Italy Part 2

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day 5 - Venice

The next morning we caught an early train up to Venice. When I got off the train and saw the canals, it was surreal. We took the water ferry down to St. Mark’s Square.

St. Mark’s Square is the gathering place of Venice and has cafes and gelato shops lining the entire square. The cafes all have mini orchestras that play while you sit and eat, although the orchestras sometimes battle it out. Later that night I sat and listened to Nessum Dorma and Phantom of the Opera. It was like I was in a dream.

After we left St. Mark’s square, we had to do the cliché thing to do in Venice…take a gondola ride. It is a total tourist trap, but still something you have to do. Our gondolier was great as we watched the sunset down the grand canal.

That night we decided to splurge and have a really nice 4 course meal sitting on a dock over the water. It was hands down the best meal I had in Italy.

The next morning I hit up the famous Rialta bridge before we had to board our next train. Our time in Venice was short, but truly memorable.

Day 6 – Cinque Terre

After an all day train ride, we arrived in Cinque Terre. For some, it is a relatively unheard of group of 5 towns right on the northern coast of Italy, but any owner of a Rick Steve’s guide to Italy will know of this enchanting place. We arrived just in time to hike up to the castle before it closed to see the view of the town of Vernazza.

Then we decided to eat at a great place right below the castle that overlooked the ocean. Cinque Terre is famous for their pesto, so I of course indulged (pesto is one of my favorites). I had pesto lasagna which was fantastic.

Day 7 – Cinque Terre and Pisa

All of the towns of Cinque Terre are connected by trails that many of the visitors emback on. We decided to do the toughest but most beautiful hike in the morning from Monterossa to Vernazza. The hike took us through grape vineyards on the slopes of the mountains before Vernazza is back in view.

A boat from Vernazza (the 4th town) took us to the first town of Riomaggiore. From there I hiked to the remaining two cities of Manarola and Corniglia. The scenery is just beautiful and the day was a nice change of pace from the other cities we had stayed in. I even took a dip in the Mediterrenean in this perfect swimming hole.

After bidding Cinque Terre a fond farewell, I made a pit stop in Pisa. There’s not really a whole lot to see in Pisa, but I figured if I was in Italy, I had to see the leaning tower. So I took a quick bus into town and saw the tower. Everything I had heard said that you would have to wait for a couple of hours to climb the tower, but when I got there, there were tickets available ten minutes later. I decided I would probably be there once, so I had to do it. It was really cool. It was interesting because as you would climb the circular tower, you would feel yourself leaning depending on what side of the tower you were on. (Don’t mind the pictures. I was hiking all day and looked spent.)

After my short stint in Pisa, I was off to Florence for the night.

Day 8 - Florence

Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and a really fun city. Everything is pretty compact and close, so it was fun to walk around. We started off the day with a tour of the Doumo (the big domed cathedral in town).

After the Duomo, we meandered down to the leather markets to purchase some fine Italian leather. We also perused the shops of the bridge that has been home to goldsmiths for centuries, although I prevented myself from making any purchases.

After some more shopping, it was time to tour some of the famous museums in town. First stop was the Uffizi gallery. I was kind of museum’d out, but the Uffizi has some great pieces of art, including the Birth of Venus. After lunch in one of the great Piazza’s, we headed to the museum that houses Michelangelo’s David. I had definitely seen pictures of this statue, but they don’t do it justice. Michelangelo’s work and level of detail is just unbelievable. He even incorporated veins in David’s strong hands.

After some more gelato and more shopping, we headed up the hill for a grand view of the city. (As a side note, we had gelato practically every day, twice on some days, even though I haven’t mentioned it. It was delicious!)

After some more wandering, we were off to Rome for our last night in Italy and an early flight the next morning.

It was a truly great vacation that I couldn’t have asked more from and will never forget. Let’s just hope throwing a coin over my shoulder at the Trevi fountain really does guarantee a return.

Italy Part 1…When in Rome…

I know it’s only about a month and a half late, but I’m finally getting around to posting about my amazing vacation to Italy. We saw a lot and I felt like I needed a vacation afterwards, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. So here we go:

Day 1 – We landed in Rome about 8:00am in the morning and headed straight to the hotel to get ready for the day before heading out to explore Rome. Our first stop on the agenda was the Coliseum and Palatine Hill. The Coliseum was just as grand as I imagined it would be. It is amazing to see how sophisticated the architecture was way back then, including an efficient way to get thousands to their seats and a giant retractable canopy. We took a guided tour through the Coliseum and subsequently to Palatine Hill which is where the emperor’s palace used to be and has a great view of the Roman Forum.

After our lengthy tours, the heat and hunger were getting to us, so we decided to embark on our first meal in Italy. We found a quaint back alley restaurant in Trastevere with delicious pasta. It was a great way to start out with food in Italy.

Well fed and rested, we headed over to the Pantheon with its masterful domed architecture and “Angels & Demons” connections. After a quick walkthrough, we headed up the street to the Trevi Fountain.

The Trevi Fountain is quite the gathering place for people in Rome, but is also a wonderful work of art. They say if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain, it will ensure your return to Rome. I’m not superstitious, but I figured anything to get me back to Rome wouldn’t hurt.

As sunset ensued, we set off to our final destination of the evening: the Spanish Steps. Let’s be honest, I don’t why this place is so popular, but I wasn’t that impressed. There are just a lot of steps and hundreds of people day or night can be found sitting on them. Nothing too exciting, but when in as the Romans.

Day 2

For the next two days, we decided to join an organized tour. That required being picked up at our hotel at 6:30 am. Luckily we were able to sleep on the bus as we headed down to Naples and Pompeii. Naples is definitely a place in Italy that you could skip, but Pompeii was definitely worth it. It was so amazing to see a whole city from 2,000 years ago preserved. You can see hundreds of individual shops and houses. The Romans were a very advanced culture with well painted homes and temples that have been so well preserved.

When they were excavating the city any time they would find a hole, they would fill it with plaster, thus preserving the form of the ash that was being removed. These plaster forms have been kept and put on display. It is very sobering to see these people that were trapped when they saw the volcano erupting.

After touring Pompeii, we were taken to our hotel in Sorrento. Sorrento is a gorgeous city along the cliff-lined coast. Our hotel was gorgeous sitting right on the cliff. We spent the evening watching the sunset, enjoying a nice dinner overlooking the ocean and then exploring a little bit.

Day 3 – Capri

So after enjoying a nice breakfast, we took a boat back over to the island of Capri. I keep saying everything is gorgeous, but Capri truly is: deep turquoise water and cliffs rising out of the water. After touring the town of Capri and Anacapri, we took a chairlift up to the top of the mountain, which provided splendid views of the island. Many of the rich and famous vacation on this island or bring their yachts to the back bay of the island.

We were supposed to take a boat out to the Blue Grotto, but due to poor sea conditions no one was allowed in the Blue Grotto. Instead, we took a boat around the island to see some of the splendor up close. Our trip to Capri soon came to a close and we headed back to Rome.

Day 4 – The Vatican

The history of the Catholic church has always intrigued me, so I was so excited to go see the Vatican. We spent the morning touring the Vatican museum. The museum has a massive collection of Renaissance art, including the School of Athens.

The pinnacle of the Vatican museum is the Sistine Chapel. I walked in and was just stunned. It is absolutely awe inspiring to see the beautiful murals on the walls and ceiling. They don’t let you take pictures of it, but I’ve included one off of the internet.

After the Vatican museum, we went around to the front of the Vatican and entered St. Peter’s Square. The square is something I’ve always seen on TV or in movies, but it was great to finally see it in person.

After waiting in line for a few minutes, we were able to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. All I can say is, wow, that’s a big church. The inside is so ornate and rich with splendor. The only thing I found a little creepy is that they have some of the former Popes buried in the Basilica in glass coffins. And don’t forget that Michelangelo’s famous Pieta is located near the entrance.

After touring the inside of the church, I overcame my fear of heights and climbed up the dome of the Basilica and looked down inside the church from up above. I was definitely not regretful as the view from the dome is probably the best in Rome.

After a nice dinner, it was soon time to say goodbye to Rome…

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