All posts by Elena

Italian Opera Houses – the Ultimate Opera Experience

If you wish to experience opera in all its old world charm and glory, there is nowhere else for it than the birth place of opera, Italy. Some of the opera houses of Italy date back to the Middle Ages, but have been retained to preserve all their eternal and timeless enchantment. The live performance of opera in one of these opera houses is an ethereal experience that can enthrall even the harshest critic of this classic art form.

An opera time in Italy begins from October and extends to April or March with alfresco performances being held during summer season. Almost every major Italian city has an opera house, a fact that bears testimony to the deep and abiding link between this ageless art form and Italy. Now, let’s traverse through some famous opera houses of this enchanting country.

Teatro Alla Scala

Any study of the history of Italian opera should begin at Teatro Alla Scala, the famous opera house of Milan. The creation of the famous Giuseppe Piermarini, the theater originally started in the year 1778. It witnessed some of the most renowned operas of the world. The second World War left its scars on this grant edifice. A year after the war, it was reopened and once again regained its reputation as one of the premier houses of Italian opera. The present façade is the result of another extensive renovation in 2004.

Teatro La Fenice

Venetian homage to opera is the Teatro La Fenice which has virtually mirrored its namesake the Phoenix with the theatre being twice gutted by fire in its more than 230 years of history. Both the times it was reborn with more beauty to enchant the world of opera. A recent restoration has added to the timeless quality of La Fenice.

Teatro San Carlo

From Venice to Naples, we have reached the opera house in Italy, the Teatro San Carlo, which is the oldest one. It was established in 1737 and was the birth place of ballet which was performed during the breaks between the opera performances. Even today the theater holds opera, short comic and ballet performances.

Teatro Massimo

Palermo in Sicily has the unique distinction of having one of the most excellent and foremost opera houses in Europe, the Teatro Massimo. The commencement of Palermo’s famous belle époque can be traced back to the opening of the Massimo in 1897. The opera house still stages some of the best in opera, music and ballet.

Teatro Comunale di Bologna

The city of Bologna houses one of the oldest opera houses in Italy, the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. The theatre is a breathtaking tribute to eighteenth century baroque-style architecture and is situated in the center of the historic district of Bologna. It offers its services to opera, symphony and ballet performances.

Teatro Regio di Parma – Teatro Verdi

The Teatro Regio di Parma – Teatro Verdi is Parma’s contribution to opera. This theatre, constructed in the year 1829, follows the neo-classical architectural style and is decorated in rich stucco and golden designs. Opera, drama, dance and concerts are held even today. The theater also hosts special events.

Teatro Verdi di Pisa

The city of Pisa houses not just the Leaning Tower. It is also the location of Teatro Verdi, famed as magnificent and breathtaking theaters ever in the central part of Italy. This 900-seater structure was opened to the public in 1867. The impressive fresco that adorns the ceiling of the theatre is as grandiose as the performances that are staged under it.

Teatro Regio Torino

And now we have reached the city of Turin to visit the Famous Teatro Regio Torino inside Piazza Castello. Originally constructed in the 19th century, the theater got demolished in a fire in the year 1936. It was rebuilt in 1973 and presently is very popular for its opera performances, musicals and plays.

Teatro dell’opera di Roma

The breathtaking Rome has another enticing treat to its credit, the classy Teatro dell’opera di Roma. The theater has been the setting for many depictions of this classical art form. The season of summer is famous for the amazing opera performances under the star studded sky of the Baths of Caracalla.

When in Italy, take some time out to catch an opera performance in one of these ageless wonders to understand the true essence of opera.

Venice, the Incomparable Mermaid of Italy

When you go to Italy you should definitely pay a visit to that grand old lady, Venice. It’s one visit which you would never regret and cherish forever. Venice spreads over the inland water bodies of Italy like a beautiful mermaid enticing and charming all those who have had luck to fall under her spell.

Venice is the only pedestrian city in the world. The first thing that you would notice when you land here is the total absence of cars. Yes, if you wish to truly experience Venice, the best way to do it is on foot. You can either do it with help of licensed tourist guides, or you can just follow the crowd of tourists who are everywhere.

Another way to move around the city is by using the public water transports or the vaporettis and water taxis, or you can explore taking a gondola ride which is definitely not the cheapest (80 Euro for an 1-hour tour) but definitely the most romantic way.  Now let’s travel across the heart of Venice to enjoy the many tourist fares that she has to offer us.

The Canal Grande

The Grand Canal (or the Canal Grande in Italian) is the largest canal in the city spreading out for a length of 3.8 kilometers. The Grand Canal is the most beautiful of Venetian streets. It is the best means to see some of the most spectacular and amazing architectural marvels of the city. As you cruise down the canal, you get to see the breathtaking facades of the Basilica de Santa Maria Della Salute, the Accademia Gallery, the Corner-Spinelli and Grimnai palaces and the Ca’d’Oro and the Grassi.

The Grand Canal is crossed by three bridges – three architectural beauties – the Accademia, Rialto and the Scalzi Rialto and is flanked by double rows of shops that is the delight for any visitor.

And one thing that you should never miss on a visit to Venice – a gondola ride through the Grand Canal on a moon lit night. There is nothing more romantic than a slow cruise through the silver splendor of the Grand Canal when you are being serenaded by the gondola rider. This is one experience that you would never want to forgo.

The Piazza San Marco

The grandest square in Venice is Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). It’s said that if you sit in one of the wayside cafes of Piazza San Marco, you can see the whole world pass by. The square is a perpetual mass of moving human bodies and flying pigeons (you can’t leave the piazza without feeding pigeons; it is almost like a ritual for every single tourist who visits Venice). Piazza San Marco is dominated by two of the most famous attractions of Venice, the Basilica San Marco and the Doge’s Palace. The Basilica is a beautiful and statuesque construction that houses the Tomb of Saint Mark (San Marco). It is a unique architectural combination of Byzantine, Romanesque and Arabesque styles that accounts for its attraction.

Venice is resplendent with churches that, in addition to being sacred are also architectural marvels. So, let’s take a quick detour to visit them.

Basilica de Santa Maira Gloriosa Dei Frari

This monumental church built in gothic style is not just a place of worship but is also an exquisite paradise for art lovers with its countless works of art which includes the altarpiece of Assumption that has been designed by the famous Titian and a wooden statue  sculpted by the inimitable Donatello.

Basilica de Santa Maria Della Salute

The Basilica de Santa Maria Della Salute (St. Mary of Salvation) is one of the most famous landmarks of Venice. The enormous white dome of the basilica dominates the skyline from the Grand Canal. The church has been constructed in the octagonal shape and has been built partly using marmarino, a brick that is covered with marble dust. This makes the water reflect on the bright surface and is a sight to behold at night.

The Island of Murano

Murano ‑ the island of glass. A visit to Venice is incomplete without a water ride to this island which is the home to Venice’s glass blowing industry. The shops which are open round the year can be a budget shopper’s nightmare, but bargaining is the norm here. So don’t hesitate to try out your skills in Italian.

This bewitching mermaid of Italy would entice you with the exceptional fares that she has laid for your enjoyment. So do visit Venice and come back with memories worth of a lifetime.

Top 5 Places While Visiting Rome

The city of Rome is one of the most significant and enriching destinations on the planet.  The capital of Italy and its history, exude undiscovered places which become a true gem for archeologists.

Rome can be a vast maze for any first time or returning traveler as there are so many historic sites to take in.  To set in motion your itinerary, here are destinations which should be on any traveler’s must see list while in Rome.

Trevi Fountain

One of the most famous attractions is the Trevi Fountain.  This isn’t your typical fountain.

This baroque style water structure is featured in many films, and spans 20 meters (65 feet 71332 inches) wide and 26 meters (85 feet 3⅝ inches) high.

Engineers of that time completed the structure in 1762, which is considered modern times compared to other historic sites and structures in Rome.

Fable has it that if you turn your back to the fountain, make a wish, and using your right hand, over your left shoulder, throw a coin into the water, you are assured a return trip to Rome.

This destination is a hub for tourists so be prepared for large crowds.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum, though quite touristy, is the last of its kind, and in terms of size, remains the largest in Roman history.

It is a massive structure, with an oval design, standing 156 meters (510 ft / 528 Roman feet) wide; 189 meters (615 ft / 640 Roman feet) long; and utilizes 6 acres for its base.

In its prime, the amphitheatre could seat up to 50,000 spectators.  During the height of the Roman Empire – around 90 AD, it was used for a number of purposes including:  re-enactments of classic combats, animal hunts, mock sea combats, dramas which were based on Classical mythology, and probably most famous – gladiator competitions.

By the Middle Ages, the Colosseum was no longer used for this type of entertainment.

During Medieval and Modern times (6th – 17th centuries), the building was used as workshops, for bullfights, housing, a quarry, quarters for a religious order, and a Christian shrine.

When visiting this massive structure, be prepared for long lines, as it is a famous tourist destination and many, many tourists visit the structure daily.

The Pantheon

This building, which was built around 126 AD, was custom built by Marcus Agrippa as a temple, representing all the gods of ancient Rome.

The dome of the Pantheon is ranked as the largest unreinforced concrete dome, in the world.  It stands 43.3 meters (142 ft.)

This structure is a must-see while in Rome.  Located on the northeast side of the city, near the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, as compared to other ancient Roman buildings, has been very well preserved.

As this building has been occupied for over 2,000 years, you are treated to a step back in time, walking on marble floors that were meandered through by ancient Romans those many years ago.

The Pantheon is currently used as a church, and two of Italy’s kings, and a queen are buried here:  Umberto I and Vittorio Emanuele II, and Umberto’s Queen, Margherita.

Tours of Vatican City

There are so many wonderful and awe-inspiring sites to visit in Vatican City that it is most practical to enlist in a guided tour.

It’s one thing to marvel at historical sites, but to understand the significance and what you’re marveling at, is an entirely different intensity.

St. Peter’s Basilica is the central peak of a tour to Vatican City, primarily because it’s the world’s representation of this historical city-state.  This stunning Basilica is remarkable on a level that a small number of buildings and structures can contend with.

It may even be the highlight of your stay in Rome.

A tour will also help you find your way through the Vatican Museums.

Discover treasures from the East, Egypt, Etruria, ancient Roman sculptures, and the world-renowned painted ceiling – the Sistine Chapel.

St. Peter’s Basilica is the quintessential image of Catholicism, and of Vatican City itself.

It is utterly amazing and worth a visit no matter your religious beliefs.

Lastly, inspired by the book, Angels and Demons, by author, Dan Brown, the Angels and Demons Secret Vatican Tour is truly magnificent and worth a stop-over. 

Palantine Hill and the Roman Forums

Palantine Hill, Roman and Imperial Forums, are no longer present in its original glory.

But they are ruins which offer significant clues and insight into the Romans of old.     

Many visitors visualize themselves during ancient Roman times, amongst the Romans and how they lived.

There are numerous guide books such as the Oxford Archaeological Guide to Rome by Amanda Claridge, which can map out, offer pictures and diagrams to help transport you back in time, imagining the ruins as they once were during ancient Roman civilization.

Palantine Hill is also a great place to picnic and take in this historic site.

Rome is a place where you can taste the times gone by through its ancient sites, and culture.  Lose yourself in its iconic structures and become a part of the many that have discovered this remarkable revered city.

Top 5 Places to Visit While in Italy

There are so many beautiful, romantic, and historic places to visit while in Italy.  In fact, compared to other major countries, Italy boasts more World Heritage Sites than any other.

Italy is a tourist wonderland filled with some of the most intriguing, dynamic and culturally stimulating places on the planet. Scenic coastlines, regal lakes, mountains and superior art, not to mention the incredibly fragrant cuisine, are nothing less than a visitor’s dream paradise.

When traveling to Italy, its best to focus on regions that will offer you a diverse, pleasurable and satisfying experience.

Rome

The very first stop should be the Colosseum. This monumental structure – an oval shaped amphitheatre, is the most popular tourist attraction in Italy.  The Colosseum can be dated back to 70 to 82 AD, and was able to hold 50,000 viewers as they watched many events including the infamous “Fight of Gladiators.”

Another famous structure and monument in Rome is the Vatican, the official home of the Pope.

Aside from its religious significance, the Vatican attracts a vast number of tourists due to its captivating architecture.  The Sistine Chapel, which was painted by Michelangelo is an architectural wonder in itself with its impressive dome structure and mirrors.  Why mirrors?  Mirrors are used to make it easy for you to view the amazing architecture without straining your neck or back.

Many travelers who have been to Italy say you haven’t experienced Italy until you’ve thrown a coin in the Trevi Fountain!

Venice

A trip to Italy must include the Grand Canal in Venice.  As it sits on a bed of water, Venice embodies incredible canals which form main traffic passages throughout the city.  The best way to take in the Grand Canal is by water bus or private water taxi.  However, the ultimate romantic experience is viewing Venice by gondola.

Other fascinating sites include Neoclassic and Byzantine 13th to 18th century architecture.  Stop by the Doge’s Palace to experience wonderful art including frescoes and carvings.  This is also the palace which held captive, Casanova, the infamous lover and con artist.

It’s also worth seeing the Bridge of Sighs.  With its beautiful white limestone base and stone bars, it over overlooks the Rio di Palazzo and adjoins to the old prisons and interrogation room within Doge’s Palace.

Capri

The Island of Capri is quite simply put, a glorious oasis!  This destination, which is a hot spot for celebrities, covers beautiful beaches, lots of warm sunshine and a relaxing atmosphere.

Tour the island by boat to experience its crystal blue waters; lush flora and rich in fauna; and its many creeks, caves and bays. 

Pisa

The Pisa Cathedral is the highlight of this great city.  The famed Cathedral which is tiled and freestanding, was constructed back in 1173 but the structure began sinking by 1178.  With construction continuing some 100 years later, engineers attempted to balance the tower by building floors which were higher on one side versus the other.

The structure’s maximum height is 186 ft (57 meters) at one end and stands 183 ft (56 meters) on the other.

Now that Pisa Cathedral was been steadied using displaced excavated soil and counterweights, visitors and tourists may climb to the top and take in a grand view of Pisa.  

Florence

With its archaic buildings and striking flower gardens, this medieval town features an array of colored marble with various masterpiece highlights from Michelangelo.

A must see is the Rose Garden which is within close proximity to Michelangelo Square, as well as the Boboli Gardens at the Pitt Palace.

Speaking of Michelangelo, you’ll find the tombs of the famed painter as well as the renowned scientist, Galileo – all in Florence.

Another wonderful architectural piece of mastery is the 17 ft (5.2 meters) Statue of David located at the Accademia Galleria.

Experiencing Florence is indulging one’s self in the local Florentine Cuisine.  Many restaurants feature traditional Tuscan food rich with local produce, beans, grilled meats and mild cheeses.

Some dishes to consider are:  Crostini di fegato – Chicken liver crostini, Fettunta – Toasted bread with olive oil, Lasagne al Forno – Lasagna, Ravioli nudi – Naked ravioli, Pasta e fagioli – Pasta with beans, Ribollita – Vegetable and bread soup, and Trippa all fiorentina – Florentine-style tripe.

Italy as a Travel Destination

Overview of Italian History

After 21 years of fascist rule, Italy developed into a Republic following the result of an accepted referendum held on June 2, 1946.

Today, this date is celebrated by way of Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day) – Italy memorializes June 2nd of each year paying homage to the referendum seized by universal suffrage when the Italians were entitled to make a decision about the form of government by way of voting.

Climate

Italy is typically thought of as a region with sunny skies and warm temperatures. Though, the region’s climate differs depending upon the location.

The majority of the inland northern areas of Italy illustrate mild and muggy conditions, while the Po Valley bears sweltering summers and severe winters.  Spring and autumn are quite nice with the occasional hailstorm or minor tornado.

Areas along the coast consist of dry hot summers and mild wet winters.  In the higher elevations of the region, you can expect cooler temperatures and many times snow, during the winter months.

Visas & Passports

If you are a tourist visiting Italy; or you maintain citizenship within one of the 27 countries who are a part of the European Union (EU), AND your trip to Italy will be 90 days or less, you aren’t required to possess a visa.  Although be aware of the following.

  • Be sure to check the legality or validity of your passport as it should be good for at least 90 days from the point in which you arrive in Italy.  It is highly suggested that your passport is valid for at least 6 months prior to your trip.
  • Be sure that your passport has sufficient blank or unused pages, at least 2 pages, permitting for any essential stamps for departures and arrivals.
  • Always check with your airline to be sure you will not be required to carry a transit visa.  When you are flying overseas, and you are subject to layovers or connecting flights; passing through other countries as part of your travel to Italy, those countries may require a transit visa, so be sure to check with your airline if this will be the case.
  • Lastly, always check with your local consulate prior to your journey to Italy for any visa updates or changes in regulation.

Currency in Italy

Currently, Italy accepts and uses the Euro.  Euro bills are in increments of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500.  Coins are in cent increments of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50.

While in Italy, you will be able to use your Credit Card.  The fees are comparable to what you would be charged if you were using your card within your hometown.   It is advisable that you utilize your credit card to avoid high rates or fees.  Though some places may not accept credit cards and in this case it’s best to have euro on hand.

Withdrawing Italian Euro from an Italian Bank’s ATM machine, using your bankcard is also another option.  The fees or rates are slightly higher than if you were to use a credit card.

When exchanging travelers checks or currency, always exchange your money at a bank or if you hold an American Express card, at the local American Express office.  If you have time and are interested in getting the most out of your money, shop different banks to get the best exchange rate.  With each bank they will carry charts displaying exchange rates, look for the highest number in the “buying dollars” column.  Be sure to also factor in the commission fee.

NEVER exchange money on the streets or use multi-national bill-to-bill changer machines – they are extremely expensive and are frowned upon as scams.

The Language

While in Italy you would speak Italian of course!  Easier said, than done for sure!  Italian is distinguished by its dialects and accents.  Most towns and villages carry their own dialects and accents significant to the region.  As a traveler to Italy, it’s always best to learn a few phrases to minimize the language barrier.  

 

Traveling to Italy

You are able to access Italy via plane or ship.  By plane is most likely the least expensive.  It’s important to check rates so that you’re getting the best price – if possible, to access the best rates, always book a couple of months in advance.

Depending upon where you will begin your Italian adventure, there are several major airports:

Milan Linate International Airport (LIN); Milan Malpensa International Airport (MXP); Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (FCO); Trieste International Airport (TRS) Palermo International Airport (PMO)

Once you arrive in Italy, the region is accessible via local bus or train.  Hiring a private driver can also be beneficial as they are always very knowledgeable about the region and its attractions.

Cities to Visit While in Italy

To get the most out of your sight-seeing Italian adventure, the must-see cities are:

  • Rome – full of history with stunning fountains, medieval churches, museums and palaces
  • Florence – an incredible piazza, gardens and medici palaces, museums full of world famous sculptures and paintings
  • Venice – the floating city; one of the most romantic cities
  • Naples – vibrant city with historical and creative riches
  • Milan – stylish galleries, restaurants and shops