CITIES OF THE WORLD: BERLIN

I’m not sure about where I have to start speaking of Berlin. In February I leaved without many expectations to visit it for the first time, so I admit I’ve been taken by surprise from this city. What do you think first about Berlin? Probably the first things you remember are historical events: Second World War, the cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall…and so on.

What can I say is: you’ll find in Berlin all of these, but also much more. Strolling throught the streets of the several quarters, you’ll perceive the many souls of the city: there is a Renaissance Berlin; a contemporary one; a place where abstract and graffiti art have significance; a city which offers ideas in many fields, sometimes alternative and still a bit subversive.

Personally I was surprised by the capability of this city not to succumb to the shadows of its past: Berlin could have eclipse after the destruction and the senseless violence of the war: ever since the creation of a unified Germany in 1871, the nation’s tumultuous history has had a profound impact on the history of its capital Berlin.
Many historic neighborhoods and monuments were destroyed during the Second World War, but since the reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, historic areas like Potsdamer Platz and Pariser Platz have been completely revamped. Nowadays, Berlin is once again one of Europe’s main cities: lively, dynamic and inviting.


With the following posts, I’ll retrace my steps and accompany you across some of the salient points of Berlin, starting right now from the Castle of Charlottenburg. We arrived in the afternoon, and we started right away our exploration from this western district, even if we couldn’t visit the inside of the residence.

This is the biggest historical palace left after the Second World War in Berlin, though burned to the ground during the Second World War but it has been completely reconstructed. The palace was built at the end of the 17th century and was greatly expanded during the 18th century. It includes much exotic internal decoration in baroque and rococo styles. A large garden surrounded by woodland was added behind the palace.
Originally commissioned by Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III, and built as a modest summer residence, the Schloss still nowadays show the grandeur of the Hohenzollern dynasty who for centuries ruled over Prussia.

The central and oldest part of the palace is the domed Altes Schloss (Old Palace) Here you can visit the apartments of Frederick I and Queen Sophie Charlotte. The rooms are decorated in a sumptuous Baroque style with plenty of stucco, wood paneling, gilded ornaments and frescoes. Other interesting rooms include the Oval Room, which looks out over the garden; the opulent Schlosskapelle, a chapel with an impressive royal box; and the Porcelain Chamber, laden with more than two thousand pieces of Chinese porcelain.

to be continued…

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PALLADIAN VILLAS OF VICENZA

Hello! Today we return to Italy for a moment to talk about a little jewel I recently discovered: I’m talking about the city of Vicenza, located in Veneto region. Less famous than Verona and Venezia, undoubtly it worth a visit to discover an important side of Italian architecture.

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If you’re taking a one-day trip to Vicenza, I suggest to start early in the morning with the visit of two of the most famous Palladian Villas: Villa Valmarana ai Nani and Villa Capra (so called “La Rotonda”).
Valmarana ai Nani is a splendid architectural and artistic site, composed by three buildings connected thanks to a well-preserved vintage park. The buildings “Palazzina” (1669), Foresteria and Scuderia (1720), are surrounded by green areas based on symmetry, axial geometry and on the principle of imposing order over nature: the famous “Giardini all’Italiana”. The garden is open to all  those who visit the villa.
Palazzina and Foresteria are frescoed by Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, called in 1757 from the owner Giustino Valmarana. The Villa takes its name from the 17 stone dwarf-statues, previously scattered into the garden, and now placed on the surrounding wall of the property.

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Family Valmarana still live in the Villa, considered the maximum expression of the eighteenth century and the hightest proof of Tiepolos mastery. From the “Palazzina” building, dominated by statues of several divinities, you could enjoy a peaceful panorama on the Valletta del Silenzio,  with the Sanctuary of Monte Berico in the background.

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Villa Almerico Capra, named “La Rotonda” is achievable by walk from Villa Valmarana: designed and builded for commission from Andrea Palladio in 1570, the name “Capra” derives from the Capra brothers, who completed the building after it was given to them in 1592. From 1911 the building is owned by Family Valmarana, that opened the complex to visitors starting 1986. This building is conserved as part of the World Heritage Site “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas”.


The site selected was a hilltop just outside the city: rather than a villa, infact, you could call it a “palazzo”: the design is for a completely symmetrical building having a square plan with four facades, each of which has a projecting portico. The name La Rotonda refers to the central circular hall with its imposing dome, beautifully painted with frescoes by artists such as Anselmo Canera and Alessandro Maganza.

A full morning is enough when not crowded to visit both the villas, then in the afternoon you can head to the city center, with its beautiful and well-preserved historical buildings.

to be continued…

POSTCARDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD: BERLIN

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“Per visitare Berlino bisogna saper vedere anche quello che non c’è più e saper intuire una ingannevole realtà. Qui gli eventi sono cicatrici sul volto della storia, ma la loro capacità evocativa è intatta. A Berlino nulla resta più visibile di ciò che si cerca di cancellare.”

“To visit Berlin must be able to see what is not here anymore, and be able to grasp a deceptive reality. Here events are scars on the face of history, but their evoking ability is unaltered. In Berlin nothing remains more visible than what you are trying to delete.”

(Johann Bernhard Merian)

LONDON: A STROLL IN KENSINGTON & NOTTING HILL

Hello! In recent days we heard a lot about UK and its particular situation, after deciding to abandon UE. For me it’s still hard to imagine Great Britain no more part of Europe, but i can only assume that we’ll “absorb” what happened. Today more than ever I feel close to Londoners and I feel nostalgic about the beautiful City of London.

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This post is about the trip of my last time in London, in January 2015, and today I’ll bring you in two well-known areas not to miss if it’s your first time in the City. Today we start our stroll from Brompton Road, to take a quick look at Harrods, Mecca of the shopping centers. I’m not that passionate about department store, so I didn’t head out on the long queue at the entrance, but if you love shopping sure this is your place.

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From here you can venture into the heart of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, immediately west of the City of Westminster, real nerve center of modern London. The Borough of Kensington and Chelsea host several museum (like the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum), universities, embassies,  and lot of exclusive residential areas of the City. Continuing towards South Kensington, you could stop by the Royal Albert Hall, one of the most famous concert hall. The busy Kensigton Gore separate the Albert Hall from the Albert Memorial, another building in honor of  Albert Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria.

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In 1851, the Great Exhibition (for which the Crystal Palace was built) was held in Hyde Park. The exhibition was a great success and led Prince Albert to propose the creation of a permanent series of facilities for the enlightenment of the public in the area, which came to be known as Albertopolis. The Hall was constructed mainly of red bricks, with terra cotta block decoration. The dome on top was made of wrought iron and finally glazed.

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Before proceeding, you should go back to the City of Westminster and pay a visit to Buckingham Palace, residence and administrative headquarters of the reigning monarch of UK. If you’re lucky enough you could be present for the daily ritual of the Changing of the Guard; take a look also at the waving flag on the rooftop: when the Union Jack is lifted, the Queen isn’t in the palace: if not, you’ll see the Royal Standard flag.
During XVI/XVII centuries, Buckingham Palace was only a rural area of the city of Westminster: purchased as hunting lodge, successively it was used for the silkworm farming with King James I’s patronage. In 1700, it becomes property of Duke of  Buckingham, from which it derives the name. He builded a first abode – Buckingham House – where nowadays lies the residence. The first king to come into possession of the House was George III in 1762. The arch of Triumph, (today Marble Arch) was the entrance of the Palace: at first it was where now there is the exterior facade, but it has been removed under Queen Victoria to make some room for the enlargement of the Palace. Queen Victoria was the first to live there together with her husband, Prince Albert, and the 9 sons starting from 1837. She added new rooms, among which the Ballroom, and a brand new wing. At the death of the husband, when the court entered  a perpetual mourning, the works stopped and haven’t been completed.

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Returning in Kensington Borough, you sure will notice many residential sections – with beautiful pastel coloured houses -, of which Notting Hill is maybe the most famous; it “starts” from Notting Hill Gate, (also name of its Tube station) until Portobello Road, where takes place the characteristic market. The street took slowly its shape during XIX century, settled between the two big areas of Notting Hill and Paddington. Thanks to the rich middle class of the City, its shops and marketplaces rapidly flourished.

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Portobello Road especially owes its fame to the daily market which encourages a lot of tourists, in particular on Saturday, when also many antique dealers are taking part in it. The scenery is really cozy and familiar, thanks to the abundance of tiny shops and the Victorian architecture of the buildings.

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to be continued..

POSTCARDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD: ROME

I love Rome. I really never heard someone bringing back a negative memory about this beautiful city.

I’m always astonished by the magnificence of its monuments. So many centuries of history enclosed into few kilometres walk.

I’m always overwhelmed by the warmth of the people. Romans are open, cheerful, even a bit “caciaroni” (that means noisy), yes, and i love it.

Rome is romanticisme: walk on sunset following the Tevere River, take dinner in one of the tiny restaurants in Trastevere: is just the perfect way to end the day.

I love Rome from above: go up to the panoramic viewpoints on the Roman hills and enjoy beautiful views.

Rome is perfect just in the way “she” is, with its chaos, its imperfections, its contradictions.

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 ”How is it possible to say an unkind or irreverential word of Rome? The city of all time, and of all the world!”
  Nathaniel Hawthorne (American novelist, 1804-1864)

CITIES OF THE WORLD: LUCERNE

Hello!Today we’re heading for Luzern: must say that it was the first time being there for me, even if this city it’s just few hours drive from Italy. It’ s a city in Central Switzerland, in the German-speaking portion of the country. Located in the canton Lucerne, is the most populous city in this area.

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Due to its location on the shore of Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee), with sight of Mount Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps, Lucerne has long been a destination for tourists. One of the city’s famous landmarks is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a wooden bridge first erected in 1333 – the oldest covered bridge in Europe – although much of it had to be replaced after a fire on 18 August 1993, allegedly caused by a discarded cigarette. Part way across, the bridge runs by the octagonal Water Tower (Wasserturm), a fortification from the 13th century. Inside the bridge are a series of paintings from the 17th century depicting events from Lucerne’s history.

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Since the city straddles the Reuss where it drains the lake, it has a number of bridges. Old Town Lucerne is located just north of the Reuss, and still has several fine half-timber structures with painted fronts.

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Infact the real charm of this city is a well-preserved medieval Altstadt (Old Town) and a reputation for making beautiful music: try imagine its streets with covered bridges, sunny plazas, candy-coloured houses and waterfront promenades: quite attractive, isn’t it?

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Finally, your attention will be surely caught by the twin needle towers of the Church of St. Leodegar, which was named after the city’s patron saint, sit on a small hill just above the lake front. Originally built in 735, the present structure was erected in 1633 in the late Renaissance style. However, the towers are surviving remnants of an earlier structure. The interior is richly decorated. The church is popularly called the Hofkirche.

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IN THE HEART OF SWITZERLAND

Hello!Today I’ll bring you to two small town in the heart of Switzerland: two quiet and discrete big villages, where the time seems to stop. Strolling through the narrow streets of this two orderly places, you could feel the peacefulness and the accuracy that are always associated with Swiss people. (they’re not just stereotypes)

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The city of Bienne (or Biel), famous for the clockmaking, is located at the eastern far end of the namesake lake, in the beautiful Seeland (Lakes Area). The charm of bilingualism, the perfect conditions of the city center, and the strategic position between the three lakes at the feet of Giura Mountains (Bienne, Neuchâtel e Murten) make this city a quite interesting stop-over of a pleasant itinerary.

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Bienne is the biggest swiss city in which the utilisation of French and German language is totally equalized. This situation of “cultures mixing”, as you can imagine, brings to a certain open-mindedness of the inhabitants.

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Architecturally, Bienne presents several aspects. The modern city is located near the lake bank, while the city center, with its gothic church from the 15th century, grow on a small hill. At first sight, I totally felt in love with the colours of its facades, the tiny alleys, the characteristics rooftops: if I think about it now, some sights of this city reminded me to Brittany.

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Fribourg is the capital of the Swiss canton of Fribourg and the district La Sarine. It is located on both sides of the river Saane (Sarine), on the Swiss plateau, and is an important center on the cultural border between German and French Switzerland (Romandy). Its Old City, one of the best maintained in Switzerland, sits on a small rocky hill above the valley of the Sarine.

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Its most striking architectural element is with no doubt the Cathedral, dedicated to St. Nicolas, with its outstanding stained glass windows. The construction started in 1283 and developed in different phases; it boasts a tower about 74 meters high, from which you can enjoy a 360-degree views.

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A surrounding wall, about two km lenght, defended the city in ancient times; its existence is proved by ruins of walls, towers and a big bastion, still preserved nowadays. Several unique gothic facades of the XV century, give to the city center a matchless medieval charm.

to be continued ..

CITIES OF THE WORLD: BERNE

Hello!Finally a little time to begin talking about our last trip! Let’s start our Swiss tour from Berne, a city that I never visited before. You surely know that Bern is capital of Switzerland, and it gives name to the Canton in which is located. The official language of Bern is German, but the main spoken language is the Alemannic Swiss German dialect called Bernese German. (but just in case, they speak fluently English, French, and someone also Italian!I was amused by the fact that, while talking with people, I was not sure every time about what language I should have used).

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The etymology of the name Bern is uncertain. According to the local legend, the founder of the city of Bern, vowed to name the city after the first animal he met on the hunt, and this turned out to be a bear. The bear was the heraldic animal of the seal and coat of arms of Bern from at least the 1220s.

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The city was originally built on a hilly peninsula surrounded by the river Aare, but outgrew natural boundaries by the 19th century. As a conseguence, a number of bridges have been built to allow the city to expand beyond the Aare. Bern is built on very uneven ground. There is an elevation difference of several metres between the inner city districts on the Aare (Matte, Marzili) and the higher ones (Kirchenfeld, Länggasse). That’s why it has such scenic sights.

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The structure of Bern’s city centre is largely medieval and has been recognised by UNESCO as a Cultural World Heritage site. Perhaps its most famous sight is the Zytglogge (Bernese German for “Time Bell”), an elaborate medieval clock tower with moving puppets.

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It also has an impressive 15th century Gothic cathedral, the Munster, and a 15th-century town hall. Thanks to six kilometres (4 miles) of arcades, the old town boasts one of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe.

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Since the 16th century, the city has had a bear pit, the Bärengraben, at the far end of the Nydeggbrücke to house its heraldic animals. The currently three bears are now kept in an open-air enclosure nearby, and tourists can admire them, except when they’re in hibernation during winter time. The Federal Palace (Bundeshaus), built from 1857 to 1902, which houses the national parliament, government and part of the federal administration, can also be visited.

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Finally, if you’re interested in the character of Albert Einstein, he lived in a flat at the Kramgasse 49, the site of the Einsteinhaus, from 1903 to 1905; unluckily, this January the house was closed and we couldn’t visit it, but we visited an interesting exhibit about Einstein inside the “Historisches Museum”. It’s a bit expensive (18 CHF) but really complete, you’ll explore Switzerland through centuries visiting it, from Roman time to nowadays.

to be continued..