Category Archives: Italy

Cars, palaces, truffles, and chocolate

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TurinTurin – Torino – does not usually come to mind when you ask someone to list the top ten cities to visit in Italy. Most widely known as the car city, or Italy’s Detroit, Turin conjures images of industrial bleakness – and that’s too bad. Yes, it is the home of FIAT, a popular car brand that hides its geographic origin in the acronym that spells out Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino. But Turin is also an ancient Roman city, Augusta Taurinorum, that for centuries was the capital of the Duchy of Savoy, later the Kingdom of Sardinia, and finally in 1861 the first capital of unified Italy. And it has opulent palaces, impressive piazzas, the famous Shroud, and the grandeur of world-class restaurants, cafes, museums, theaters, and opera houses to prove it.

Nestled at the foothills of the majestic Alps (that is what the Piedmont means literally, “at the foot of the mountains”), Turin is conveniently located close to France, Switzerland, and the Italian coast. It is surrounded by Piedmontese vineyards famous for Barolo Barbaresco wines made from the Nebbiolo grape, and close to the truffle capital, Alba. A compact city center makes it easy to reach major attractions by foot. All these make Turin a wonderful place to visit and the city has been reclaiming its fame in recent years, boosted by hosting the 2006 Winter Olympics. Ready for a quick tour? Read the rest of this entry

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Bella Roma

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JP II canonization

Crowds gathered at the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII (Image: CNN)

Santo subito! – Saint now! the crowds of faithful gathered in Rome were demanding at the Polish Pope John Paul II’s funeral on April 8, 2005. Last Sunday, these calls were answered when John Paul II, along with John XXIII were canonized by Pope Francis in an unprecedented ceremony in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican. For Poles in particular – religious or not – this was a special day. John Paul II was “our” pope, for people from my generation the only pope we’d ever known, a source of spiritual strength in bleak communist reality of Poland at the time, and a source of inspiration to millions that helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Not surprisingly, during the days surrounding the canonization ceremony Rome became a Polish city with thousands of pilgrims from Poland flocking to the Italian capital. Read the rest of this entry

In love with Verona

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Juliet's balcony in Verona

Juliet’s balcony in Verona

Seeing a superb performance of Romeo and Juliet directed by Aaron Posner at Washington DC’s beautiful Folger Theatre took me back to summer days in Verona. Before I went there I really knew nothing about this city beyond its association with Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. Verona surprised me, charmed me, exceeded expectations in every way. I was anticipating a mini-Disneyland with Romeo & Juliet-themed rides. I found a city rich in history and and points of interest beyond the famed Juliet’s balcony (which by the way is a tourist zoo).

Juliet’s house at Via Cappello 23 (Casa di Giulietta), dating back to the 13th century and owned by the family dell Capello, is usually the first stop on everybody’s Verona itinerary. Never mind that we’re not really sure whether Romeo and Juliet ever existed and that the balcony that overlooks the courtyard was added in the 20th century. Capello apparently sounds close enough to Capulet and that’s sufficient to create a tourist craze. Read the rest of this entry

Mysteries of the Vatican

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St. Peter's SquareWith the conclave electing the new pope about to begin, Vatican is at the center of attention. This tiny state in the Eternal City of Rome occupies only about 44 hectares yet wields tremendous power over the Catholic faithful that stretches around the world. Although Vatican City has existed in its current form only since 1929, its history goes back to the very roots of Christianity as it evolved from a persecuted sect within the Roman Empire to an empire of its own, with popes for centuries equal to kings. Prior to the unification of Italy, popes ruled over the extensive Papal States. Vatican is all that’s left of them today, reducing the pope’s power from considerably temporal, or worldly, to more purely spiritual. Read the rest of this entry