Category Archives: travel

Around the Alps – Cremona, Certosa & Torino

First two days of our sightseeing trip around the Alps pretty much gave us an idea of what we can expect and also made us hungry for more. I was looking forward to what the next day is going to bring.

Day 3 (Tuesday, 17/09) took us to Cremona, a city that charmed me with its architecture and with the way this city made me feel. Our local guide told us about life of Claudio Monteverdi, a famous Italian composer who was born in this city in 1567. He’s also considered as one of the fathers of opera. But he was not the only person who contributed to a title of ‘city of music’ that Cremona has. For this city was also home for Antonio Stradivari (born around 1644) – a recognized luthier and constructor of musical instruments, mostly violins. During his lifespan over 1000 instruments were created by him and his students & sons. Cremona must be proud of both of them.

As we continued our slow tour around the city we stepped into a couple of churches and sadly I don’t remember all their names now, we’ve been to so many during this trip. But one of them was a Chiesa di Santa Agata with a big, white facade that slightly reminded me of Greek pantheon because of the columns. Just few steps away was Palazzo di Trecchi, a 15th century palace that was once a residence of Trecchi – a one of historical families of Cremona. This palace was refurbished in 19th century. The leading color of the building is orange-ish red. The interior courtyard features a whole lot of columns and loggias that make it quite a charming place. One side of the inner courtyard also features a monument of a man on a horseback, probably Giuseppe Garibaldi. Today this palazzo has limited accessibility due to serving as meeting & convention center as well as a reception place. Not far away there was also luthier workshop and the owner gave us permission to come inside and have a peek at how violins are being made by hand. Loved a woody smell there.

It must’ve been around 11:30 when we arrived at the Piazza del Comune, a central square of the old town in Cremona. As we were entering the square the monumental building of Cathedrale di Cremona kept growing bigger in front of our eyes. This roman-gothic church – Santa Maria Assunta, has the highest campanile in the entire Italy, it measures 112,27 meters tall. Cathedral’s interior was decorated with frescos of unknown artist. ‘Glued’ to its right side was Torrazzo, a majestic clock tower and bell tower which reigns over the city of Cremona. On the left side thought there was a Baptistery. At Piazza del Comune we were given a bit over an hour of free time. Together with a couple more people from the group we decided to use this opportunity to climb to the top of Torrazzo. We had 500 stairs to climb but on a few floors we could take a break and see for example how the giant clock mechanism works or what tools were used in the past to determine time and date. As we were climbing the clock struck midday and we were glad we weren’t at the top yet as being so close to the bell would probably make us quite deaf for a while. From the top of the tower I could admire a picturesque view of the city, 360° around. All roofs had the same terracotta-red color.

As we were heading back to the bus we stopped at a local sweets shop that treated us to trying torrone. Torrone is a local sweet specialty that has a form of white, soft and gooey block that is full of nuts, especially almonds and pistacchio. You could say that it’s a sort of nougat that they manufacture in Cremona. The shop we visited had probably 20 or 30 different varieties and flavors. They even had torrone cakes and you could buy a slice. I got one torrone to give to a friend after coming back home. In the afternoon of the same day we drove to Certosa di Pavia to visit a monastery there. In this monastery there used to live the monks from Carthusian order. The monastery was risen on request of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, ruler of Milan at that time. Currently Cisterian monks are looking over this pearl of late gothic architecture. Somehow this brough Tuesday to an end. Our bus then continued its ride for a while as we were changing hotels again and the next one was nearby Torino. We’d stay in that hotel for the next 3 nights.

Next day, that is on Wednesday, we had a full day trip to Torino in our schedule. Our sightseeing started in the morning when we went to the Hill of Superga to visit Basilica di Superga at its top. The hill (and church of course) are located in vicinity of Torino and can be seen from most places in the city. Basilica di Superga was constructed between 1717 and 1731 for Victor Amadeus II of Savoy. This late Baroque-Classicism temple was designed by Filippo Juvarra. We didn’t really have a chance to see church itself to see the altar. Instead we visited the chamber of popes, where portraits of all the popes are hanging on the walls in order of their Vatican lead. An interesting rule that applied to this chamber was that portrait of current pope always has to be placed in the same line as a portrait of Jesus. When popes change all pictures have to be moved by 1 spot. We visited a Royal Crypt of Superga which is a burial place of the Savoy family. Many members of this family were kings or held a prince or princess title. Interestingly enough they also had many connections among Polish aristocracy. In 1949 the hill and the basilica witnessed a catastrophe of a crashing plane that brought death to all passengers, which included an entire football team of AC Torino.

After leaving Superga we descended to visit Torino itself. The sightseeing began with a visit to Duomo di Torino, a city cathedral. It didn’t look impressive at all from the outside but on the inside it was a strong and full-fledged church. Taking photos was not allowed though. We were brough to Duomo mostly because one of its side chambers houses the biblical Shroud of Turin, a mythical cloth that was wrapped around Jesus body after his death on the cross. Right next to Duomo were the ruins of an antique theatre. Another stone throw away there were the remains of old city walls – made of red bricks and with multiple towers that guarded the city from invaders. At some point of the day we arrived at Piazzetta Reale which then connects with Piazza Castello. These 2 combined create a vast, paved square area that is surrounded by multiple historical buildings. There’s Palazzo Reale on one side of the square, Chiesa di San Lorenzo on another side, Lorre Littoria on 3rd side and last but not least Palazzo Madama in the more central part of the square. We then left Piazza Castello for a while only to find that behind Palazzo Madama there’s another palace, Castello Acaja, with a monument dedicated to Filiberto. Not that much walking later we were passing next to Turin National University Library. Facing its front was a statue of Vincenco Gioberti.

During our stroll our guide took us to Galleria San Federico, a popular shopping district filled with more posh and luxurious boutiques, fancy restaurants and sweet Italian cafes that looked so pretty & inviting that none of us wouldn’t mind to sit down for a little while and enjoy a cup of coffee. Interior of this gallery had a quite old-fashioned design but it looked nonetheless very elegant and sophisticated, floor decorated with mosaic and walls adorned with green marble and stylized street lanterns. The gallery also houses Cinema Lux. From there we wandered back to Piazza Castello where we were given some free time to explore the city on our own. Our tour guilde told us that we can visit art museum inside Palazzo Madama for free that day but in fact she was mistaken. So instead of looking at art together with 2 other people we decided to cross the Pad river. In the itinerary it said that during sightseeing in Torino we’d have a possibility to have a local dinner (additionally paid) but it turned out that the restaurant was closed. So our organizer decided to take us to the Allianz Stadium, a home stadium of Juventus F. C. football team. Nearby we also had the opportunity to go shopping at the supermarket – many people decided to go get equipped with more wine, typical Italian sweets, pastries or cheese. And that’s how the day has gone by.

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Around the Alps – Innsbruck, Bolzano & Trento

My holiday had a very early start as on Saturday, September 14 I had to wake up at 3 AM to get ready. After checking a number of times if I have everything in my suitcase dad drove me to the gas station that was indicated by a travel agency as a pick-up point. We were asked to be there around 4 AM but it wasn’t until 30 minutes later when the bus arrived and the pilot checked all the names on the list and let us in. But the bus turned out to be just a connection service meaning that people onboard were joining different trips. After a few hours we arrived at the parking in Woszczyce where buses from all over Poland gathered together and from where all trips were departing.

We were asked to wait until 11 AM, so everyone was a bit bored by then as there was really nothing you could do there. It was really just a parking lot and a cafe & restaurant. But finally came the time to split into groups according to everyone’s travelling destination. We could pick our luggage and go to the respective bus that would take the group on a trip around the Alps. I thought it would be more chaotic but it worked quite well. Once all names were checked on the list we were ready for departure. We headed southwest and spent half of the day riding through Czech Republic and Germany. After something like 14 hours we arrived at the hotel near Salzburg where we were spending the night after this long day. The journey would continue the next day.

Sunday was our first sightseeing day. After an early breakfast we checked out from the hotel and hit the road again. We were travelling to Innsbruck in Austria but we were still around 2-3 hours away until we’d get there. Eventually we did and after meeting with a local city guide we started our tour. It all started with going to a higher part of the city where Bergisel is located. Americans might not recognize this name but those in Europe should be familiar with it as Bergisel is a famous ski jump hill where every winter ski jumpers compete in FIS ski jump cup. Futuristic appearances of this arena were a vision of famous architect Zaha Hadid. As we were admiring a panoramic view of Innsbruck our guide told us about history and nowadays problems the city is facing due to its location.

Afterwards we took a short bus ride downhill to spend some time walking around the old town. We continued our walk and every corner revealed some historical building surrounded by other picturesque buildings in various styles and colors. The old town was quite pretty and charming. The streets were buzzing thanks to numerous restaurants and cafes that had their tables set on the street. We saw what is considered the most beautiful building in Innsbruck (with enormously high lease) and also a famed golden roof. In the past its tiles used to be made of real gold, today they are only galvanized with a thin layer of this yellow precious metal. Later we made it to the bridge that goes over Inn river and connects left bank and right bank part of the city. In german it’s called Innbrücke – apparently that’s where Innsbruck came from as the name of this city.

Few hours later we were leaving Austria, on a bus directed towards Italy. On the same day we also visited Bolzano. It’s a small Italian town, not that much touristic at all. Our main sightseeing venue there was a Walther Square and a gothic cathedral built in 15th century. Unfortunately something happened to my phone and all photos from the first day of sightseeing were completely deleted and I have no idea how did I do that. Unless phone acted on its own. Anyways Bolzano was a short stop for us and after viewing the cathedral inside and having a big of a free time our itinerary for that day was complete. Our next hotel was located not far from Bolzano so we ended up having a calm and lazy evening to relax after our first day of extensive walking.

On the next day (Monday) we had a big trip planned. Before noon we were visiting Trento, a capital city of the Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige region. Our tour guide took us on a stroll through small streets surrounded on both sides with many buildings that had their facades covered with remains of frescos. Some of them were showing historical events, others were more of a mythological type. We’ve seen the old castle from the outside (unfortunately there was no time to see the museum inside). We went on to see Palazzo Pretorio and Duomo of Trento. We could admire the architecture inside of the cathedral. It looked really monumental and impressive and I’m sure it would’ve been even more jaw-dropping if it wasn’t for the scaffolding that was covering some of the walls due to ongoing renovations. After some free time to explore we continued our trip towards the lake.

Nearby Lago di Garda we stopped at the agrotourism place which apparently is quite famed for their vineyards and olive trees. So travel agency that organized our tour booked for us an olive oil and wine tasting session. We were offered 2 varieties of olive oil to try with Italian bread as well as 7 kinds of wine (white, rose, red). Surprising thing was that for each wine they offered us a different snack to try it with. I don’t know much about wine as I don’t really drink it that often but it seems that different wine is more suitable for different types of food. Apart from getting a little bit tipsy because of all the glasses of wine we were given to taste, we could also have a look at the actual vineyeard and those grapes growing in very neat rows. Anyone interested could as well purchase the olive oil or the wine they liked the most. After this highlight of the day was over the bus took us to the lake.

Upon our arrival the little ferry was already waiting for our group. So we all jumped onboard and anchors aweigh we departed on a cruise. Lago di Garda is quite elongated – its maximum length is 55 kms while it’s 4-12 kms wide depending on where you’d do the measuring. Our ride was taking us from Garda on the eastern side to Gardone on the western side. This cruise was very refreshing as it was quite a hot day and the air over the lake was much cooler. On the way from Garda to Gardone there were some magnificent views of expensive villas, luxurious hotels, green hills. In the meantime our bus driver had to drive all the way around the lake to pick us up. In Gardone we had some time for ourselves and as we were strolling along the lake we passed next to a very fragrant, blooming tree. Its scent was familiar to me and after a moment I realized that I just met an osmanthus tree. This was the first time in my life when I could smell it in reality, not in a perfume composition.

That pretty much sums up first and second day of our sightseeing with the Alps creating a beautiful background for the places we visited. There’s still more to come on the coming days.

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