On Top of The World

I closed my eyes.

I could hear cow bells stereotypically chiming and my guides voice repeating “don’t open them yet, just a few more steps.” I blinded obeyed.

“Now.”

I looked up. Right on cue the clouds began to slowly retreat like the curtains at a theatre to reveal the star: The Matterhorn.

Image

I turned to my Granma to see her mouth wide open. You know you’ve seen something magical when someone who has been all over the world and back again, is stunned into silence.

The setting sun filtered through the clouds and when it reflected off the snow tipped peak, it made the whole mountain appear golden; as though Midas himself had touched it. But before I had time to fully appreciate it, the clouds rolled back in. They continued: coming and going, coming and going, just like waves. My eyes however did not waver. I didn’t want to miss seeing the towering mountain, its rugged peaks, rocky edges and snow capped crest. I had never seen snow in my life.

The next morning I bounded out of bed and raced outside. I hadn’t felt such excitement since Christmas Day as a child. The sky was cobalt blue, the sun was shining and this morning there was not a single cloud to obstruct my view.

Image

Going up the chairlift was terrifying. My stomach was churning but whether it was from excitement, my fear of heights or the car swinging precariously from the thin wire I will never know. I could see the patched roofs and flowerbeds of the little Swiss village of Zermatt turning into miniature models below.

Image

The higher we went, the colder it got and it gradually became harder to feel my fingers and toes and harder and harder to breathe. When we finally reached the top a Saint Bernard puppy ran over and licked my face. A fellow tourist let me get a picture with her plush yodelling beer mug. I clawed at the glacier, trying to gather enough ice to make a snowball.

Image

There were moments where I laughed hysterically, overcome with a child’s excitement to be standing on top of the world in the Swiss Alps. And there were moments where I simply froze and looked in awe at the skiers above me and hikers below.

My tour guide walked over and pulled out his camera. “I only take photos of really special things. Not a cloud in the sky and sunshine in Zermatt; that’s special, that’s rare. You get day like this once in every seven years if you’re lucky.”

I don’t know who felt more excited and blessed to be on the mountain that day. The sun or me?

Image

The story continues … 

Advertisements

Italian Cities For Dummies

The good thing about Italian medieval cities is that once you’ve visited a few you get to know their history and layout and therefore you don’t really need a map or a tour guide. To me, this makes them really homely and welcoming.

So, here’s my step by step guide to visiting these little gems (and a crash course in Italian history)!

City Walls

Get off the train and find the city walls. The train station is almost always outside them.

a) Can you walk them? If yes, celebrate! If no, cry.

Image

Walking the walls in Lucca

b) Do they have either a nice old etching of the town or a modern map? If yes, get bearings. (More points if you don’t use the modern one!)

Image

Old town walls in Pistoia

c) Did the first wall trick you? Did you enter the city only to be horribly confused and find MORE WALLS?! You get a sticker! You’ve found ever older walls. Most cities had to expand their boundaries  as their population expanded.

Now you’re inside the city safe, sound and protected. See, these cities have your best interests at heart.

Look for Towers

Image

Venice – St Mark’s Campanile

If there is only one, then congratulations! You’ve found the Campanile and one of the main piazzas. You won’t get lost now – just use this tower as your lighthouse. It has stood strong and steady for hundreds of years so you know you can trust it.

Also, commiserations. The more towers the better! Towers were often symbols of dominant families. Who wouldn’t want to build a tower if they were rich and powerful? A lot have been knocked down now unfortunately but the ones that are still left often have a museum or casa to explore.

Image

Medieval Manhattan – San Gimignano

 

Image

Bologna Two Towers

Campanile (aka Bell Tower) and Religious Section

If you’ve found the Campanile, then you’ve also found the Duomo and Baptistry. They form a nice little trinity. Or Holy Trinity …  Back in the day, the religious section was one of the thriving centres of the city. Medieval and Renaissance life was centred around the Church. These days these areas are still buzzing largely due to tourists and who can blame them? They are so pretty (the church … not the tourists).

a) Duomo (no  the famous one from Florence is not in every Tuscan city. Vocab lesson #1: Duomo = church). Allora, the Duomo is the main church in every city. Usually when you go inside it has a long central nave and chapels to the side are common.

Image

Duomo Florence (picture taken from top of Campanile)

 

Image

Duomo and Campanile in Lucca

b) Baptistry

The place where people were baptised. It is octagonal and has a pit in the centre for the person to be dunked.

Image

Baptistry Pisa

c) Campanile

As I said previously, life often centred on prayer so the bells would mark mass times and other important times of the day (LUNCHTIME!). Vocab lesson # 2: My favourite word in Italian is campanilismo which means love for one’s city or literally translated love for one’s bell tower. I have transformed this word to mean to mean the love of climbing bell towers. (If there is a bell tower I will climb it! The picture of the Duomo above was taken when I climbed the 414 stairs of the campanile in Florence).

Image

Leaning Tower of Pizza (Pisa!) It’s actually a bell tower.

Civic Centre 

What’s that you see? Another giant tower? I hear you say, I know this, it’s got to be a prominent families house. Is it attached to a large, towering, intimidating building and a huge piazza? If yes, unfortunately you’re wrong and it’s probably the town hall. Welcome to the civic centre. Religious and civic centre were the places were things happened. Their piazzas were where people gathered, festivals, parades and celebrations were held, often where people sold their goods. Today the goods tend to be tacky, cheap, poor quality, overpriced souvenirs or food that you can get better quality and cheaper a few streets away.

Image

Palazzo Pubblico Siena I have much better pictures that show the liveliness of this square but I NAILED this jumping picture!

Palace

Is that a palace? Yes. Maybe. No. Yes it might be if the city wasn’t a republic and instead was ruled by a wealthy family. Maybe it’s not an actual palace but considering an important, rich family lived here then technically it is. No, unfortunately, whatever it was, it probably isn’t anymore and instead of Disney Princesses and pretty dresses you will find a museum or gallery instead.

Image

Palazzo Pitti Florence Republic .. whatever you say Medici…

More Churches

Is it on the outskirts of the city? Away from the Duomo? Is it not as elaborate? Roof not as high? More like a barn? No, the city didn’t run out of money or give it all to the Duomo. This is a mendicant church and probably either a Franciscan or Dominican one. Mendicant orders (Franciscans or Dominicans) were orders who focussed on living a poor life of the good will of others. Most people have heard of St Francis of Assisi who gave up everything to beg and preach. These churches are simple and reflect Francis’ aims – you just need faith and not money to be close to God. They are big and barnlike to fit all the people in. St Francis or St Clare’s church in Assisi are not good examples (they are far too elaborate and I think the decorations and embellishments added after their deaths would probably have the, turning in their grave).

Famous People’s Houses

You may be allowed in or there may just be a plaque or sign. They may have been born here, died here, written or painted something notable here, lived here for a week or their whole life. House seems to have a broad meaning.

Image

Right near Dante’s house in Florence

Statues

If you’re in Florence, obviously David.

Other popular choices are prominent families eg) Medici in Florence. Particularily in Tuscany but all over Italy you can find statues of Dante, Petrarch, Boccacio.

Image

Cosimo di Medici you are a babe!

Museums/Galleries

Of all Italian artwork 70% is in Italy and of this 40% is in Tuscany. So many talented people.

Gelateria

Image

Yum.

These heavenly shops pay tribute to the ancient medieval art of ice-cream …

Image

I ate so much ice-cream in Italy I turned into one!

There you have it! The dummies guide to Italian (mainly Tuscan) medieval cities!

 

 

 

Love at First Site … Falling In Love With A City

Written in 2012 after my first afternoon in Edinburgh. This was the moment when it hit me like a tonne of bricks that I was obsessed and utterly addicted to travel. 

I can’t tell you what it’s like to fall in love with a person but I can tell you what it’s like to fall in love with a city. 

Sometimes it’s expected; you know from everything you’ve watched, heard and seen that you will enjoy this place. The anticipation claws at your throat and your nerves are jittery. You can’t wait to lay eyes on it for the first time and you pray with all your heart that it will meet your expectations. 

Other times it jumps out from behind a bush or castle and catches you by surprise. You’re not ready for this moment. 

The saying ‘love at first sight’? it’s true. Sometimes all it takes is a glimpse of the city on the horizon. Or the minute you walk down the main street. You feel dizzy, you feel high, you can’t wipe the smile of your face. You are head over heels in love. 

Other times, it’s gradual and completely unexpected. You have a fondness for the city but it stops at that. It’s like a good friend but not a lover. Then all of a sudden you stumble across a view, a museum, a house or a church. It’s like you’ve been given glasses for the first time. Everything you liked about the place has suddenly intensified and you realise you can’t live without it. 

City Love. It’s the feeling that this place completes you. When you are away from it you miss it terribly like you’ve lost a limb. You simply can’t understand how you’ve lived without it all these years. You come to know the winding streets like the veins in your arms. You commit the tiny details other people overlook to mind – the funny street names, that unique statue and that heavenly ice-cream parlour. 

There comes a point where you are so comfortable together you don’t need a map anymore and you can wear your daggy clothes and no one will mind. 

And there are days when it gets under your skin – the gallery is closed on a Tuesday, the lines for the attractions are too long, there are too many tourists. But you’re so stricken these things don’t really phase you.

There are also days when you hate it with all of your heart. Another train strike? Really? Why is there scaffolding all over the cathedral? Why on the one day your are there is the Queen in residence and you can’t visit the palace?

Sometimes people get sick of you being blinkered and restricted to one conversation. There are days when even though you know it’s wrong you choose it over your friends and they hate you for it. 

If the towns, sights, mountains, churches, food and views are like a person’s vitals – eyes, ears, lungs, brain and heart then travel is that person as a whole. 

Travel. I dream about you every night. You are the last thing I think about before I go to sleep and the first when I wake up. I spend days and nights relentlessly planning. I pour through photos and shows and books about you. You make me happy like nothing else has in my life. You make me feel high. You make me feel alive. 

I don’t care what you put me through because I can’t live without you. 

 

Hello Again

When I went to Italy to study over summer I had every intention of it not posting daily, at least posting once a week.

I failed dismally. 

The end result was about 11 posts on Turkey and Belgium; where I spent my Christmas break. 

I have been home 4 months now and the need to travel is growing stronger every day. Instead of studying for exams I have spent the last month reading travelling blogs, pinning travel photos on Pintrest, planning trips and making a list of all the things I want to write about on my travel blog (yes, making lists. Despite the aforementioned procrastination, I felt when there were too many essays to write, leaping from surfing the net to writing things that were not my essays was crossing the line.) 

Now my exams are FINALLY finished (THANK GOD!) I cannot wait to start writing again. 

Hopefully, regularly this time. 

Stay tuned.