Italian Culture · Photography · Travel

Escape to the Cagliari Sun

 

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View from the top of Torre dell’Elefante

This past weekend we escaped the dreary, rainy weather of Bologna for the sun-baked streets of Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital city. Although it was my first time visiting, there were several aspects of the city that felt familiar to me.

Its picturesque beaches remind me of Greece, its winding alleys and colorful, ancient buildings make me think of Valletta, and its funny (and oftentimes frustratingly slow) way of doing things is consistent with mainland Italy.

Besides Cagliari’s top-notch seafood, one of my favorite parts of the city was its Castello neighborhood. It’s located at the top of the city center’s tallest hill (so. many. stairs.) and offers impressive views of the distant mountains, nearby port, and sea.

Although strong winds kept us from spending the entire weekend on the beach as planned, I wasn’t too upset since Cagliari felt like an old friend: comfortable, inviting, and charming.

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One of the roads leading up to the Castello neighborhood
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Cagliari’s cheery buildings add to a perfect beach vacation atmosphere
Photography · Travel

In Fair Verona…

 

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Verona’s Roman Arena was built in 30 AD and could hold up to 30,000 people

I’ll be honest, the main reason why I wanted to visit Verona was to see Juliet’s balcony and to get swept away to Shakespeare land but turns out, it was the rest of Verona that captured me in the end.

For starters, Verona’s Roman Arena is way better preserved than the colosseum in Rome and I hear it hosts incredible open-air opera concerts in the summer. Also, it’s hard to beat the feeling of walking on the old Roman theater on San Pietro’s Hill, which was built in the first century!

Of course, one of my favorite parts of the day was lunch where I had the best risotto I’ve ever had at Hosteria La Vecchia Fontanina. We feasted on a bargain-priced lunch (complete with appetizer, entree, wine, and espresso) in a room full of business people that didn’t seem in any kind of rush to get back to the office.

Verona is known as one of the world’s most romantic cities and while Juliet’s balcony turned out to be a little too touristy for me, all the other little details of the city completely won me over.

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Verona’s skyline is dominated by the Torre di Lamberti, which was built in 1172
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View from the Museo Archeologico al Teatro Romano
Culture · Photography · Travel

Long Weekend in Vienna

 

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In front of the Austrian Parliament Building. We went on a great 2-hour tour of the city led by one of Evan’s Austrian classmates.

We headed to Vienna with Evan’s classmates in early February to attend our first ever ball (more on that in the next post)! It was a weekend of firsts since I also took my first night train in order to get there. We purchased two seats but since the train was fairly empty, we were upgraded to a sleeper cabin.

I was a little taken aback when we opened our cabin door and there were two strangers already asleep in there so we tried to locate the bar car to try and kill a couple hours. We were intercepted by a ticket inspector, who took our tickets and informed us that while there wasn’t a bar cart, we could hang out in the next car over until 3am.

On our way to the next car (not even a full minute later) we cross a different ticket inspector, angrily asking for our tickets and telling us to go back to our cabin. After a tiny freak-out thinking we were about to get kicked off the train, we were able to explain the situation and he let us through. (Not sure what the big deal was since the entire next car was completely desolate.)

After snacking and getting properly sleepy, we headed back to our cabin and I actually had no problem falling asleep. The gentle rocking of the train was incredibly calming and the only times I did wake up was when we stopped to pick up more passengers.

When morning came, the first ticket inspector we ran into gave us back our tickets, along with a traditional Austrian breakfast – bread rolls with butter and jam (and coffee, of course). Over breakfast, we chatted with our cabin mates and found out that they are both students in Austria, coming back from a little vacation in Rome.

They were so kind and one of them, George, even made sure that we made it onto the right metro once we arrived in the city. It was a whirlwind of a trip but here are a few snapshots of stunning Vienna.

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The detail on the majority of buildings in Vienna was impressive
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Hofburg Palace – where the ball was held
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The iconic roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Photography · Travel

Our Trip to the Maltese Island of Gozo

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The stunning Azure Window at sunset

Gozo is a small island just north of mainland Malta and we spent one night there during our trip. I found Valletta to be a relatively calm city but Gozo offers the ultimate peace and quiet, while still having lots of sites to explore.

Getting to Gozo isn’t the most straightforward process. We ended up taking a one-hour bus ride from Valletta to the Cirkewwa ferry terminal, then a 25-minute ferry ride to the city of Mgarr in Gozo, then we caught another bus from Mgarr to our Airbnb in Nadur.

Including wait time, our entire journey took about three hours. That’s not to say that it wasn’t absolutely beautiful – much of the bus route followed the coastline and the ferry ride was fantastic (and only €4.65 round trip!).

We spent our afternoon in Gozo exploring Victoria and watching the sunset at the Azure Window. The historic citadel in Victoria was incredible, offering views of the Meditterean from all directions and every church steeple on the entire island. We learned that the residents of Gozo were required by law to sleep within the citadel walls for protection against pirates up until 1637!

The views from Victoria were breathtaking but the Azure Window at sunset didn’t even seem real. We spent an hour there watching the sunset, taking pictures, and taking in our surroundings. There is something about the ocean that I will always be drawn to – I think it will always be my happy place (whether it be the Pacific Ocean, Meditterean Sea, or some other big body of water).

Before turning in for the night we chatted with our Airbnb host, Maxine, for a bit. This was the first time I’ve stayed in a room in someone’s home (and not have an apartment to myself) but I have to say, we had such a great experience. Maxine is an artist and art teacher – her beautiful, modern paintings and sketches were on display all over her immaculate home.

One of the coolest parts of the evening was when she led us to her rooftop and pointed to a light in the distance, which she informed us was Sicily. She said on very clear nights she is actually able to see the headlights of moving cars over there!

I loved our time in Gozo and I think that everyone that visits Malta should definitely plan a trip to Gozo as well. Plus, I hear that summertime in Gozo offers some of the best diving and rock climbing spots around.

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The Azure Window is where Game of Thrones shot the Dothraki Wedding. Naturally, we were geeking out quite a bit during our visit.
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More cats because I truly am a cat lady
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From the top of the citadel in Victoria
Photography · Travel

Malta’s Tiny Capital City – Valletta

 

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Our first glimpse of Valletta in daylight

Covering only 0.5 square miles, Valletta is one of Europe’s smallest capital cities (only Vaduz in Liechtenstein is smaller). We flew to Valletta for a long weekend and decided to take the bus into the city center to save some money.

The buses in Valletta and all of Malta are wonderfully cheap and it is fairly easy to reach most points of interest by bus. Our ride into the city reminded me of the knight bus from Harry Potter, weaving and turning through narrow city streets at an incredibily fast pace (and hitting the breaks equally as fast).

We made it to our Airbnb in Floriana, a neighborhood of Valletta, in record time and were greeted by our wonderful host, Marco. He showed us around our quaint apartment, which included showing us how to use the space heater.

Most places in Malta do not have heat since it enjoys mild winter temperatures. It’s only during a couple months out of the year (like January, when we visited) that space heaters may be necessary.

Our space heater used propane, which spread a distinct bbq/ camping smell throughout the apartment. Definitely not the safest but it sure was memorable! Marco was also one of the sweetest hosts we’ve had and made sure to point out the nearest convenience store, bakery, and bar before leaving us with the keys.

The next day we set out to see some of the major sites of the city, which included seeing the Saluting Battery at noon from the Upper Barrakka Gardens. For over 400 years guns from this point have been used to calibrate chronographs on ships, signal the opening and closing of the city gates, and (of course) defend the city.

We witnessed the noonday battery, which was so great that we went back to see it again at 4pm. That also sums up my general feelings towards Valletta – a beautiful city that I would love to return to someday (hopefully when it’s warmer and a propane space heater isn’t needed).

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View of the Saluting Battery from the Upper Barrakka Gardens
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Siege Bell War Memorial immediately before a mini storm came through
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Malta is filled with tons of very-well-cared-for cats
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View of the city center from Sliema

 

Italian Culture · Photography · Travel

Final Stop of Our European Road Trip: The Weaving Streets of Cinque Terre

 

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Vernazza is the only town of the Cinque Terre that has a natural port

Stunning snapshots of Cinque Terre (which means Five Lands in Italian) have been peppering my Instagram and Facebook newsfeeds since I moved to Italy. It’s less than a two hours train ride from Bologna so several of Evan’s classmates have been, which made it a necessary last stop on our road trip. Well, we made a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong – the one village of Cinque Terre that we were able to see (Vernazza) was beautiful and quaint. Our mistake was made when we tried to drive there. Our initial plan was to stop in the northernmost town, Monterosso al Mare, but we ran into a hiccup when (after driving almost an hour out of our way, down winding roads and tiny mountain towns) we discovered that the limited parking spots in the town were full.

No problem! We’ll just head to the next town, Vernazza, and grab some lunch there. Well, while the two towns are technically right next to each other on the coast, if you have a car that means you have to drive all the way up the mountain then all the way back down.

The journey was filled with sharp turns, crumbling roads, and breathtaking views. After almost 40 additional minutes in the car, we finally arrived in Vernazza, parked our car, and walked another 20 minutes into the tiny town.

While I’m thrilled that we were able to view just a handful of the areas picturesque landscapes, I will definitely be taking the train next time I visit. Perhaps for a weekend spent backpacking between the five towns, which seems to be the thing to do in Cinque Terre.

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I loved the vibrant colors of the buildings
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The Belforte Tower – built in the 11th century and offers great views of the entire coast
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The tiny town of Vernazza has just 1,250 inhabitants
Food · Photography · Restaurants · Travel

Stop Number Eight: An Overnight in Nice

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Nice’s Russian Orthodox Church makes you question where you really are for a moment

Nice is the capital of the French Riviera and was the perfect halfway point on our drive back to Bologna. Although we only saw the downtown and coastline at night, that was enough to make me fall in love with Nice.

As a California native, I am a sucker for beach towns and while Nice is probably a little (a lot) more luxurious than most Californian beach towns, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to the city as soon as we exited the freeway. That isn’t to say that there weren’t a few hiccups during our stay, though.

We stayed in one of the more questionable Airbnbs which involved a bed with a broken leg, a front door that didn’t lock, and a very creepy basement that only consisted of a bed frame and a giant Winnie the Pooh teddy bear. A little creepy! Nevertheless, that didn’t stop us from enjoying the city and exploring the downtown, which was still beautifully decorated with Christmas lights.

We stopped in at Chez Pipo for some tapenade and socca – a flatbread-like thing that is a specialty of the region (so good!). Then, we spent the rest of the evening walking through the old town and along the harbor, gazing at the beautiful architecture all around us.

In the morning, we discovered that our Airbnb was very close to the Russian Orthodox Church so grabbed a quick snapshot of it before heading towards Cinque Terre.

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The Basilique Notre-Dame – the largest church in Nice
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Socca – made from chickpea batter poured over a searing hot griddle