We got up early yesterday and caught a $.33 flight to Bergamo, Italy on a discount
airline. At the airport, I had a sandwich (panini actual) on ciabatta bread
with mozzarella, tomatoes, and the famous Parma ham. The trip from here to Venice
was long, but easy and the arrival was odd.
We approached the city on a narrow strip of land that was obviously man made and
connected the main land to the city of Venice. I tried to see the city as we approached,
but to no avail, seeing as how it was in front of us and I had little idea of my
bearings. We got off the train, in what seemed to be an ordinary, but small train
station and as soon as we went through the doors, an entirely new world opened up
in front of us. Venice was more real than any picture; the city seemed to be alive.
We bought tickets for the "bus" and got on our boat headed for Santo Marco.
This route, which took us down the Canal Grande was incredible. It was
so picturesque and every building just ended in the water. The 15 minute trip went
quickly, but once we arrived, I saw a new Venice, one of tourists staring at architecture
and snapping pictures; a Venice I didn't enjoy as much. Piazza Santo Marco
is beautiful, but attracts so many tourists, I feel that it lacks authenticity,
although in reality this is far from the case. We found our way to our nearby hotel
and checked in.
After walking around Piazza Santo Marco and grabbing a slice of pizza,
I sought out a different Venice. My grandpa and I headed east until we ran out of
land. This was the local Venice: graffiti, homeless, factories, a museum, children
playing soccer in the street, and women just talking on a park bench. This was the
romantic Venice, the real Venice. This was the city, it was the locals' city.
I liked it much better than the Santo Marco region, although the architecture
here paled in comparison to much of the tourist sights.
For dinner we ate at a local place, at which I had the meat ravioli, and tried some
of the lasagna. Mine was great, but the lasagna was even better.
Today I headed to the tower on the Piazza to see the view from the tower
with my grandpa. It was incredible and well worth the entrance fee. This gave me
a view of Venice, every corner and it was beautiful. After this, we continued on
our tourist regime and went to Santo Marco church, which was different
from most churches I've been to.
After much debate and some more pizza, we did manage to go on a Gondola ride for
80 Euros... hence the debate. But it was worth the price for six people. It let
us see the streets of the city and the quiet alleyways of the locals. Our gondolier
was quite interesting and seemed to know everyone on every canal. At one point he
stopped to answer his cell phone and told us his name is Casanova, then laughed.
He showed us Marco Polo's house and told us that a Gondola is the same price
as a BMW. There are only two master makers so there are only 2 to 4 gondolas made
each year. Among the highlights of this trip was Rialto, a beautiful region,
which again was swarmed by the tourist infestation, but from the water was perfect.
After the gondola ride, my dad and I decided to be locals so grabbed a cappuccino,
which reminded me why I don't drink coffee. Then Brent and I decided to find
the library that was in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." It took
us some time, but we eventually found it and Brent so elegantly posed in front of
it as Indy.
We then went to Frari Church and headed back to Santo Marco via
the Rialto Bridge. At this point, we raced over to the other side of Santo
Marco in order to buy a mask that Brent wanted, checked out the Bridge
of Sighs, the Doge's Palace, and the Piazza to the hotel. During this
time, Tyler was exhausted and turns out very dehydrated.
We made it back with a little extra time so I grabbed the best food yet (which is
quite a compliment given the incredible food we've had the past day), a wrap
with spicy salami, tomatoes, lettuce, mozzarella, and a thin layer of a great tomato
sauce. I ate on the way over to another island to catch our boat to Piran, Slovenia.
Continue the above trip to: Slovenia
When we all got into the airport we split up into two groups because taxis can only
take four people and there were five of us. I went solo as I tried to navigate the
public transportation system with some pointers from Marc and Marissa, who both
live in Rome. Sadly, they didn't give me pointers on how to get a working credit
or debit card. Despite telling my bank that I was going to be in Italy, both my
credit card and debit card were denied and I was stuck paying huge fees at the cash
exchange office... always try to bring some emergency cash with you when you travel...
this wasn't the first time I've had to rely on emergency cash to survive.
As the cash exchange man was flirting with an attractive girl in front of me I stopped
by the tourist information office to see if there was a quicker way to get to the
apartment we were renting and I found one. This saved me some money and time as
I got a train to the Trastevere train station instead of the main train terminal,
then walked to the apartment. Despite the money delays, I arrived at about the same
time the taxi passengers did.
Our apartment seemed nice, but we were too hungry to relax so headed out quickly
to begin our over-eating splurge, which we plan on making for our entire stay in
Italy. Marissa and Marc led us to a local restaurant with very low prices; as students
I trust their opinions on being cheap and they didn't disappoint. Perhaps not
the best food in Rome, it was cheap, tasty, quick, and well worth the money. So
was the house wine, which cost only €8 for a liter (or litre). It was a non-descript
red wine that was far from offensive, however my favorite part of the wine was that
it wasn't on the alcohol menu, it was in the beverages section with the water,
soda, tea, coffee, and other drinks. Perhaps the house wine isn't worthy of
being listed among the nicer wines that actually have a label and come in something
other than a liter-sized pitcher!
December 27, 2013
I've only been to Italy twice and haven't yet had a problem with transportation.
From Milan to Venice the train seemed to run fine and even the train from the airport
yesterday ran on time. However, the local buses helped the stereotype of tardiness,
although most just didn't arrive. Many roads were shut down for the holidays
as the people enjoy going for evening walks, an event called La Passeggiata
that is common in Italy throughout the year. However, during this time more people
are off work, are out walking, and streets shut down. This led to buses not running
and us (today we only had four as we lost Marc to a trip around Europe) taking a
couple different routes before getting to the far southeast side of the city: Appian
Way and the Catacombs of St. Callistus.
We arrived to the catacombs just after lunch (the catacombs close down during lunch)
and were one of the first tours. The climb to the catacombs was a bit like entering
a crypt, however in a large tour group the visit seemed a bit like a museum. Plus,
they have removed all of the bodies from the tour path so it seems to lose a bit
of the aura imagined in my head prior to visiting. None-the-less, the tour was impressive
and the history alone made the trip worthwhile. We visited a room that was the final
resting place of a few popes and we saw some very early Christian artwork and symbolism.
Once the tour was finished and we made our way out of the giant rolling landscape
back into Rome we headed straight to St. John in Lateran for lunch. Again we perhaps
overate a bit, especially considering we got a couple starters, but we were hungry
and it's Italy, so don't judge.
St. John in Lateran is actually the highest ranking church in Catholicism and is
controlled by the Holy See and Vatican City, not Italy. This church is officially
presided over by the pope, although he rarely gives mass at this basilica. More
than just the building itself, St. John in Lateran was made even more impressive
due to the fact that mass had begun just after we arrived. The massive basilica
didn't mean the church shut down, but rather only meant that there was an area
that was roped off for mass participants, while the rest of the archbasilica was
open to visitors.
Sometimes when visiting churches, temples, or mosques it's easy to see the building
simply as a work of art or a tourist site, however with mass taking place it helps
you realize the true purpose of this church. The art, the decoration, and the incredible
amount of time, effort, and money placed in this single building were only done
for religion and without that there would be no church. As Marissa, the architecture
student, said, it adds so much to the basilica to see it used for its original purpose.
The buses ran a bit more regularly after our visit... or we just figured out which
ones weren't running, so our trip back to the apartment in Trastevere was much
smoother than our fiasco to begin the day.
December 28, 2013
Oddly, the bus woes continued today. Gina, Cindy, and I headed to the Colosseum
(Marissa stayed back since she was going later in the week) and again got stuck
waiting for buses, then taking a bus whose route changed due to the closed streets.
After a bus in the wrong direction and a subway trip we got in the long lines for
tickets to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. While standing in
line I came to the realization that one ticket grants entry to all three so it would
likely be quicker to buy the ticket from one of the other sites first and bypass
this line. However, the Colosseum was only going to get busier as the day moved
on so in line we stood.
I'm not entirely sure why, but the Colosseum did little for me. The building
was incredible, the size is massive, the underground chambers are impressive, and
the fact that it's still standing made me stare in awe. Yet, it somehow lacked
feel to me and I was far from being overcome with any sort of intangible feel that
I've received so many times before. I'm not sure if it was the tourists
or something else, but I walked away being incredibly impressed, yet at the same
time content with my visit and ready to move on.
So we did move on, first to the outside of the building where I found myself much
more intrigued by about five guys dressed as Roman soldiers trying to get any tourist
to take their picture with them for a fee. I suppose at some time in history a Roman
soldier was an intimidating sight, but these guys were anything but intimidating.
The one was busy chain smoking and another was occupied with a conversation on his
cell phone. The others just kind of hung out, leaning against the wall of the stairs.
Business was slow for them, although some old man did get his picture taken pretending
to stab one of the soldiers with his plastic sword. I was fixated on these "soldiers"
for a few minutes, far from ancient Romans, but in so many ways they are modern
day Romans... these men may actually be descendants of ancient Roman soldiers, yet
their lifestyle, culture, and ease of life today is so different from then. Welcome
to Rome, both past and present.
After relaxing on the steps for a bit we moved on to Palatine Hill and the Roman
Forum. Unlike the Colosseum, this area is much more in ruins and many buildings
are only now recognizable by their base and perhaps some old walls that are falling
apart. This area made for a nice walk, with good views of Rome and St. Peter's
Basilica across the river.
After a quick break at the apartment, just Cindy and I headed out for a bit. It
was sort of nice having just the two of us. We were in no hurry, but did have a
couple sites we (or I) wanted to hit, beginning with Campo di Fiori, which
is a local market. The stalls were busy with customers and the stands were filled
with oils, pastas, cooking utensils, and much more. Thus far, this was my highlight
of the city in the sense that it felt real and local. Sure tourists were everywhere,
but the feel seemed more authentic and it exuded the culture and lifestyle as time
slowly melted away for the moment.
We slowly made our way around, then out of the square before reaching Campodoglio,
which I've been told makes for some of the greatest people watching in all of
Rome. It surely didn't disappoint, but Cindy and I had little energy to really
enjoy the square so sat around for a bit before heading back to the apartment.
Cindy's parents arrived to Rome today so we headed out for dinner at a local
restaurant. After stopping at a couple places that had no room, we found a relatively
new place that had just opened a few weeks earlier. The food was good and no one
was suffering too badly from jet lag so I would say dinner was a success.
December 29, 2013
Today everyone, our group was up to six, headed to the historic center of Rome where
Marissa gave us a tour. The streets here are narrow and don't seem to have much
order so having a good map or a tour guide is helpful. We began the day with mass,
however when we entered it said a nearby church had an English mass so we walked
down the street to find a priest from Minnesota giving the mass.
After mass, we walked to the end of the road to see the Pantheon, which was closed
earlier in the day for mass, since the Pantheon is an active Catholic church. The
building was busy when we arrived, but once inside the massive space seemed to open
up and it felt quite empty. The building looks rather new compared to the Colosseum
or the structures in the Roman Forum or Palatine Hill, however it's from about
the same time period.
We continued to meander, well it felt like meandering, but I'm sure our tour
guide knew where we were going, to Marissa's studio then on to Piazza Navona.
When we arrived it began to slowly rain, but the square was still swamped with people
as there were stands selling all sorts of items and people were walking in every
direction. Due to the rain we spent little time here and instead quickly moved on
to eating, of course.
Just as we got inside the rains started coming down even harder so we took our time
eating. Unlike most of our meals, which have consisted of pastas or pizza (or gelato),
today everyone seemed divided on foods as a couple of us got paninis. Once the rains
slowed we headed out to continue our tour.
We made our way to the Trevi Fountain, which was much larger than I had imagined;
it takes up the entire side of a rather large building. The area was swamped with
hundreds of people trying to take pictures and make their way to the fountain to
throw a coin in. Rumor is throwing a coin over your shoulder means you will one
day return to Rome. We took part and pushed our way to the front of the fountain
and each threw in our coin.
Our next stop was the Spanish Steps, but our stop was more of us slowing down than
actually stopping. More interesting than the steps themselves was, in my opinion,
the fountain at the bottom that had a ship appearing to be taking on water. Again
the crowds were huge so we moved on quickly.
Our last true stop for the night was at Piazza del Popolo, which has an
impressive viewpoint on its eastern end and a couple impressive churches lining
the oval-shaped square. A couple of us took the trek up the hill to see most of
Rome, including St. Peter's Basilica across the river and the historic center
to the southwest. Back on the square itself we headed into Chiesa di Santa Maria
del Popolo, which was among the most impressive churches we'd seen.
There are two Caravaggio paintings in the church, frescos by Pinturicchio, a chapel
designed by Raphael and completed by Bernini, and a chapel built to exercise the
spirit of Nero, which was believed to have occupied a walnut tree in this area nearly
1,000 years ago. This small church was well worth the stop, but I think most of
the people on Piazza Popolo missed it, many in favor of some guy playing
guitar to Metallica.
We decided to end the night with our own La Passeggiata. However, seemingly
everyone decided to partake in the La Passeggiata tonight and it seemed
most of them were smoking. Being very sensitive to smoke, the walk seemed brutally
long and could not have ended soon enough. I know the purpose of the walk is to
relax, window shop, and socialize, but I was more fixated on avoiding smoke, which
was much more challenging than I had imagined. By walk's end I convinced myself
that my next trip will be to someplace other than Europe, which at times smells
like one giant chimney, especially here and in parts of Eastern Europe.
There is a lot of nudity in Florence, well at least in statue form as I didn't
actually see any naked people. Among the many nude statues is Michelangelo's
David, which was our first stop in the city. Not having tickets, we had to wait
in line for about 30-45 minutes prior to getting in.
The David statue is very impressive and quite enormous, but I found the room at
the end of the hall filled with busts to be almost more intriguing... not more impressive,
but definitely more intriguing. There is a massive room filled with head statues
that is no accessible to the public, but visitors can peak their head in there to
see the long hall of heads staring at the walls, or each other... actually I'm
not exactly sure what they're looking at, maybe they are as mesmerized at the
room as I was.
We then stopped for lunch and ate more pasta. I had something bad yesterday so stuck
with a light lunch before we moved on to the Florence Cathedral, sometimes referred
to as the Duomo, which is the Italian word for "dome." Immediately
upon seeing the cathedral I was awe struck by the church. I love gothic architecture
and it appeared gothic, but was covered with whites, pinks, and greens. Most gothic
architecture is dark and dominating, but this cathedral was light and, well still
quite intimidating. I've traveled a lot, but have never seen such a brightly
colored gothic building so while I knew it was gothic, I couldn't help but ask
Marissa what style the building was in. It was unlike any other building I've
seen and I really liked it.
In addition to the impressive facade, the famous dome is just as, if not more impressive.
While the cathedral is in the gothic style, the dome is considered the first Renaissance
structure ever built, truly spanning this structure across styles. The bright reddish-orange
dome stuck out, wedged between the blue sky and white building, yet forced you to
look at it. We considered making the trek to the top of the bell tower or the dome
itself, but after seeing the line we decided to move on.
We moved down to Piazza della Signoria, which is home to a sculpture garden
and the Palazzo Vecchio, as well as being the original location for Michelangelo's
David; today a replicate stands in front of the palace. This area is a nice place
to relax and people watch, but again the lines to get up the tower in the Palazzo
Vecchio were too long for us and our lack of energy. After quite some time
people watching we moved on to Ponte Vecchio, or the "Old Bridge,"
which is today filled with gold shops and tourists.
Fortunately, most of our group was more motivated to find gelato than shop for jewelry
so we moved on seeking out a gelato shop that has slightly brownish banana gelato
(that means they use real bananas, not just flavoring and yellow dye). We found
a few places that had gelato that met our standards, but we kept failing to stop
until we had bypassed the major tourist intersections. Eventually we found that
much coveted gelato and after even more searching found the train station for our
trip back to Rome.
Continue the above trip to: Vatican