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Italian City Countdown
Duration: 22 Days
Expenditure $ 8200

So there are many things to do in Italy. But there are many things that you will never be told that maybe you need to do and others that you want to do but can’t. Or shouldn’t; very often the difference is only slight, or changes on an hourly basis. But I ramble. Here is a small run-down from my recent trip. Pick and browse, and write back if you want more obscurity.

One thing I always wondered during my trip: perhaps the reason the locals look so spiffy is because they have an iron at home to walk about wrinkle-free. Hotels don’t keep any and this is across Italy! Some fire hazard regulation. Sure you can use the local laundry service but in most good hotels (as is the norm worldwide) laundry can cost the same amount as one would pay to learn the art of harvesting cotton, weaving fabric, and cutting cloth to design ourselves a new pair of garment ourselves! Also, laundry in most European hotels takes about as long so going the Gandhi way may not all be all that crazy a notion. That, or invest in that word which no self-respecting gentleman should ever admit to owning or wearing, at least not outside a gym: Lycra.

TIPS- Rome is tourist central so choose your time of visit. Try and avoid the extremely heavy months as also any period with a major festival or celebration, unless you are game for a crowd-jostle. The weather is fine starting April-end (although 2013 had us in coats even in early June) but anomalies aside, don’t wait till August when it might be extremely warm but insupportably crowded. But that said, also don’t avoid being a tourist (flip a coin into the Trevi, allow yourself to be swindled by a roadside merchant of touristy merchandise (they are mostly Bangladeshi so get ready for a good old school haggle), and even allow yourself a horrible gastronomic experience.) Do NOT drink the local wine, if it isn’t absolute crap, it is, at best, mildly sapid. Sure there may be the outlier winemaker or two but your chances of finding one just casually dining about are highly slim. 

I am choosing not to devote separate sections for each site for then we’d be here forever. Take in the Vatican (Saint Peter’s, et al), the Palatine Hill and the nearby famous Arena (aka Hadian’s Arena, the Colloseo, as it is popularly called, is because of a nearby statue) and even from the outside is fine, the Pantheon, and the Trevi fountain. For all else you will need to do your own research and see what interests you. We did the Cappucin museum and it was nothing unmissable. Remember that Rome is a city built in layers where each existing layer got buried and superimposed with the next. The lovely thing they did was to keep the sense of integrity of many places, so theatres were built upon older theatres, squares on squares. The theatre outside which Julius Caesar was stabbed has a theatre at the same site even today. Another place to see history upon history is Piazza Navona whose shape and structure give you a glimpse of it. There is a Bernini fountain there too. He is everywhere! He built so much stuff around the city, both him and his father that is, you can say that he pretty much mooched off the city corporation for life. But in return, he did create some fine pieces of art for our loathsome generation to pose against and immortalise in the poor representations that we call vacation albums. Here is me and Karina in front of the Trevi fountain! Definitely try Giolitti ice cream and an espresso just about anywhere. The Imago is awesome if you are in the mood to splurge and so are the Pizzerias in Trastevere and for pizza bianca (that’s pizza minus the tomato sauce, try Il Forno a Campo Di Fiori are worth it but watch out for timing as at certain times you won’t have a place to sit and will have to settle for grabbing a slice at the bakery and perching yourself at the fountain nearby. Do try the place 200 Gradi just before you hit Saint Peter’s for touristy as they might look, they serve some truly kick-ass sandwiches.
Photos of Rome, Italy 1/1 by Magandeep Singh
Talk about location and this one is pretty convenient while visiting Rome. Situated a stone’s throw from the top of the Spanish stairs, it provides a good place to start exploring the city of seven hills. Of course there is the Hassler Roma and Hotel de Russie as also the Inglaterra but if you know of these and can afford them without breaking a sweat (or a sizeable bank) you can skip to the next point. o Tips: Try and avoid anything and everything touristy which can be tough because the locals don’t really let you in on things to do. Even recommendations on sites that seem reliable can often land you in some crappy joint. Sometimes classic joints have lost their original charm (Dar Poeta for pizzas is good but not superb and Checco e Carretiere pasta is highly overrated for the price they command and the sloppy service they dish out) and sites may fail to show the updated version. Read around as much as you can. I will share some links I found useful.
Photos of Hotel Sistina, Via Sistina, Rome, Italy 1/1 by Magandeep Singh
This is a beautiful island and the Arabic influences just can’t be omitted. It is also not a small island so you will need time to get around it. Given the road conditions in parts, multiply that by a factor of 1.5 for route time. They are NOT as bad drivers as the Italians from the north will make you believe, the people are not uncouth or savage compared to the north, ad the mafia is definitely not waiting to slaughter you, you are not that important, or dangerous, get over it. Definitely do Menfi for the coasts; they have a nice beach run all the way to Sceccia. In the north the beaches are also nice (near Palermo) but far if you are this side or the island. The West is mostly rocky so save the beach time for here. An earthquake destroyed most of the city (circa 1960’s) so most you see was reconstructed albeit to look like the old times.
Photos of Sicily, Italy 1/2 by Magandeep Singh
Photos of Sicily, Italy 2/2 by Magandeep Singh
It is a place run by the Planeta wine house. It is simply awesome. The place is a calm serene resort with plenty to do. The winery visit is a must, the cooking classes with the resident chef are fun and useful, you learn about dishes as also about the Sicilian way of life. The wines served at the lodging are delicious and the best part, they don’t just serve their own wines but other famous ones from around the world, that too at prices that will make you want to never leave. And the views – oh the stunning panoramic undulating verdant views – simply stunning. Personal lavender gardens, ample sunshine, parking aplenty (!) you couldn’t want more. I also checked out Regaleali Estate, Contrada Regaleali in Sicily and Shalai Resort in Etna.
Photos of La Foresteria, Menfi, Italy 1/1 by Magandeep Singh
You’ve probably seen the films, tasted the wines, and heard about someone who went there for their last vacation. Can’t blame them for droning on – there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who have been to Tuscany and those who will (soon) go there someday. We had a lovely friend Sarah Newman (who works in the tourism and hospitality space) arrange a few things for us last minute and if you are looking for someone to plan you a holiday in the region, she might be a good person to reach out to. Florence! You could spend a lifetime here and not cover a fraction of the art here. They are still discovering new things at the Uffizi I am sure. The best part about this city is that the art isn’t always confined to the museums. You can just walk about and see art everywhere and it is no lesser than the art you pay to see. The churches are a treasure-trove of paintings and sculptures and Saint Ignacio with its trompe l’oeil ceiling comes to mind. Free. San Miniato and its cemetery where the creator of Pinochio is buried (Carlo Lorenzini). Free. The Piazzale Michelangelo for a sweeping view over the city. Free. The wild boar statue that you will go and rub the snot off to bring you luck: also free. The Academia where the original David and some other art works are housed: pricey and totally not worth it. Parking in Florence is a messy affair and if you are driving in, park at the Michelangelo square on top – it may be a walk down to the city but it’s free 24/7 (but check still). Anywhere else and you will be feeding parking meters all day. Walking down from the square to the city is easy but for the way up, figure out the bus route, unless you want the exercise. I strongly recommend the Uffizi but I stronger-ly recommend reserving tickets online, or best yet, to book a guided tour. Get a good guide and you will skip queues as also the clutter that art can create when so much of it is concentrated over such a large space. Sarah might be able to help otherwise
Photos of Tuscany, Italy 1/2 by Magandeep Singh
Photos of Tuscany, Italy 2/2 by Magandeep Singh
Apart from the fact that they make amongthe most subtle and elegant of Chianti Classico wines, that they singularly own the largest chunk of vineyard land in the Chianti Classico region, they also have other things to offer. Castello di Brolio is definitely worth a visit – for the castle and its history, for the wines, and for the lovely Osteria with its superb wine selection and great food – but you may not be able to stay there, unless you know the Baron Francesco Ricasoli personally. I absolutely loved the accommodation and welcome that was extended to us – ahem ahem – if you know what I mean. They have a lot of history here but my piece of relevant info was that the entire film ‘Stealing Beauty’ was shot right here in one of the guesthouses and the tree under which the final love-making scene between the divine luscious and oh-so-gorgeous Liv Tyler and some bloke was shot still happens to be in full bloom. I think this was a religious moment I had there for all boy-folk from my generation. La Bottega del 30, Villa Sesta, Hotel Plaza Lucchesi, o La Maremma are other places I could stay.
Photos of Ricasoli Madonna di Brolio, Tuscany, Italy 1/1 by Magandeep Singh
This is the city of love; as Shakespeare wrote and the Veronese would like to make you believe; it’s good for sales you see. No point visiting the arena here, it is old but renovation and work makes it appear no older than your local stadium; go instead for an Opera there if you happen to coincide and that should be fun. The Piazzas are pretty (Bra, Erbe) and Juliet’s Balcony is a tick-in-a-box (tickle the boob, if you must). That done, leave! When it comes to important tourist sites Verona is like Pisa – they both have much to offer but you will only want to see the obvious landmarks and that shouldn’t take you more than half a day to get through. In both cities, the shopping is useless, unless you get off on cheap trinkets for the extended family.
Photos of Verona, Italy 1/1 by Magandeep Singh
Hotel Leon d’Oro is a good place to park bags: small walk from the centre and massive comfort able rooms. Definitely make a meal-stop at Osteria Al Duomo and try some donkey-meat pasta (Bigoni Al Assimo). There is horse-meat too. History has it that people travelling across the Dolomites (alpine extension) stopped here in Verona before making the ascent to discard their old tired horses and to take new young stallions onwards. There wasn’t much to do with these weary rides but to make into a good stew. The tough meat needed long cooking to soften so don’t expect Carpaccio–style dishes here. If you like it meaty and gnawy, horse is the way to go and no better place than Verona for it.
Photos of Hotel B4 Verona Leon d'Oro, Viale del Piave, Verona, Province of Verona, Italy 1/1 by Magandeep Singh
Venice is not a tourist trap just like the Earth is not a planet. Bad analogies aside, you can’t escape being the tourist scapegoat here. If you don’t speak Venetian, if you don’t stop to wave hello to every third octogenarian, then you are not a local and they will know. Except the octogenarians; they barely remember whether they are coming or going. The ones with the white socks and squeaky clean sneakers are not the local oldies, they are known as Americans. All of them. There was never a stereotype like this one, one which rings truer and louder than the bells at the San Marco square. A lot to see, but best to see if from a boat. Make a local friend, especially one who owns a boat. Only idiots ride in a Gondola. Sorry, I take that back, I meant rich idiots. The water-taxis (motoscafi) will flay you skint before you even get to your destination. The water-busses (aka Vaporetto) are so badly labelled and the boards and directions so ambiguously marked that no tourist can decipher them at first go. The Da Vinci Code wasn’t shot here because it wouldn’t seem as perplexing as compared to figuring out what Vaporetto to take, where to board it from, and just where are the goddamn ticket counters (and why, when we were there, did one have a long line while the other two were empty!?) Don’t park just outside the city a that is expensive, inquire about a parking lot that is a convenient bus-ride away (and about 1/5th the price for parking for an entire day.) What I enjoyed the most?? Go and buy all the souvenirs here: lovely cufflinks and some great accessories for the ladies fashioned out of Murano glass, ranging from the cheap to the frightful. Thing is this: glass is art and art is a subjective matter. See how much subjectivity your wallet allows you and then, go crazy! The boat ride to me is more important than seeing a museum from the inside here. What I ate? I didn’t do much here this time but tried a lovely sea-food specialist place called XXXX. Must admit that
Photos of Venice, Italy 1/1 by Magandeep Singh
Hotel Londra Palace, was our choice of place in Venice. Yes it’s right on the waterfront, facing the Northern San Marco lagoon, yes we had an amazing view of it all from our balcony, and yes all the sites of interest (the palaces, Murano island ferries, Giudecca) were all within spitting distance. That’s it. There is no but.
Photos of Hotel Londra Palace, Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice, Italy 1/1 by Magandeep Singh
A city that I have consistently never liked: it’s not rich in art and I am not rich enough for Via della Spiga yet. All that shopping just waiting to be done and I can barely afford the window-watching here. People are smartly dressed which is a pleasant distraction from the ugly post WWII buildings that had all the flamboyance of a finance manager. And the creativity of a blender. Wooh, am on a roll here! My recommendation... Do NOT take a taxi to the airport, unless you booked a hotel right next to it, or are the type who flies charter. My Google Maps kept going on and soon enough I could see the Piemontese appellations on the same screen and Turin was a bare 100 kms away! I almost thought he was kidnapping me and to leave a sommelier stranded on the Nebbiolo wine route did strike me as smirk-worthy. I don’t know how far it was – he said 45 kilometres, I think he meant light years – but I paid a godawful 103 Eu• Nottingham Forest: I missed it this time but a molecular bar that comes up in every conversation must be worth its test tubes and vials. Dario Comini is no small name in the world of mixology so make sure you try something here. Closed on Mondays, which was my reason for not making it. Rita bar on Canigli was a healthy compromise but be there early so you get the tasty aperitivo treats; for come 10pm and they remove it all. And your table looks empty, and now you have to make conversation, and the drinks disappear faster and the bill mounts. En suite, we hit the Mag bar and that was by far one of the best cocktail bars I have ever been to and I do like my mixes. What a shake, what cocktails. I preferred it to the Rita. These guys also have a speakeasy (1930’s) and they have an awesome card; don’t even bother walking upto it. You need to have your name on the list. I didn’t make it. The alcohol-soaked me had to call it a night.ros! So much for not shopping in Milan. The man had already started setting up the credit card machine even before we pulled into t
Photos of Milan, Italy 1/1 by Magandeep Singh
The Carlton Hotel by Baglioni in Milan is undergoing some serious changes and the new rooms are modern and functional and yet very chic and tasteful. Good utilisation of space and nice lighting. The concierge at this hotel is marvellous and look out for a gentleman name Lino – well till he is working there for once this blog is out he will be inundated with offers to become the president of some country with fledgling tourism and we shall never hear of him again – and you will know what genuine concern and being truly hospitable mean. This man is sheer genius, not only with his knowledge but also his attitude which showed sincerity and humility.
Photos of The Carlton Hotel, Milan 1/1 by Magandeep Singh

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