Enigmatic Venice!

How about dwelling in an island nestled between canals, away from the rest of the world? How about travelling on a ferry from one place to another? Or rather, owning/renting a boat and rowing it yourself away to glory for the sheer joy of it? Sounds like a fantasy?

Well, I’m talking about Venice in Italy!

Gondolas, bridge, buildings

Canal, gondolas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Situated on the Adriatic sea in the northeast of Italy, Venice is an archipelago that has 118 little islands and it is the capital of the Veneto region. It is a traveller’s paradise what with its unique artistic splendour!

A lane in San Marco island

We ended our Italy trip in style, here in this naturally wondrous place. As we arrived, we refreshed ourselves and visited a cafe close to the train station. Unbelievably, the cappuccino, croissant and the veg pizzas we had were an absolute gastronomic delight! Gosh! The pizzas were wafer-thin, freshly made, and they were being sold like hot cakes! In fact, there was not a single moment we missed home food while in Italy!

Piazza San Marco       Vaporetto

 

 

 

 

We took a ride on the vaporetto (water bus) and reached San Marco island. As we entered, we got a preview of the island and it only whetted our appetite to explore in detail. St Mark’s Basilica and the Clock Tower in the Piazza San Marco attracted a lot of tourists. It  seemed like a good shopping area too!

We decided to take the walking trail that was given in our guidebook, basically to get an essence of the local culture. We walked atop several bridges, beneath which were little canals and boats called gondolas. We stopped by each one of the canals to enjoy the beauty around.

We realized the island was a proper town as there were several medieval looking lanes and streets with homes, restaurants and neat shops that were selling some exquisite jewellery and handmade products. Well, as it was to be expected, we ended up buying a pair of silver earrings for yours truly – convinced that the design was exclusively made in Italy! 🙂 Interestingly, one of the shops had this board: Made in Italy and not in China!

Hmm…if there is an opportunity, I would love to visit an enigmatic Venice again!!!

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The Vatican Elegance

After visiting a couple of “wonders” of the world, we were off to the smallest country in the world – Vatican City!

It’s the area (110 acres only) and the population (just about 800 people) that make it the smallest country in the world. But remember size doesn’t matter! It’s the seat of the papacy and boasts one of the world’s most magnificent churches and museums: St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums.

Courtyard of the Vatican Museums

This time too we’d purchased the tickets to the Museums online (19 euros each including a four-euro online processing fee) to ensure we don’t lose time waiting in the long queue. We had chosen a Wednesday to visit the Museums – we’d read that many visitors throng the St Peter’s Square instead to listen to the Pope’s address on Wednesday mornings.

The Museums indeed wowed us with sculptures and paintings from different periods in history – from ancient near eastern antiquities of the prehistoric times to the contemporary art of the 20th century. “The Vatican Museums are spoken of in the plural because they represent all forms of art, all aspects of human civilisation, at every epoch and every latitude…” thus read the Vatican Museums guidebook we had purchased in the reception area of the museum. The book was colourful with pictures and relevant information. It was so interesting to go around looking at the collections, especially those whose mention was made in the book!

The ever popular School of Athens fresco by Raphael

A portion of the Vatican gardens

The collections were all housed in the Apostolic palace that overlooked the popular Vatican gardens. Our six-hour expedition within the Museums culminated with a visit to the famed Sistine Chapel.

The frescos (paintings on wet plaster, on a wall or ceiling) in the Sistine Chapel were indeed breathtaking! The Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo’s paintings of the “Last Judgement” as also “Creation of Adam” were a beauty. We felt humbled by  those numerous immaculate paintings on the ceiling what with their profound three-dimensional effect!

The next day we visited St Peter’s Basilica, which is a very popular church with spectacular interiors – emerging again from the times of Renaissance. The dome of the Basilica is seen from many vantage points in Rome!

St Peter's Basilica (interior)St Peter's Basilica (exterior)

Spanish steps below, dome of the Basilica on the right upper sideWell, if you’re an art connoisseur, be sure not to miss the Vatican City while in Italy! Just a  word of caution – the eateries there could fleece you! 🙂

Peace! Pisa…!

Leaning Tower of PisaWe excitedly started our journey to Pisa in the Tuscany region of Italy to see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa! It’s one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

Well, I’d imagined the Tower be really gigantic, comparable to the Eiffel Tower we’d seen last year. But, no, this one was cuter and looked tameable! 🙂

The Tower stands tall and attractive at 56 metres. A classic example of Pisa-Romanesque architecture, it leans at 3.97 degrees from the verticle. The construction work began somewhere in 1173 and went on for 200 years!!!  Even now, some renovation work happens on and off – perhaps to ensure the Tower doesn’t lean way too much!

Cathedral-Pisa

Baptistery-Pisa

We decided to go to the top of the tower. We booked our slots for this (about two hours in advance) by paying 15 euros each. Meanwhile, we visited the nearby Cathedral and Baptistery that were built even before the Tower. We could see a zillion people at the Pisa’s Cathedral Square, some of whom were seen giving typical poses for the camera – a striking pose was one of stopping the Tower from falling using one’s palms/hands! (Optical illusion aside, that was quite a sight for us!) The souvenir shops, as always, attracted me. We ended up buying a few miniature Towers. 🙂

View from Pisa Tower

It was time to pat and say ciao (hello in Italian) to the Tower. We waited in queue (a short one luckily!) to explore the monument from inside. A steep flight of stairs stared at us as we went in. We knew we had to climb some 297 steps to reach to the top. Ah, our excitement only increased! We enjoyed every view of the little city from varying heights of the Tower. The Tower seemed to lean and drag us sideways as we were ascending and later descending! Well, the climb to the topmost level (seventh floor) did demand all the attention, as the staircase was getting narrower and slippery. But the effort was well worth it as we enjoyed some of the best picturesque views the Tower could offer us!

Roaring Rome

True, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

It seemed like a very well planned city to me. The roads were broad enough for easy movement of pedestrians and vehicles alike. Majestic buildings greeted us in almost every street! Rome, the capital city of Italy, was indeed roaring with exuberance.

         The Colosseum (exterior)                       The Colosseum (interior)

The Colosseum, the Forum and the Palatine Hill form the formidable trio that possess a wealth of history – history of over two-and-half-thousand years and not to be trivialized in any sense! We went back through the Roman times as we traversed these historical sites. The Colosseum was an elliptical amphitheatre and it was used for gladiatorial contests! The Forum used to be the hub of commercial activities and overlooking it was/is the Palatine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome.These are unmissable monuments/sites for a curious traveller; two-three hours can be easily spent in each of them.

The Forum

Just one ticket bought either at the Colosseum or the Forum stands valid for 48 hours from the time it’s validated. The Colosseum is usually crowded; it’s wise to buy tickets at the Forum instead and start your historic journey from here.

Piazza NavonaThere are several piazzas (city squares) in Rome where you could just hang out and relax. Piazza del Popolo; Piazza di Spagna; Piazza della Repubblica; Piazza Navona; etc are worth a visit. We found Piazza Navona to be very lively what with cartoonists, painters, stunts men/women, musicians, etc busy showcasing their talent.

Interestingly, every other street in Rome had a small-but-clean fountain! The Trevi Fountain was indeed a crowd-puller. It’s believed that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they’re bound to visit Rome again. Needless to say, yours truly too fell for the belief, and the act was snapshot for posterity! 🙂 It seems around 3,000 euros are thrown into this Fountain everyday! Gosh!

Trevi Fountain

Every government office (governo ufficio in Italian) in Rome looked monumental and well guarded. Touristy areas were patrolled by the police at all times. Btw, we happened to see the President’s office too as we strolled into the several streets of the city!

We stayed for three days at a resort on the outskirts of Rome, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. We treated ourselves to some very good vegetarian Italiano food.

Well, I ‘believe’ we will return to this great place one fine day! Amen!

Effervescent Florence!

Peace prevailed there. Everyone seemed happy. The buildings took us through the medieval times. We went into ecstasies about everything there – from food…climate… people…to architecture. And, we felt we were in h(e)aven! Any idea which place I’m referring to? Well…well…it’s Florence in Italy.The Ponte Vecchio

Florence is the capital city of the Tuscany region and of the province of Florence in Italy. The city is best explored on foot, of course with the help of a map and a guidebook. We spent a couple of days in this artistically beautiful city.

We experienced sunset standing atop this ancient bridge: Ponte Vecchio. Ah, what a breathtaking view that was! It seemed like the sun tried to play truant with us for a while until it finally went below the horizon.The segmental arch bridge is believed to have been built over river Arno during the Roman times and the views it offers on either side are something that shall be etched in a traveller’s memory! Along the bridge, there are some jewellery shops that demand at least some window shopping! 🙂

Btw, we relished some gelatos (ice creams) along the Ponte Vecchio bridge. I think they were the best ones we had ever eaten! So natural, so fresh! We had a  banana-coconut and a melon-pista ice cream each! Wait, the world-famous Italian cuisine (pizzas, pastas, bruschetta, etc) didn’t disappoint us even in touristy restaurants!

The Uffizi Gallery is another place where we spent quite some time admiring the artworks of different periods of the Renaissance. We had booked tickets online in advance for this gallery to avoid the serpentine queues. (You pay extra euros for this, but it is worth it.) We gotta see live paintings of legends such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Sandro Botticelli, Filippo Lippi and the like. (Visitors aren’t allowed to take pictures. Sigh!)

Well, we left for Rome the following night hoping to return to this heavenly earth for a longer time!