Monday, January 18, 2016

Hill Towns of Italy - Montepulciano

Italy is dotted with hill towns. And they're just what they sound like. Towns set on top of a hill. Originally built for defense a town set high on a hill could certainly see the enemies approach and ward off attacks. The problem with a hill town is you can only expand as big as your hill. Might be bad for expansion but it's great for preservation. Many hill towns retain their original character while the town expansion took place at the base of the hill. 

Italy has hundreds of hill towns including Orvieto, Volterra, San Gimignano, Assisi, and Siena.

We visited several hill towns but our favorite was Montepulciano in Tuscany. Far less touristy than most of the other hill towns it made for a peaceful afternoon stroll. We visited on a Sunday and almost had the town to ourselves. Of course most of the shops and cafes were closed but it didn't hinder our exploration of the town.

The view from the wall of the surrounding countryside was lovely. High on the hill  overlooking the tiled roofs of the houses and out across the valley you could see for miles. 

I'm linking up Hill Towns of Italy with

A-Z Guidebook Badge

Go over and check out other 'H' places to visit!


Sunday, January 17, 2016

An Outdoor Walk Through History - Staglieno Cemetery, Genova, Italy

After Milan we headed south to Genova to visit one of my favorite places to walk. A cemetery! I love to walk in old cemeteries and I can't image a better cemetery than Staglieno. An outdoor art gallery filled with ornate tombs and sculptures by some of Europe's finest marble carvers including Giulio Monteverde and Leonardo Bistolfi.

Covering more than a square mile the cemetery provides ample space to stroll. There's no map available at the cemetery so if you visit be sure to download one from the website Staglieno Cimitero Monumentale. We were there about 3 hours and didn't even come close to seeing the whole place!

We started our walk by hiking up the grand staircase of the domed Pantheon. (modeled after the Pantheon in Rome)

If you don't go anywhere else be sure to visit inside this building. It's filled with beautiful sculptures and creepy hallways and stair cases!

I find old cemeteries to be peaceful and lovely but I'll have to admit there were areas of this one that gave me the willies...Dark and dank with an ominous feel. 

Thankfully it was also filled with beautifully craved statutes and grave markers...

 This is my favorite grave marker angel knocking on the lid of a crypt and pointing up. Like she's saying "come on it's time to go"! At least she's pointing up!

The cemetery goes up the hillside. Be prepared to walk a lot of stairs if you want to visit the oldest parts. 

Can you see Josh way at the top of this staircase?

 (This little UP sign is a joke from our trip to Germany and Austria. Every time a local would tell us about an interesting place to go it would involve a 15 minute walk UP! We found this little card at a tourist info rack and thought it was perfect. Now we carry it on most trips because when you live in the flattest state everywhere we go seems to be up)

The views of Genova are spectacular from the hillside of the cemetery.

The many mausoleums look like a magical city on the hill.

Staglieno Cemetery in Genova is a wonderful outdoor walk through history and we only saw a tiny portion on our visit. This cemetery is on my list of places to revisit one day.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Learning to Dodge Traffic in Milan, Italy

When we travel we tend to avoid the big cities. We like to explore small towns and see the landscapes of a state or country. To meet the people in a more relaxed atmosphere. However since most airports are in or very near large cities we usually take a day and explore.

Milan is an interesting city. Elegant, chaotic and crowded yet everything seems to flows smoothly. The city is filled with cars and motorcycles and even more pedestrians. Although some intersections have crossing lights, go with the flow when you're walking seems to be the unwritten rule of the road!

We arrived at Milano-Malpensa airport and breezed through customs. Not only was airfare cheaper flying into Milan but it was one of the easier airports to navigate. The train was convenient and even though the 40 minute ride to Milan Central station was less than inspiring it was an efficient way to get to the city.

Milano Centrale station is a large imposing structure built in 1931. Don't be fooled into thinking Milan Central station is in the center of town because it's not. It's a good 30 minute walk to the Duomo (Cathedral) which I would consider to be the center of town. It was however a short 5 minute walk to our hotel and we were able to stash our bags and head out to walk the city.

The first place we headed was to the Duomo a massive, ornate Cathedral on a people and pigeon filled square.

My one regret is not walking on the roof of the Duomo. At the time it was hot, we were tired and we didn't want to spend the 45 euro entrance fee. Lame I know...

Next to the Duomo is the Galleria said to be one of the oldest shopping malls. The beautiful glass dome ceiling covers such shops as Prada,Versace and Louis Viutton.

We didn't do any shopping but we did take a twirl on the little bull.

The floor is covered with lovely mosaics and local legend says if you twirl on the bulls privates you'll have good luck. Poor little bull but we gave it a go...

We bought tickets 2 months in advance, spent the night in Milan and walked almost 3 miles just to see The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci.  I'm sorry to say, for me, it was less than impressive. Maybe because I was expecting too much. Anyway I marked it off my must see list...

Have you even been disappointed in something on your must see list?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Walking the Way of the Cross - Madonna della Corona, Spiazzi, Italy

In my previous post I wrote about our visit to  Madonna della Corona. A beautiful church built into the side of Balto Rock in Spiazzi, Italy. Today's post is about the walk down to the church. I actually enjoyed this walk almost as much as the church itself.

We parked in the lot of Stella Alpina a hotel at the top of the mountain. The hotel and conference center is part of the Madonna complex. We weren't sure how far we'd need to go but  even so we set off down the narrow road.

The view of the surrounding mountains was spectacular!

There's actually two ways to get up and down the mountain. The road which is winding and narrow or the STAIRS! Pictured below is only one section of the stairs. The other sets of stairs are cement like this one but very narrow and they have no hand rails. We came down the road and back up by the stairs. 

I'll admit that I abandoned the stairs half way up and finished by way of the road which wasn't quite as steep. Our young in excellent shape son ran to the top. Show-off!

The views were lovely but we were delighted to find that the road was lined with life sized bronze sculptures depicting the Way of the Cross. The sculptures are by the Veronese architect Raffaele Bonente. (You won't see the sculptures if you take the stairs. A great excuse to walk the road!)

The Way of the Cross

The Way of the Cross or Stations of the Cross shows the life of Christ from his arrest to his Resurrection. Talk about a wonderful walk. Not only was the view of the mountains and across the valley breath taking but to see the life of Christ portrayed so vividly was engaging.

Station I
Jesus is condemned by Pilate

Station II

Jesus takes up his cross


Station III

Jesus falls the first time

Station IV
 Jesus meets his mother

Station V

Simon of Cyrene carries the cross

Station VI

Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Station VII
Jesus falls the second time

Station VIII

Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem 

Station IX

Jesus falls the third time

Station X
 Jesus stripped of his garments

Station XI

Jesus nailed to the cross

Station XII

Jesus dies on the cross

Station XIII

Jesus is taken down from the cross

Station XIV

Jesus is laid in the tomb

Station XV

The Resurrection 

This was one of may favorite places to visit on our trip to Italy. It's well worth a side trip if you're in the area!

Santuario Madonna della Corona
Località Santuario, 1
37020 – Ferrara di Monte Bardo
Verona, Italy
Phone and Fax (+39) 045 7220014
Rector Don Pietro Maroldi
How to get there
By car: From the A4 Milan-Venice, exit Peschiera del Garda and continue towards Spiazzi (km 38); or from the A22 Brennero-Modena, exit at Affi, Spiazzi direction (20 km). By train: the station of Peschiera del Garda or Verona Porta Nuova, take the bus, line Spiazzi Caprino. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Madonna della Corona, Spiazzi, Italy

"The Shrine of the Corona is a place of silence and meditation, extended between heaven and earth, hidden in the heart of the Baldo rocks." 

When I came across this description of Madonna della Corona how could I resist?  A church built into the side of a mountain was definitely a place I wanted to see. Madonna della Corona in Spiazzi took top spot of my list of must see while on our trip to Italy.

Sculpture - Modonna della Corona 

(Madonna's Crown)

According to the brochure in 1522 a sculpture of Mary cradling the crucified body of Jesus was transported by angelic intervention from the island of Rhodes. Legend says that a bright light shown on the mountain and when locals investigated they discovered the sculpture of the Madonna. The sculpture was considered sacred and a small chapel was built on the site to honor this miraculous feat.

The Madonna della Corona viewed from the back of the sanctuary.

 A close-up of the Madonna ensconced in the rock wall above the altar. The sculpture is surrounded by a crown of thorns and five angelic groups by the Veronese architect Raffaele Bonente.

Lace up and Walk
Another view inside the sanctuary. The bare walls of the mountain become the walls of the sanctuary. 

Madonna della Corona Today

The church has come a long way from the original tiny chapel.  The original church was demolished and rebuilt many times over the years resulting in the current church that was completed in 1978.

The buildings sit on a natural stone shelf or ledge. Building materials were lowered from the top of the mountain down to the building site. Even with modern equipment I'm sure this was quite a feat! 

You really need to see this place in person to get the full effect. It's amazing!

 Another view of the church and the surrounding mountains and valley. 

Stairs to the church

The view from the front of the church looking out over the valley. It was a beautiful scene as we watched the clouds roll in. 

The Madonna della Corona was honored with a visit from Pope John Paul II in 1988.

I was so happy after our visit to the church. It is a beautiful, peaceful place and well worth the seemingly endless stairs we walked to get to and from this place! I wasn't disappointed.

I'm glad we laced up and took a walk somewhere between earth and heaven!

Santuario Madonna della Corona
Località Santuario, 1
37020 – Ferrara di Monte Bardo
Verona, Italy
Phone and Fax (+39) 045 7220014
Rector Don Pietro Maroldi
How to get there
By car: From the A4 Milan-Venice, exit Peschiera del Garda and continue towards Spiazzi (km 38); or from the A22 Brennero-Modena, exit at Affi, Spiazzi direction (20 km). By train: the station of Peschiera del Garda or Verona Porta Nuova, take the bus, line Spiazzi Caprino. 

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