Italy: Venice and Beyond

The final city on our Italian tour was the renowned city of Venice. As its reputation foretold, Venice’s unique beauty lay in its canals weaving in and out of the island neighborhoods. Boats carrying restaurant supplies navigated the brackish waters at dawn, and from early morning to dusk gondoliers gently took tourists on a smooth, relaxed voyage through the city. There were quaint patios hidden throughout the city- quiet refuges from prying eyes- and through the many, many winding alleys you could find private yards sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the tourists’ travels. Its walls shot to the sky, higher than either Rome or Florence, and the streets formed a narrow maze connecting the wide courtyards, a regular Knossos on the Italian peninsula.

I had heard that Venice was smelly, but it was actually very clean; if there was any filth, we would’ve smelled it from a mile away due to the hot summer sun. It’s only downfall was that it was very touristy. The city, just as Rome and Florence, basically relies on tourism to stay afloat (pun intended), so it was even more crowded than the other two cities. We got lucky enough to have an Airbnb in the residential area, so we stayed away from the crowds unless we went to the main sites. However, it was from this that we saw the true face of Venice.

Venice is just like any other city during the day. It was alive and active, even if it was well over 1500 years old. However, the city morphed at night. As the lampposts grew further apart, shadows ascended toward the sky and the buildings closed in from both sides. The twisting maze and murky waters take on a sinister character, and shifting shadows quickly inspired thoughts of Jack the Ripper. We only saw one woman on our way back to our apartment, moving quickly with her head down. Other than that, we only heard the waters calmly lapping against the stone and only saw the occasional glimmer of moonlight bounce off the subdued waves. It was probably one of the creepiest cities I’ve ever seen at night.

Luckily, our tour was during the day. There not much to do in Venice besides take pictures of the canals, ride the gondola, and take the one tour, so of course that is what we did. And eat. We’re still in Italy, after all. I got grilled cuttlefish and my mom got cuttlefish in an ink sauce. Once I pointed out it was ink she couldn’t stomach it, and mine wasn’t so good either. I’ve decided I just can’t handle the rubbery consistency of octopus, eel, or cuttlefish. Oh well, I can now say that I’ve tried cuttlefish.

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A shop devoted to cats!!!

The tour that we took brought us to St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, the Doge being the chief political leader during Venice’s Republic days. To be honest, there’s only so many churches you can see before their stories start blending together, so all I can remember is that it’s dedicated to St. Mark because he was neither Roman nor Byzantine in origin, because they were trying to assert their independence from these two great superpowers. Oh, and the ceiling is completely glass mosaic and the gold glass is filled with 24 carat gold. It was the first and most important church built in Venice, so of course they took out all the stops. The Doge’s Palace was just as beautiful as the Basilica. However, again, you can only go to so many palaces before it becomes less interesting. It was beautiful, however it’s nothing compared to Rome, so the pictures are sparse.

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Venice was beautiful but brief, and we spent the final two days back in Rome. We saw two more attractions, the Holy Steps and the Pantheon. The Holy Steps are the stairs that Jesus walked up to get to Pontius Pilate. Worshippers are instructed to ascend the steps on their knees, and to say the Nicene Creed, an Our Father, a Glory be, and a Hail Mary, along with a prayer for the Pope. It was moving, even for someone who doesn’t go to Church every week.

The Pantheon was a bit of a letdown because I confused ‘Pantheon’ with ‘Parthenon’. I was expecting a magnificent building on top of a hill that I studied in school, so when we arrived and saw a comparatively rather small temple, I was confused. It is still an architectural marvel—it has the largest unreinforced dome in the world—but it was no Parthenon. In its own way, however, it was beautiful. The name comes from Greek roots- “pan” meaning ‘all’, and “theos” meaning ‘god’, so it was a temple built to worship all Roman gods. The temple, converted to a church in 609, receives light solely from the oculus at the top of the temple, which forms a moving circle of sunlight as the day progresses. It is one of the only pieces of Roman architecture to escape the barbarian raids unscathed, which I find ironic as perhaps it truly was respecting all gods, Roman, barbarian, and Christian. For its historical value it’s worth a visit, however otherwise it’s pretty small and holds less history than the rest of Rome. Though in all fairness comparing anything to ‘the rest of Rome’ will leave a bit desired.

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Our final night we spent in Italy we ate at a local hangout. It was really cute (just look at that menu cover!) and when we said we were sent by our Airbnb host they offered to bring out a buffet of classical Roman dishes, which of course we accepted. Sadly, it wasn’t nearly as good as the night before, and we got the additional perk of hearing the obnoxious horns and occasional burst of yells from the Italy vs. Germany soccer game. Definitely not what I would consider a relaxed ambiance, but what can you do?

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Overall, our trip through Italy was a wonderful experience. If I was to do it again, I would go to Venice first, then Rome, then Florence, because Venice was pretty but didn’t have as much to do, Rome was energetic and jam-packed with tours and monuments, and Florence was more relaxed but still had plenty of attractions to keep you occupied. And it was just my favorite. Italy used to be the center of the world: from ancient Rome to the Italian city-states to the Vatican, its rich history and beautiful landscapes are the perfect backdrop to its incredible food and beautiful cities. Whether you’re an adventurer, a foodie, or a history buff, Italy has something for everyone, and I highly recommend considering it if you decide to travel to Europe. I will never forget my wonderful trip (and this blog will certainly help refresh my horrible memory!) and I hope one day to come back and visit more of Italy and Europe. Well, let me re-phrase: if the fates allow (and they do with The Pig!), I will one day come back and visit more of Italy and Europe. But until then, arrivederci, Italia!

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