Waking Up in 25 Hours Hotel, Vienna

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In my previous post I mentioned that it is the month to be grateful. One such place that highlights my gratitude is the 25 Hours Hotel in Vienna.

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I had an extra hour here😉

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Located in the 7th District of the elegant city, 25 Hours Hotel is a circus themed hotel in the heart of Vienna. It is definitely a hotel with a strange name and an ugly building from outside. But stepping inside changes your impression because it has the most quirky interiors making it a very offbeat travel experience. Being a circus themed hotel doesn’t make it kiddish and disappointing; instead it is fun, vibrant and pleasing to the eye.

The hotel has eccentrically designed rooms with circus based illustrations, fancy upholstery and peculiar objects. My bathroom toiletries read “Stop wasting the water when using me”🙂 The dustbin was a steel bucket!

The hotel has a lot of space and hence a lot of rooms but they are average sized. However for a single traveler like myself there was enough space. I loved the writing/reading desk in the room along with a window and balcony (depending on the type of room you book) to see Vienna go by.

My room was exceptional with an interesting illustration, a fully stocked mini bar and a lovely view! I especially enjoyed it at night.

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How quirky is this?

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I was very impressed of the location of the hotel as there was a tram stop right below the hotel. The famous MuseumsQuartier as well as the longest shopping street in the city was only a 10 minute walk. And and and.. only 2 metro stations away was Vienna’s iconic structure- the St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

What more could one ask for??

The 25 Hours Hotel, which is also in the cities of Hamburg, Berlin and Frankfurt, is perfect for a short stay especially for those looking to be in Vienna’s centre. I was impressed with its rooftop bar and a buzzing restaurant which makes it the place to be with some company.

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Food truck

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Lounging

Their service both inside the restaurant and at the reception was exceptional whether for local queries or food. I had to catch an early morning flight and the hotel was kind enough to arrange me a driver at 5 a.m. Since I was skipping breakfast, they packed a fresh ham and cheese sandwich with fruits for me, which saved me from the horrible flight food later on. That was a very nice touch. Thanks to Mr. Roland Eggenhofer who was most kind to be connected with me during the stay. He even left me a goodies bag and a warm welcome note. Thank you for a great stay! I hope to be back again.

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Room with a View

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Tram stop

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Picture Courtesy: Wien Info

My Audrey Hepburn Moment with Bici & Baci

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December is a month for GRATITUDE. We are blessed with countless small and big things but we hardly or almost never take a moment to be grateful. Today I am thankful about a wonderful April afternoon that I spent in Rome with Bici & Baci Tours. (It means Bicycles and Kisses) A rental company that helps you see Rome in the best way, Bici & Baci is one of the oldest vespa companies in the eternal city. It offers a hoard of options for rentals from the quintessential Fiat 500 to scooters to Piaggio Ape that helps one see more of Rome than usual. I went for Bici & Baci after a recommendation from Diana of  Italy Translated  and I am so pleased I did because it made my short trip of Rome worthwhile.

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Needs no introduction

My tour started around 2 in the afternoon with Alexander, my tour guide and motorist. There was also another couple who joined in on another vespa and together we started the tour from the Colosseum. Alexander was very passionate about his culture and heritage and it showed from the moment he shared his insights about the city’s history. I learnt so much from him in those few hours, it was pure joy to see his enthusiasm for the city. Might I mention that the way he drove in that Roman traffic was commendable!

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Say Hello to Alexander!

After learning the history of Colosseum we crossed the Baths of Caracalla which were founded around 212 A.D. He mentioned how parts of the baths are now used in the summer by the Rome Opera company.

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Couldn’t get a great picture of the Baths of Caracalla

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Aventine Hill

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Oh, sweet Rome

Afterwards crossing swanky Roman villas and apartments, we reached the Aventine Hill which was a special treat. It was my first time at the Aventine and the view from there was exceptional.

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But first coffee!

Our next stop was the Circus Maximus– a huge playground which also turns out to be the largest stadium from ancient Rome. Currently it is used for many things such as a concert for Rolling Stones😉

After the Circus Maximus we had to stop for a caffe` so Alexander took us visited the neighbourhood of Testaccio at a quaint place called Trentare3. We passed by Protestant cemetery to see a Pyramid jotting out of nowhere (YES you read that right). The Pyamid of Cestius is one of the most best preserved buildings of Rome as you can see in the picture below. It is extraordinary what all Rome is made up of.

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Testaccio neighborhood

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Pyramid of Cestius

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View from Gianicolo Hill

We then stopped in Ancient Rome to see familiar sights of Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and Fontana di Trevi. It was such a beautiful moment to be there again, remembering my earlier travels with my red vespa gleaming in the sunshine, wind blowing on my face. Whatever more could I have wished for??

Before crossing the Ponte Sant’Angelo and reaching Trastevere, I wished we would cross Fontana dell’Acqua Paola which I had seen in movies. It turned out that was the route to the Gianicolo Hill– our last stop.

It was such a fun day and I may have missed so many more spots in between but the best part of Bici & Baci tours is that you wouldn’t see these sights if you came to Rome as a first time visitor. These are hidden areas and places that locals would know. Being on a vespa with a guide definitely helped me know more about Rome. I was so pleased when Alexander told me twice that he was happy that I already knew so much about Rome and its history. It made me feel proud of myself.

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San Pietro in Montorio

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My Audrey Hepburn Moment *drumrolls*

Bici & Baci was kind enough to host me for the 4 hours of my ride for no cost. Thanks guys, your tours are already high on my recommendation list for all my Indian friends who visit Rome.

Meanwhile, tell me have you ever seen Rome on a vespa??

Taking Stock for November

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Ciao a tutti! Hello everyone!

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I am taking inspiration from this post on Taking Stock and making blogging a bit more fun🙂 Thank you so much Sudha for putting together a blog post that made me smile and also ponder after a long long time.

I hope this is a fun read, you guys. Here’s my version of Taking Stock:

Drinking: A strong cup of coffee in my favorite place.

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Buying: A bottle of Nutella.

Deciding: Whether to go out tonight or save up on money.

Thinking: When I would go to Italy next.

Wearing: My favorite blue pyjamas and a tee shirt that I got from Salzburg.

Noticing: How petty some people are on social media.

Marvelling: How small we are in our solar system. (After a recent visit to the Planetarium)

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Reading: Cosi Fan Tutti by Michael Dibdin which is loosely based on an opera by the same name!

Giggling: With my girlfriends about my Italian teacher😉

Disliking: How people judge so quickly.

Worrying: How learning Italian is making me forget basic words of English.

Pretending: To ignore someone I really can’t. It is molto difficile.

Loving: How a home cooked meal brings a smile.

Cooking: Thai Curry.

Watching: Lost Season 2 (yet again)

Smelling: The new Kiko Milano bright day face lift cream. It is oddly pleasing.

Bookmarking: This useful link for books to help me with my Italian.

Hearing: The sound of water in the filter.

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Embracing: The new 2k notes in India.

Hating: Reading challenges and numbers.

Feeling: Very moody…very distant

Wondering: Of my identity crisis. Here or there. My soul is Italian but I am Indian at heart.

Hoping: To get more exciting work soon.

Enjoying: Being on my own.

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Wanting: This set of postcards. swoon

Celebrating: My weekend when I feel fully Italian.

Knowing: A little more about my family each day. Just like today.

Admiring: How mothers balance everything so well.

Some More Charming Italian Words that I Love

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I dedicate this post to Stacy of Prayers and Piazza who always inspires me to study, understand and read more Italian through her posts and experiences. Grazie mille, cara. Un bacio a te da India🙂

Continuing the series of Charming Italian Words I Love, here is a brand new list that you might fall in love with.

Buona Lettura a tutti!

Innamorata/o: to be in love with someone❤

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Dai: One of my favorite words that I have been using often. It means “Come On” or just “Do it” “Please” etc.

Sognare: To dream…

Tenero: It means cute or tender.

Palloncino: Balloon🙂

Amenamente: Pleasantly, agreeably.

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Nessuno: Nobody, none…

Agnello: Lamb

Ciecamente: Blindly

Peggio: Worse

Merendine: Snacks

Qualcuno: Someone, Anyone…

Pettine: A comb🙂

Teiera: Teapot

Pigro: Easy to remember as it reminds me of a pig and it means lazy.

Some words just stay with you don’t they? My favorites from the list are Pigro, Innamorato (SIGH) and Merendine. Yours??

An Instagram Hello Again!

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Ciao a tutti! Hello everyone!

Hope you enjoy a selection of pictures from my Instagram account in the past few months.

Also, I’d love to hear in the comment below as to what post you would like to see next?? A few options include: More Favorite Italian Words, More Favorite Italy Books, Picture Post of a city/town or any Travel related post.

I’ll decide as per the maximum responses I get. Grazie mille! Thank you so much!!

…and just like that its a new month!💕 #hellonovember

A photo posted by Ishita. Italy. India. (@italophilia) on

"No man is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention."

A photo posted by Ishita. Italy. India. (@italophilia) on

"No matter where you go, there you are". #theshootingstar

A photo posted by Ishita. Italy. India. (@italophilia) on

Vintage scenes from Budapest 😍🚗

A photo posted by Ishita. Italy. India. (@italophilia) on

10 Charming Small Towns in Italy

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Who doesn’t love quaint towns?? If you are in Italy or traveling there anytime soon, this list is a keeper. You will feel blessed to be in a country with so many varied choices of charming towns. Although this list is not exhaustive, it certainly includes many of my favorites. I will keep adding more to this list as and when I can. If you have any favorites, feel free to share🙂

Perugia:

With an annual chocolate and jazz festival to its kitty, Perugia is quite a catch. It is still quite unknown to a first time Italy traveler so take a chance next time you are in Italy. Visit this medieval town before it gets run down by mass tourism and selfie sellers.

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Piazza IV Novembre

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Umbrian Views

Montegiove:

Deep in the green heart of Italy and quite close to Perugia is another small town with an ancient castle, a single yet fabulous Bar and the historic convent of La Scarzuola. Need I say more? For more details check this.

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La Scarzuola

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Montegiove’s only Bar

Gubbio:

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Ancient homes

Gubbio is Gothic, strange and charming at the same time. It belongs to the Pre Roman era and has a beautifully preserved Roman theatre at the entrance. Although slightly difficult to access, there are regular buses to reach Gubbio from Perugia and the region of Marche.

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Piazza Grande

Monteriggioni:

Tuscany has a special magic to it and there are countless towns in the region with something special. Monteriggioni is one such town, off the beaten track from the usual towns of Pisa, Siena, Montepulciano, Volterra that most travelers visit. This Tuscan town is walled and has an old world feel with its small piazza.

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Where am I?

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Tuscan charm

Portovenere:

Liguria is filled with colored houses and expanse of the Ligurian sea. Popular because of the Cinque Terre too, travelers overlook the little gem of Portovenere. The town is close to the main city of La Spezia hence easy to reach. It has a stupendous sea view, an old castle and history from Lord Byron’s times. Check here to know more.

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Church of St. Peter

Muggia:

This town deserves attention. Only 30 minutes from the under appreciated Trieste, Muggia is precious. It is well known for sea food and has small yatches and boats clung to the sea giving an inkling of an Enid Blyton adventure.

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View of Muggia habour

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Red roofed Muggia

Modica:

A town every chocolate lover must visit even though there are so many in Italy that its hard to keep track. Modica is special because its a town in Sicily- a region so diverse that it puts the rest of the country’s diversity into perspective for me. The locals are usually home by 8 p.m. and its fun to wander the streets by yourself.

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Modica in spring

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Church of San Giorgio

Scicli:

Another Sicilian town that needs attention from foreign visitors is Scicli. It is so quaint and forlorn that you will feel slightly biased for it once you are back. It has ancient cave dwellings and crude cliffs. You might probably see men at the piazza more as women stay confined to their homes and probably gossip or cook.

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Church of San Bartolomeo

Burano:

Probably everyone’s favorite because of its colorful vibe, Burano is only half an hour from Venice. It is famous for handmade lace and bussola which is a kind of a biscuit. According to legend, the island was colored so that the fishermen could find their way in the fog.

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Where the locals go

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Vivid Burano

Locorotondo:

Perched on a hill top and filled with white lanes and maze like streets, Locorotondo will outsmart every other town you visit in Puglia. Make sure you have its local wine and visit the nearby olive groves and trulli homes in Alberobello.

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Delightful alleys

Things I Love About Travel

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-Discovering new places, cuisines, history, culture and things in general.

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-Breaking mundane routines and making your own.

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-Challenging yourself to things you never imagined.

-Sharing travel stories with strangers.

-Making check lists and ticking each one as it’s achieved.

-Learning words of the local language.

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-Knowing others’ point of view that helps set a new vision

-Enjoying a cake twice a day. Just because…

dsc04877-Planning a new trip as soon as you are back from one.

-Exhilaration on receiving your Visa papers.

-Packing a picnic basket for a trip with family.

-Having Coffee/Tea more than you require.

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-Glimpsing towns from the sky.

-That whooping feeling of being at thirty thousand feet.

-Freedom to sleep till late or wake till late.

-Reading in a foreign land about that foreign land.

-Partying at a hostel with random people.

-Appreciating life is general.

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-Celebrating festivals with locals.

-Having friends from across the world.

-Finding new things about yourself each day.

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“If not now, when?”

Wine Tasting in Castello di Poppiano

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Castello di Poppiano is perched on the cascading hills of Tuscany. Only a short drive from Florence, it is located in Montespertoli and belongs to the Guicciardini family. A very powerful name in Tuscany, Guicciardini housed many Florentine masterpieces in this castle during the difficult times of World War II.

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A beautiful day at Castello di Poppiano

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Spot the Pool!

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Castello di Poppiano from afar

Poppiano is not very big but perfect for a day to just relax and enjoy wine or go for a bike ride in the Tuscan hills. The castle has a production of olive oil and wine going on since the 15th century. There were also several varieties to taste and purchase in a shop at the entrance. Make sure you climb the tower of the castle and pass through old barrels of wine stored in the cellar to see those lush green views!

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Salute!

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Beautiful isn’t it?

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I would recommend visiting this quaint fortress for breathtaking views of the Chianti region especially those tall gorgeous cypress trees that we always associate Tuscany with. I could stay there for hours! Of course with a glass of wine in my hand!😉

How to Reach– Best way to reach this castle is to hire a car to make the most of the Tuscan countryside.

Have you been for a wine tasting in Tuscany?

Ten Favorite Books on Italy

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Buon Novembre! Happy November!🙂

I am starting the month on a bookish note after a big festive season in India. Many a times I am asked to suggest books on “Italy” and often find myself confused because it is impossible to mention just one book.

Seriously the choices are plenty (not to mention fantastic) which is why it is really tough to pick one good book out of the universe. There are several good books on travel, art many on culture and history and even more on the perfect house in Tuscany😉

Taking the inspiration further, I have come up with a list of top 10 books that came to my mind first. These are my favorite Italy reads and I hope they set the pace for anyone wanting to know more on Italy.

Divertiti!🙂

1. Inspector Montalbano Series by Andrea Camilleri:

Crime, delicious food, fantastic scenery and hot Sicilian men, this book has it all. Camilleri’s books on Inspector Montalbano has made him one of the greatest Italian writers of the 21st century. I have already read a dozen of his translated works and hope that some day I can read the entire book in Italian Sicilian dialect. Needless to say, his books propelled me to visit Sicily in April this year. To know more about my travel read my post for The Local Italy here.

Region: Sicily.

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2. La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales:

For those of you following my blog for a long time know that I am learning Italian since more than a year now. I regularly do a series on Charming Italian Words and many words come from this beautifully researched book by Dianne Hales. This isn’t just a language book but has stories, phrases and history of the Italian language. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who is curious about Italian or to those who want to learn a new language. There is a great chapter on Dante too.

Region: Italy.

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3. Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr:

I have already gushed a little about this book before here and for those who haven’t read this post please do. Four Seasons in Rome is lyrical and poetic and is the author’s personal account of his struggles in Rome. It made me fall in love with the eternal city all over again and whether one has been there or not, his writing weaves a certain magic.

Region: Rome, Lazio

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4. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa:

This book was one of my first few reads on Sicily but it was nothing like I expected. The Leopard documents Italy during the period of its unification or risorgimento. There is class and traditions among the noblemen of Sicily followed by aristocracy and power. It is a must read to up your game in the Italian literature section and easily makes it one of the top 10 books on Italian Literature.

Region: Sicily

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5. Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King:

Saw the latest movie Inferno?? Can’t stop thinking about this beautiful dome below? You are going for the right book. Ross King’s book on Filippo Brunelleschi’s beautifully created dome is intriguing and historical. Although there are a lot of engineering details, I still enjoyed the story of the paranoid Italian goldsmith who is one of the most famous names in the field of European architecture. The book highlights the hardships that he had to endure in the times of plagues and wars.

Region: Florence, Tuscany

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6. Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris:

I love Trieste. This book by Jan Morris was recommended to me by an Italian lady in a quaint bookcafe of Trieste. It talks of the city’s troubled past and its moods and changeability. Trieste is a great memoir by Morris with a lot of history but her humurous and nostalgic way of writing doesn’t make it boring. It would make perfect sense to visit the town of Trieste after you have read this book or even before like me because that is how I got attracted to the city’s “nowhereness”.

Region: Trieste, Friuli Venezia Giulia

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7. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri:

This book surprised me with passion. I not only devoured the book but also recommended it to many who in turn loved it. Jhumpa Lahiri could be easily writing my story on learning Italian🙂 In Other Words will open your world to the world of knowing a new language. As Ms. Lahiri rightly says “When you live without your own language you feel weightless and, at the same time, overloaded. Your breathe another type of air, at a different altitude”.

Region: Rome, Lazio.

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8. The Neopolitan Series by Elena Ferrante:

You might have heard of this name in the news off late as privacy isn’t respected in the world any longer and that makes me very sad. Anyhow, I implore you to read The Neopolitan series but with an open mind. This isn’t the story such as a Tuscan Sun but a very gritty one of two friends. It highlights Italian crime, politics, history and complex relationships. Ferrante’s words are bold, effortless and brutal and one that made me cry. It is a must read for all you Italophiles out there.

Region: Naples, Campagnia; Pisa, Tuscany; Florence, Tuscany; Milan, Lombardia

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9. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco:

One of my very first Italy reads, The Name of the Rose is both a fabulous book and a movie. A murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the hills of Piedmont, the story takes place in the Saint Michael’s Abbey which Umberto Eco had once visited. I’d suggest to pick this book first before starting anything else on Italy from this list.

Region: Piedmont

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10. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino:

How can one list books on Italy and not mention the genius Calvino? That would be blasphemy. Invisible Cities explores the travels and dialogues of Marco Polo and Kubail Khan. The cities are described with careful attention and magic that will capture your imagination. Quiet messages, ideas, city signs, images, prophetic warnings and human despair, this book is hypnotic. The only thing I would point out is that the prose is not like a usual book and is a little difficult to understand.

Region: Italy

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Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear more “Italy specific” recommendations. Of course there are so many that didn’t make this list and maybe I can include them in a separate post.

 

Mercato di Capo: A Legendary Market of Palermo

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If you visit Palermo and do not venture to see its historic markets you probably haven’t seen anything. Food and vegetable stands are so common in the streets that its hard not to fall in love with the organized shelves and fresh produce. At home, I often visit the vegetable market whenever I can. I love the chatter and noise that surrounds them and Palermo reminded me of just that🙂

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This color is beautiful

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The city has four historic markets that were established by the Arabs. I had a chance to visit Mercato di Capo early one morning. Capo is located behind Palermo’s popular shopping street next to Teatro Massimo and is easy reach from most of the major sights.

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I didn’t dare take out my camera inside

When I reached, it was already bustling with people and colorful fresh produce. So much of Italian around me, loud and sometimes rude. The market was quite the sight. There was a huge amount of seafood display (something that I don’t usually enjoy) locals trying to get the best of the Sicilian fish for their pranzo. I soon busied myself with a big piece of Sfincione- focaccia with olive oil, tomatoes, onions and pepper. It was so delicious!

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A Happy Seller

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I loved looking at the hustle and bustle around me and soon finished my sfincione to get a small bowl of strawberries and peaches which I absolutely devoured. Next to it was a stall of vegetables with purple cabbages that fascinated me because I don’t get to see them so commonly in India. But I think what truly won me were the ripe and gleaming Sicilian tomatoes. I couldn’t take my eyes off them!

What a fun day it was and probably one of my best in Palermo.

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Sfincione: Oily, greasy and yumm!

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Parked outside

Location:

Via Porta Carini, Palermo.

Timings:

Monday- Sat: 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Sunday- 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Going Back in Time in Scicli

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While watching the Sicilian TV show “Inspector Montalbano“, I learnt that one of the major towns that the show was shot in was Scicli. So in Sicily I made sure to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site town. (pronounced as Sheek-lee)

The first thing I noticed in the town was how old it was. Around me were low hills with crude cliffs and ancient cave dwellings. There were also old baroque buildings in different piazzas.

Scicli is actually very old as it goes as far as the Copper Age. Yes, there are proofs of settlements from that time. The town also has an interesting history as it was ruled by Arabs, Spanish and Normans, very similar to Palermo.

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An ancient way of making bread

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Duomo di San Bartolomeo

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Old homes of Scicli

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Scicli was very alluring despite being old. It was full of very strange figures in balconies, quite different from the ones in Modica because the ones in Scicli appeared to be more forlorn and wretched.

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A little lost

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A favorite: Men hanging out in the piazza

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One of the bars where I stopped for an espresso

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Reminds me of Puglia

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Love these homes and small lanes

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Any time is gelato time

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Buongiorno

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Very happy outside Montalbano’s office

I went to several towns in Sicily but Scicli stayed with me. The town seems a little abandoned and on its own which made me feel sad for it. But that is also a charm. I hope you too can visit Scicli someday, maybe before it gets run down by mass tourism.

Italian Street Food by Paola Bacchia

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It is no secret that Italians prepare one of the best cuisines in the world. But few know that they also have one of the best street food options available!

Thanks to Italy Book Tours I can help share an excellent book on it. Written by Paola Bacchia of Italian origin, Italian Street Food shows hidden street food stalls behind the town squares, away from the touristy restaurants and down back streets of Italy The little-known gems offering up some of Italy’s tastiest and best-kept secret dishes that the locals prize are all in this book!

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Italian Street Food is not just another Italian cookbook; it delves into truly authentic Italian fare—the kind of secret recipes that are passed down through generations.

Learn how to make authentic polpettine, arancini, stuffed cuttlefish, cannolis, and fritters, and perfect your gelato-making skills with original flavors such as lemon and basil or affogato and aperol. With beautiful stories and stunning photography throughout, ITALIAN STREET FOOD delivers an authentic, lesser known take on a much loved cuisine.

Buy the Book:

Rizzoli  ~  Amazon

The author Paola Bacchia is one of Australia’s most popular Italian food bloggers. On her blog, Italy on My Mind, she shares family memories and their connections to food. It won awards for best food blog in 2013 and 2015 from ITALY Magazine. Paola returns to Italy every year to expand her knowledge of Italian food, its traditions, and innovations.

Connect with her: Website  ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram

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Postcard from Baroque Ragusa

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I was in Ragusa only for a quick stop but the baroque town took my breath away. It was nothing as I had seen on TV. Ragusa’s medieval styled architecture and piazzas with lack of tourists was enough to give me a high. It was raw and indescribable beauty.

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Breathtaking Ragusa from afar

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Much of Ragusa was destroyed in 1693 in an earthquake

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No he isn’t Montalbano

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Small details matter

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Something very touristy but fun

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The magnificent Duomo di San Giorgio

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Old and new

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Which way is the Duomo?

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Aperitivo?Caffe?

I really enjoyed a walk in Ragusa. Did you??

In Chocolate Heaven at Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

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One of the reasons of visiting Modica for me was its chocolate. It is renowned for its chocolate all over the world and has numerous chocolate shops in the town. Modica is a paradise for chocolate lovers and worthy of every attention. Chocolate cannoli, pastries, different flavor bars, chocolate drinks, coffee and chocolate.. you name it!

One of the most famous institutions of chocolate in Modica is Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. I visited it during a cool spring evening, excited to pile up my stock of chocolates for home. The Bonajuto family is providing chocolate lovers like me with high quality products since the 1880s. Their shop constitutes chocolates and their products made traditionally similar to the way the Aztecs, an ancient civilization of Mexico. Commendable isn’t it? The process is very meticulous and thorough.

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Enter the chocolate heaven with me!

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The shop

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Range of flavors to try

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A bar of chocolate from Bonajuto includes only a few basic ingredients- rich cocoa, sugar and spices. There are so many flavors to choose from that I was astounded! There is cinnamon and vanilla and then there is also beef, figs and even honey. You can order their products online as well.

I am in awe of the entire process of making of the chocolate and the way it has been preserved over the years. The only downside is that the lady at the counter wasn’t very helpful despite knowing English. So much for customer service!

But I could go back to Modica only for its chocolate. It is that good. Maybe some day I will visit the town for its chocolate festival –Chocobarocco.

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Bonajuto was covered in an episode of Sicily Unpacked

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Modican chocolates were one of my precious buys. I owned several of these pretty packaged bars in the picture below and still left with one😉

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My Modican chocolate (Image Courtesy: Antica Bonajuto)

The Historical Ambience of L’Orangerie, Modica

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As many of you know I went to Sicily in April this year and couldn’t stop gushing about it.

I traveled to two different areas of the region- one that included Southern Eastern Sicily mainly the Val di Noto and another that included Western Sicily mainly Palermo with its deep enriching history of being ruled by different civilisations. You can read many of my Palermo posts here.

Today I am taking you all to a 19th century Palazzo called B&B L’Orangerie in Modica, Southern Sicily. Owned by the very kind hearted, Giovanni Cartia, L’Orangerie is a high quality B&B in the heart of the baroque town.

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The entrance

Modica was always on my list of places to visit in Sicily after reading several travel books. However, what intrigued me more on this town was the fact that it was famous for chocolate😉

So when I spoke to Giovanni about my travel to Modica, he was very helpful in planning it and hosted me during my stay in L’Orangerie. Despite being sick when I arrived, he welcomed me graciously with a bar of the famous Modican chocolate. I am grateful to him to give me last minute guide of a Montalbano tour that I wanted to do while I was there.

I arrived in the April heat panting and puffing. The B&B is on the main road of the town so all you have to do is walk from the bus stop for 10 minutes and you are right near the steps that lead to the entrance.

I was thankful to be away from the heat and loved my room! A medium sized bed and a small terrace awaited me. There was a clean dry bathroom with fresh towels and toiletries, a table with reading lamp and a magazine in Italian (enough to challenge my Italian reading skills).

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It was a very quaint authentic way of living in Sicily and I loved that it was in an old Palazzo. Not only this, I was only 5 minutes walking from the town’s main piazza and the bustle of life that is the cafes and trattorias. Modica is divided into upper and lower part and I was in the lower part of the town- closer to its main attractions and also the bus stand that took me to Palermo later.

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Ciao Modica!

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Learnt so many new words

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Tastfully done

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Love the greens

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B&B’s Reception/Studio

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The street leading to it

Giovanni’s B&B is beautiful and very tastefully done. For breakfast there are a range of things from juices, coffee, bread to an array of jams and cakes. It was a pleasure to dine in L’Orangerie’s breakfast room. I loved my “B&B” if you may call it so, because for me it was more than a B&B. It was simple luxury at its best.

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Isn’t this cutlery too cute?

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The only downside of the B&B is that at night it gets a little eerie in the stairs leading from the centre. If you are alone, just be careful. But inside you will feel just as warm and welcomed as it was when you first arrived.

All in all, I’d love to go back to Modica and stay again in this wonderful Palazzo. I felt my time in Modica was too short as I couldn’t explore the entire area of Val di Noto. But some time again soon! What do you think about this charming Palazzo??

How to Reach Modica:

From Catania airport there is an AST bus that takes you to the town in about 2 hours. The stop is right outside the airport and is not hard to miss. The bus also stops at Catania train station. Nearest airport to Modica is Comiso.

Stay Tuned on more from Modica and other towns that I visited in the Val di Noto.

Step Inside Teatro Bibiena of Mantova

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During the Festivaletteratura I had a chance to visit Mantova’s Teatro Bibiena designed by Antonio Galli Bibiena. Built in the 18th century, the bell shaped theatre, is a breathtaking sight! It was inaugurated on Dec 3, 1769 and termed as one of the most significant architectural gems of the 18th century Europe.

It is so beautifully lit up wtih life like statues of Mantova’s poets and a beautiful facade on the ceiling that I was open mouthed. When I was there, a concert was supposed to take place in the evening so there was practise going on. It was surreal.

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Leopold Mozart, father of Wolfgang Mozart, wrote a letter on Teatro Bibiena to his wife and said, “In all my life, I have never seen anything more beautiful of its kind”.

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Address and Contact:

via Accademia 9, Mantova.

Tuesday to Friday: 10 am – 1pm, 3pm – 6pm

Saturday, Sunday & Public Holidays: 10 am – 6pm.

Tickets– €2.

 

 

Auguri! Italy on my Birthday

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It was 3 years back that I was in Italy on my birthday and it seems like a dream every time I think of it. Recently this dream became a reality again as I spent another birthday in Italy last week!

I was in Mantova on a beautiful day. The city was buzzing with energy because of the Festivaletteratura and I was so fortunate to be in my “happy place”.

Not only this, I got a chance to meet and interview David Mitchell- author of the novel Cloud Atlas and also received a signed copy of his latest book.#WIN

Ciao from Mantova!

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Buonasera da Italia! Good Evening from Italy!🙂

I am writing this post from Mantova where all the action is happening. It is difficult to put into words the amount of fun and work going around me. 

Here are some pictures from the festival. Hope you enjoy a teaser🙂 Ciao!

Prosit da Luca, Mattia e Paolo #20anni #festlet #festivaletteratura

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Piazza Sordello 29 agosto ore 18.00. Da qualche giorno la libreria è aperta. #festivaletteratura #festlet #mantova

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Men at work nel prato della mensa del festival. #festivaletteratura #festlet

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La tenda Sordello s'arrampica su Palazzo Ducale. #festlet #festivaletteratura

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Parata! In partenza #festivaletteratura #festlet #blue

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Visiting Italy for the Mantova Literature Festival

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Visiting Italy several times since past 3 years has given me an adrenaline rush. It pushes me to keep seeking, learning and recreating.

When I traveled to Italy the very first time on September 6, 2013, little did I know that exactly three years later on 6th September, 2016 I would be taking another flight to the Bel Paese. (Quite coincidental, really)

Yes you read that right! I’m going to Italy again! Yippee!!!!

The purpose of my visit is different this time. I will be a Guest and International Blogger/Journalist for the Mantova Literature Festival/Festivaletteratura.

The International Literature Festival takes place annually in Mantova and is celebrating 20 years of literary love and success this year. I am stoked to be part of the 20th edition because I know this journey will be like no other.

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Image Courtesy: Mantova Toursim

For everyone’s benefit the town of Mantova is in the region of Lombardy, about 2 hours from Milan. It is the Italian Capital of Culture for 2016 and needless to say another UNESCO world heritage site.

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Mantova -Image Courtesy: Italy Magazine

There will be a lot of Literature talk on Italophilia this entire month as several big names visit the Festivaletteratura. I can hardly contain my emotions because it’s two of the things I love a lot – BOOKS & ITALY. Nothing like both passions coming together, right?? So, BEHOLD!

I will be soon amongst a crowd of notable authors such as Alain de Botton, Robert Calasso, Antony Beevor, Alessandro Baricco, David Mitchell, Sarah Waters, Julian Barnes and the list goes on.

There is still a lot to be done at my end-packing, to do lists, planning etc. I also just finalised my plans on where I will be traveling to after Italy. Any wild guesses??🙂

Meanwhile, follow along here as well as my Instagram and Twitter pages. I promise to make it entertaining for all of you out there- the Literature as well as the Non Literature lovers🙂

“I am all the more convinced that we, as Italians, know nothing about certain aspects of being Italian.. Now I am in Mantua on a July night, where some Mantuans have come up with the wonderful idea of a literary festival which, year after year, takes place as summer draws to an end.” -Andrea Camilleri

Until next time. Ci vediamo!

A Bundle of Surprises & An Instagram Hello

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Ciao a tutti! Hello everyone!

This was quite a month for me. I was struggling with reading since long but I think I got my groove back. I finished three books and am reading the fourth one. There was also a lot of writing work accomplished which am glad about as it turned out to be quite fulfilling.

Also also, a much awaited decision was taken so a surprise coming your way  soon. Stay tuned!!🙂

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More happiness comes from this series of Instagram posts for you all. Enjoy and Salute!😉

Being a little color coordinated in Burano😉

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A #latergram of fun, food and endless talks.

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Buongiorno☕☕😍😍

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Piovere😍 Rain😍 #monsoon

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How was this month for you so far??

Still More Charming Italian Words that I Love

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This post is doubly special to me. One, because I have been learning the Italian language since close to a year now and these words that I share motivate me to learn more and do better each day, and two because it brings me closer to my audience and to the Italians.

Not only do I get encouraged by them whenever I speak even a small sentence (full of mistakes) but I also hear from a different section of people who don’t know the language at all but are curious to learn and share.

When this post on “Charming Italian Words” was started, I had no idea it would be so popular. Grazie Mille a tutti. Thank YOU very much everyone.

Continuing the series now, here are some more of my favorite Italian words. Hope you enjoy this list and learn some more from my meagre reading. Buona Lettura!

Sinistra: it means the direction Left.

Altrettanto: love the sound of it. It means likewise.

Truccarsi: To put make up😉

Ecco: Here is, here are, there is, there are..

Fazzoletto: Handkerchief. Never has a word been prettier.

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Garbuglio: Just like it’s name it means muddle.

Zerbino: Doormat. Very cute isn’t it?

Smeraldo: It means the jewel Emerald. Quite easy and lovely.

Bacio: A peck of kiss❤ need I say more??

Ciccione: Fat and chubby😀 Haha!

Bugiardo: A little liar😉

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Azzurro: The color Blue.

Abbastanza: Sufficient.

Pezzetto: Pieces.

Leggermente: Somewhat, lightly.

My favorites from the list are ciccone, leggermente (I want to use it often) and fazzoletto :) And yours?

The Walled Castle of Monteriggioni in Tuscany

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Spending a day in Florence in the summer can get to you because it is hot and crowded. Getting away from the crowds is essential I think.

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Oh Tuscany!

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Entrance to the town

That’s why I decided to visit Fiesole and the walled town of Monteriggioni near Siena on different days. Monteriggioni was a surprise past the rolling hills, cypress trees and wine tasting.

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Church of Santa Maria Assunta

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Built in the 13th century , the town has a castle preserved that the army used to guard from enemies. No wonder the town is walled.

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A Medieval well.

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There is a small piazza with a Romanesque church and a toursim office in the piazza. Of course you can’t see any piazza without a Bar. Ristorante Il Posso sits opposite the Bar and is adorable. It is quite famous and I happened to go there for lunch. With a great list of wine options and amazing Tuscan food (their steak is wow) this place should not be missed!

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Ristorante Il Posso

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Ciao

Monteriggioni was just what I needed. With its deeply alluring landscape and beautiful vistas, this medieval town became my favorite Tuscan spot after Siena. There is little to see but more to take in.
How to reach:
Monteriggioni can be reached best by a car/bus if you are coming from Siena, Pisa or Florence. There are also several tours from Florence.

An Excursion to Monreale: The Sicily You Don’t Know

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Five days is enough to get a “feel” of a city and when I was in Palermo I felt the need to take a short break to see a new town. So I packed a small picnic box of an arancina (fried stuffed rice balls) and fruits and headed to catch a bus.

I decided to visit the small Sicilian town of Monreale. It was an easy bus ride costing EUR 1.5 (valid for 90 minutes) from Piazza Indipendenza. In about 15 minutes I was in the sleepy town of Monreale where it was lunch time and most of the shops were closed.

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Sleepy little Monreale

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Hello there!

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The Entrance of Monreale Cathedral

I took advantage of this time to see the much talked about Duomo di Monreale (Monreale Cathedral) which was built in 1174. Stunning!! Inside the cathedral I saw golden mosaics, tombs and crypts, which makes it one of the greatest living example of Norman architecture and art. A couple from Japan told me the cathedral was one of the most popular places to visit in Sicily, in fact the greatest monuments of Italy. Wow! I had no idea about that.

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Breathtaking!

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Mosaics made of pure gold

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Credits: Wikipedia

The Cathedral was an awe inspiring work of art. You could gaze at those mosaics for ages. Unfortunately I had no guide or reference material with me that time. Nevertheless I enjoyed my visit.

Afterwards, I wandered in the streets to look for a place to eat when I chanced upon a cute Osteria. There was a lovely space to relax and eat outside and it was a perfect spot for a long lazy lunch!

Monreale is such a small town that you could cover it in a few hours. I enjoyed a walk to see views of Palermo from a garden. It was such a good find and definitely worth a day’s trip.

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My lovely lunch spot

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Love the green outgrowth

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Thirsty?

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Park views

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Palermo from Monreale

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Hope you enjoyed this post of the Sicily You Don’t Know Series.

Walking in Palermo’s Centro Storico

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The Centro Storico (historic centre) of Palermo is a lot quieter than most of the areas. Although it is filled with tourists like myself but there is a certain demeanor different from the rest of the city. It is a lot similar to the Rashtrapati Bhavan area in Delhi- quieter, clean and green while the rest stands abuzz with activity.

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Duomo di Palermo

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Unique Architecture

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My first stop in the centro storico is Duomo di Palermo (Palermo Cathedral). Lined with ancient palm trees and neat streets, the cathedral is gorgeous!

It’s entrance includes a famous portico that was made in the 16th century. The Arab Norman baroque styled Duomo is stunning inside out. There is an entry ticket to the cathedral (but of course this is Europe) and if you want to climb the narrow tower to get a view of the city from above pay EUR 5. The duomo includes several jewels of the 16th century which are called the “treasures of the cathedral”.

There is also a crypt area inside which has tombs of the royal Normans (I found it too eerie hence did not venture there).

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Isn’t it amazing?

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Magnificent Porticoes

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After a visit to the beautiful Duomo, I walked a long street. It had everything from local shops of Sicilian cuisine, street food to small bookstores and endless souvenir shops. After a 30 minutes walk (I stopped a lot, it takes only 10 minutes otherwise) I reached another part of the historic area.

This area is called the Quattro Canti, simply a junction where four (quattro) roads lead to four different areas of the city. These are four historic areas of Palermo. Quattro Canti is full of sculptors and fountains commissioned by the Spanish Viceroy in 1611. It is well worth a stop for some photography and remains to my favorite part of the historic centre. I kept going back to it daily.

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Next to the Quattro Canti in the Kalsa district is the stunning Pretoria fountain. It needs half an hour only for gazing😉 What a work of art! Also perfect to cool you off on a hot summer day.

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The Pretoria Fountain

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Palermo has a rich and unique history but sadly gets sidelined due to other cities in Italy. There were many churches in the historic centre that I visited and also several bookshops. However I wasn’t clicking pictures all the time😉

Useful Information:

-for a quick know how of the city take the Hop On Hop Off bus.

-Getting around in Palermo is manageable by foot. Get a good Map of the city🙂

Swiss Airways caters travel to Palermo from India with a layover at Zurich airport. I found it to be the cheapest compared to other airlines flying from India.

-Language is not a barrier in Italy as compared to other European countries. So many Italians know English and if they don’t, they will always find someone to help you when you are stuck.

-For any information and bookings on Sicily contact VisitPalermo & VisitSicily. They are super helpful, quick to revert and easy on your pocket. I guarantee you they will suggest you the best of Palermo and Sicily🙂

Palermo: An Introduction to the Sicily You Don’t Know

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One fine winter evening I was chatting about Italy with my friend Margie when I was asked whether I have been to Sicily or not. My answer was No. I knew nothing about the island except that it was the key to knowing more of Italy, that without Sicily my travels to Italy were meagre, small, niente.

As Goethe rightly said, To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.”

This triggered my contact with VisitPalermo -a team of enthusiastic locals from Palermo who together promote tourism for their city and region. Founder and Owner, Maurizio Giambalvo, whom I later met in Palermo, had already asked me a couple of times to make that Sicilian vacation in the coming months and that talk with Margie set me off immediately.

Maurizio’s VisitPalermo and VisitSicily are everything you dream from a Sicilian vacation-from day tours, cooking courses to workshops, places to eat/stay etc. I knew I was in the best hands for my trip and in exactly 4 months after all the planning I hopped on a flight to explore the city of Palermo.

I reached Palermo to pleasant weather (pleasant because I was coming from India) and reached my swanky duplex apartment booked by the lovely staff of VisitPalermo. It was right in the centre, a 7 minute walking from the main street and hub of life- Piazza Politeama and Teatro Garibaldi. I had my own kitchen and a decorative balcony from where I would sip my coffee and see the buzz of the city. I could visit the historical side of the city along with the buzzing nightlife and shopping streets walking in about 10 minutes. It was five nights of bliss that I had in Palermo and I couldn’t be more pleased🙂

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Piazza Politeama

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Teatro Garibaldi

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Palermo is not like any Italian city you have ever imagined. It is much like India – chaotic and beautiful at the same time especially with its multi cultural heritage. I bet not many of you would know that Palermo was ruled by the Normans, Romans, Byzantines, Spanish and the Arabs which also answers a lot about the unique architecture of the city- gothic, baroque, Arabic, Norman etc.

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Ape

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Love these stands at every corner- much like India

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Church of San Domenico

DSC06725DSC06945Palermo is everything together- crazy, beautiful, wounded, colorful and magnificent. I can’t wait to share more of the city in the coming posts.

Say hello to the Sicily you don’t know🙂

Castello di Montegiove- Umbria’s Best Kept Secret

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Castello di Montegiove (Castle of Montegiove) is situated in the province of Montegabbione in Umbria. Owned and run by Lorenzo Misciattelli and his family since four centuries. The 13th century castle is perched on a hill top facing the stunning Apennine mountains.

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The Misciattelli family made their own wine of which the main products are Umbrian Rosso and Orvietano Rosso. I was given a guided tour of the grounds and wine making facility by Lorenzo. His estate consists of 1200 hectares of Umbrian land including several vineyards.

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I also learnt the process of making the wine making in their wine cellar where thousands of bottles of wine were stored. It was followed by a grand wine tasting!

There was plenty to purchase too!😉

My choice was Orvietano Rosso- a fresh and fruity red wine, comparatively younger compared to others.

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Afterwards I met Lorenzo’s lovely wife Rikki and we spoke of India and Italy quite a bit. I could see her passion for the land and Lorenzo’s attention to detail. Thanks to both of them I learnt so much more about Umbria‘s history. It is commendable to see how the Italians treasure their heritage and take pride in showing it.

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The castle and its surroundings give the impression of being right out the pages of a medieval fantasy novel (Harry Potter for me). What is even better is that there are two beautiful and luxurious apartments created around the castle grounds by Lorenzo and Rikki. It is picturesque and perfect for an Italian holiday that one would seek in the Umbrian countryside. Old olive mills and vineyards galore!

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Castello di Montegiove from afar on a cloudy day

Grazie mille Lorenzo and Rikki for your hospitality and warmth. It is an honour for me to be their first guest from India!

Useful Information:

To see more images of the castle grounds and facilities check here.

Best way to reach Castello di Montegiove is by car. It is just a 50 minutes drive from major towns such as Perugia and Orvieto. For more information visit the website.

An Instagram Hello & Shout Out- Part III

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Ciao a tutti! Hello everyone!

Hope you enjoy a selection of pictures from my Instagram this month. Would love to hear your favorites🙂

Blue cheese pizza with negroamaro- red wine of Puglia🍕🍷

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Marina di Miramare⚓⛵🚣🚤

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Streets of Ljubljana, Slovenia

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🌝🏊 the colors of Polignano and an innocent child.

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Those hunger pangs have a solution on the Roman streets 😉

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Classic Vienna✨

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My Monday blues😉

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Sunday morning breakfast – Home made pancakes 😍

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Needs no introduction. Yes, the Colloseum!😎 #huffpostitagram

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Love these cute little balconies😍

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Fairy Tale Alberobello in the Itria Valley

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In my past posts you would have read about Gio and Francesco from Green Italy Tours (picture below) who very happily showed me around Puglia. One of my favorite places that I visited with them was the adorable town of Alberobello.

UNESCO World Heritage Site since the year 1996, Alberobello is a fairy tale town in the Itria Valley of Puglia. The entire town is dotted with little cone shaped homes called “Trullo” (plural: Trulli) which makes it a very popular tourist destination. See for yourself🙂

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Santi Medici Church

DSC05841I walked around the town and saw the Hobbit type homes and shops lined with neat colored pots of flowers and creepers. The locals were warm and welcomed us to their shops to showcase hand made products. I bought two sets of beautiful hand made table mats for home along wiith a few postcards.

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It was enchanting to be in a town like Alberobello where people were going about their normal life. For instance I heard a couple fighting about the way lunch was made from inside a trullo. It wasn’t pleasant to the ears😉

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Church of Sant Antonio

Next time my wish is to spend a night in a “Trullo” and feel like a Hobbit😀

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72 Hours in Polignano a Mare

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I have always believed that 24 hours does not do justice to any town/city. Especially if one has time at their disposal, one must make the most of seeing and living a place.

This is what I wanted to do in Polignano a mare– a seaside town that is made on a limsetone rock. So I checked places to stay online and narrowed in on B&B Grottone– a quaint B&B in the heart of the town on a quiet ancient street.

I emailed the owner, Gianni, who was quick to revert to me with information about the town and his B&B. He was patient till I decided and not only gave me a blogger discount but also a superb room at his B&B. I stayed in Grottone’s Attico for 3 nights and couldn’t be more pleased. I had a huge terrace for myself, a kitchen to cook in and a nice yet tastefully done bedroom.

I wanted to relax and make the most of my time.

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Day 1:

I reached Polignano in the afternoon after a lovely day trip with Green Italy Tours. Gio, me and Francesca (whom I wrote about earlier) had a lazy stroll through the town and after checking in and meeting Gianni, we went to see the statue of the famous singer Domenico Mudungo. A celebrity in his home town and singer of the famous song “Volare” Dominco’s Volare continues in my head as I write🙂

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Green Italy Tours was so helpful to me throughout my Puglia trip and while I was bidding goodbye to Gio and Francesca they suggested me places to eat in Polignano. I was on my own after that where I had a an aperitivo at Bar Millenium – a popular bar in the centre which also turned out to be my breakfast place for the next three days.

I went to see the main Piazza after my drink and went to a local shop where I bought lovely jewellery. The owner Rosanna and I befriended each other immediately and even though I am not very good with my Italian, she and I knew how to make each laugh.

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Day 2:

On my second day I woke up early to a fabulous sunrise on the terrace, I made coffee and enjoyed the view of the sea. It was exceptionally quiet and I savoured it fully. On reaching  Bar Millennium at around 9 I found it to be full. The clink of glasses, smell of fresh coffee and the hustle bustle of a daily commuter made me smile🙂

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A German couple – Marlen and Ken sat next to me and we ended up talking about the town only to realize we were staying in the same B&B. It was great chatting with them and their two kids – Pepita and Tillmann were an eye candy. We eventually decided to hit the beach and relax together because why not🙂

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DSC05941That walk to the beach and then the soothing color of the water gave me goosebumps. It was lovely basking in the sun at the beach and relishing the sweet life. La dolce vita!

After a couple of hours we went around the town to the Piazza for some people watching. A fresh fruit serving at Joya Canti di Stagione was enough to help us from the strong sun.

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It was around 2 p.m. when I decided to head for lunch while my companions chose to go back to the room and attend to the kids. Here’s my lunch of blue cheese pizza along with a glass of Puglian vino rosso- Negroamaro.

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It was a long savoring lunch and I got time for some reading. Around 4 p.m. I was back in the room for a nap and the evening was spent shopping, gelato tasting and more people watching. Dinner was at a restaurant Gianni had recommended to me for its seafood.

Day 3:

After another long breakfast with my friends from Germany at Bar Millennium we went to see a vintage car exhibition (more on that later). This was again followed by more eating and people watching at the piazza.

After some time in the late evening I tried a very famous take away fish joint in the town where there was fresh calamari and octopus. Sea food is not my favorite but this was fun!

Thank you Polignano a mare and Gianni for all these wonderful memories of  a lifetime.

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Polignano Guide:

Stay:

-B&B Grottone (including breakfast) only 3-4 minutes walk from Piazza Garibaldi.

Eat:

-Joya Canti di Stagione for fresh shakes and salads.

-Bar Millennium for super coffee and service.

-MINT great option for fresh vegetables, cheese, wine and salads. Don’t miss their cheesecakes!

-Pescaria and Monaco for fresh seafood.

-La Terazza for a wide variety of pizza.

-Super Mago el Gelo for one of the best gelatos. Try their Cafe Speciale for a different espresso with lemon and liqueur.

Buy:

-Sottolarco for hand made jewellery and knick knacks.Say Ciao to Rosanna for me🙂

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Postcard from Polignano a Mare

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Polignano a mare- one of my favorite places in Puglia, in pictures🙂

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