One of the things I found most fascinating about Venice was how the day-to-day tasks of those living in the centre of town were changed by the replacement of roads with canals.
Seeing DHL courier boats, police boats, delivery boats the incredibly stylish water taxis (think Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in that awful movie they made in Venice), the Gondola owners sitting back in the shade, eyeing all the young men working for them to ensure they were doing their jobs…
I found the changes to life, as those of us on dry land know it, a constant source of marvel and entertainment, collecting quite a few photos along my way.
I’m by no means qualified to say it’s the best restaurant in Venice (you’d have to be there a pretty long time to make that call), but I’d definitely put money on this one coming close.
I ate a lot of really shit food in Venice. I’d been told to avoid eating any where near anything touristy, and that advice certainly did hold. I had also learned that it is, in fact, possible for italians to screw up pizza. After so many dismal meals I tried my utmost to find the most quaint, authentic looking little spot, well off the beaten track. Cantina do Spade was it, catching my eye mostly because of the plate of seafood risotto and wine for €9 advertised outside.
It was a truly delicious meal, a great price, fantastic wine and everything else coming out of the kitchen looked fabulous. The sole downside of the experience was the old man knocking back grappa at the counter hassling me for being there alone, as though I hadn’t noticed I was in a city almost entirely crammed with couples! Or perhaps it was the drinking alone in the middle of the day part… Hypocrite.
Venice was full of stumbled-upon moments, and the Chisea de San Vidal was certainly one of them. The former church is now a concert venue, home to the Interpreti Veneziani chamber music group. As I wondered in off the street I was able to overhear a rehearsal whilst taking in the beautiful art, and appreciating the amazing architecture of such an ancient building, erected in 1084.
Unlike many big european cities, Venice not only met expectations but completely blew them out of the water. No pun intended.
Despite being a somewhat awkward place to be a solo traveller – being surrounded by couples and families in a town with zero nightlife makes for a trip with very little social interaction – nothing was more glorious than walking the confusing alleyways, stumbling across beautiful buildings, hidden restaurants, dead ends and quiet waterways. Whilst there were a few nice tourist spots, my favourite activity was walking around with no set destination and discovering all the little squares, churches, and the most luxurious form of taxi I’ve ever seen. And, of course, taking a billion photos. Hopefully some of them capture the magic of wandering the streets of Venice.
There’s really no other way to get to central Venice without taking a water taxi. So on arrival at some horrendously late hour (hoorah for budget flights) I had the totally surreal pleasure of my first impression including all the twinkling lights as I cruised through the canals.
There was something particularly magical about this arrival method – allowing me to forget I was on the Venice equivalent of a public bus, but instead feeling like I was on one of the gondolas. If there was one thing I would change about my entrance, it would be having venetian waltzes queued up on my ipod ready to go! But of course if I’d known the entrance would be like this it wouldn’t have been half as magical.
Good thing I was in such good spirits after my water taxi ride that the nightmare that is navigating venetian street maps to find your accommodation (especially laden with all my bags) didn’t seem so bad.
Whilst there were loads of truly fascinating things to see (especially for a history nerd like me), I was really quite glad to only have a few days in Rome. Not just because of the temperature hovering between 40 and 45 degrees, but because I was getting quite sick of enormous cities that you already know a tonne about. By that stage I’d learned that it is the small, unknown places with plenty to discover that I really enjoyed. Nonetheless, the feeling that you have to see all the famous things (almost like you have to tick off the to do list) was not totally unjustified. I was still glad too see the Colosseum the Trevi Fountain, The Vatican, eat really average, overrated pasta and pizza by the Spanish Steps…
One of the parts I most enjoyed was being able to see what (to me, being a kiwi from young little New Zealand) were ludicrously old buildings and structures, in amongst the new and modern. From the weird and unexpected sensation of realising the Colosseum is in fact smack bang in the middle of the city, surrounded by traffic, to being surprised to turn a corner and be confronted by an aquaduct. I only wish I had the archaeological architectural knowledge to be able to look at neighboring buildings and be able to determine just how far apart they were constructed.
Not only is the Pantheon a fabulous attraction to see, but hunting it down is a glorious adventure in and of itself. To find it, I made my way through winding alleyways, through the Piazza Novana and past the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. All of which a beautiful destinations on their own.
After my visit, walking alongside the building I looked down and noticed how far below the current ground level the actual foundations were, which really added to my sense of awe over the age of many of the buildings in the surrounding areas.
The thing I most enjoyed about the Vatican was the mind boggling array of amazing art, let alone its ludicrously ornate surroundings. One of my favourite pieces, odly enough was Arnaldo Pomodoro’s “Sfera con Sfera” (Sphere within a sphere). Normally I’m much more a fan of classical art, but I thought it provided a really striking and thought provoking contrast. When I asked the tour guide what it was meant to represent, it became apparent she only knew the script she’d learnt – “it means what you want it to mean” being her cop out answer.” A sly bit of google research suggests the fractured surface of the outer sphere reveals a very complex inner sphere that represents the harsh difficulties that the modern world finds itself in at the end of the second millennium (it was created in 1990).
Of the 26 Churches dedicated to Mary in Rome, apparently the Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest. Makes you wonder how many churches there are for everyone else if there are already 26 for Mary! I guess they don’t call it Roman Catholic for nothing.
The Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore is apparently so special it enjoys extraterritorial status (like an embassy) and is patrolled by guards of the Vatican. It was fairly majestic and marvelous, as far as churches go, with loads of excellent frescoes. And a good thing I came prepared with my modesty scarf. The Crypt of the Nativity was quite a site also, (practically all covered in gold). It is a huge tourist draw card as it is said to contain wood from Jesus Christ’s Crib. I’d be well imressed to find out exactly how they verified that one, given Jesus didn’t become Jesus Christ Superstar until he just about carked it. Nonetheless, I was right up in there getting my touristy photos too!
Jesus’ Crib has been on Extreme Makeover: Religion Edition
There were tonnes of them, but being a little more understated and demure, in my opinion Triton was the best.
A marvelous way to turn the ordinary (dispensing water to the citizens) into something quite spectacular! There were loads of more functional looking taps on the sides of the road, looking as though they were still straight from the aquaducts, but they were quite old and rusty looking, often smelling a bit funny and giving the impression that by 2012 standards the water quality was fairly dubious.