I know Rhys has covered our previous destinations in Italy already, but I wanted to step back for a moment in time and provide my thoughts on them, mostly Roma, before moving on to Venice.
Before this trip, I was not really “widely traveled” – I spent a lot of time in Japan, and visited South Korea (plus the American mainstay – Canada, though I never got to Mexico before our friendly Long Beach host, Doug, took us down there), but I hadn’t seen any other continent except a small slice of Asia and a chunk of North America. So, although I love SE Asia and Japan, I was very excited to begin the European leg of our trip. I had this idea of what Europe looked like (I know, Europe is a big place), a hopeful semi-expectation of narrow, winding cobblestone, antique buildings stretching along the streets painted in mesa colors, and ancient treasures around every corner. You know, like how Hollywood and Vegas tells us Europe looks. I tried not to get my hopes up too high, as I knew Rome is a thriving metropolis, a modern city…right?
I guess we picked the perfect country to begin. Wandering the streets of Rome was unreal, and I mean that literally for me. I felt transported to another time. You can walk the city on foot, easily, though it is equally easy to get wonderfully lost in the winding, labyrinthine cobblestone corridors that pass as streets. I gaped up at the obelisk in Piazza Navona, staring at the hieroglyphs dedicated to Cleopatra for what felt like an age. The Pantheon took me by surprise. The Colosseum is as regal as you’d expect it to be, and more. People are friendly, outspoken (especially about American politics!). It is breathtaking.
I’ll fast-forward to Venice now, since I know I tend to write books for blogs (sorry). We’re staying with a wonderful set of hosts in Venezia Mestre, which is in the municipality of Venice, but not where all the canals are (Central Venice). They have been extremely kind in many ways, not least of which exposing us to a whole spectrum of delicious, mostly-vegetarian, Italian dishes. Amazing doesn’t begin to cover it. I’ll let Rhys go into more detail about all that once he gets around to his food list posting at the end of the month. Needless to say, there is a great deal of food I need to learn how to prepare!
Venice is a postcard. No, really. Every pathway and canal looks picture-perfect. As it’s the winter season, there really weren’t many tourists, and we quickly moved off the clear-cut tourist circle anyway, preferring to just get lost in the city. Every street is interesting, every canal bustling with local activity. We found market boats lined up on small side canals, selling produce and household supplies to locals; we found a piazza far from the tourist path where local merchants set up their wares, mostly food and fish. I watched for an hour as three tents housed fishmongers slicing and scaling their catches, fighting off the constant circle of seagulls and cormorants aiming to swoop in and steal a morsel or two. Peaceful and entertaining.
Architecture in Venice ranges from the very simple (such as the Indiana Jones church that Rhys hunted down), to the extraordinarily intricate. Some sites, such as the Basilica San Marco, seem to be out to win a contest for the most random stuff thrown together – intentionally (and artfully) mismatched marble layers, thousands of intricate carvings adorning archways, mosaics and frescos tucked in to every free corner, hundreds of individual statues hanging off of any available inch of stone. And that’s just the outside. It’s overwhelming. You need to sit for a while to take it all in.
Today we head to Milan on another awesome train (train travel in Italy is a delight) – well, not quite Milan. We fly out at ridiculously early in the morning from the low-cost airport outside Bergamo, about 45km from Milan, so we’re heading straight there tonight and will wait out the hours in the airport. I’m extremely saddened to have so little time in this country; eleven days has done nothing but whet my appetite for more. Two of the flatmates in our host’s apartment come from the very southern parts of Italy, and are adamant that we need to visit there. I want to! Our next trip through Europe, I want to start in Italy and do it right, ending with the gastronomic delights of the south. I challenge any of you to visit and not fall in love with this country!