December 14, 2015

Venice, on Our Own

As much as I appreciate all the sights that are squeezed into an organized tour of Italy there were times when I wished I could wander off down a picturesque alleyway or stop for a closer look through an intriguing shop window. Our tour was over but I wasn't ready to go home yet. It was time to slow things down a bit and explore the city of Venice on our own.

A Quiet Canal in Venice

November 16, 2015

Insight Coach Tours

How lucky am I? I’ve been to Italy not once, but three times. On my first trip in the 1980s I travelled alone with a Eurail youth pass and a copy of Europe on $20 a Day. I saw some amazing things but the memories, like my old photographs, are fading and there’s no one who can fill in the blanks. My daughter came along on my most recent trip and now we can reminisce together for many years to come. The escorted group tour with Insight Vacations was also much more carefree than that first solo journey.

November 14, 2015

Oh, Paris

I'm shocked and saddened by the tragic events in Paris last night.

I remember the city in happier times...

November 02, 2015

At Last, the Venice of My Dreams

When I was planning my first trip to Venice a few years ago I dreamed of sitting on Piazza San Marco at twilight, sipping on a fruity peach Bellini while I listened to a café orchestra. But my dreams were squelched by an unfortunate spell of rainy weather. Where were the sunny skies I’d envisioned for my Italian holiday?

Rainy Day in Venice (2010)

October 31, 2015

Travel Theme: Frame

Some of my favourite travel photos are ones where I've included a frame within the scene. Architectural features like arches and windows are great for drawing the viewer into the scene (the older and crumblier, the better.) And sometimes nature helps out with a well-placed reflection or a striking piece of vegetation.

Villefranche Bay, France

October 26, 2015

Venice – Queen of the Seas

Venice today is a popular port of call for cruise ships, large and small, and even river cruise boats can be seen in the waters of the lagoon. In previous centuries, the Most Serene Republic of Venice ruled the seas and the Arsenale di Venezia, the Venice Arsenal, was the centre of the republic’s shipping and naval power.

Cruise Ship in Venice

September 28, 2015

Travel Theme: Fruit

I love to take pictures of food when I'm travelling so I shouldn't have been surprised by all the photos of fruit that I've collected. There's something very photogenic about a ripe, red strawberry or a fresh, fragrant lemon.

Strawberries in Tournus, France

September 07, 2015

England in Books and Film

It's hard to believe that summer is almost over. I spent a few lazy evenings catching up on episodes of some wonderful British programs that have aired on PBS recently. And I've realized how much my reading and TV viewing have influenced my travel plans. So, as promised, here's a preview of some places I'm going to visit in England next year.

August 03, 2015

Travel Theme: Wind

As a rule I don't like the wind. It can turn a cold winter day into a brutal one and cause snow to drift across my driveway. But I must admit I enjoy its cooling effect on a hot summer day. And wind can be very useful when it's generating power.

Wind Turbines on the Rhone River, France

July 20, 2015

Hidden Gems of Cannaregio

With few tourist attractions, quiet Cannaregio is a neighbourhood of Venice that many travellers never see. Before checking out of the Boscolo Venezia I took some time to explore the canals and narrow alleyways surrounding the hotel to see where real Venetians live.

Water Fountain in Cannaregio

July 13, 2015

Travel Theme: Land Meets Water

Some of the most spectacular locations on earth are found in that ever-shifting zone where land and water meet. And a rugged coastline certainly adds to the drama. When I see this photo of St. Peter Church in Portovenere I can still feel the tour boat heaving beneath me.

Portovenere, Italy

July 06, 2015

Evening in Burano

The most colourful place in the Venetian lagoon must surely be the island of Burano. Known as the fisherman’s island, the simple houses are painted in a rainbow of colours. We came to the island late in the afternoon after most of the crowds had departed and enjoyed a peaceful pre-dinner stroll along the canals.

Burano, the Fisherman's Island

June 29, 2015

My Venetian Palazzo

After nine days of travelling through Italy we arrived at our final destination, the legendary city of Venice. I’d been here once before and was deluged by rain so I had high hopes for this visit. Under sunny skies we said farewell to our motor coach and boarded a water taxi. Then we cruised through scenic canals to the grand palazzo that, for the next two nights, would be my home.

Arrival in Venice

June 22, 2015

The 6 Neighbourhoods of Venice

From this old map of Venice you can see that the city is shaped like a fish with the Grand Canal winding through its centre. The city is composed of 118 islands, more than 400 bridges and a complex network of canals. And the whole is divided into six neighbourhoods, or sestieri.

Map of Venice, Vatican Museums

June 15, 2015

Opera and Shakespeare in Verona

This week I’m back to my posts about Italy, picking up in the north as we journey from Lake Maggiore towards the Adriatic coast. At mid-day we stopped for lunch in  the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Verona, a city best known as the setting for Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet as well as its Roman ruins and summer opera festival.

The Verona Arena

June 08, 2015

Beach Therapy

Like water
which can clearly mirror the sky and the trees
only so long as its surface is undisturbed
the mind can only reflect
the true image of the self
when it is tranquil and wholly relaxed.
~ Indra Devi

The Beach, Toronto

June 06, 2015

AWOL in Niagara

I missed my regular post last week as I was doing some travelling, playing tourist in my home province of Ontario. Niagara Falls is one of our country's top attractions and my last visit was over thirty years ago. So when I got the chance to see this natural wonder again I couldn't pass it up.

Niagara Falls, Ontario

May 25, 2015

Italy's Champagne: Franciacorta

If I asked you to name three great sparking wines your first answer would probably be Champagne, which is produced in France. More serious wine aficionados might also mention Cava, which comes from Spain. Italy too has a rising star from the Lombardy region and it's called Franciacorta.

Franciacorta, Italy's Champagne

May 18, 2015

Travel Theme: Hats

I've noticed that some of the flashiest hats are worn by guards of one sort or another. For hundreds of years guards of the British monarchy have worn the iconic bearskin cap made from Canadian black bears. Animal rights activists have called for a change to faux-fur but so far the synthetic versions haven't fared very well in foul weather.

Queen's Guard, Tower of London

May 11, 2015

Isola Bella, the Beautiful Island

On Lake Maggiore in northern Italy there's an island called Isola Bella which translates to English as 'beautiful island'. This island certainly is beautiful but it was actually named after Isabella Borromeo, the wife of the man who created this little piece of paradise.

May 04, 2015

Italian Lakes: Lago Maggiore

Throughout the month of April I was busy participating in the A to Z Challenge. Now I'm returning to my regular posts about my trip to Italy last summer. My last post at the end of March was about two resort towns on the Italian Riviera, Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure. From there we travelled north to Lake Maggiore– not as glamourous as nearby Lake Como where George Clooney owns a villa but lovely all the same.

Lake Maggiore, Italy

May 02, 2015

Travel Theme: Youngsters

I haven't done a travel theme for a while and this one allows me to share photos of sights and activities that appeal to youngsters. No matter what your age, when you're in a strange city it's always nice to see a familiar face like Tweety or a cuddly teddy bear.

Sorrento, Italy

April 30, 2015

"Z" is for Zucchini

I was intrigued the first time I saw zucchini in a European market (Cours Saleya in Nice). Next to the green vegetable so commonplace in North American kitchens was a smaller version sprouting a yellow bloom and I could only imagine how it would taste. 

Zucchini Blossoms at the Cours Saleya Market, Nice

April 29, 2015

"Y" is for Year

If I could spend an entire year in Italy, how would I pass my time? What a wonderful dilemma that would be! There’s no shortage of interesting events going on all year long: music, sports, religious celebrations, and festivals for everything from crickets to truffles. Here’s a small sampling of events taking place in Italy for every month of the year.

April 28, 2015

"X" is for X-Bones

The Skull and Crossbones is a familiar symbol likely first used by the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages. Today the symbol is a warning of poison (or pirates) so you probably wouldn’t expect to find the image adorning a church.  But the Skull and Crossbones also represents a religious order, the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer.

Pirate Symbol: Skull and Crossbones

April 27, 2015

"W" is for Wishes

Are you superstitious? If so there are plenty of opportunities in Italy to make your dreams come true. The most famous location for making wishes is probably the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Toss a coin in the fountain and you’re guaranteed to return to the Eternal City one day. I know this one works – I’ve been fortunate to return to Rome twice.

Trevi Fountain, Rome

April 25, 2015

"V" is for Vivaldi

One of my favourite composers is the Baroque genius Antonio Vivaldi who hails from the city of VeniceI love his stirring set of violin concertos known as The Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. If you’d like to listen to my favourite concerto, follow this link to a performance of Spring on YouTube

April 24, 2015

"U" is for Unicorn

The Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees in Stresa is a hotel built for 19th century travellers on their Grand Tours of Europe. This is where Ernest Hemingway recovered from his war injuries and Winston Churchill honeymooned. So why does this luxury hotel on northern Italy's Lake Maggiore display the symbol of two unicorns?

April 23, 2015

"T" is for Taxi

The taxi is a convenient – but sometimes confusing –method of transportation for travellers in a strange city. In London you can flag down a passing taxi on the street; in Paris you should look for the nearest taxi stand. I don’t even know what Uber is all about. And sometimes your taxi may not be quite what you expected.

April 22, 2015

"S" is for Souvenir

When planning a trip I always give thought to the souvenirs I’d like to bring back. I want items unique to the region I’m visiting but they should also be easy to pack. And every time I look at these treasures they bring back happy memories of my travels. Here are three special souvenirs I brought home from Italy last summer.

Ceramic Bird, Capri

April 21, 2015

"R" is for Red House

There’s an unusual house on the island of Capri painted in the same orangey red used in frescoes in the ancient Roman town of Pompeii. When archaeologists unearthed these frescoes the colour became known as Pompeiian Red. In the late 19th century an American, J.C. MacKowen, chose this shade of red for his home in the town of Anacaprila Casa Rossa, the Red House.

Casa Rossa, the Red House, Anacapri

April 20, 2015

"Q" is for Quarantine

During the Middle Ages bubonic plague – the Black Death –arrived in Europe on returning merchant ships carrying flea-infested rats. The sea-faring republic of Venice was especially vulnerable to epidemics so ships were required to anchor offshore for a period of forty days – quaranta giorni – before they were allowed to dock. This practice is the origin of the word quarantine.

April 18, 2015

"P" is for Peacock

When I think of a peacock I visualize a large bird with brightly coloured feathers. A more modest peacock with snowy white plumage lives in the gardens of the Borromeo Palace on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. And meeting these ethereal creatures was an item on my Bucket List.

White Chinese Peacock of Isola Bella

April 17, 2015

"O" is for Obelisk

An obelisk is a four-sided stone pillar that tapers into a pyramid-shaped point at the top. These monuments originated in ancient Egypt but conquering Romans shipped many of these massive structures back to Rome where they still stand today.

St. Peter's Square, Rome

April 16, 2015

"N" is for Nightfall

I’ve heard a lot about the crowds in Venice, especially at popular locations like Piazza San Marco, and to some extent it’s true. But many travellers arrive on cruise ships only for the day; others return to their hotel rooms on the mainland for the night. Then the city can breathe again.

When night falls on La Serenissima, the serene one, it brings quiet and beauty to this city of the sea.

Cruise Ship Arrives in Venice

April 15, 2015

"M" is for Majolica

The gift shops in Campania are filled with ceramics in vibrant hues of lemon yellow, azure blue and emerald green. Any meal would taste better on this colourful serving ware. And only strong colours like these can stand up to the intense sunlight of southern Italy. These colours are also found on a style of earthenware known as majolica.

Colourful Ceramics in Capri

April 14, 2015

"L" is for Lemon

Lemon is one of my favourite flavours. This tangy citrus fruit is thought to have originated somewhere in Asia and was brought by the ancient Romans to southern Italy. Now lemons thrive in the mild climate of Campania and are prepared in many ways: an icy lemon slushy called a granita; tender veal scallops glazed in a delicious lemon sauce; and the classic Italian dessert, a refreshing gelato al limone. The local limoncello liqueur however reminds me a little of cough syrup.

April 13, 2015

"K" is for Krupp

One of the most scenic spots on the island of Capri is a botanical garden overlooking the sea, the Gardens of Augustus. Lush bougainvillea vines compete with views of the Faraglioni Rocks, making this a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy the beauty of nature. Originally this public park belonged to the villa of German industrialist Friedrich Alfred Krupp and was known as Krupp Gardens.

Gardens of Augustus, formerly Krupp Gardens

April 11, 2015

"J" is for Juliet

You’re probably familiar with William Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. The play is set in the northern Italian city of Verona and, though the characters are fictional, the city has happily adopted this tragic couple. Visitors now flock to a bronze statue of Juliet in the tiny courtyard of Casa di Giulietta and gaze up at her balcony as Romeo himself would have done.

Statue of Juliet, Verona

April 10, 2015

"I" is for Inferno

I’m a big fan of Dan Brown’s books. His suspenseful novels delve into history and art, taking readers to some of Europe’s greatest cities. His latest bestseller Inferno takes place in the Italian cities of Florence and Venice. I’ve been to both before but after reading Inferno there were more locations in the story that I wanted to see for myself.

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

April 09, 2015

"H" is for Hairpin Curve

Many years ago I was travelling on a motor coach that hit a patch of ice, spun 360 degrees, plowed over a mailbox and landed in a snowy ditch. Fortunately no one was hurt, a tow truck pulled us out and we carried on our way. But ever since this incident I’ve been a little nervous about buses. And while touring the rugged Campania region of Italy I came face to face with the roadbuilder’s solution to precipitous terrain: the treacherous hairpin curve.

Hairpin Curve, Sorrento

April 08, 2015

"G" is for Gelato

No ice cream lover’s visit to Italy is complete without sampling the local gelato and opinions abound on where to find the best. There’s a wonderful shop in the hill town of San Gimignano that has won awards for its artisanal gelato, Gelateria Dondoli, and our stop here was a highlight of my afternoon in Tuscany.

Gelateria Dondoli, San Gimignano

April 07, 2015

"F" is for Forcola

The gondola is an enduring image of the watery city of Venice. These flat-bottomed boats are rowed through congested canals by an agile gondolier and a single long oar. Holding the oar in place is the forcola, or oar lock. Forcole (the plural of forcola) are still hand-carved today by skilled local craftsmen and they’re not only functional; they’re also works of art.

Gondola Forcola, or Oar Lock

April 06, 2015

"E" is for Eruption

When standing in the archeological site of Pompeii near Naples I cast  a wary eye at Mount Vesuvius, shrouded in low-lying cloud. I think of the eruption in 79 AD that destroyed this ancient Roman town and the thousands of people who were killed by the pyroclastic flows of ash and hot gases. Could such a disaster happen again?

Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii

April 04, 2015

"D" is for Dome

It's a thrill to stand beneath the round coffered ceiling of the Pantheon in Rome. I gazed up at the sky through the open central skylight as others have done for 2,000 years. (For the inevitable rainy days there are drainage holes in the floor beneath the opening.) And until the Renaissance the Pantheon had the largest dome in the world. 

The Pantheon, Rome

April 03, 2015

"C" is for Cicchetti

In the Dorsoduro district of Venice there's a tiny wine bar with a very long name, Enoteca Cantine del Vino Gia Schiavi. Every day we walked past the window filled with plates of fresh cicchetti, traditional Venetian bar snacks similar to the tapas served in Spain. We dropped in several times to sample these snacks and soon began to call the bar 'our little cicchetti place'.

Assortment of Cicchetti

April 02, 2015

"B" is for Bell Tower

I love the sound of a tolling bell. And in Italy where there’s a bell there’s often a bell tower, or campanile, nearby. If you climb to the top of a bell tower on a clear day you’ll see the city from a whole new perspective. In Venice, the most popular bell tower is the campanile of St. Mark’s Basilica on Piazza San Marco. The tower also has an elevator.  Some don’t.

The Bell Tower of St. Mark's

April 01, 2015

"A" is for Aperol

While planning my trip to Italy I made a list of things I wanted to do; the places and experiences from my Bucket List that would make my trip really special. This list included foods and beverages that were invented in different regions of the country, like pesto in Liguria and the Bellini in Venice. When I read about a drink that was popular across Italy, the Aperol Spritz, I decided to trust the locals and give it a try.

Aperol Spritz

March 30, 2015

Classic Films for Armchair Travellers

In a previous post about my favourite movies for armchair travellers I promised another with classic films from the 1950s and 60s. European cities like Paris and Rome were popular settings and the biggest stars of the day were cast in these films: Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck and Cary Grant to name a few. Film production was thriving in Rome but movies set in Paris were often filmed on a Hollywood set. Perhaps that’s why so many of my favourites are those shot in Italian locales. And most films were shot in black and white.

Spanish Steps, Rome

March 23, 2015

Italy from A to Z

Last summer I toured Italy from Rome to Venice with many more unforgettable sights in between: rugged mountains and scenic coastlines; great cities and delightful villages; and the master works of celebrated builders and artists. This diverse land has so much to offer the traveller. And now as April approaches, Italy has also provided me with a topic for each letter of the alphabet.