Road Trip Part 2, Northern Italy

00:00 Melissa G 0 Comments

The road through Italy would take us from Milan to Venice on the way in and Trieste to Modena on the way out.

First stop: Milan

Milan is the second largest city in Italy and known for being one of the capitals of fashion, hosting its own fashion week every season. 

Having only one day to visit, it was important to get all the basics in, and unfortunately there was no time for shopping!

The most famous landmark of Milan is the Cathedral at the Piazza Duomo. 

The cathedral, built in Gothic style, is the 3rd largest in the world and took 6 centuries to build. 
The outside is incredibly ornate with hundreds or gargoyles and statues decorating the many spires and pinnacles. 
If one word were to describe this monument it would be: flamboyant. 

I highly recommend visiting the inside and also taking a trip to the very top. A little secret: to beat the hour long queues for tickets at the main ticket booths, either book your tickets ahead of time online or head to the ticket offices in the surrounding museums (like Museo del Novecento).

The inside is impressive but really the best part is the view from the very top, you can either buy a ticket to do it by stairs or by elevator, we obviously chose the latter. It was already around 30 degrees, no need to get even hotter via stairs.

Seeing the cathedral from the top allows you to really study the ornate detailing and appreciate the true beauty of the cathedral.

You walk along the sides of the terrace able to distinguish each and every single statue on top of the many spires.

In the middle of the roof you get a clear view of the Piazza Duomo, with all the other tourists taking pictures of the building you stand on top of.

Its all worth it for the view of the Milan skyline, especially if you only have a very limited time in the city.

Next we met up with my friend Antonella who has lived in the city for a couple of years. She took us to Cacio e Pepe for some traditional Milanese dinner. 

The restaurant is famous for two dishes: their Roman style artichoke and of course the Cacio e Pepe pasta. I highly recommend eating there for some of the best pasta I have had in a very long time.

Next Antonella and I headed out for some cocktails near the canal where all university students meet up to talk around a drink or two. 

The vibe is cool and perfect for just sitting by the water and enjoying the evening. Super yummy cocktails from Temakinho.

I ended my time in Milan by sitting by the canal with my dear friend Antonella, talking about the next destination on my list.

Second Stop: Venice

We arrived to Venice on a cloudy day, having parked the car outside of the city we took a taxi to our hotel. But not just any type of taxi, a water taxi!

We stayed at the Ca'Nigra Lagoon Resort, which I highly recommend as they have gorgeous gardens overlooking the canal and a good quiet location, away from the throng of tourists. 

The view from the garden is just fantastic. Just watch out for the sea gulls as we saw them steal some people's breakfasts!

My brother and I went on to explore some of the churches on the many islands forming the city.

Venice has over 100 islands connected by small bridges, there are no cars nor bikes roaming the streets. So just wear some comfortable shoes and get walking in the many confusing alleys and bridges of the city. 

Many of the buildings may look unimpressive from the outside but the insides on the other hand are often extravagant. 
I highly recommend getting lost in the S Croce and Dorsoduro districts and visiting as many churches as possible, most of them have free entrances. Just dress appropriately by covering your shoulders and knees. 

In the above picture, my brother (Sebastian) is posing in front of the Sebastiano church, he didn't seem that impressed with finding a church celebrating his name but I was kinda jealous to be honest. Where are all the Melissa churches?

After walking around for hours we went back to the hotel, met up with our parents before settling in for some Aperol Spritz in the gardens as the sky turned peach. 

A beautiful end to our first day in Venice.

The city of Venice is populated by around 60,000 people, and it is estimated that each day it has on average 50,000 tourists. So I'm sure you can imagine how many tourists were crowding the streets, especially as it was high season. 

Wanting to see the famous landmarks without being stuck in human traffic my mother and I decided to wake up extra early. We were out by 7am and making our way to the San Marco Square.

I highly recommend doing this when visiting the square, you can snap absolutely fantastic pictures and get to really admire the beauty of the buildings without succumbing to the heat or being pushed by other tourists. 

The most famous landmark in the square is of course the Basilica. 

It was built as a simple chapel to be used by the Doge of Venice (the leader of the city). After being destroyed in a fire cause by rebellion in 976 it was rebuilt and kept expanding over the years. The last expansion was done in 1500. The decorations on the facade have been added over the course of time, for example the marble columns are all different colours because they were stolen during the crusades.

Having seen the square, we kept wandering around, enjoying the beauty of the city as it slowly started to wake up. 

On our way back to the hotel we ended up at the Fish Market that had just opened. The stalls were being filled with the catch of the day as the birds looked over hungrily. 

I wish I could do my daily shopping in this market!

We returned to the hotel, took a quick nap and headed out for further adventures. 
We had booked a guided tour of the inside of the St Mark's Basilica, I recommend doing this as you will both beat the queues and get a detailed explanation of the history of the city and the building itself, however I can't share any pictures since it's not allowed to take any inside. 

Next we decided to take a boat tour of the surrounding islands of Venice. The tour takes half a day and allows you to visit three islands: Murano, Burano and Torcello. 

Murano is famous for its glass making. Apparently all glass making factories were moved to the small island as a precaution since the risk of fire was quite high. With the tour you get to visit a small glass atelier and see as art is created right before your eyes.

The island itself is small and doesn't have any exceptional landmarks, however seeing a glass horse being made in just a couple of minutes was very cool. 

Next was the even smaller island of Torcello, it is known for having one of the oldest churches of Venice, there was even a wedding going on when we visited. 

The last stop was the island of Burano, my personal favourite. The island houses mainly fishermen and is known for its lace production. 
My favourite part is that all houses are painted different colours, if you want to paint your house you need a special permit from the local government that will tell you what colour you're allowed to use. 
Its all a very serious affair. 

Honestly its all incredibly charming, and if you're not willing to take such a long boat tour then I do insist that you should make a small trip to Burano.

Lace was being sold in many small stores, you can get almost anything covered in lace.

Finally we headed back to the mainland, watching as loads of small boats parked themselves in the laguna, preparing for some festivities. I have to say that the funniest bit of Venice was seeing bars on boats; basically floating bars that would stop next to larger boats selling them cocktails and shots. A very efficient system if you ask me.

Seeing the city from the water was definitely one of the best parts of the trip, and a perfect ending to our visit. 

After going to Venice we headed out to Croatia, however to make things easier I've decided to do a post about each country, therefore the next 2 Italian destinations were after our visit to Croatia and when we were on our way back to Barcelona. 

Third Stop: Trieste

Trieste is the last large city on the North Eastern border of Italy on the way to Slovenia. It has long had a prosperous seaport that accounts even for today's riches. Event its name "Trieste" means "market" in Old Church Slavonic. 

If road tripping across Italy to reach Croatia, Trieste is a great stop to recharge your battery before taking on the rest of the journey. It has a beautiful centre that's worth walking around in, however I don't think it needs more than a day. 

The main sights are in the Piazza Unita d'Italia where you'll find ornate buildings and over priced cafés.

I loved that you could see the mountains at the beginning of the street and the sea at its end.

The Serbian Orthodox Church (below) is also worth a visit.

The city itself is gorgeous, but beware in the summer it is incredibly hot, we had to wait for the late afternoon to arrive to walk around and explore the city.

For dinner we headed out to Tre Merli, a chic restaurant by the sea. 

Luckily we arrived just as the sun was setting, giving us a fantastic view for dinner.

I highly recommend making the trip out to Tre Merli and indulging in their sea food. I had the octopus carpaccio and the sea food pasta. Both excellent choices, the carpaccio was delicate yet full of powerful and fresh tastes, the pasta was a perfect sea themed comfort food.

And finish it all off with Tiramisu, you won't regret it!

After Trieste we headed out to our final Italian destination. 

Fourth Stop: Modena

I'm sure you've all heard the name Modena before, if you look close at your bottle of balsamic vinegar you might see that it claims to come straight out of Modena. Or if you're a big fan of Ferrari or Maserati you might know that they all originate from that city. 

Being a huge fan of vinegars (and wines) it made perfect sense for us to head there and stay at a winery. More specifically we stayed at Opera 02 a gorgeous hotel in the middle of nowhere. 

The hotel has its own winery, they make white and red wines, as well as rosé and sparkling wines. And of course balsamic vinegar! The hotel itself is gorgeous, they only have a couple of rooms so the experience feels very intimate. 

Taking a break away from large cities was exactly what we needed. The fresh air, the view, and a pool is all you need. 

I even made a new friend called Oscar. He was a bit shy as he quickly ran away after this picture. 

You never need to actually leave the hotel as they have a fantastic kitchen, just make sure to book a table ahead. 

All their dishes highly focus on local ingredients, you'll see that almost each dish is able to incorporate balsamic vinegar in some way or another. Additionally Modena being so close to Parma means that parmesan will also make an appearance.

Plus you've got your very own sommelier helping you out to choose the perfect wine for your meal. 

Staying at Opera 02 means you can also partake in a guided tour explaining wine making and how balsamic vinegar is prepared. 

I definitely learned quite a lot on the wine tour, especially about the ancient techniques of how the locals used to make wine once upon a time.

However my favourite part was definitely the balsamic tour. I had no idea it took at least 12 years to make an acceptable vinegar. Or that it came from white grapes, I had always thought they were from red ones due to the dark colour. 

The longer it is kept in a barrel the thicker and sweeter (and expensive) it gets. 

I found it absolutely fascinating to learn how it was all made. 
Fun fact: balsamic vinegar has been made in Modena since the Middle Ages while being first mentioned in written form in year 1046.

The tour was followed by a tasting, of both wines and vinegars. Which led to us "accidentally" buying a couple cases of wine. 

If you're planning to go near Modena I highly recommend spending a night in the hotel, or at least making a little visit for a tour and some dinner. 

Modena was a perfect and relaxing ending to our trip through Northern Italy, and will probably need a second visit. After all I'm always ready to indulge in some wine and vinegar.