A few years ago I traveled to Iran with my boyfriend. When I told family and friends where we were going, many asked if we were crazy, to go to such a dangerous country. I guess it’s the media who give the impression that Iran is dangerous.
Well, a few years after we went, there was some politial turmoil, and for this reason I recommend to check the latest advice from your Country Foreign Affair Ministry for updates on how the political situation is, because it might change. But normally Iran is not dangerous at all. When we went, in 2015, it was one of the safest places I’ve traveled to, and it’s so charming it’s a shame it’s not more popular.
Here are the 5 things that I liked most about Iran.
Things to love about Iran: the urban architecture
There are some places in Iran like no others I’ve seen before.
Like Kashan, not far from Tehran, with its amazing traditional houses, many of which are open to public or have been converted to guesthouses or boutique hotels. They all have large courtyards surrounded by rooms, roofs everyone walks on, fountains and mosaics.
There’s an hammam in Kashan, a Turkish bath, maybe the most beautiful in the whole country, with peculiar little domes on the roof, made with majolica and tiles. The inside of the hammam is also beautiful, definitely worth a visit.
Another town that I particularly liked was Yazd. Its old town is made of clay and straw. Amazing. You could walk for days in its tiny alleys, framed by high walls that hide what is behind them, so it’s always a surprise when a door is open and you can see behind the wall a courtyard, a shop or a beautiful house.
Things to love about Iran: the mosques
Mosques could probably be included in the beautiful architecture of Iran, but they deserve a spot on their own because they are special.
First of all, most of them are open to no-muslims and to women, which is not allowed everywhere.
They are intricately decorated, imposing and fascinating. Every town has one or more important mosques. Maybe the best are in Isfahan, at Imam Square, one of the largest and most beautiful squares I’ve ever seen.
Things to love about Iran: the bazaar
The bazaar are huge shopping centers all developed at street level (or on two levels maximum), that follow one or more streets, usually covered by roofs or drapes, where locals go shopping and where you can find the most curious things.
Colorful spices, beautifully sewn carpets, dried fruit of all types, wedding dresses and tea houses.
Furthermore, they are like labyrinths, with streets crossing and leading you to a mosque or an hammam, where you can meet men coming out after their daily bath or doing their ablution before their prayers.
They are definitely one of the first places to visit when in a new town.
Things to love about Iran: the food
I guess not everyone is open to foreign food like I am. I love to taste different dishes, the strangest the best, and Iran is amazing in the kitchen.
The bread, that we were given at every meal, breakfast included, is amazing. Usually freshly baked, the most popular is a long, flat, soft bread.
We tried many dishes we don’t even know what they were. But one in particular we enjoyed and we try to replicate at home from time to time: the dizi. It’s a ram soup cooked with chickpeas and more stuff, and we had it every time we could. Eggplants were also particularly good in Iran, with tomato and I don’t know what else, they were a delicious vegan main dish.
We also ate a lot of fresh onion and cucumber, that we loved.
Most times we were offered tea when arriving at a new gueshouse. Nice tradition. Served with a lot of sugar and dates.
Best things about Iran: the hospitality
I kept this as last because it was what impressed us most: local people’s hospitality.
We are not used to something like this. Foreigners are truly welcome guests anywhere in Iran. We were invited to people’s houses many times.
We will always remember when we were in Shiraz, taking a picture of a door that I liked, and the owner of the house that was going back home in that moment invited us in. He offered us bread and cheese, everything he had at home, we sat on the floor and really enjoyed the food and the company, even though nor him or his son could speak English.
I miss that.
Iran is definitely a place to visit, it has a lot to offer, it is easy to travel to and around, you can get a visa at the airport if staying less than 15 days, so nothing is stopping you (unless you are a US or Israel citizen, or from a few other countries) and I encourage you to visit, you won’t regret it.
From time to time I go to Milan for a walk. For those living in the North of Italy it’s quite easy to get there by train, and it makes a perfect day trip destination.
There are 5 places in particular that I like. And they can all be visited on foot.
Duomo and Gallery
Duomo e gallery don’t have much in common, but they are so close one to the other that I consider them part of the same stop.
The Duomo is the symbol of Milan. It’s the largest church in Italy and it took almost five centuries to build it. Its beauty is impressive, so rich in details, with these pinnacles that you can see from close if you go up to the terrace.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was built at the end of the XIX Century in a Renaissance style. It’s Milan’s living room, a pedestrian path lined with historic and luxurious restaurants and shops. The central dome in glass and iron is what captures my mind mostly, in particular with the late afternoon light.
At the other end of the gallery, when coming from Piazza Duomo, you end up in Piazza della Scala, where you can find the Opera House of Milan, one of the most prestigious in the world.
Piazza Gae Aulenti
Piazza Gae Aulenti is one of the most recent areas of Milan, inaugurated in 2012. It represents the contemporary Milan, and I link it to the City in London because of the skyscrapers occupied by offices. Here you can see the Unicredit Tower, that with its 231 meters is the tallest skyscraper in Italy.
From this square you can also see the palace with the Vertical Forest.
I don’t particularly love skyscrapers, but this area is very nice, a good example of urban redevelopment. It’s a very green place, despite all the concrete, because it was built with a great attention to the environment: some windows around the square and the tree lamp have photovoltaic cells that produce power for the buildings.
The Sforza Castle dates back to the XV Century and is situated at one end of Parco Sempione. In the past it was one of the most important fortresses of Europe, and together with the Duomo it’s one of the landmarks of Milan.
Nowadays here you can find some museums and interesting exhibitions.
The Navigli are channels that connect Milan to lakes Maggiore and Como and to Po river. In the past they were used to reclaim the land, water the plantations and for trade (for centuries Milan was a fluvial harbor).
Today, the area is best known fo the spritz aperol and the aperitivo. There are traces of its old history, like the “Vicolo dei Lavandai”, the alley of the laundrymen, that still displays an old basin used until the 1950s; there are art galleries, many cafes and restaurants. It’s a hipster area of Milan.
I’ve kept the Monumental Cemetery as last site, but it’s actually my favorite. Maybe because a cemetery is not the first place you think of visiting when you are in a new city.
Ho tenuto il Cimitero Monumentale per ultimo ma in realtà è quello che mi piace di più. Forse perché un cimitero non è il primo posto che ti viene in mente di visitare quando sei in un posto nuovo.
The Monumentale was inaugurated in 1866 and hosts the remains of important figures of Milanese society. What I like are the statues, the chapels, the amazing funeral works, most of which cost more than my apartment. You should spend a day there to see enough of them.
These five sites can be seen in one day during a walk around Milan.
From the train station you can walk to Piazza Gae Aulenti, and from here heading West you get to the Monumental Cemetery.
The Sforza Castle is at one end of Parco Sempione, that you can reach following an alley that starts from the entrance of the cemetery. You can cross the castle and if you take the alley right at your front you can get to Piazza Cardusio, from where you can see the Duomo.
From the Duomo it’s a 30 minutes walk to the Naviglio Grande. Probably by the time you are here it’s the right time for an aperitivo. From here you can go back to the station on foot (about one hour, but I was quite tired at this point), or you can take the underground at Porta Genova station.
I suggest to walk in Milan, as it is beautiful, full of palaces, small gardens and arches that surprise you at any corner.
I was recently in Rome and one evening, looking at the shots of the day, I realised I had a lot of pictures of statues, that I don’t normally take interest in. Looking a bit longer I also noticed that they were all statues of fountains.
It looks like fountains are one of the aspects of Rome that I like. In fact, if you think of it, they are true pieces of art, designed by important artists.
Here are some of my favorites I found around Rome.
Fountain of the Triton, piazza Barberini
I fell in love with the Tritone the first time I saw it, more than 20 years ago. It depicts a Triton, a minor sea god of Greco-Roman myths, and it is located in Piazza Barberini, not far from Trevi fountain. Its masculinity and the posture always attract me. This fountain and statue were made in travertine in 1642-43 by baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, on commission by Pope Urban VIII.
Triton Foutain in Piazza Barberini
In a corner of the same square there’s another fountain, less impressive but still curious. It’s the Fountain of the Bees, requested by the same pope as the Triton fountain, the bees representing the family of the pope. It was used to water the horses.
Bees Fountain in Piazza Barberini
Fountains of Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. It’s known worldwide for its architecture, the palaces around it and in particular the three fountains. They are imposing and impressive.
The first fountain you see when entering the square from the Southern side, coming from Largo Argentina, is the Moor Fountain (Fontana del Moro), representing a Moor surrounded by four Tritons spilling water. Tritons and dolphin were in the original design by Giacomo della Porta, dating 1575, the statue of the Moor was added almost 80 years later, and it was sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Moor Fountain in Piazza Navona
Probably my favorite of the three fountains in Piazza Navona is the middle one, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers, Danube, Ganges, Nile and Rio de la Plata, representing four continents). It was Bernini again who sculpted it between 1648 and 1651, commissioned by Pope Innocent X.
Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona
Some curiosities about this fountain: to get the commission Bernini gave as a gift a copy in silver of the fountain to the pope’s sister-in-law; so he got the commission, stealing it to his life-long rival Borromini. The fountain was so expensive that the pope had to rise the price of the bread, which didn’t make the people happy of course.
Fountains at Pincio and Parco di Villa Borghese
Fountain of Moses
Every time I visit Rome I go to Pincio, the terrace above Piazza del Popolo. It has one of my favorite views of Rome. While I was there the last time I saw this statue that caught my eye. It’s in a fountain, surrounded by papyrus, and it is called “Moses” because it depicts a woman reaching out to a baby in a basket, like Moses. The baby can be barely seen, through the papyrus, but I loved this green encircling the beautiful lady.
A little further, closer to Villa Borghese, I found the fountain of marine horses, embellishing this incredible park. It dates back to the end of the XVIII Century.
Fountain of Marine Horses in Villa Borghese
The Turtles Fountain
The Fontana delle Tartarughe (Turtles Fountain) is in Piazza Mattei, in the Jewish ghetto.
According to legend the fountain was built by Duke Mattei in one night to impress his future father-in-law, that saw the fountain one morning from a window that was later walled to prevent other people from enjoying the same view. Truth is, the fountain was built in 1588, while the Mattei Palace was built in 1616.
Trevi Fountain and Barcaccia
There are two more fountains that are very beautiful (and probably the most famous in Rome), Trevi fountain and the Barcaccia (Fountain of the Boat) at the Spanish Steps, but they are always so crowded that I can’t really enjoy them much.
Constructions at the Trevi fountain started in 1732 with Nicola Salvi, and were finished in 1762 by Giuseppe Pannini. It is well remembered for the scene of Anita Ekberg in “La Dolce Vita”, the movie from 1960 directed by Federico Fellini. Today you can’t step into the fountain, but you can toss a coin (turning your back to it), in the hope to come back to Rome. Coins should go to a local charity, but I’ve seen people stealing them late in the night (a few years ago, I don’t know if it still happens).
The Barcaccia was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII to Pietro Bernini in 1623, which built it probably with the help of his son Gian Lorenzo. The fountain is built slightly below street level because of the low pressure of water in this location.
There’s another fountain that I liked, a bit out of the town center, at the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria. It’s a pretty fountain with three cute bronze dolphins and a nice jet of water. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any information on this.
We have to thank the popes (and their riches), if we can enjoy these beauties. In particular Pope Urban VIII, that wanted to erect a fountain in every major square of Rome. I visited all these fountains in a day (except for the last one), during a 20 km walk itinerary that I like to do every time I am in Rome.
I have always loved traveling, since I was in my mother's womb. I love to see new places, meet new cultures, eat the food of the world. Recently I discovered that pictures can sometimes show more than I can do in words.
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