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One Out of Five Museums in Florence Isn’t Bad

A rare sight in Florence – a museum open door.

Florence is definitely the place to go if you want some culture, it has over 70 museums in the city centre alone.  The problem is, sometimes it just doesn’t want you to visit them.

Take today as a case in point.  The morning started off successfully enough with a visit to the Museo Galileo, which I had duly noted closed after lunch.  Fair enough.  Then I got cocky.  I decided to visit a few more museums.

After lunch I made my way north to the Museo Scientifici and Museo Archeologico.  One had a large dinosaur in the process of being removed from its premises and the other was shut.  Slightly annoying but there were still others on the map to try.

What about the Museo Firenze Come’era (Prehistoric Florence)? Nope, that was only open on certain dates and today wasn’t one of them.  Ok, what about the Museo della Casa Fiorentina Antica? That sounded interesting.  It may well have been, but its doors had shut firmly at 1.30pm.

Bearing in mind that it took at least 15-20 minutes to walk between each museum, plus multiple map readings, you can understand why at one point I muttered something unpleasant and shook my fist into the air.  (NB: No one actually cares if you do this in Italy as Italians do it at least once a day and I can see why, it did feel quite pleasing. As did the gelato I had to console my aching feet.)

The moral of the story is, make sure you check museum opening and closing times on the web before you go traipsing around Florence. And if they’re still shut you have permission to mutter unpleasantries and shake your fist in the air, just make sure you’re not holding gelato at the time.

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Take-away Risotto in Amalfi

So I left my hotel in Amalfi at around 7 thinking I would get take-away seafood risotto and just eat it on the waterfront.

As usual, what I want and what Italy wants me to have, are two different things.

I wandered into the Piazza Duomo thinking I’d go up the back streets.  On the steps of the duomo were a beautiful Italian couple just married.  I couldn’t help but take a photo:

Too gorgeous for words eh?  Continuing on up the back streets in search of my take-away seafood risotto got me nowhere.  I almost caved and got a prawn cocktail and a bruschetta, but no, I needed take-away seafood risotto.  I can be stubborn when I want to be.

I walked along the waterfront and spied some steps going down into a back alley. There was a trattoria sign so it looked promising.  Yes, it opened up into a kind of small piazza with lots of restaurants.  I asked one of them if it did seafood risotto.  It did – ‘fisherman style’.  Take-aways were not an option.

I don’t know why I always assume everything is chopped up into tiny pieces.  I should have been warned by the ‘fisherman style’ description, that it was not going to be elegant eating.  One day I’ll learn.  Forty-five minutes later this arrived.

So much for take-away seafood risotto chopped up in small perfect pieces in a plastic container.

After de-shelling my way through this lot I figured what the heck, I’ll have desert too.  And that was even better; a small, round cake with ricotta and pears. Kind of like a cheesecake but not as sweet. I didn’t take a photo because I ate it too quickly.  Divine.

Then the band started playing.

Nearly two hours after arriving I left.

The moral of the story is, never go looking for a quick meal in Italy.  You’ll find yourself eating things you never thought you’d eat, and having a much better time than you expected to have.

And staying in a better place than you thought as well.  This the foyer of my art-deco type hotel which has each room named for one of the planets.  I’m in ‘Neptune’:

And this is where you have to post what you want for breakfast:

Then it appears the next morning in front of you. Just like magic.


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Beware the Chair!

From what I’ve observed, Italians are in love with authority.  Nothing makes them happier to announce that something is ‘forbidden’ or ‘inaccessible’ .  However, at times, the rules are not immediately apparent.

In Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, for instance, I went behind a chair to climb up some steps to look out a window.  All hell immediately broke loose amongst the three attendants.  “Signorina no, no!  It is dangerous!” 

Surely yelling at me, and startling me so I nearly fall down the stairs is more dangerous? 

“You should have a rope across there, or a sign so people know not to go up”, I say to one of them trying to regain my dignity. 
“No madam,” he says looking stern, “There is a chair in front and we are here to say ‘no’, “ as if this is a much better system. 

Some shopkeepers also seem to work on the premise that ‘the customer is always wrong and we are always right’.  Which is odd since the customer, especially in the summer months, is the tourist, and it would be a lot more fruitful for them to give ‘service with a smile’, instead of ‘service with a grimace’.

However, it must be annoying for Italians, especially when tourists intrude on their two hour lunch break. A couple of girls at my hostel learnt the hard way when trying to buy postcards right on afternoon closing time.  

They were ‘hummmpfed’ at several times and then smartly escorted to the door by the gentleman concerned.  I don’t think he even cared they didn’t buy the postcards.  Rules are rules after all.


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The Beauty and Squalor of Naples

My second visit to Naples is turning out to be more beauty than squalor.This time I don’t feel like I’m about to be murdered and no one has swept dog poo on my head (yet).
 
This time I’ve gone more upmarket and my hotel, the Fiorentini Residence, is in the historic centre and takes two hours to get to by the metro.  It probably should only take 20 minutes but I’m initially confused by the way the metro system runs.  By the time I arrive at my hotel I’m so dirty I leave a black smudge on the prisitine white chair in reception.
 
After checking in I head to Galleria Umberto I which is about ten minutes  walk away and is an incredible glass and steel dome shopping mall, 57 metres high.  After the busy streets it’s an oasis of quiet although it has a glass-house effect when it comes to trapping heated air and has claimed one poor victim.  A dead stray dog lies in the centre of the mosaic zodiac, as if it had chosen its final resting place on purpose, right in the middle of the evening passeggiata.  I’m not sure who will remove it, no one seems to be that bothered.

Further on inside, there are clothing shops and a restaurant.  I sit down at one of the tables but I’m not sure who the waiter is, as there are a lot of youths hanging around looking purposeful but dressed in t-shirts and shorts.  Finally a waiter dressed as a waiter appears and I order pasta but he says the kitchen is closed.  Due to a power cut this morning there is only salad or pizza.   It is unfortunate as the pasta looked good. 

Outside there is a sea breeze which moves the humid air around slightly.  It feels like walking through a sauna.  I’m glad I left the air conditioning going full bore in my room. 

I finally get pasta at a tomato restaurant  ‘Pomodorino’, which has a lot of waiting staff and not many customers.  The owner is very tanned, wearing the typical pink shirt and looks rich, he says in rapid Italian ‘Are you alone?  If so I will be your friend for your stay in Naples, do you understand?’ 

Surprisingly I do, my Italian must be getting better.  He’s harmless enough though and leaves me alone to be tended to by the waiting staff.  I order some pasta dish with swordfish and aubergines and a meloncello.  ‘It is a liquor’, says the waiter.  ‘Yes, I know’, I say expertly, then realise it is probably not the done thing to have liquor with your main course but nevermind.  When it arrives it’s lemoncello and it’s so strong it makes my toes tingle. 

The pasta, which I had low expectations of, is amazing.  When you order fish in the south sometimes you’re not sure if you’re going to get a whole fish on top of a pile of pasta but this was tiny pieces chopped up with roasted aubergines, in tomato sauce with olive oil.  Simon Gault would approve.

Afterwards I head back to my hotel replete, and slightly woozy from the lemoncello.   It’s like stepping into a refrigerator when I get to my room, perhaps I went a little overboard.  I want to feel like I am in Naples after all, not Antarctica.


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Praise be to the Farmacia

One thing I’ve noticed about Italy is that they have great pharmacies.

No matter what your ailment, the Farmacia always has something to soothe, heal or beautify it.

This also goes for ailments that are slightly obscure.

I remember one time I was in Florence and I needed something for a rather embarrassing problem (which I won’t go into details about), and which forced me to go to a pharmacy.  Blushing furiously I stammered out my request starting with ‘Ho una problema’, so the woman knew it was serious (well I thought it was).

Anyway, she immediately produced the required item, then proceeded to matter of factly state the instructions whilst also conveying the right amount of professional sympathy. And it was all done without so much as snigger.

It has since made me believe a visit to a pharmacy in Italy is more beneficial and more comforting than a visit to a church.

Who needs spiritual benediction anway? Today when I was in Venice and I was stung by a bee, did God take away the pain? No. But there was a nearby pharmacy selling ‘Dopopuntura Gel Forte’.  I rest my case.


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Fast-tracking it Through the Uffizi Gallery

During the height of summer, a pre-purchased ticket is a godsend and the only sane way to visit the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s oldest and most famous art museums and, arguably, Florence’s top tourist attraction. 

If it wasn’t for the invention of pre-purchasing, I’d be fanning myself with a guidebook or propping up a marble column along with the rest of the crowd, dying  in 30 degree heat. 

An hour to visit 45 rooms of art

I’m en route to Naples so I allow myself an hour and a half which, according to the art world, is a crime punishable by death.  Six hours spread over a few days is the recommended length.  

I approach an attendant dressed like Mussolini who’s commanding his own little war. “You, this queue, 10 minutes!”, he barks.

Understandably staff are a little militant.  In 1993 a car bomb explosion caused irreparable damage to parts of the Gallery and killed five people but since then security has been tightened.  No one was ever arrested for the bomb incident, though fingers tended to point, as they normally do in Italy, towards the Mafia.

“I hope this is worth it,” an older Australian man grumbles to his wife.  I’m beginning to agree.  Already one and a half hours is fast approaching one hour. 

We shuffle into the security area.  A thorough bag search now occurs.  Anyone’s ideas of smuggling in gelignite toothpaste and blowing up a Leonardo are about to be thwarted.  

A young man is stopped at the ticket inspection and directed back outside to the queue for reasons unknown.  Thankfully my ticket is declared bona fide.  I have a little under an hour to view 45 rooms of art.

Inside the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

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Two Tight-fisted Romeos in Florence

It’s not hard to meet men in Italy.  In Italy men ask women out as readily as consuming spaghetti.   

Which is why we’re sitting on the steps of the Duomo in Florence at 10pm with a bottle of unopened Chianti waiting for two Italian policemen.  This is due to my friend Olivia who went to the local station to report her stolen mobile and came out with a date.  Well, there are worse ways to spend an evening than with a couple of suave, law abiding  ‘polizia’.  Or so I thought. 

The Italian policemen

The tall one, Olivia tells me when they arrive, is Frederiano.  He is rangy, around 6 foot and dressed in white t.shirt and jeans.  He has a mischievous clean-shaven face, tanned skin and dark hair.  His friend is shorter and a little pudgy round the middle but seems very amiable.  I admit they have a certain ‘presence’ even in plain clothes.

My Italian is limited but during introductions I manage ‘Come si chiama?’ – what is your name?  Frederiano answers, “John Luigi”.  Strange how it is nothing, even remotely, like Frederiano.  Olivia looks sheepish, I must’ve been distracted by the uniform, she mumbles.

Me and John Luigi the Italian policeman

Florence is expensive

We wander down the main street of Florence towards the Arno River.  When we reach Piazza della Signoria John Luigi is given the honours of opening the Chianti. 

To my way of thinking Italians come out of the womb instinctively knowing how to extract a cork.  But whether it’s nerves or just bad technique, John Luigi makes a hash of it.  The cork is so tightly wedged  that only a dribble of wine is produced when the bottle is upended.  He tries again but only manages to push it in completely and stain his white t.shirt. 

Olivia and I look at each other, it’s murphy’s law if someone is going to wear a white t.shirt.
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