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10 November 2010

The joys of travelling

I'm dreaming tonight, about our possible destination for the Christmas Holidays. This year we won't go to any of our regions, we won't visit any relative or old friends.  Life has been tough with us in terms of family, we need a break to regain the right perspective in life. And since everything around us is falling apart, we need to stop and concentrate on our own family, making it as united as our originary ones should be.

There were times when this lack of affection made me feel sick. I'm past over it now. I accepted that biology doesn't guarantee a family and moved ahead. And after all, if we look at things from a positive side,  this year we'll save lots of money since we don't have to buy any present. It's the first year without meeting anyone ever. Last year we spent Christmas in Egypt but went to in-laws for New Year. Since they don't make us feel well accepted in that house, we decided to go somewhere for Christmas this year too and stay at home for New Year. Way to go, I'm more than ready!

It's been a very productive year for travels this year. And our little girl is always with us. We believe that going places is the best complementary education you can get. The long weekend we spent out and about last week was planned with baby fun priority in mind. So we made the most of All Saints  and Deads days, which has an extra day here on November 3, when Trieste celebrates its patron saint San Giusto, and off we were on the road again.

The basic idea was to celebrate Halloween big style in Mirabilandia, the second biggest funfair in Italy. We obviously weren't the only parents with a children friendly trip in mind, since the park + hotel packages were nearly sold out. It seems Italians needed another excuse to party, as Halloween wasn't celebrated here until a few years ago. The tradition started to spread with the boom of horror movies in the 80's and then, since we're suckers for anything American, parties for adults slowly started to take on until today, when you can also see decorations in shops. We still don't have the trick -or-treating, but give it a few more years and I'm sure it'll increase popularity too.

We have something like that in Muggia, in the form of souling, where children sing old songs for the dead in return for cakes. Alice did it for 3 years while attending pre-school there. After all, it's a British and Irish Medieval tradition, but similar practices for the souls of the dead were found in Southern Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy "The two Gentlemen of Verona"(1593) - via Wiki

Anyway, Mirabilandia is one of the few parks that offered this theme type entertainment. And I must admit it, it was damn good! They put up nice decorations all around and the nature of the park itself seemed to match well with Halloween colors. It was enchanting.

We were based in Ravenna with our budget hotel. It's  such an enchanting, artistic city that we didn't want to miss anything about this perfect candidate for the European Capital of Culture in 2019. Moreover, the presence in Ravenna of Dante Alighieri, universal poet and corner-stone of cultural identity, has made the city a trustee of the deepest values that permeate the spirit of Europe.

We visited it in parts, and it was by the Early Christian and Byzantine monuments that we were fascinated the most. They're reason for their inscription in the World Heritage list of Unesco. The Basilic of San Vitale is the one I liked best. It's one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Western Europe. 

I spent long moments standing in awe inside, thrilled with the riches of it and captured by every single detail.  

A sample of Opus Tessellatum

I couldn't particularly believe that Empress Theodora was there, vibrant in front of me, and  that I was finally watching her live after admiring and studying her so much in school. She was one of my favorite female characters, because she did so much for women conditions at her time. Former actress, dancer and courtesan, she was the star of the Hippodrome, performing in shows which were not far from modern burlesque.

Whatever her origins, Theodora had the respect of her husband, Emperor Justinian, who changed the law that fobrid patritians to marry actresses to marry her, and  treated her as his intellectual partner.  Theodora had a real effect on the political decisions of the empire and she's credited with influencing reforms that expanded the rights of women in divorce and property ownership, forbid exposure of unwanted infants, gave mothers some guardianship rights over their children, and forbid the killing of a wife who committed adultery. She also closed brothels and created convents where the ex-prostitutes could support themselves.

There's the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia placed in the backyard of the Basilic. As Unesco experts reasoned, "it is the earliest and best preserved of all mosaic monuments, and at the same time one of the most artistically perfect".

The interior is covered in rich Byzantine mosaics, and light enters through alabaster window panels. The center of the dome holds a gold cross against a blue sky of stars and evangelist symbols among the clouds. I spent moments of pure contemplation in there, a real balsam for my soul. I heard a local guide saying there are up to about 1000 mosaic stars in the ceiling sky. Amazing! 

Another intriguing place is the Baptistry of Neon, the most ancient monument remaining in Ravenna.

The mosaic of the ceiling is a depicting perfection if John the Baptist baptizing Jeus in the Jordan River.

The good thing is that the City Hall, in cooperation with the Arts Organization, promoted the tour of the places by offering ticket packages on those days, so you could visit groups of 5 monuments per package for the cheap price of 8 euros. The Basilic of Sant'Apolinare Nuovo (500 AD) is another must see included in the list.

It's famous for the mosaics of the lateral walls, formed by 24 columns, featuring a scheme of  haloed saints, prophets and evangelists, sixteen on each side.

Awwww, art! I wonder if people realize how blessed they are by living in such an enchanting place. It's home to an important Faculty, Conservation & Restoration of Cultural Monuments. I've a few friends who attended it, and I myself was tempted to enroll there too when finishing High School. They' re all unemployed now, sadly. Art is notorious for not offering a stable income, but I imagine how fortunate the ones who work in this elite field must feel.

Food was the extra bonus, of great quality and delicious. We devoured lots of piadine, the typical tight bread that is served warm and filled with local delicatessen. We were lucky to find a table at the Ca' de Vèn in Ravenna downtown, an originary wine bar that naturally evolved in restaurant through the years and that is placed in a historical palace, recently renovated.  Each room has a particular atmosphere and is used for different purposes, be it wine tasting, eating or just conversing or reading. And of course they serve excellent fresh and typical food at reasonable prices.

The other excursion we made while staying in Ravenna was to Most Serene Republic of San Marino, an enclave in Italy and the oldest republic in the world, the sole survivor of the independent states that existed in Italy at various times from the downfall of the Western Roman Empire to the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

With only 24 square miles in size, as well as a population of approximately 30000 people and extra 30000 citizens who don't live within the borders, this surviving sovereign microstate has the oldest constitution of the world and two heads of state. Its culture mimics ours. Social and political trends also track ours, but they don't have to deal with our Premier's mess. Imagine how better! 

The capital is San Marino, surrounded by a wall and full of hidden beauties to explore. This historic center became part of the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.

The main attraction is the three distinctive towers that overlook the rest of the country and that are part of Unesco too. Thy are located on the three peaks of Monte Titano, which stands at at 640 m above sea  level and is very suggestive when painted by autumn colors and when covered with snow. 

What a happy memory! I wish there were more opportunities of so many combined days off like these to go places during the year. Travelling really opens your mind. Saint Augustin said that "the world is a book, and those who don't travel ready only a page." He couldn't be more appropriate!


  1. First of all, congratulations for your own family, the one that counts. You are doing a wonderful job and should be proud. The rest of the families are secondary, past, history, examples of how not to do things, so look ahead and be happy with your life, it's a hell of a lovely one!!!

    Second, as one who works with Art and its preservation, let me tell you it's not always as beautiful as it seems from the outside: lack of stability, lack of income, trouble with every layer of society... But one thing it certainly true: when you discover something untouched, or help preserve some piece of history that stood there for centuries, it makes everything worthwhile.

    I so feel your thrill when you finally looked Theodora in her eyes, a personality I've always admired. Doesn't it like put you in the right perspective?

    As for the food... A great part of the trip is eating what locals eat, drinking what they drink, hanging out where they hang out. No trip is complete if you haven't been to a local restaurant or café. I'm so happy Ali's learning this from you. But watch out! She will become another travelholic like yourselves!

  2. If only we could chose our family my dear... But what matter is to make your own family what the one when growing up, wasnt...
    And btw, I am so jealous that you travel alot!!! It is my dream to win the lotery and travel around the world! hahahahah but you know, maybe next year we will start with Italy and then Pris, and we'll see about the rest of the world right???

  3. thanks roulita!

    asun, yes, i'll look ahead. said by someone who really understands, it's a a great piece of advice.
    art is surely unstable but look at the final result! you make people happy!
    and i'll support alice's travels, for sure! :)

    true, nek, we can't choose our family. neither we can expect them to behave. but we can choose to stay away from rotten people, for the sake of our surviving. it's a personal choice, and it's painful, but for me at the moment it's the only one that works.
    righ, right my darling, you can always start travelling, it's never too late. and i'm here, as well i'll be in paris. you'll always be welcome!

  4. It's true that we make our own family and I have friends who are more family to me than any blood related one. It is wonderful that you fill your life with beautiful things like travelling in gorgeous, unique places and inspiring art. You have quite a few beautiful pictures here, the lighting is really warm, while you can see that weather wise it was cold outside. Also, they are very vivid and capture a special atmosphere. Thanks for the post, Happy New Year and all the best to YOUR family. :) -Jane C., Oregon.

  5. Thanks a million, Jane, and welcome to this blog of mine. Please visit regularly and introduce yourself, I'd like to get to know you better.
    Happy 2011 to you and your family too my dear. Thanks again for visiting and appreciating my photos! :)


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