Italy, Venice – Biannale day 1

Main reason for this Italy trip was to finally see Venice during a Biennale. Never been to a Biennale and last time I was in Venice was for one day when I was about 22 – and it poured down. It’s been sunny here so far.

We are spending each afternoon at different Biennale exhibits so I will showcase these and save the Venice pics for the end of the trip. But here is me arriving on day one by water taxi having taken the train from Bologna – so excited to see this amazing and magical city.

This was my favourite exhibit of day one – from Andorra. Lots of clay pots in every colour imaginable – reflecting the human race. It had a wow factor as soon as you walked into the space.

Then on to an artist who does silk screen on mirrors which means you end up part of the art. I liked his Cuban works in particular. Those people seem to pop out of the mirror. Not sure about the pile of clothes but it is colourful:).

Finally a pretty nifty glass exhibit. Hundreds of solid glass bricks in wild colours. Playful and engaging.

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Italy, Bologna – city of wonderful light and colours.

What a great town Bologna turned out to be. It is known as one of the foodie hotspots in Italy – mortadella, balsamic vinegar and of course the real bolognese sauce come from there.

Bologna is traditionally described as fat, red and wise referring to its food, rooftops (and politics!) and the fact it has the oldest university in Europe.

For those of you in Europe this is a perfect weekend destination especially as the three main streets are pedestrianised on weekends and it is the kind of place to wander around and browse. Open air food markets on Saturday and retro market on Sunday were great.

Our excellent foodie tour was with CiaoItalia and we had a good meal at Il Tinello – relaxed and friendly environment.

And the whole weekend was made extra special as my friends Sylvie and Andrew came out from London for the weekend. I’ve known Sylvie since I was about 4 and as teens she was obsessed with Marc Bolan and for me it was David Cassidy! We used to shop together then and it seems like nothing much has changed.

Ice cream flavours in Bologna – raspberry and red wine (!), cheesecake and wild berries and marscapone.

Next stop – week in Venice for the Biennale and some sightseeing too.

Italy, Food Glorious Food

Two days of what feels like non stop eating as participated in back to back foodie walks and tastings in Florence and then in Bologna (more of which in next post).

The quality of fresh produce is spectacular and can you believe the size of those scallions/shallots/spring onions in top left below?

Savoury tastings included a flat pastry made from chick peas – something the Italians invented when ordinary flour was in short supply. Of course it wouldn’t be an Italian meal without some salami and other cured meats and cheese plus some pasta washed down with good local wine. The map at the bottom right is a great way of seeing which part of this region is famous for what food. Balsamic vinegar made in Modena which is close to Bologna is fantastic – the longer it ages the thicker it gets. Some 25 year aged balsamic go for over 100 Euros and because the aging also sweetens and strengthens the taste a few drops are often served on top of ice cream.

By the way, on the topic of gelati – I haven’t given up eating it but forgot to add new flavours – so, dark chocolate, stacciatella, crema inglese, salted caramel. Tricks for spotting good gelati are: it should be in metal containers away from the light. If you see mounds or worse “heaped” mounds on display it is probably not fresh (it should be made in small batches every day). Also check the colour of pistachio – if it is bright green it is full of food colouring. It should be a greyish/browny colour (not necessarily as pretty) but way tastier. Cone or cup? That’s personal choice. Here is the lady who prepared my two scoops who clearly enjoys her job. But then, who wouldn’t?

And let us not forget cakes and chocolates – often sold in shops that are specialist and long standing. Suffice to say they are very good with a penchant towards smooth praline fillings – completely irresistible.

Italy, Florence – I get some home decoration ideas from the Palazzo Pitti and a special note of interest if you have red hair.

A visit to the Palazzo Pitti gave me some home decoration ideas. What? OTT? Come on these were the Medicis – they had to show off.

So firstly something subtle for all my ceilings so that I have something to gaze at while reclining on my chaise longue.

Ceilings in the Palazzo Pitti – maybe a bit much but also rather fab at the same time

Now for the walls. A Titian and a Caravaggio natch and then cram as much as I can on every other wall. Also note that the first portrait shows a hair colour named after Titian and based on many southern Italians’ colouring. Who else gets their hair colour named after a famous painter? All we blondes get is “dumb” (but we know better)

Titian, Caravaggio and using paintings as walllpaper

Then a sculpture of a young Michengelo, a canopied bed and a very very big vase – and I’m done.

Now I’m heading to IKEA – they have everything.

sculptures and furniture at Palazzo Pitti

After all that it was nice to take a stroll (well stagger really as it is all uphill) in the Boboli Gardens behind the Palace – also built by the Medicis of course. The higher you climb the better the view back to the Palazzo.

Next two days are food tours in Florence and then Bologna.

Italy, Lucca and more food

Lucca is about an hour and 20 mins from Florence by train. It is an old medieval town with walls so thick around it that they are wide enough to walk or cycle all around about 20 feet about the town (c 4km) – see below. Great way to get bearings before descending into the town to explore. It is delightful and strong on artisanal products – leather and cashmere especially as well as a foodie spot. It also has 101 churches they say – I had a church free day though:). AND, hooray – far less tourists too. A really nice day out from Florence.

Lucca town and surrounding medieval walls

Burrata with shaved truffles, best pork chop ever and a perfect cannoli.

Italy, Florence – Academia and Uffizi Gallery

A day of more walking(introductory tour to Florence) and then an afternoon in the Uffizi Gallery. My kind of day but my feet are killing me – and yes I am wearing sensible shoes. Those cobblestones are a killer and what’s with all those cars in what is supposed to be a pedestrian only area?

First stop, an essential must see – Michelangelo’s David. It is impressive but slightly weird because it is so huge. I still think Bernini is a better sculptor – albeit I accept he was around a hundred years later. Decided to offer David up in various tones – viewer can choose the one they like best:)

Michelangelo’s David

Some more pics wandering around Florence between walks. The little wine door was the first “Vino ATM”. You banged on the door, pushed in your empty jug and some money, waited a few minutes and out came a full jug of wine. Very cool. Bring them back I say.

Around Florence

And finally the Uffizi – highlights for me were another Caravaggio and also seeing Botticelli’s Birth of Venus- such a well own painting so exciting to see it for real – and it is truly lovely.

Caravaggio, Michelangelo and Botticelli strut their stuff