator ride is worth it. You will have a beautiful view of St Mark Square and Venice in general. Visit the Dodge Palace or Palazzo Ducale. While visiting the palace you will pass inside the Bridge of Sighs and you will be able to see Venice from the inside.

Get a Vaporetto Ticket and ride along the Grand Canal. You will get to see all the Venetian style buildings like Palazzo Balbi, Ca Rezzonico by artist Canaletto or Ca D’oro, the 15th Century Gothic Palace and the Venice Casino, the world’s oldest casino built in 1638 and the beautiful city architecture. Hop on Vaporetto No 2 and go to island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Situated in front of St Mark Square. The Church of the same name built in the 16th Century, has a bell tower that gives you a great view of Venice.

Don’t lock yourself in the museums and explore the Dorsoduro neighborhood by foot instead. Start your walk at Rialto Bridge. The Bridge is being restored but you can still enjoy one side of it. Walk along the canal to get to San Toma Vaporatto Stop. From there you can walk towards Frari Church inside of which you can see art from Venetian artist Titian. Along the walk you can see the Ca Fasconi University and Scuola Grande di San Rocco Museum where all the arts in the building are from artist Tintoretto. Around the same neighborhood, by Squero San Trovaso you can pass by a little construction site; it’s where they make the gondolas. Walk towards the end of the island, Punta della Dogana, to go to see the Guggenheim garden. Gorgeous. Visit the Santa Maria della Salute Church and just relax by sitting on those stairs and admire the Grand Canal. Cross the Accademia Bridge and go to La Fenice Theater. If you have time, go see a representation at night. If not, you can take a tour of the inside during the day. If they are having rehearsals some parts of the theater will be closed.

A Day in Tuscany

Siena, San Gimignano and Greve in Chianti Day Trip from Florence with Wine Tasting

Wanting to see Tuscany in one day is very hard. Taking a tour is the way to go. I booked the Tuscany Tour with Viator. They offer the perfect itinerary:  Siena, San Gimignano and Greve in Chianti Day Trip with of course Wine Tasting. Travel with Viator through the picturesque countryside in Tuscany to discover those three places.

We first stopped at the Tuscan gems of San Gimignano. It is a medieval hilltop town. We had 30 minutes to walk around that walled city. Walk through the old narrow passages; the small shops have great souvenirs. You will soon get to the triangular Piazza della Cisterna and Piazza del Duomo where you will found painters working on their art. Go towards the walls and enjoy the view of all the nearby wineries.

We then stopped in Siena for lunchtime. We had some times to grab lunch or just walk around on our way. Then we met up at the main square Piazza del Campo for a walking tour of the city. Piazza del Campo is the home to Siena’s Horse race called Palio. That race organized twice a year, see ten of the seventeen contrada or districts of the city circle the narrow piazza three times or usually 90 seconds after which there is only one jockey left on his horse. The Palio maintains the rivalry that exists between all the contrada and reanimates all the passion people have for their contrada.  We then had a chance to visit the Contrada’s Museum for Contrada of Aquila (Eagle) and learn the history behind that contrada. We then headed to Piazza del Duomo to admire the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta; what a majestic cathedral. We finally walked through the historic center of Siena that has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site to get to Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico.

After all, those walking we traveled through the picturesque Chianti countryside, passed by olive groves, green hills, and vineyards to get to  Chianti in Greve for a tasty wine tasting session at a great winery on the hillside. We tasted great white but of course red Chianti wine with some cheese. Make sure to leave with some wine and cheese. It is a great way to remember that day trip once you get back home. It was raining so we didn’t have the chance to walk around or go to the barrel cave.

Finally, you will get to see Greve. It’s a very small town. You can take a break the at the main square Piazza Giacomo Matteotti where you can admire the statue of Giovanni Verrazano and buy amazing salamis at Antica Macelleria Falorni.

Greve Piazza Giacomo Matteotti
Greve Piazza Giacomo Matteotti under the rain

Thank you Viator for nailing another tour.

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