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~Northern Italy's Highlights  with Cinque Terre~


Torino Bull Milan Galleria


This tour is a foodie’s dream come true!

     My husband and I travel to Italy every year usually spending about three weeks. 
We often mix in a bus tour with independent travel to expose us to unique experiences or hard to reach areas. 
When I saw that Globus had come out with a northern Italy tour that would allow me to sample my way through many regions I could not wait to sign up.
The fact that Cinque Terre was included was a big cherry on top!

     The tour runs roundtrip from Milan, as is my usual practice we headed in a few days early. 
I always arrive early for any tour or cruise. 
It allows me to acclimate to the time zone, get over the flight and have ample time to explore on my own. 

     Milan is a great city! 
You can shop to you drop with fantastic deals on designer clothes and purses!
It is important to note that the people are a bit different here than in other areas of Italy. 
If you have only been to Rome, Venice, Florence, or southern Italy you may be taken aback by the “businesslike” attitude of northern Italians. 
They are not as warm and friendly as their counterparts in other areas that are geared towards tourists. 
Do not take it personally, smiling is just not something that is done often up north.

     Many people know to check out "The Last Supper" painting, the Duomo, and Galleria while in Milan.
However, there is a hidden gem not to be missed, the Navigli district.  
The series of canals was originally created in hopes to connect with the Po river and eventually the Adriatic Sea to expedite the movement of goods. 
The project was shelved in the 1960s as transportation became more efficient by other means. 
Many of the canals were filled in and replaced by tram routes and roads.

     During the day, the district is noticeably quiet.
At night however, it comes alive with the bars and restaurants all turning on their “Christmas” lights that dance off the water.  
You can reach it easily from central Milan on the #2 (green) subway line. 
If you are trying to figure out where you purchase tickets just pop into a tabacchi store, they sell them there. 
(Always remember to validate your ticket on any type of public transportation in Italy, the fine is far higher than the ticket cost if you fail to do so!)

     Day one on the tour started with a visit to the Duomo and Galleria. 
Exploring the oldest mall in Italy (built in 1865) you will notice some people spinning around on the floor of the Galleria. 
They are turning on a mosaic of a bull, specifically on its "nether regions". 
Four mosaics are in the mall, one for each of the capitals of kingdoms of Italy. 
The bull represents Torino (Turin), legend has that by spinning three times in this specific area will bring the spinner good luck. 
Originally it was believed that by doing this the person would have help with fertility but over generations the story mutated into just overall good fortune. 
A metal cup had to be inserted into the mosaic as it was becoming so worn in that one area.  

     Next, we visited Sforzesco Castle, many people do not know that both Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo both lived there.  
Michelangelo’s third Pieta, often referred to as his “unfinished Pieta” is on display at the castle. 
I am not sure that it is unfinished, it is a very rough piece, but maybe he was making a statement. 
The statue is signed, and artists do not normally sign their works before they are complete. 

     The next day we hit the road stopping first in Busseto the birthplace of Verdi and then on to Parma. 
We visited a cheese factory which was quite interesting seeing the process, especially the salt bath.
Entering the enormous “cheese vault” we encountered hundreds of wheels that were ageing on shelves from floor to ceiling.
The smell was delightful!
We learned all about the branding on the rinds and how the ageing process works.
Then we were treated Parmesan cheese tasting coupled with wine.  

     That evening my husband and I did an optional excursion to a pig farm where we got to see how prosciutto is aged.
Again, we entered a vault, this time it had hundreds of pig legs curing.
We enjoyed an amazing meal of more pork than I had ever ingested before, everything was farm to table from their own fields.  
It was quite interesting learning about the factors of the microclimate that gives the meat its distinct flavor. (Hint it has to do with the grass.) 

     Departing Parma, we headed to Modena visiting a farm that produces balsamic vinegar.  
We did a tasting out of many casks and I must not have a refined palate as the 100-year-old stuff tasted like raisins to me lol. 
I liked the 12-year-old vinegar and bought a bottle. 
We had an amazing lunch, and they gave us some samples in cute little bottles to bring home which made nice gifts.

     Next up was a thrill for the men in our group, we arrived in Maranello, home of the Ferrari museum. 
For around 90 Euros you could take one out on a test track if you were so inclined.
I was more interested in figuring how they got the one out front suspended in the block of prongs.  
Inside the museum was super interesting. 
There were so many Ferraris going back through the ages and a Formula One room which showed all the Gran Prix winners along with their actual cars.  
I cannot even imagine how much the place is insured for!

     Moving on to Tuscany we headed to Lucca, how I adore this medieval hamlet! 
When you visit make sure you go walk up on the rampart, so many people skip this opportunity!
It is like a park and you can see all three of the original embankments that protected the city.  
Because of the walls the city remained relatively untouched from the war.  
Lucca was a stop for the evening enabling us to head to La Spezia in the morning to board the ferry to Cinque Terre.

    If you have never had the pleasure of visiting the magical world that stretches from Porto Venere to Portofino, you have been missing out! 
The colorful houses clinging to the cliffs as if suspended by wires, the delightful coves and amazing seafood will have you craving to return over and over. 
We visited the five lands and took the train to Rapallo where we spent two nights enjoying the castle, the beach, and the sea. 

     Off again we headed north to Gabiano to enjoy a wine tasting will a scrumptious lunch in castle on the way to Turin.

     Torino is considered a magical city by many and superstitions abound. 
Some say the city is the convergence of white and black magic.  
I was told there are two “magic triangles” in the world. 
The white magic triangle is Prague, Lyon, and Turin. 
The black magic triangle is San Francisco, London, and Turin. 
Turin is the city that resides in each which is a great significance to those in the world of magic.
I was also told that the Savoy Palace buildings form the shape of a pentagram.
I am not sure if this is factual as I did not have a bird’s eye view.
I do know they were interested in alchemy and supposedly had secret tunnels where chemists practiced their craft under the city. 

     It is no surprise to the residents that the Shroud is housed in Turin, to them it makes perfect sense. 
On the flip side there is also the National Worker’s Bank which is referred to as the “Door to the Devil”.  
On a less spooky note, you can rub the pinky finger of the Christopher Columbus statue if you want to pass a test like the local students do.

     The shroud itself is an interesting subject whatever your religious beliefs may be.
We visited the site where it is kept and watched a short film and saw photos of it.
The actual shroud is not displayed except on special occasions, the last time it was displayed was in 2015.
It is scheduled to be on display for two days starting December 28, 2020 for the Taizé Community European Youth Pilgrimage. 
I do not know if it will go forward due to the pandemic.
I would be interested in seeing it in person, the religions of the world fascinate me.

     Finally, on our way back to Milan we stopped in Vercelli at a rice farm. 
It never occurred to me that there would be rice paddies in Italy even though it is known for it is risotto. 
It was quite interesting learning about the different types of rice, and what it took to successfully grow it.
We had a wonderful lunch which ended the day on a high note. 

     After the tour we flew down to southern Italy spending time in Sorrento, Positano and Ischia which was a great way to relax after the tour. 

This is a fantastic itinerary that brought us out into the countryside to places I would not have visited on my own. 
If you are a foodie this will be right up your alley and now with the new small group departures averaging 24 people, it is an intimate experience at a reasonable price!

Cheese Vault in Parma ~video 

Northern Italy's with Cinque Terre ~Video


Portofino ~ no longer a humble fishing village ~ Video

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