Friday, October 3, 2008

Bellissimo! Venice, Florence and Rome

They say Venice (Italian: Venezia) is a city for lovers. To me it seemed more like a city of tourists. I mean, really, everything was geared to tourists (I think that's only true of the historic city, however, which is where I spent my time in Venice), and on top of that, when you hear about the canals, I didn't realize there would literally only be canals and pavements and squares. I thought there would be roads and maybe some cars, but sure enough: it's canals, baby. Canals.

Venice's famous Grand Canal

Anyway, I didn't have the best time in Venice, mostly because I was pretty exhausted arriving there, and I got eaten alive by mosquitos my first night there. I later counted well over 40 bites...and those were just the ones I could see! Anyway, I'm not saying Venice couldn't be an amazing experience, but if I went back there it would be with someone or a group, definitely not in summer (it was pretty sweltering), and only if I had a suffienctly higher budget. As it was it was pretty cool to wander around all the canals and piazzas (i.e. squares, not pizzas). Especially noteworthy was St. Mark's Square and the Basilica there. It's true that Venice is a really beautiful city, but my advice is to go during a cooler period of the year, have plenty of money to spend, and someone(s) to spend it with.

P.S. A ride on a gondola is anywhere upwards of 80 Euros. Not that I went on one.

An interesting anecdote before I left for Florence: as I was waiting in the Venice train station, a very loud woman and her (I guessed) mother, who was middle-aged, plunked themselves down next to me on my bench. I think the daughter must have had something wrong with her mentally from the way she was acting, but about 20 minutes after they'd first sat next to me (the mother was away for a few minutes), the young woman walked to the center of the hall and lay down on the floor, facing up. I exchanged a slightly amused glance and shrug with some other young travelers a few yards away, but when after 10 minutes there was no sign of life from her the other travelers appeared concerned, and went over and started trying to wake her. This drew a crowd of Italian youths, who also tried various methods of waking her. At one point, someone lifted her leg and she suddenly sat up and cried out! Then she jumped up and, looking very frightened started shouting and backing away from the people. Her mother eventually reappeared, and things settled down, but not before some policemen had been called in. I was chatting with the other young travelers later (Danish high school students), and they said the Italian guys had theorized it was an attempted con trick in which everyone's attention was on the young woman while the older riffled through people's unattended belongings. Thankfully I'd stayed with my stuff, and they'd made sure someone had stayed with theirs, so I don't think anyone was robbed that time.

After Venice it was on to Florence, and possibly my favourite leg of the Italian adventure.

Florence's beautiful skyline

 Not only was the city compact and very walkable, but my lodgings (a campsite overlooking the city where you don't need your own tent or equipment) were cheap at 15 euros a night, and all the facilities I needed right there. I also met some friendly travelers my own age or thereabouts, a couple of sisters from Australia and an American student studying in Paris and on a long weekend break to Florence. Of course I visited several of the main attractions while I was there, including the incredible and beautiful Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore (in photo above), supposedly the 4th largest cathedral in the world. It was certainly memorable, and makes the beautiful skyline of Florence (or Firenze in Italian) what it is.

My highlight, however, and one of the highlights of my entire summer, was the Michelangelo's statue of David at the Accademia Museum. If you haven't seen it in person, look it up on the internet by all means, but know that pictures simply do not do it justice. I'd seen plenty of pictures of it, and was somewhat excited to see it, but the detail and (if a statue can possess this) charisma were stunning, and made my stay in Florence more than worth it. Something that definitely has to be seen in person.

Florence was above all a beautiful city, due in large part to its architecture (not that I know anything much about that subject), but I couldn't stay forever, so after two days, headed for the seat of that epitome of imperialism, Rome itself.

Rome came a close second to Florence in Italy, although by this time I was tiring of the whole 'on the road' experience, and especially the lack of company that was part of it. As it was, I still managed to take in the Colosseum, which was quite awe-inspiring (another highlight); that took up the better part of an afternoon. I also went to the Vatican city, and had some incredible pizza by the kilogram at a little pizzeria a few blocks from it.

A rough idea of where this pizzeria was (Piazza San Pietro just to the West of the river is the main square of the Vatican, so to speak):

View Larger Map

Of course my trip to the Vatican city had to include the museum, as this housed the famous God and Adam painting of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. I happened to be in quite a hurry (there was some time constraint that I can't remember) to see the painting, and entered the museum really to see the Sistine Chapel, despite the 8 euro entrance fee. Still, the Chapel was worth it.

Finally, it was on to France, or so I thought...

It turns out that the ferry from Civitavecchia (near Rome on the West coast of Italy) to Toulons in France was not leaving on the day I made the trip out to the little seaside town, so instead I had to catch the next train back to Rome (1 hour) and get an overnight train up to Milan.

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