Sunday, September 6, 2015

France to Italy - Rivieras, trains, Da'Vinci Last supper, Milano, Venice and Firenze

We bought Eurail tickets for France and Italy. They are good for 4 days in a 2 month period, so we traveled from Paris Gare de Lyon to Nice Ville and from there took a local train to a small Italian town called Ventimiglia, and from there to our final destination Milano.
It was around a 9 hour ride total, but very entertaining. We had to run to catch the different trains and the scenery was just completely spectacular by the sea. We got to see the French Riviera as the train stopped in Cannes, Nice, Monaco, and Sanremo just to mention a few.

One thing you need to know about the Eurail is that you need to activate your pass the day you travel and write the day you are using it as you can take as many trains you want that day. (If you fail to write the day, you will be charge for a full price ticket). Also, you need to make a reservation for fast trains (€10) at any European station while all the local trains are included with the purchase of the Eurail.

At the end it has been worth it as we have taken many trains by using the pass.

The French and Italian Rivieras are gorgeous. All the small towns seem to be packed with people and the buildings have the same colors but with different color windows. There is not much sand and the beaches are full of small rocks, which looks cool but I can not imagine it is as cool as dipping your feet into warm sand!

Once we arrived to Milano Centrale, we had some good calzones and we were ready to see Leonardo Da'Vinci's The Last Supper the next day.

Yes!! The original Cenacolo Viniciano (Last Supper fresco) was painted by the Italians' very own Leonardo Da'Vinci on one of the walls of the church Santa Maria de la Grazie in the 1490s. This church has been through war and was at one point used as a stable by Napoleon's army.

They only allow 15 people every 15 minutes to see the fresco. We had to book the tickets 3 months in advance, as they sell out super fast!! And we are so glad we did!

They have a secure door system, where you have to enter by sections. This is to ensure the room temperature is adequate and to prevent dust to enter the room.

It's hard to describe what we felt, but it was one of those "wow" moments as the fresco is very big and it covers the top of the end wall of one of the rooms of the church. We ended up buying a replica which is the closest we have seen to the real thing. Here it is so you get the idea, as they don't allow taking pictures inside.

Another highlight in Milano is the Duomo, which is a big church with amazing gothic structure. I had been to the roof of it last time in Europe which was a really cool experience. 

This time we decided to walk around the big plaza that is next to basically a super fancy mall, with stores like Prada, Versace and Dior next to each other.

It's hard to not shop in Milano as it is the fashion capital of the world and there are nice shops everywhere! 

Next stop - Venice with my Amore mio!

We took a train from Milano Centrale station to Venecia Santa Lucia station. It is 2 and a half hours and completely enjoyable as we were approaching to the sea.

David and I loved to be by the beach, that is one of the reasons we are happy to move to Miami when we get back to the states. We have been talking about how so far on this journey we have been surrounded by water, however we haven't been able to get in it yet!... soon soon.. :)

Venice was a relaxing time. We didn't have anything particular planned which was nice. Venice also has tons of little shops through the cannals and one of the most enjoyable things to do is basically walk around the little streets and get lost. The architecture there is beautifull!! 

Whomever helped in planning the city, did a great job. There are buildings about 2 meters apart from each other, small doors, small windows, great old colors, wood work, and when you don't expect it, you find plaza with a huge church surrounded by coffee shops and restaurants with outside sitting.

Tons of shops also sell Murano glass art. These pieces can be really expensive and they do stuff from little earrings to big sculptures, and of course we have limited bag space, so I had to limit myself to buy just some pieces to make earrings and a necklace.

We of course had to take a gondola ride. I had taken one before when I visited last, however, I always wanted to go back with  my love (now my husband), so I can check that out on my list!

We also rode the Vaporeto (water bus) which took us around the island all the way to Piaza San Marco, where you find the cathedral and more restaurants and shops!

Summary, Venice is a really romantic city with great views and easy to explore by your own, so when in Italy, it's a must visit city for sure. At the same time, it is full of tourist during the summer, but you could easily take a walk in the little streets with no shops and see the amazing architecture without having to push people around :)

Since we are in Italy for a few weeks, we have been trying to see and do as much as we can during this time, and with the rail system in Europe, it makes it easy to get around.

Our destination was Rome, however we thought why not to stop for a couple of days in Firenze (which is how Florence is called in Italian), since it's on the way :) 

Florence has a really pretty city center, we stayed in a hotel close to the station S.M.N. One thing in Europe, especially in Italy, is that a 3 star hotel is far from the 3 star hotel standards in countries like the USA. Also, you have to keep in mind that all the buildings are very old and some don't have lifts. However, if you travel light and it's for a quick stop, it certainly works well.

As far of sightseeing goes, it's a short walk from the station to all the places you might want to see.

                       Ponte Vecchio

One of David's list was to see the original Michelangelo's sculpture of DAVID. It's located at the Galleria dell'Accademia  Apparently the idea was to have a museum with all the most representative works of Michelangelo, however, only few were brought there. The cool thing about this place is that they have some unfinished sculptures from Michelangelo, so it totally gives you the idea on how they were made and thought about from the beginning. Pretty cool to see!!

At the end of the room it's impossible to miss the sculpture of David. It's about 5 meters tall and it has impressive detail of the body. You can even see the veins of the hands and arms on the sculpture. Not to mention all muscles and even ribs are perfectly defined in this impressive representation.

Anoher thing to mention is the facial expression showing determination. One outstanding question is if the thought was to represent David getting ready to combat or if it represents David after he defeated Goliath.

Ok, no more sculpture talk, let's talk about Italian food! We have been eating pasta every chance we can (which is everyday) and It is delicious! And since Florence is in the Tuscany region which is also famous from the great sauces and pomodoros, we figured, let's take a cooking class, and we are so glad we did!!

Without much planning, we saw a cooking class in a brochure at the hotel we stayed at, so we basically reserved at 9 am and then at 10 am we were meeting the chef and the others to go to the local market.

It was a great experience! We walked to the local market, where of course the chef explained to us what to look for when buying ingredients to make an amazing meat sauce.

I also learned that good Parmesan cheeses are the ones that are at least 2 years old. Of course, the one we buy at home is just whatever comes in the package, so from now on if you want to assure to have good Parmesan cheese, you might have to buy it now and save it for few years to make sure ;)

After grocery shopping, we headed to the restaurant to cook. The menu we prepared included:
- make our own pasta noddles (from scratch)

- make meat sauce
- make chicken pate

- caprese for the entree
- and finalize making Titamissu

Let me tell you, this was one of the best pastas I have tried in my life!! We will see if we remember how to make all these things when we get back home. 

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