Italy, summer 2010

An old friend called yesterday.  He and his wife have bought tickets to Rome, departing shortly, and needed reassurance on what to pack, where to go and all that, drawing upon our own three weeks spent criss-crossing northern Italy in early summer this year.

Okay. First thing, I guess… you’ll be fine!  Italy in October should be a breeze, the natives are friendly, old hands at dealing with foreign visitors, no chip on the shoulder, inevitably courteous.  My friends have already mapped out a rough itinerary and unlike many other Aussies, do not have to be persuaded that self-drive is often not the best option.

North bank of the Arno, Florence, Italy

North bank of the Arno, Florence, Italy

The must-sees are obvious enough, and with Barbara beside me, I saw Venice and Florence through fresh eyes this time around.  However, northern Italy is peppered with lesser-known historic cities – try Genoa, Mantua, Padua and Verona for starters, none of which we saw – and the Tuscan countryside has now been so over-hyped it’s hard to know where to begin. Intrigued by its historic associations, we ventured east to the old Austro-Hungarian port city of Trieste, then continued into Slovenia.

In Tuscany we focussed on two cities, Siena and Lucca, and didn’t regret a minute spent in either, although did not manage to venture far into the countryside; that was the day we should have rented a car.  Pisa is a shabby, run-down one-trick town and definitely not worth anyone’s time.

Lucca is a small but venerable city defined by its wall, which forms a perfect 4-kilometre passegiata or promenade.  Siena gathers in a knot around its main square, Il Campo, which forms the venue for the celebrated Palio or horse race. Riders are sponsored by the individual Contrade or neighbourhood associations, whose banners and heraldic emblems can be seen at every turn. We seldom tired of the walk back and forth between our accommodation and Il Campo (Piazza del Campo), winding along stone-paved, car-free streets. From the far side of Il Campo, a short climb leads up to the phantasmagorical Duomo or cathedral.

Hiking the Cinque Terre can be a great experience in spite of the throngs, but the nearby coastal towns of the Riviera di Levante east of Genoa, especially Camogli, proved delightful. We stumbled across this unspoilt, historic Ligurian seaside town, down the coast from Genoa whilst looking for a suitable base from which to sally forth into the tourist hordes of the Cinque Terre. Many tall buildings in Camogli display trompe l’oeil facades in a harmonious mix of butterscotch, cream, musk pink and other pastel colours.

Milan is a major gateway city for international departures, for the lakes on the Swiss border, and a destination for those with special interest in fashion, design or business – or just savouring a world-city buzz!

To be continued

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