Tag Archives: Italy

il Benni

Bologna: An Offer you Can’t Refuse

A hush spread over the piazza as the cinema screen lit up. The crowd held its breath as the opening credits appeared on the screen, and the silence was total as the spine-chilling notes of the film’s theme rang out, reverberating on the medieval palaces and cathedral surrounding the audience. The last of the sunlight faded, and the stars came out as I and another thousand people began to lose ourselves in a cinematic classic: Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’.

Sitting there in the darkness, back pressed uncomfortably against a pillar and knees pulled up to my chin, I was in ecstasy. All eyes were drawn to the stylishly violent story playing out on the screen, lost in this tale of family and loyalty and pride. Three hours later, after the applause had died out, I walked home in a daze — first with fellow members of the audience thronging the narrow alleys, and eventually by myself, wandering through the porticoed streets and squares.

Aleksander Cela

Walking through a new place at night is often a completely different experience to doing it during the day. (Photographer: Aleksander Cela; Flickr)

I had come to Bologna with little in mind, to a city which I had originally planned to be the final stop on an ambitious journey from the heel of Italy’s boot all the way up to the thigh. However, due to other commitments this was not to be, and grand plans for sightseeing all along the Adriatic coast had dissolved into just an extended city break. I had almost no knowledge of the city’s history, and was only really aware of its fortuitous location on some major railway routes to other cities.

I didn’t know what to expect of Bologna. But what I found, I liked immensely.


Pizza Maggiore, one of Bologna’s main attractions. (Photographer: g.sighele; Flickr)

The large medieval city is focused on Piazza Maggiore, surrounded by Bologna’s cathedral, city hall, and other important buildings as well as shops and restaurants. Just a few steps away you can find two of the last of Bologna’s medieval tower houses, built by wealthy patrician families. At one point, there were around a hundred of these tall, slim brick towers crowding the Bologna skyline, and ranging from 60-90 metres in height. Most are gone now, but at this busy intersection the Asinelli and Garisenda towers lean at a crazy angle, looming over the traffic and pedestrians below.  Continue reading


Navigating Bari Port: A How-To Guide

Bari. La Perla d’Apulia. Well… the biggest city in the south of Italy after Naples that’s got a bit of a beach and an alright Old Town. It may not be the biggest tourist destination of the region, but its main selling point is the port. The Porto di Bari is the doorway to the Balkan Peninsula and the means by which travellers and holiday-makers alike, sated with the delights of Italy and Western Europe, travel towards the Middle East. In fact, it was in Bari that a group of 11th century sailors deposited the bones of Saint Nicholas (affectionately known to you and I as Father Christmas, or Santa Claus), after seizing them from the Byzantines in what is now Demre, Turkey.

Look out for Basilica di San Nicola in Bari's Old Town. (Photographer: teens4unity; Flickr)

Look out for Basilica di San Nicola in Bari’s Old Town. (Photographer: teens4unity; Flickr)

Multiple ferry lines serve the Port of Bari and you can travel from Bari to Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece. We had a bit of a nightmare figuring out where we were meant to go once we actually got to the port and would have appreciated some advice beforehand, so for those of you packing up your bags and choosing a more novel way of travelling than flying this summer, here is my Bari Port How-To Guide.

1. Book your tickets online. You can do this via Direct Ferries www.directferries.com. Prices are actually very reasonable. For a two-berth cabin without a window (but with a washbasin) on the ferry that serves Dubrovnik, we paid under £300 return between us. I would recommend a cabin, as at peak times these ferries get VERY busy and it’s a long night if you’ve nowhere to doss down. It is of course cheaper to go without and choose ‘deck space’ (which can be anything from a reclining chair if you’re one of the first on board, to a bit of floor in the corner of the restaurant), so it’s up to you. You have to decide how hardy a traveller you are and what you’re planning to do on arrival. Personally, I wanted to get the most out of my day, so was happy to spend a bit extra for a semi-decent sleep.

Dubrovnik's port: not a bad place to wake up after a long ferry journey! (Photographer: pablococko; Flickr)

Dubrovnik’s port: not a bad place to wake up after a long ferry journey! (Photographer: pablococko; Flickr)

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Bari: The Gateway to Puglia

Bari is… viscerally Italian.

If you’re travelling in the south of Italy or taking the ferry across the Adriatic to the Balkans, you will in all likelihood pass through Bari, or find you have some time to kill there. The second biggest city in the south after Naples, Bari is known as La Perla d’Apulia (The Pearl of Apulia), and while some cynics may quibble as to whether it really deserves the title, it’s worth making the most of what it has to offer nonetheless.

Bari is the capital of the Puglia region and is also a port city, so if you're in that part of the world there's a high chance you'll end up seeing it! (Photographer: Mike Sowden; Flickr)

Bari is the capital of the Puglia region and is also a port city, so if you’re in that part of the world there’s a high chance you’ll end up seeing it! (Photographer: Mike Sowden; Flickr)

One plus point of Bari is that you can comfortably see everything in a day — or even an afternoon. So if you arrive at the train station at 11am and you’ve got to be at the ferry port at 7pm, you won’t feel like you’re missing out. It’s also a good base from which to take day trips, if you’re staying in Puglia a bit longer.   

I’ve lived in Bari for seven months now, and as my time here comes to an end, here is my list of worthwhile sights and experiences.

Bari Vecchia (Old Town)

One of my favourite things is to bimble through the streets of the Old Town, people-watching. Bari Vecchia is almost exclusively Italian — no holiday homes, no expats, just the odd Italian-run B&B. Barese people, incredibly loyal to their nationality and their city, can seem a bit aloof, with a ‘them and us’ mentality, but it’s mostly just a front. While you’re unlikely to feel like one of their own, neither are they at all hostile. Remove the Barese from Bari Vecchia and it’d just be another pretty Italian Old Town, full of tourists taking photos. Women gather outside their homes on plastic chairs to chat and keep an eye on the children as they play in the streets, grandmothers grill fish on open coals, and old men gossip together on street corners. It’s only a small town and it’s fairly easy to re-orientate yourself if you take a wrong turn. Get pleasantly lost.

Explore the Old Town's winding streets and let yourself lose your way. (Photographer: Nicola; Flickr)

Explore the Old Town’s winding streets and let yourself lose your way. (Photographer: Nicola; Flickr)

Civic Museum

Just inside the entrance to the Old Town (off Corso Vittorio Emmanuele) is the Museo Civico. Spend half an hour or so in here learning about the history of the town and looking at paintings and photos of Bari in the past. On the second floor, there are recreations of 10th century traditional dress, which they bring out for the festival of San Nicola (Bari’s patron saint) in early May. It’s also a good idea to make use of the toilets here!

Entry: €2.50

Reduced entry: €1.50

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Il Volo dell Angelo: The Flight of the Angel, Basilicata

I’m strapped-up parallel to the earth, gripping onto the straps suspending me from the zip-wire above for dear life. ‘Good flight!’ the guy who rigged me into the harness grins, then announces ‘donna, 64 kilogrammi’ into his walkie-talkie to let the people on the other side know I’m on my way, and releases the karabiner which tethers me to the earth. At first I sail, and then with gathering velocity I slide out, over the side of the mountain until, reaching a speed of 120kmph, I am soaring approximately 130m above the countryside of Basilicata.

The green mountains of Basilicata, Italy: not a bad view during your flight! (Photographer: Charlie Murrell-Edwards)

The green mountains of Basilicata, Italy: not a bad view during your flight! (Photographer: Charlie Murrell-Edwards)

The Flight of the Angel is an outdoor experience of its kind in Italy. It’s not a bungee jump, it’s not a skydive — it’s a flight. Rigged up between two mountains in the Lucane Dolomites of Basilicata in the south of Italy, you literally fly across the middle. You can fly solo or in a pair. I actually chose to fly with a friend (for moral support!) but a solo flight is probably even more exhilarating. There are stories of people proposing mid-flight, although quite how one would manage to get the words out when travelling at that speed is beyond me!

You wear a hammock-like body harness that is attached by two steel cross-bars to the steel zip-wire that runs between the two mountains. You’re allowed a small bag on the flight, as long as it can be securely attached to the harness/you. I would recommend a small rucksack containing water, tissues, sunglasses, a snack or packed lunch, sun cream, hat, bug spray (if you’re planning to stay into the evening), hand sanitiser, camera, phone, and anything else you consider essential. Wear a long-sleeved top, or take a light cardigan to wear over a t-shirt. You will also need to wear lightweight trousers or leggings, and closed shoes that are comfortable for walking in.

Does this look like your sort of thing? If so, you know where to go! (Photographer: Charlie Murrell-Edwards)

Does this look like your sort of thing? If so, you know where to go! (Photographer: Charlie Murrell-Edwards)

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Undiscovered Italy (Part 4): Padua

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Undiscovered Italy

Nobody likes too many tourists. Whether you look for a destination off the beaten track or that bar ‘where the locals go,’ it makes sense to try and be original when travelling. I spent a year in Italy on the Erasmus project  a program that allows students from universities all over Europe to spend a term or two studying at a partner university abroad. This mini-series will include destinations that I discovered in Italy whilst on the Erasmus project, that I feel are overlooked by those on the Italian tourist trail. Buon viaggio…

Padua's elliptical piazza, Prato dell Valle. (Photographer: Pedro; Flickr)

Padua’s elliptical piazza, Prato dell Valle. (Photographer: Pedro; Flickr)

Have you heard of Verona? Yes. Have you heard of Venice? Of course. Have you heard of Padua? Possibly not. Most people who have visited the Veneto region, situated in the north-eastern reaches of Italy, will not have stopped in this historic university city of 200,000 people. It may be hard to compete with its more famous neighbours who are heavyweights in the tourism game, but I want to convince you to pay Padua a visit. The Bacchiglione River is a very good reason, for example. The river weaves through the city’s dense clusters of arcaded streets, with many bridges crossing its path (and who doesn’t love a beautiful bridge?) Padua is also home to Prato della Valle, a vast elliptical piazza lined with spectacular statues, and arguably contributes to making Padua a worthy contender amongst its neighbours.

In all honesty, I did not have high expectations before visiting Padua. My friend Kat and I were on our way to a residential weekend in Venice when Kat convinced me that Padua was worth visiting, telling me that her sister had actually spent a year studying there, and so we booked in to a cheap Airbnb for a few days.

Whilst on our trip, we found ourselves in the Scrovegni Chapel (as the weather was not fantastic in February) but having visited it, I would recommend a trip to Padua just to see this fantastic building! The artist Giotto was commissioned by the Scrovegni family to decorate the chapel in the early 14th century and it was meant to be a private chapel attached to their home.

Scrovegni Chapel conceals 700 years worth of art within its walls. (Photographer: Rhonda Oglesby; Flickr)

Scrovegni Chapel conceals 700 years worth of art within its walls. (Photographer: Rhonda Oglesby; Flickr)

You cannot prepare for your first dazzling sight of the bright blue frescoed walls of the chapel, which are still bright after 700 years. They depict terrifying scenes of hell and poignant stories of virtues and vices, 360 degrees around the walls. We spent hours in there gazing at the various alfrescos, fascinated by the fact that Dante had probably seen and been inspired by these walls before he wrote his masterpiece Inferno. Tickets were €13 full price and €8 for students, which was pretty reasonable as access to the informative tourist centre (which explains how an alfresco is made) is also included in the ticket price.

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