Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Couple of Reasons to Visit Granada

"Not all those who wander, are lost" J.R.R. Tolkien 

I've been wanting to tell you a bit about a wonderful town in Southern Spain called Granada.  I visited Granada a couple of months ago and was very lucky because I had a local friend showing me around.  Even though I was there only for a day, I was so impressed with the city that I will have to go back and explore it without a rush.

As you may know, there is nothing better than having someone local showing you their city, for they will take you to see the real side of a town and not just the tourist circuits.  I have to confess I had not done my homework on Granada as it was not my final destination but a quick stop in my itinerary.  My impressions were pleasant and here I am sharing with you the highlights and tips that were shared with me.

If you are planning to visit Granada:

Make reservations to see the Alhambra as soon as you know you'll visit Granada.  As my friend told me, the Alhambra is the most visited tourist site in Spain, so make sure you get your tickets or you'll be missing out.  (Get your tickets here)

If you arrive really tired, do not despair, you can go to the oldest arabic baths in Granada called the Hammam Baños Arabes (click here for more info)

Take a walk (or stay) in the Albaycin neighborhood, where the Moorish influence is still alive.  Walk their narrow streets and eat and one of the local eateries.    Don't forget that eating schedules are very different than American or British ones.  In Granada people have lunch at around 3:00 in the afternoon, and restaurants may not be open earlier.  If you get hungry before the local lunch time, stop for a beer which comes with a big plate of tapas (for only a couple of Euro).  For lunch,  my friend took me to "Casa Torquato", a local eatery that I highly recommend.  We ordered local dishes and wine and the bill was surprisingly low for all we had eaten.

Because Granda's moorish heritage is still alive, you'll find Moroccan lanterns that will make your heart race.  If I had space in my suitcase I would have bought the entire store!

I hope you enjoyed today's tips, arrivederci and keep traveling!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Around Rome: So You Want to See the Pope

“We need saints without cassocks, without veils - we need saints with jeans and tennis shoes." Pope Francis

So you want to see the Pope.  Me too.  Whether you are Catholic or not, Pope Francis is the leader of the smallest country in the world and a charismatic and revolutionary figure in today's world.  His teachings are about peace, personal service and humility.  Ideals to which people from different faiths can relate.  Many Christians and non-Christians alike come to Rome to hear His teachings and receive His blessings.  So here is the breakdown on how to see the Pope.

Papal Audiences happen every Wednesday Pope Francis is in town.  You will need tickets (click here to order tickets) if you want to be closer to the outdoor altar area, but even if you didn't get a ticket, there is plenty of standing area from where you can see and hear the Pope.  If you want to be in the sitting areas, you'll have to arrive at 8:00 am or earlier.  

Everyone coming into the square will have to go through security (bags and all belongings will be X-rayed) and people have to go through a metal detector.  Once you go through security you can access the sitting area if you are there early or stand around the square.

Today I was in St. Peter's square for the audience and my friends and I chose to stand by the barriers placed to mark the path of the Pope-mobile.  What a great decision that was!  If you are first on the barrier you will see the Pope as close as you can possibly see Him.  

These summer days with intense heat, make sure to bring a hat and a bottle of water.  The audience is scheduled for 10:30 but the Pope comes out earlier and goes around the square in his Pope-mobile blessing the visitors.  After that, He will talk to the people on the square after a reading from the Bible in different languages.

How to get there:

By metro: Take line A on the Metro and get off at the Ottaviano/SanPietro metro stop.  From there it's an easy walk to Saint Peter's square. Follow the masses.
By car: Park at the Gianicolo Parking lot located at VIA URBANO VIII 16/C 00165 ROMA 

Things You Shouldn't Miss:

  • After the general audience enter Saint Peter's Basilica and marvel at Michelangelo's The Pieta and Bernini's altar.
  • Go up the steps and see Rome from the cupola of Saint Peter's basilica.  Take great pictures from there.
  • Walk through the colonnade designed by Bernini. 

If you want to see the Sistine Chapel, you'll have to leave Saint Peter's square and go to the Vatican Museums.  It's better to get your tickets on-line ahead of time (tickets here).

I hope you found this information useful.  I feel blessed by having had the opportunity to see the Pope today and wish to pass my blessings on to you. 

God bless you.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Off The Beaten Path: Arezzo

"We won! We got a thousand points and we won the game! Daddy and me came in first and now we won the real tank! We won! We won!" Giosuè Orefice, Life is Beautiful

This one is for movie lovers.  A couple of years ago, I was returning to Rome from a trip to northern Italy when my sons all of a sudden were starving! This is how it goes with teenage boys, you never get a notice of someone being a little hungry, you go from zero to starving in two seconds.  We decided to stop for lunch at the next town, whatever it might be.  After all, we were in Italy, and you never have a bad meal in Italy!  The next sign on the highway read Arezzo.

As we navegated this town, I found it extremely charming and even a little bit familiar.  While I read one of the signs with descriptions of the city square, my heart started racing as I realized the Oscar-winning movie "Life is Beautiful" was filmed in Arezzo.  No wonder it looked familiar!

I love "Life is Beautiful", if you haven't seen this heart-warming film, I highly recommend it!  It's a masterpiece of Italian cinematography.  The Academy agrees.   The famous phrase "Buongiorno Principessa" (Goodmorning princess) that you'll see adorning many Italian souvenirs,  is a quote from this film (watch the trailer here)

Arezzo is an Etruscan town and after visiting Florence and Milan with their extravagant cathedrals, the churches in Arezzo are a breath of fresh air, being their beauty their simplicity, especially the Church of Saint Francis (San Francesco). 

If you go coo-coo for ceramics make sure to stop at Aretè on Piazza Grande.  They have a wonderful selection of high relief terracotta sculptures and unique souvenirs that will remind you of your time in beautiful Tuscany.  Of course I had to ask the lady at the store for a restaurant recommendation, she sent me to Antica Osteria L'Agania.  The meal I had there was absolutely delicious.  Try their pappardelle al Cinghiale (flat long pasta with wild boar red sauce).

Between being the backdrop to an Oscar winning film, wonderful tuscan terra-cotta art, beautiful churches and amazing cuisine, Arezzo has enough charm to make it a great addition to your itinerary.  If you are not one to fight a million other tourists and want to see Italy beyond Rome, Venice and Florence,  visit Arezzo and you will not be disappointed.  Lastly, if you time your visit right and happen to be there on the first Sunday of the month, you'll be greeted by its famous antiques market

I was so mesmerized by Arezzo that I have been back a couple of times since my first hungry stop.  I hope you have a chance to visit this wonderful town too.

And that is all for now.  Arrivederci,