Colors of Autumn in Italy

Colors of Autumn in Italy

Temperatures have dropped drastically and the cold wind sets in. But the Fall season is still my favorite time of the year. Most of the tourists have gone home; it’s quiet and tranquil on the lake again.

(Click on pictures to enlarge the gallery.)

In November, I do tend to get homesick for the Philippines and sounds of Christmas music. But here, arriving in the post is something to warm my heart: the new book published by my good friend, Ida Calumpang. “Textiles of the Philippines” is her hand-painted illustrations of traditional textile patterns from the islands. Beautiful work by a beautiful artist.

A little gift of home from across the seas. It keeps me connected somehow.

Wishing you a blissful November!

Ostuni, The White City

Ostuni, The White City

Ostuni white city

Photo credit: http://www.masseriatutosa.it

In Puglia, we chanced upon a tiny, but wonderful city called Ostuni. Just eight kilometers from the Adriatic Sea, some call it La Città Bianca, or the White City.

 

What made seeing Ostuni even more of a delight, was that this stopover wasn’t even planned. After seeing Genoa, Pisa, Rome, and all the western coast, we headed to Stromboli.

 

Then, after Sicily, we made our way up the inner arch of Italy’s “boot”, towards the heel and eastern coast. Looking for a place to spend the night, we just happened to choose Ostuni on Google maps. The apartment we found promised a “local experience”, in a traditional stone house, in a city I’d never heard about before.

Photo credit: www.relaxpuglia.com

A 2,500-Year-Old Marvel

 

The road leading from the coast to Ostuni is lined with lush olive groves. Approaching the hilltop city, it gleamed a brilliant white in the sun. If you’re not expecting such a sight, it’s simply stunning.

 

 

Once inside the low-roofed stone house, we realized the “apartment” was tiny and overpriced—but too late to cancel our booking. The bathroom floor sloped downwards, and shower attempts ended up with the bedroom pavement getting soaked. The even tinier kitchen lacked cooking equipment, but we made do. Buying fresh seafood from the local fish market, we cooked dinner in the stone house and declared an early bedtime.

 

Ostuni travel

 

Of course, my kids didn’t mind–it was all a new, fun experience! When the two had settled down for the night, I left them in their capable dad’s watch, and made my way alone to the centro storico, exploring on my own.

 

Midnight Markets and More

 

sketchbook journeys nyx martinez ostuni

 

Soft, soulful jazz music drew me to a wine bar near the main Piazza, where I found the perfect corner to sit, sketch and people-watch. The waiter told me how the city came to be painted all white.

 

“Because of the Plague,” he said. During the Plague of 1657, it was believed that the city was preserved because of the lime mixed with white-wash, with which the homes were painted. “But now it’s just more a tourist thing,” he quipped.

 

Ostuni’s labyrinth of mazes presents the perfect place for journeyers to get lost. They say the city was built with no real plan, as is evident in the way that many paths lead to a dead end, while others continue in spiraled mazes and webs.

 

I loved the chance to explore the city by night, alone, with only a wine glass for company. Being a mom means my days and holidays are hardly “peaceful and quiet”, so the effort to enjoy even just a few hours on my own is happiness.

 

Leaving the wine bar later, I passed by the fish market where we’d been in the late afternoon. Whereas before, it was quiet and empty, now it was buzzing with life.

 

A new truckload of fresh fish—giant lobsters, tuna, and mussels—had been delivered, and the open freezers were overflowing with the catch.

 

People crammed the Pescheria to place their orders, while inside an adjoined restaurant, diners lingered over seafood delicacies. The market was the perfect place to peek into local atmosphere, and having no expectations of the city meant I was in for a pleasant surprise.

 

How could I resist the chance to have a midnight snack? I selected cozze gratinate alla pugliese, the local breaded and baked mussels delicacy.

 

Again alone, I dined, scribbling notes about our journey; both the mishaps and marvels. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like, traveling the world by myself again…for a few moments, I enjoy the solitude…

 

nyx martinez art ostuni

 

But then, just as suddenly, I miss my children and husband and look forward to going home to them.

 

The fantasy of solo travel lasts only a few minutes and is replaced with the wonderful realization: the blessing it is to discover the world together, as a family.

 

Ostuni Puglia travel

 

 

 

Ostuni Travel Puglia

 

 

 

Ostuni Puglia travel

 

(Getting to Ostuni:)

 

We approached Ostuni by driving up from the south near Taranto. But if you’re flying into Italy, you can reach the white city easily from the Brindisi or Bari airports. Brindisi is about 30 minutes drive, or 25 km away, while Bari is an hour with a car, or 100 km.

 

Fun Fact: The city of Matera, just 124 km from Ostuni, was the setting for Mel Gibson’s controversial film, Passion of Christ. Its white walls, similar to those of Ostuni’s resemble the Biblical Jerusalem.

 

The actor/director said: “Certain sections of the city are 2,000 years old, and the architecture, the blocks of stone, the surrounding areas and rocky terrain added a vista and backdrop that we [used] to create the backdrops for our lavish sets of Jerusalem. We relied heavily on the look that was there. In fact, the first time I saw it, I just went crazy, because it was so perfect.” (Source: http://www.iitaly.org)

 

Visiting Pompeii, A City Captured in Time

Visiting Pompeii, A City Captured in Time

Pompeii travel

Gates to the ruins open at 8am. Best time to see and feel the ancient city.

It’s a very eerie feeling, stepping into an actual ghost town.

Everything is as it once stood…rows of identical homes…mazes of stone streets…water fountains which once quenched the children’s thirst. The temples, dedicated sanctuaries…the markets, common meeting-places. The etched graffiti, ancient forms of social networking. The amphitheater where gladiators fought and died.

Pompeii travel

Mount Vesuvius in the background of Pompeii ruins.

And looming above it all, Mount Vesuvius, still active and trembling to this day,

The Pompeii ruins are an entire city, excavated and preserved in the Campania region of Italy. Buried by the volcanic eruption in 79 AD, it lay covered for over 1,600 years. In 1748, the first big excavations began. But of the settlement’s 66 hectares, only 44 have been revealed.

The best time to see and experience the ruins of Pompeii is at 8:30 in the morning. Try to get there when its gates first open. You’ll escape the crowds that tend to gather at midday, the tourists with selfie sticks and tour guides waving flags.

The early light also has a dramatic effect on the giant sculptures, buildings and crumbled stones.

In those early morning hours, you’ll also escape the intense summer heat which pounds the city by 10am. The glory that was once Pompeii may be mostly in ruins, but from the stone ovens and common baths, the temples and gardens, you’ll get a sense of life that once was.

Pompeii frescoes

Of all the frescoes, mosaics and art in Pompeii, this portrait of a child on the walls of one home, impacted me most.

Pompeii was one of the places in Italy I’ve always wanted to see. It was with awe and reverence that I stood, sketched and tried to grasp the reality of this place.

Pompeii streets

You’ll see giant stone slabs everywhere. These were the old pedestrian crossings, to enable Pompeii’s inhabitants to walk without soiling their feet when rainwater muddied the streets.

My children skipped between the giant stones which create passageways and bridges between the streets. They explored the mazes of houses, aware that in the background, stood Vesuvius. That powerful, destructive volcano.

Pompeii travel

Standing on Pompeii’s grounds felt surreal.

Large stones, fitted together, made up Pompeii’s streets .

Pompeii Travel

A part of a home in Pompeii–colorful art, mosaics and frescoes still adorn some walls.

 

 

From Pompeii, we continued along the Bay of Naples. Our next stop was the Archaeological Museum of Naples, following the buried city’s treasures.

Pompeii Travel

Things to know before you go:

  • Wear good walking shoes. Luckily, I’d picked up a super comfy pair of Flexx sandals in Rome the day before. What a good investment!
  • There is one cafeteria onsite, but you can save by bringing bottled water on your walk.
  • Go early. In Summer, the sun is very hot already by 10am.
  • Lucia is a professional tour guide, who gave me some great tips via phone the night before. If you book a tour, expect 2-3 hours tour. The city is huge, and we only got to see a fourth of it.
  • Bring an ID—passport or driver’s license. You will be required to deposit your ID in exchange for an audio guide.
  • Where to Stay: We booked “Apartment Pompei Wellness”, just walking distance from the city ruins. They have a gym, modern amenities, and a terrace. (Viale Giuseppe Mazzini, 108)
Pompeii mosaics

Detail of a floor mosaic in one of Pompeii’s homes.

modern day Pompeii

View of modern-day Pompeii City (outside the ruins) by night. e had a great rooftop terrace view to have dinner and watch the sun settle over the lively city.

…Next stop, Naples!

Seeing Italy: The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Seeing Italy: The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Leaning tower of Pisa

Up close with the leaning tower of Pisa, one realizes the iconic structure is pretty tiny. Tourists with selfie-sticks, groups of stumbling visitors, and street-sellers add to the busy hum in the Piazza dei Miracoli. We’d paid a one-hour parking ticket just to see it but then ended up getting lost on our way back out the complex.

Traveling through Italy is both familiar and foreign.

Our kids both speak the language fluently but have to follow their inter-racial, tongue-tied parents around. When we really can’t communicate or get lost, we send them to ask questions and directions. It works out pretty nicely.

Folks are usually confused/amused and then relieved and pleasantly surprised when they hear the kids.

The city of Pisa is like many medieval cities this side of Italy. Romanesque churches, clusters of bars and pizzerias lining the streets, peddlers, and tourists. We only stayed for a couple of hours, because the rest of the country’s coast is calling.

 

Experiencing Italy: Our Adventure Begins!

Experiencing Italy: Our Adventure Begins!

The goal is a little ambitious: to see as much of the Italian coast as we can while the kids are on summer school break!

We started out on the west coast, heading from Milan straight to Genoa, then crawling back up north to do the entire stretch from the Italian Riviera. These first pictures are in Genoa. More adventures to come!

Our two kids, who speak fluent Italian, are great to have as translators. We’ve brought a tent and sleeping bags, embarking on the most spontaneous adventure we’ve ever set out to have in our 8 years as a family.

I woke up today in a beautiful Agriturismo in the hills of Savona. I’m anticipating lots of fun, challenge, mishaps, and maybe still married by the end of this summer adventure lol!

Survived days 1 and 2 in Liguria, lots more to go, 😂 kids are having a blast… will try to post updates when there’s WiFi and charged devices.

Come along and experience Italy with us!

Discovering Ferrara!

Discovering Ferrara!

Ferrara travel
Ferrara took me and my sketchbook by surprise.
 
On a whim, I decided to go with Ellie, my four-year-old, on a trip to a city I’d never been before, much less heard of. It was for the fifth edition of the Autori Diari di Viaggio Festival, or Travel Diaries Festival. A three-day event with workshops, exhibitions and art!  
I knew I had to go.  I wanted to sketch and meet other artists.
 
Ellie knew she wanted to go to eat.
 Ferrara Travel
ferrara travel
 
Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage site in the beautiful Emilia-Romagna region was like walking straight into a medieval storybook. A fortified castle looms over the city center. It’s complete with a moat, drawbridges, towers and a dungeon.
Ferrara Travel
 
In the town center, mazes of cobblestone paths and arches hide hidden passages. Brick housing and terracotta roofs line the tiny streets. The shopping is good: everything from luxury clothing to artisanal wares and Italian patented shoes. 
Travel with a Kid Makes You Stop and Notice 
Perhaps because of her short level, Ellie paid a lot of attention to the ground. She was constantly asking me how the stones “got this way”, or how these designs below her feet were shaped and built and cut.
 While most visitors to the castle look up and marvel at the colorful frescoes, we spent a lot of time marveling at the tiles and mosaics she kept pointing out below.
Of course, it’s possible to visit Italy and do nothing but eat and drink. And when traveling with a young child, it’s almost better to visit as little museums as possible.
 
You may notice instantly, the coppia Ferarese, fragrant, twisted bread loaves. My first dinner was cappellacci alla zucca, pillows of egg-based ravioli. And thanks to my kid, we found the characteristic restaurant, Osteria I Quattro Angeli. When in Ferrara, come here for the most delicious Tagliatelle al Ragu ever.
 
Ferrara’s mignons were so pretty to draw! Bite-sized bursts of pleasure. Mini cakes and creamy pastries, paired perfectly with a shot of espresso, or glass of prosecco.
Ferrara Food
 
Stumbling on The Oldest Wine Bar in the World
 
In 1982, Olivier Bernier wrote about this ducal city. “And still there are squares and hidden churches. Just forget your map, allow yourself to get lost and you will find them.”
 
And that was how Ellie and I wandered down Via Della Volta Street.
 
Little did we know, we were treading one of the oldest streets in Italy—possibly in Europe! To stop and sketch (and drink), we chose Al Brindisi. We only found out upon our return home that it’s listed in Guinness Book of Records as the oldest wine bar in the world!
 
There is no better teacher than a child to show you how to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. In Ferrara, we’d come without a plan or travel itinerary. And we found fun everywhere.
 
***
Hotel Nazionale Ferrara
 
Active travelers may want to do more than we did. Because we were just commuting, we chose a hotel in the center of everything, very easy to get around on foot.
But you can rent a bike and head for the outer walls of the city, where there are nine kilometers of biking trails. For more art and culture, Palazzo Dei Diamanti has ongoing exhibitions. During summer, the seven Comacchio beaches draw the sunbathers. To see even more of the lush area, join a motorboat cruise along the Po River.
 
Stay: Hotel Nazionale (Corso Porta Reno, 32/Tel: 0532 243596)
 
This boutique hotel in the historical center is a stone’s throw from the Este castle. Stylish rooms, allergy-free furnishings, chromo-therapy showers and a breakfast buffet. Doubles from €103
 
Drink and Dine: Osteria I Quattro Angeli (Piazza Castello, 10) or Al Brindisi (Enoteca Via Guglielmo degli Adelardi, 11)
 
 
Tel: +39 0532 209370
 
Fax: +39 0532 212266
 
 
www.ferraraterraeacqua.it