In Photos: Views from the Santa Maria del Fiore

Two of my favourite shots – both from the top of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence – are almost as good as gone.

At the beginning of my first trip with a proper DSLR in hand, I was so intent on keeping on top of my photos – going through them, organizing them, deleting the clearly unusable ones – that I got a bit ‘delete’ happy. I’d not only delete the photos that didn’t have the composition or subject I cared for at the moment, but I also deleted the originals (so much facepalm) after I edited and saved the photos I wanted to post.

Hence the filter coated lower quality version of the feature image above and the Campagnile (bell tower) below. Here’s a look back at them along with some other images from above.

To Siena for Lunch: The Palio Victory Parade

We’re all about side trips and spontaneity here, and just as we weren’t expecting to go to Stuttgart after Poland, we sure weren’t expecting to find ourselves in Siena while in Italy!

Typical view in Siena - Anywhere Bound
Wide hilly winding alleyways typical of Siena

After a much quieter than expected day in the little Veneto town of Cornuda, Italy, finding ourselves without a place to sleep, and with much less family outings to go to than expected, Moreno and I were lamenting about what a shame it is to be so close to our good friend Giacomo and yet to not be able to visit him. That was when Moreno suggested we try to catch him wherever he was, and so, four hours later, we found ourselves bound for the hilltop walled city of Siena.

Siena Preserved

Siena lies 80km south of Florence, it’s biggest rival. In  1348, the Black Death killed about 60% of the town’s population, and the city never quite recovered, losing all hope of regaining prominence. Siena thus remained submerged in its medieval history, and in the 1960’s was rediscovered by tourists who found it almost completely preserved, its people devoted to their culture and traditions to this day.

The Palio

The Palio is perhaps the greatest of these traditions. In the simplest terms, the event is a 90 second horse race for a banner (note the hoof prints in the title image); in more complex terms it is what those true to Siena live for.

The Palio, Siena
The Palio – the hand painted silk banner prize of the race

Siena is divided up into 17 Contrade (districts), each with their own flag, colours, church and animal. Twice a year (July 2 and August 16 ), ten jockeys and horses representing the selected Contrade race to win the Palio – a banner of painted silk uniquely painted each year which features the Virgin Mary and Child.
The winning contrada is able to hang the Palio in their church, and for months on afterwards celebrate the fact that they won. They are also able to celebrate that their rivals did not – rivalry is still strong between the Contrade, and acts such as shoving, hitting, and hampering horses in order to win are not forbidden. In fact, only nine horses raced this August, as one fell ill shortly before the race in what was rumoured (and accepted) as an act of sabotage.

The Victory of the Owl

The Civetta Contrada Victory Parade, Siena Anywhere Bound
The Civetta Contrada ready to lead on their Victory Parade

Though we missed the race, Moreno and I were there to witness a small part of the Victory Parade of the winning Contrada – the Civetta, or Little Owl. The residents of the Civetta district were there to support their Contrada wearing scarves matching their Contrada’s flag. Those more directly involved wore full costumes as they whistled or drummed along with the parade as it came down the alleys, preceding the winning horse and, more importantly, the Palio which was being paraded through the town.

Il Piato Misto, Siena
Can’t go wrong with a sampling of Italian food…

We did eventually have a delicious lunch in some quaintly chaotic hole in the wall trattoria – a plato misti (mixed plate) featuring a sampling of traditional and featured dishes – but not before taking in the rest of Siena as well: a must if you’re anywhere in central Italy (or elsewhere)!

Monte Pasubio: A Hike of 52 Tunnels

Monte Pasubio, a rocky summit in Vicenza, was the site of some of the most important battles of the Italian Front in the First World War.  Today it attracts hundreds of hikers each day who come to climb and even scramble up its steep trails and tunnels.

Getting There

The two hour drive from the tiny town of Cornuda passes through vineyards, corn fields and other villages before arriving at Paso Xomo.  Yes, unlike Italian, there are x’s in Venexian the language of my ancestors which is spoken in these parts.  At Xomo, there is parking available for 5 Euros. The trail head begins with a large sign marking the entry to the Strade Delle 52 Gallerie as well as information plaques in Italian, German and English.

Entrance to Monte Pasubio hike
Start point of Monte Pasubio hike

The 52 Gallery Hike

The hike takes you up a 6.5 km mule track that served as a supply road for the Italian military positions here in the First World War.   2,300 meters of the path are contained within 52 tunnels and the 2.5m wide path has an average incline of 12%, with 22% at its steepest.

Monte Pasubio Scarubi road
Monte Pasubio Scarubi road

Recognizing the importance of holding onto Mt. Pasubio and the whole alpine plateau, The Italian miners constructed this supply route in just 9 months. The road and tunnels are a fine example of Italian alpine engineering and hard work: Tunnel n.19 is the longest excavated passage at 320m and tunnel n.20 makes 4 helical turns as it rises steeply inside a rock spire which provides access to higher portions of the mountain. It is akin to walking inside a giant corkscrew.

Monte Pasubio inside tunnel
Monte Pasubio inside tunnel

Not far from the exit of tunnel n.52 is the Porte del Pasubio, the final halt of the Austro-Hungarian Strafexpedition (Punitive Expedition) offensive. One hundred meters from that is the Refugio Generale Achille Papa, a lodge where weary hikers can refuel with local meals like polenta e funghi or minestrone.

I made my descent from Porte del Pasubio at 1928m, via the Scarubi road, a much wider supply road that winds its way down the northeast face of Pasubio, to Paso Xomo at 1058m.

Trail markers Monte Pasubio
Trail markers Monte Pasubio

History of Monte Pasubio

Monte Pasubio tunnel n.1
Monte Pasubio tunnel n.1

Monte Pasubio was of great strategic importance to both the Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces and huge efforts were made to gain control of it.  The Austrian offensive in the Trentino was comprised of 18 divisions, 400,000 men and more than 2,000 cannons.  By 1916 at least 50,000 Italian soldiers were living, fighting and dying on Pasubio’s windswept slopes.  The Italians constructed makeshift huts that were attached to the side of the mountain and safe from Austrian artillery.

In the winters most of the fighting subsided as both sides were busy just trying to survive the frigid temperatures and the terrifying threat of avalanches.  During three winters of alpine combat at least 60,000 soldiers were killed by avalanches. To put that into perspective, on the entire Western Front a total of 25,000 troops died as a result of poison gas attacks.

Scarubi road and cliff Monte Pasubio
Scarubi road and cliff Monte Pasubio

With fighting on Pasubio resulting in stalemate, each side began mining under each others’ positions in an attempt to detonate explosives underneath sections of the opposing forces’ front line.  On March 13, 1918 the Austrians ignited a 50,000kg explosive under an Italian position completely destroying it.

However, Monte Pasubio never fell and the forces of the Triple Alliance were eventually repelled as Italy marched to victory in 1918.

Europe 2014 Itinerary-To-Be

It seems you can never spend too much time in Europe, and having the excuse of seeing family that lives there is extremely convenient.

That said, there’s still a few places close to home that I haven’t had the opportunity to visit thoroughly, so this time we’ll be spending a little bit more time in the cities we barely touched on before.

Berlin, Germany

Brandenburg Gate by Night
Brandenburg Gate by Night by Stacey Cavanagh

Our first stop is Berlin. I’ve backpacked through here fairly quickly before (took a bus, saw the wall, got a postcard), but most of my knowledge of the city lies in the airports that are so often used as easy access in and out of Poland. This time, I’ve got my darling friend from SEA on the ground and she’ll  introduce us to the arts and culture of Berlin, which is apparently extraordinary.

Krakow, Poland

Twin Towers
St. Mary’s Basilica, Kraków, Poland by Eric The Fish

The excuse of for the whole trip is another family wedding in the south of Poland, where we’ll go next, but a few hours away is the infamous tourist city of Krakow. We opted out of visiting when we came through here two years ago due to time restraints, and I’ve been kicking myself for doing so ever since. The charm of an old city and a history I don’t know too much about…I am not leaving this country without finally witnessing Krakow and its historical monuments for myself.

Treviso, Italy

Treviso by Christine und Hagen Graf

Up in the north, not too far from Venice, and even closer to Charlie’s family’s town, is the quaint town of Treviso. We were here two years ago for a night out on the town but this time we’ll be taking a bit longer to explore: in a town that’s the birth place of Tiramisu – there’s a lot of eating that will have to be done!

And after that – Africa! But until then, expect fun facts and tidbits on these lovely cities – it’s always nice to visit somewhere a second time, but it’ll be particularly insightful to have locals in all these places! Exciting!!

Photo of the Week: Cattedrale di Palermo

I knew I was in love with Palermo’s architecture before I even set foot in the city.

Having been conquered time and again, Sicily’s cities are all built in varied styles. This 12th-century Duomo in Palermo has been reworked many times but is still a gorgeous example of one of the island’s most visible architectures, Arab Norman style.

Isn’t it beautiful?Palermo Cathedral, Italy - YourLocalKatDownload as Wallpaper! Click to enlarge and right click to save and set as background.