Category Archives: Italy

Lake Como: Italy

On the way to Switzerland, we made our final stopover in Italy in Lake Como.

Lake Como is a glacial lake situated in Lombardy, in beautiful Italy. It is the third largest lake in Italy, coming after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore. It is one of the deepest lakes in Europe and it is over 400 meters deep and at the bottom around 200 meters below sea level with it being fed by the Adda River.

It is ‘Y’ shaped with the northern branch having beginnings in Colico and the towns of Como and Lecco create the start for the other two branches making views of the lakes ideal from each end and the lake flows out at Colico and Lecco. There is a boat service that runs between the tree inter sections making it a beautiful base to explore the sunning scenery. Lake Como is around 40km from Milan to the South and only a few minutes from the Swiss Border – and George Clooney has a home their too.

Lake Como has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times, and a very popular tourist attraction with many artistic and cultural gems. It has many villas and palaces (such as Villa Olmo, Villa Serbelloni, and Villa Carlotta).

Many celebrities have or had homes on the shores of Lake Como, such as Matthew Bellamy, Madonna, George Clooney,Gianni Versace, Ronaldinho, Sylvester Stallone, Richard Branson, and Ben Spies. Lake Como is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy.

When we were there, I was so mesmerised by the beauty of the area as well as the expensive looking villas everywhere. They say money can’t buy happiness and looking at the place there, I thought, if I can buy the place there, I can be really happy 🙂 so go figure.

From the elaborate terrace of Villa Il Dosso Pisani, in the mountains above the lake, to the grand villas curving toward the water and the unspoiled parcels of hilltop land, beauty was everywhere in this place.

The weather was perfect with blue sky and sunshine.

From here we went to Switzerland.

Venice under water

Remember a few months ago, I wrote about my travel to Venice, Italy. While we were there our guide, showing a line on the wall, had mentioned that sometimes the water comes up to that level. At that time I was thinking how it would be in Venice when the water is so high up. He said that in 1872, the whole Venice was flooded and still from time to time, the water goes up quite high.

And now I understand what he meant. The water in Venice has risen to be the sixth highest since 1872 and flooded 70 per cent of the city.

Heavy rains and high tides have brought some of the worst flooding to Venice in years. The “acqua alta”, or high water, is common this time of year but this year it went a lot higher than normal. Venice suffered its worst flooding in 22 years as water in the Italian city rose to more than 1.5 metres (five feet) deep before beginning to recede.

Makeshift wooden walkways had to be used to cross areas of St Mark’s square, with transportation proving difficult for residents.



I really hope everything will be back to normal soon and the tourists there will be happy to go around and see the beautiful city.

Tuscany and Florence: Italy

Tuscany is a region in Italy having an area of about 23,000 square kilometres (8,900 sq mi) and a population of about 3.8 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence. Tuscany is known for its landscapes, traditions, history, artistic legacy and its permanent influence on high culture. It is regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and has been home to many figures influential in the history of art and science.

Driving from Rome to Tuscany was beautiful. There were lots of farm and greenery. We stopped over in Autogril to have some food. Then we drove all the way to Florence.

Once we were dropped off in Florence, we walked with our guide to  Piazza Santa Croce.

Piazza Santa Croce

Piazza Santa Croce is one of the main squares of the centre of Florence, Italy. The Basilica of Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world, overlooks the piazza. The basilica’s most notable features are its sixteen chapels, many of them decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils, and its tombs and cenotaphs. It is the burial place of some illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo Buonarroti, Niccolò Machiavelli, Enrico Fermi, Galileo Galilei, Ugo Foscolo, Guglielmo Marconi, Luigi Cherubini, Leon Battista Alberti, Vittorio Alfieri, Gioacchino Rossini, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Lorenzo Bartolini, Pier Antonio Micheli, Bartolomeo Cristofori, and Giovanni Gentile. For this reason it also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell’Itale Glorie). In front of the Basilica there is famous marble statue made by Enrico Pazzi decidated to Dante Alighieri, and formerly places in the middle of the piazza.

From Piazza we were taken to a leather shop near Piazza Santa Croce where they tried to sell some leather stuffs but to be honest I didn’t like the place as there were pushy salesman trying too hard. So me and my husband got out of the place and enjoyed the outside until everyone was out.

From there we were taken to the tour of Florence with the local guide.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

It is known as Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower in english. The Cathedral is gothic in style, and it features a dome that was to become the model and standard for domes which were built in many other major European cities over the next several centuries.  In this era, the dome was a feat of architectural genius by its designer and engineer, Filippo Brunelleschi.  The exterior is covered with marble panels, which are in shades of green, pink, and white , very appropriate Saint Mary of the Flower.

This cathedral is breathtaking on the outside. You could spend hours walking around it marvelling at the intricate work. The interior is also very nice and a lot brighter than I had expected. It’s marble and empty and echoing. Quiet and reflective, as a church should be. But looking up at the fresco will really take one’s breath away. Its definitely a good way to spend some time out of your day in Florence as it seems that relaxing and enjoying yourself is something that you can do in Florence very easily.

Be sure to see the bronze doors on the Baptistry – known as “The Gates of Paradise” by Ghiberti.  The original doors are in the Duomo Museum and were replaced with replicas due to water damage in a huge flood in the 1960’s, vandalism, and other harmful elements.  These doors took over 27 years to complete, and the ten panels depict the Old Testament.  And, this is hard to imagine, but the doors are the first time perspective was used in an artwork.

It is possible to climb to the top of the dome, but this is not for the faint of heart as it requires a reasonable degree of fitness to manage the spiral staircases, the ladders, and the countless number of steps to reach the top.

For us the last stop was Piazza della Signoria with our guide before we got free time to shop and eat.


Porcellino (Italian “piglet”) is the local Florentine nickname for the bronze fountain of a boar. The fountain figure was sculpted and cast by Baroque master Pietro Tacca (1577 –1640) shortly before 1634.

Visitors to Porcellino put a coin into the boar’s gaping jaws, with the intent to let it fall through the underlying grating for good luck, and they rub the boar’s snout to ensure a return to Firenze which has kept the snout in a state of polished sheen while the rest of the boar’s body has patinated to a dull brownish-green.

We also rubbed the snout so hope we will be going to Italy again 🙂

Piazza della Signoria

Piazza della Signoria is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. Florence’s most famous square started to take shape in the mid- to late-13th century when the Guelphs defeated the Ghibellines for control of the city. The piazza’s L shape and the lack of uniformity of its surrounding buildings is the result of the Guelphs leveling many of their rivals’ palazzi. The piazza gets its name from the towering Palazzo Vecchio, whose original name is the Palazzo della Signoria.

Numerous statues designed by some of the most famous Florentine artists decorate the square and the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, which serves as an outdoor sculpture gallery. Almost all of the statues located on the square are copies; the originals have been moved indoors, including to the Palazzo Vecchio and the Bargello, for preservation.

The most famous of the piazza’s sculptures is a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original is in the Accademia), which stands watch outside the Palazzo Vecchio. Other must-see sculptures on the square include Baccio Bandinelli’s Heracles and Cacus, two statues by Giambologna – the equestrian statue of Grand Duke Cosimo I and Rape of a Sabine – and Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa.  At the center of the piazza is the Neptune Fountain designed by Ammanati.

Palazzo Vecchio

Florence’s City Hall, the Palazzo Vecchio, is one of the most important secular buildings in Florence and one of the city’s top attractions. Palazzo Vecchio was constructed in the late 13th/early 14th century in order to house the government offices for the newly formed Florentine Republic. The architect of the Palazzo Vecchio was Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of Florence’s Duomo.

Today, the Palazzo Vecchio still contains the office of Florence’s Mayor and the City Council. But most of building is now a museum.


The entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio is flanked by a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original is in the Accademia) and the statue of Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli. Above the door is a gorgeous frontispiece set in a blue background and flanked by two gilded lions.

Cortile di Michelozzo: The artist Michelozzo designed the harmonious inner courtyard, which contains arcading set off by gilded columns, a copy of a fountain by Andrea del Verrocchio (the original is inside the palace), and walls painted with several city scenes.

Second Floor

Salone dei Cinquecento: The massive “Room of the Five Hundred” once held the Council of the Five Hundred, a governing body created by Savonarola during his short stint in power. The long room is largely decorated with works by Giorgio Vasari, who orchestrated the redesign of the room in the mid-16th century. It contains an ornate, coffered and painted ceiling, which tells the story of the life of Cosimo I de’ Medici, and, on the walls, gigantic depictions of battle scenes of Florence’s victories over rivals Siena and Pisa.

Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were initially commissioned to produce works for this room, but those frescoes have been “lost.” It is believed that Leonardo’s “Battle of Anghiari” frescos still exist beneath one wall of the room. Michelangelo’s “Battle of Cascina” drawing, which had also been commissioned for this room, was never realized on the walls of the Salone dei Cinquecento, as the master artist was called to Rome to work on the Sistine Chapel before he could begin work in the Palazzo Vecchio. But his statue “Genius of Victory” located in a niche at the southern end of the room is worth a look.

The Studiolo: Vasari designed this sumptuous study for Francesco I de’ Medici, at the time the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Studiolo is decorated from floor to ceiling with Mannerist paintings by Vasari, Alessandro Allori, Jacopo Coppi, Giovanni Battista Naldini, Santi di Tito, and at least a dozen others.

Third Floor

Loggia del Saturno: This large room contains an ornate ceiling painted by Giovanni Stradano but is most renowned for its sweeping views over the Arno Valley.

The Sala dell’Udienza and the Sala dei Gigli: These two rooms contain some of the Palazzo Vecchio’s oldest elements of interior decoration, including a coffered ceiling by Giuliano da Maiano (in the former) and frescoes of St. Zenobius by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the latter. The stunning Sala dei Gigli (Lily Room) is so called because of the patterned gold-on-blue fleur-de-lys – the symbol of Florence – on the room’s walls. Another treasure in the Sala dei Gigli is Donatello’s statue of Judith and Holofernes.

Several other rooms in the Palazzo Vecchio can be visited, including the Quartiere degli Elementi, which was also designed by Vasari; the Sala delle Carte Geographiche, which contains maps and globes; and the Quartiere del Mezzanino (mezzanine), which houses the Charles Loeser collection of paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. 

After the tour we stopped to do some shopping and were taken back to the hotel.

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Out and about in Rome

On day 2 of Rome we had the whole day on our own so with fellow travellers from the tour, we took a map and went on a journey to explore Rome, the capital of Italy, by ourselves.

I have read Kathmandu described as city of temples but I didn’t know that Rome is a city of churches. Everywhere we went there were churches, all equally magnificent and beautiful.

Castle San Angelo

I always wanted to see this castle as I saw it in the move Angles & Demons so I was really happy to see the beautiful castle. The castle looked like some of the forts I have seen in India. It is located right by the Tiber River and was originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian in 139 AD.

In front of the castle there is a beautiful bridge called Ponte Saint Angelo with 5 angles on either side of it. This is how the castle got its name. The bridge is faced with travertine marble and spans the Tiber with three arches.

On one side of the castle, there was a market that sold souvenirs and food. Also, there was a man dressed as a devil asking money from tourists to take photos with him.


The Pantheon, one of the most fascinating, and mysterious, buildings in Italy. It is a Christian church where they conduct mass every Sunday. The interior of Pantheon is really striking, with its dome a perfect hemisphere and an oculus which is believed to symbolize the all-seeing eye of heaven. At about 142 feet in diameter, the Pantheon’s dome is bigger even than the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

It is one of the best-preserved of all Roman buildings. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a Roman Catholic Church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs” but informally known as “Santa Maria della Rotonda.” The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda.

The Piazza della Rotonda was filled with tourists taking pictures and people resting on the steps of the fountain. Along the edges of the piazza there were restaurants and coffee shops.

Raphael, the famous Renaissance painter, is buried inside the Pantheon with his fiancée Maria Bibbiena as well as Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s first king.

Piazza del popolo

This is one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome and the effect of the twin churches is amazing. My guide mentioned that the two baroque churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto are not exactly alike, but they do look alike on a first sight and the impression one gets is of something unforgettable.

The piazza was created by Latino Giovenale Manetti in 1538 for Pope Paul III and the twin churches were added in the 17th century. The present symmetry was given by the neoclassical architect Giuseppe Valadier in the early 1800’s. In the middle of the square lies a 3000 years old obelisk framed by four small fountains with lions. The piazza is closed to automotive traffic so you can stroll at your own pace and enjoy the sights.

Trajan’s Column (Colonna di Traiano)

Trajan’s column was built to commemorate military campaigns in Dacia (which is now Romania). The column is a beautiful piece of Roman sculptural art; around the column winds a spiral frieze with over 2500 figures in relief illustrating the battles that took place during Trajan’s military campaigns in Dacia (101-102 and 105-106). At the top the statue of Saint Peter replaced in 1588 a statue of Trajan. The ashes of the emperor and his wife were places in a golden urn in a vault below the column. The column stands in what was once Foro di Traiano (Forum of Trajan) with a huge semicircular market building.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona was built over the site of the 1st century Stadium of Domitian and still preserves the elliptical form of the Roman circus. Medieval jousts, 17-century carnivals, open-air sports and historic festivals took place here; the piazza was also used as market place from mid 15th century to mid 19th century. Today this place attracts tourists and Romans alike, and the cafes and restaurants lining the piazza have tables outside most of the year.

Three beautiful fountains decorate the piazza out of which the most famous is the central Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (The Fountain of the Four Rivers) by Bernini. Behind this fountain is the church Sant’Agnese in Agone a remarkable example of Baroque architecture.

On one of the days we were in Rome, we sat down and had our dinner there.

Piazza Augusto Imperatore

As part of his massive restructuring of Rome and in celebration of the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ birth, Mussolini created the Piazza Augusto Imperatore with the Mausoleum of Augustus at its center. He had the densely populated neighbourhoods surrounding the Mausoleum destroyed and new buildings constructed on the 4 sides of the Piazza. Only the churches were allowed to remain. The story of this radical transformation is superbly told in Kostoff, 1978.

Office buildings were constructed on 2 sides and a college on a 3rd. On the 4th side, the new pavilion to house the relocated and reconstructed Ara Pacis was built between the Mausoleum and the major avenue beside the Tiber embankment. Within this pavilion, Mussolini had the Ara Pacis itself reconstructed not at the level of the Via di Ripetta, the ground level of buildings in the area, where it might have retained closer relationship to the Mausoleum. Instead, for added visibility and prestige, he had the Ara Pacis reconstructed at the level of the Lungotevere in Augusta, the top level of the ealry 20th century embankment along the Tiber River.


Designed by the Perugia architect Guglielmo Calderini and built between 1888 and 1910, the Palace of Justice is considered one of the grandest of the new buildings which followed the proclamation of Rome as the capital city of the Kingdom of Italy.

The building’s unusually large size, astonishing decorations, and long period of construction created the suspicion of corruption. In April 1912 a parliamentary commission was appointed to inquire into the matter and it presented its findings the following year. The affair gave rise to the building’s popular nickname of Palazzaccio.

Inspired by late Renaissance and Baroque architecture, the building is 170 meters by 155 in size and is completely covered with Travertine limestone. Above the façade looking towards the River Tiber it is surmounted by a great bronze quadriga, set there in 1926, the work of the sculptor Ettore Ximenes from Palermo. Ten large statues of notable jurists adorn the ramps before the main façade and the internal courtyard. The upper part of the façade looking onto the Piazza Cavour is ornamented with a bronze coat of arms of the House of Savoy. Inside the Hall of the Supreme Court, also known as the Great Hall (or on Calderini’s plans as the Aula Maxima) are several frescoes, begun by Cesare Maccari (1840–1919), who became paralysed in 1909 while the work was unfinished. It was continued until 1918 by Maccari’s former student Paride Pascucci (1866–1954)

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Colosseum and ruins of Roman Forum: Italy

Most of the time when we visited some place, we had gone to them with our tour guide but it is always great to know more about a place from a local expert. If you don’t like guided tours, make sure to hire a guide when you are in Italy otherwise you will miss out on lots of interesting stuffs.

We went to the Colosseum and the ruins of the Roman Forum with the same guide who took us to the Vatican and she had an amazing amount of interesting information.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire, built of concrete and stone. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering. I am sure you will remember it from The Gladiator movie.

The elliptical building is immense, measuring 188m by 156m and reaching a height of more than 48 meter (159 ft). The Colosseum could accommodate some 55,000 spectators who could enter the building through 76 entrances.

Above the ground are four storeys. Each of the four storeys had windows, arches and columns. Once people entered, they walked up ramps to their seats. Seats varied according to how rich people were. Women and the poor stood or sat on wooden benches on the 4th floor. The Emperor and the gladiators who were to compete there had their own special entrances.  Below the ground were rooms with mechanical devices and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena.

The Colosseum was covered with an enormous awning known as the velarium. This protected the spectators from the sun. It was attached to large poles on top of the Colosseum and anchored to the ground by large ropes. A team of some 1,000 men was used to install the awning.

When it was first built, the arena could be filled with water and mock naval battles enacted. However, this was not good for the floor or the foundations, and the water was drained away. Gladiatorial contests replaced the mock battles. These were fierce combats to the death involving men and wild animals.

Emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public with free games. Those games were a symbol of prestige and power and they were a way for an emperor to increase his popularity.

Games were held for a whole day or even several days in a row. They usually started with comical acts and displays of exotic animals and ended with fights to the death between animals and gladiators or between gladiators. These fighters were usually slaves, prisoners of war or condemned criminals. Sometimes free Romans and even Emperors took part in the action.

The Colosseum is one of Rome’s most recognizable icons and definitely worth a visit for anyone making the trip to Rome.

After visiting the Colosseum, we went to the Arch of Constantine which is located right next to the Colosseum. The arch is 21 m high, 25.9 m wide and 7.4 m deep. It has three archways, the central one being 11.5 m high and 6.5 m wide, the lateral archways 7.4 m by 3.4 m each. It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312. Dedicated in 315, it is the latest of the existing triumphal arches in Rome, and the only one to make extensive use of spolia, re-using several major reliefs from 2nd century imperial monuments, which give a striking and famous stylistic contrast to the sculpture newly-created for the arch.

From there we moved up Via Sacre (the sacred way) where it is still possible to see the marks made by chariots. This road used to be the route taken for religious and triumphal processions towards the capitol and ruins of Roman forum. 

Roman Forum 

The Roman Forum is situated in the area between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Three thousand years ago, this valley between Campidoglio and the Quirinal, which was to become the future social and political centre of one of the greatest empires of ancient times, was submerged in marshland. 

It was really good to walk through the ruins of the Roman Forum, the plaza where Romans met to exchange goods, deliver public speeches, and much more. As you enter the Forum, think about how it must have looked in its prime where masses would flock to see the meetings of the orators, attend criminal trials and discuss internal politics or the latest military campaigns, or quite simply to comment on the games or running races, and visualize yourself in this once-bustling city centre.

Within the Roman forum is the grave of Julius Caesar, which is within a wall of stone marked by a simple plaque.

In the area you will find ruins like basilica of Constantine and Maxentius, Rostra, Temple of Saturn, Temple of Castor and Pollux, House of the Vestal Virgins, temple of Vespasian, and temple of Julius Caesar etc. The list goes on and on actually and it seems like they are still working on excavations on different locations.

Then we went to the Arch of Titus and we moved up to the Palatine hill. This hill is where legend has it that Romulus and Remus were brought up by a wolf and it later became the location of palaces to the Flavian emperors. At the edge of the Faranese Gardens you get a great view of the Forum.

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