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Published: September 11th 2016
On the boat from the airport to the city, we started to study up and make some plans
This summer, to celebrate Mads’ bachelor’s degree, we decided to spend two weeks exploring Venice, Florence, and Rome. It was Mads’ first visit to Italy, and though it was hot, hot, hot, we could not have enjoyed the experience more. It was helped along by the fact that we were freshly engaged!
This was also my first time to Venice, and I was anxious to experience what Northern Italy had to offer as far as art and food. We took the water bus from the airport to the city, and marveled at the dense islands with beautiful churches and narrow canals.
Our hotel was right off St. Marco’s Square, which was indeed convenient, but certainly also meant we were in the thick of it all. After dropping out things we fueled up with our first fresh mozzarella and basil, knocked back an espresso, and started to wander!
The heat and the volume of people meant our wander did not last too long in the peak of the afternoon heat, but after a bit of rest, we were recharged, and hopeful, that many had left on cruise ships and the like. We managed
to make it to Academia in time to enjoy their temporary and permanent collections. Some of the paintings were overwhelming in size, but my knowledge was too thin and the information from the museum too sparse for us to really engage with much of the permanent collection.
We took a long walk far from the touristy parts to catch the Vaparetto, the boat bus for an evening ride down the Grand Canal. Rick Steves has a number of free downloadable podcasts, including one which guided us along our trip, explaining about the important buildings and drawing our attention to spots we might which to check out in our next days.
The next morning, we took some of his advice, in fact, when after a tasty apricot croissant, we took a 1 Euro gondola ride across the Grand Canal to visit the fish market. The market is held in an old hall with fish carved in to the supporting columns. We wandered slowly back, taking in some “must sees” along with all the other tourists, before meeting up with our tour.
We’d debated over whether to take tours or not, and we
opted for one in Venice and one in Rome. Our Venice tour took us into the underbelly of the Doge’s Palace. The guide was wonderful and excited. The tour began with the prison cells, worked its way up to the investigation room, up again to Casanova’s former cells, into rooms where judgments were made. From there we made our way into the public side of the palace, full of grand halls and ornately decorated rooms. The contrast between these two was fascinating, and gave a clearer image of how Venice was run at its peak. It makes me wonder about what lies behind the halls of other buildings I’ve wandered through before.
After our tour, we enjoyed the view from the balcony of St. Marc’s Basilica, before taking in the church itself. It was certainly an impressive building, and reminded us both of the Hagia Sophia with its mosaics.
From our wanderings the day before, we had spotted a little restaurant on a canal, that we reserved a table at for dinner. It lived up to our hopes, and we even heard some other guests speaking Italian, a language we felt we had not
heard much of since arriving in Venice.
We were hoping to find an after dinner drink, but we were unsuccessful in finding what we hoped for. It is a city where, instead of saying, “should we go there?” we ended up asking, “should we try to go there?” As we were often unable to find our way on land to something we had spotted from the water. Or we could see something from a bridge, but not quite navigate which alley would bring us to that spot!
Our last day in Venice started with a downpour. Some he gondoliers and tourists persisted in spite of the rain. We splashed along to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which we loved. The audio guide brought added to the experience and deepened our understanding of her life as well as the art.
The afternoon brought sun, and we took the Vaparetto, the boat bus to Murano to visit the glass museum and see another of the islands. The ride out was beautiful, and the calm of the island drew us in. There was a local feeling with store owners greeting passersby and their dogs. The
museum gave a good understanding of the progression of the local history with glass, but we would have liked to see a demonstration. We could have found a place for that, but as we were sort of fumbling along and taking whatever came our way, we did not hit the timing right for that.
On our Vaparetto ride back, we sat in the stern and enjoyed the breeze. The days were hot! I was cooled down even more, as the boat took a turn and a nice big wave soaked me. It was a good bonding experience for the group of us in the back though we had no common language. After drying off, we enjoyed a mediocre dinner, and wondered if maybe we didn’t quite figure the city out. We think we know what we would do better another time, but we are also not sure we would rush back to visit again. Perhaps not in peak tourist season…
Our train ride to Florence the next morning ran smoothly, and our AirBnB hostess welcomed us with open arms. We breathed a sigh of relief and felt like Florence was going to be more
our kind of place. First things first, we took her advice and lunched with the neighborhood locals at a nearby restaurant. The waitress was friendly and Italian was spoken boisterously all around.
Before leaving for Italy, we purchased the Florence Card, which allowed us access to 72 museums for 72 hours, so we picked that up and did a walking tour of the city. Seeing Mads see the Duomo for the first time stays with me. We started with the Baptistery and marveled at its ceiling. We left the rest of the complex for the next day, and instead walked across Ponte Vecchio to enjoy some gelato before a little rest.
Some museums were open late, so we strategized about when to see Michelangelo’s David and so on. We opted for Palazzio Vecchio, which we poked around in until 11 pm. As it was almost empty and dark outside, we took each room slowly and enjoyed our pace.
The next morning, we took on the Duomo and climbed to the top! I had read a book about the building of the dome, so I was keen to experience it close up,
which I had not done on my last visit. The view from the top was glorious, and being able to note some of the architectural elements added to the pleasure.
We took a little rest and water, you have to love the water fountains in every square in Italy!, before heading in to the complex’s museum to appreciate the original baptistery doors and to gain a sense of the history. Based on a recommendation, we ate lunch above the food market, in what is now a very trendy food court. It was delicious! And walking on the ground floor among the fruits and vegetables was also good fun.
With full bellies, we walked to the Academia to admire David. Again, Rick Steves talked us through the marvels of the museum, and even encouraged us to appreciate the smaller musical instrument exhibit we might have otherwise missed. Our Florence Card meant we did not have to wait in lines, and we were certainly grateful for it again at this museum.
We ducked in to the Medici Chapel on our way home to rest before dinner, and were again inundated with masterful sculpture
and treasures. There seems to be no limit to what artists in the Renaissance created.
For our last full day in Florence, we started off slowly, and admired the sculptures in front of Palazzio Vecchio, before following Rick Steves’ audio tour of the Uffizi. I had certain paintings that I was anxious to admire again, but what struck me most this time, was learning about an above ground passage built for the Medici to be able to walk between their palace and the Uffizi without being on street level.
We enjoyed some excellent pizza before braving the heat and heading to the Boboli Gardens, which we enjoyed as best we could given the blazing sun. We took advantage of being on that side of the river, and after a memorably delicious dinner, we headed to a bar on the beach to enjoy the sunset and a bit of the local nightlife.
Before our train, we had time to take in one more museum…and some more pizza! We opted for the Galileo Museum, which oddly was more of a science museum in general. The exhibits were cool, and the information excellent, it
was not quite what we had expected.
Our train ride to Rome was smooth and uneventful. We made our way to our bed and breakfast, and noted down the many recommendations of the receptionist before setting off to explore. We walked quite a lot of the city getting a sense of it and enjoying the cooling evening.
Bed and breakfast might be an exaggeration, as breakfast was a coffee and croissant at a nearby bakery. We did not complain, as the croissants La Cantonese were filled with deliciousness and the coffee was strong. High on the list of places to visit was the Pantheon. Again, good old Rick Steves talked us through the highlights and helped us to imagine the building during the Roman Empire’s peak.
We poked into Minerva Church, just by the Pantheon, to see a Michelangelo sculpture of Jesus that I had never seen before. Again, we could only wonder at the volume of incredible art tucked away in various places around the city. We stuck to the Michelangelo theme, and walked to St Peter in Chains to see his extraordinary Moses.
Basilica St Clementine
was not open, so we noted the hours when we could go in and see the ruins of the former churches that the current structure sits on, and headed home to take shelter from the heat and to make a solid plan of attack for our next days in the city.
Once the temperature started to drop, we set off to walk around Trastteveri neighborhood. We followed a Danish book guide which took us to a range of paces including to St Cecilia church and a fun local bar. We had dinner which felt authentic, complete with the cook and waitress insisting that Mads use a piece of bread to eat up his sauce before she would clear his plate!
The next day, full from our croissant and coffee we started in Campo de Fiore, where we set off following another Rick Steves guide that took us on a walking tour. We both appreciated hearing stories and the history of the places we had walked by in the previous days.
In the heat, we walked to the Borghesse Gallery, which was sold out for the day, so we bought ticket for
Saint Mark's Basilica
A detail of how the body of St. Mark was smuggled to Italy...packed with pigs.
next day. Before leaving, we took a nice long rest on a marble bench in the shade and refilled our water bottles a few times in the flowing fountains. Instead, we enjoyedthe National Roman Museum, where we took in Discobolus and many mosaics and frescos.
We zipped across the city on the metro, loved the air conditioning, to Spanish Steps, which were being renovated. They practically sparkle now! So, we made our way back to our area for dinner, and then had an evening walk around St. Peter’s Basilica.
Our second tour was of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica. No small order. Our guide was lackluster, but the sites were not. Even though it was packed with people, there was a certain peace in the Sistine Chapel.
We had time for a quick lunch and shower before our time at the Borghesse Gallery. This was my first visit there, and the density of its sculptures and the intricacy of the wall decorations were overwhelming. Seeing art in person that we studied in high school art history class still touches me deeply and makes me feel so grateful, both
for the privilege of the course, but also for the fortune of seeing it in person and not from a slide.
Again, we took a long walk, and looked down the Spanish Steps, before finding a little dinner and heading home after a very full day.
Unfortunately, I woke up sick the next day, so it was a bit of struggle taking on Rome and the heat. But, we persevered and enjoyed Rick Steves talking us through the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. I was feeling quite low, but after lunch and some rest, we also visited Basilica St Clementine, which was worth it to see the excavations of the church and the Roman home on which it is built.
Before our flight on our final day, I mustered the energy to go with Mads to the German cemetery in the Vatican. Mads spoke to the guard in German, explaining he wanted to visit the former Danish queen, and in we went! It was so peaceful and lovely, far from the bustle of the city and hum of tourists. That was all I could push through though, so we headed to
the airport early, and took the journey home as calmly and gently as possible.
It was a great trip for us, as we both enjoy stories and learning about the history of a place. We loved learning to notice certain elements in a style of art, or spotting a crest of importance, or imagining what a ruin looked like in its hay day. And now that we are engaged, it is a really good thing to know that we enjoy traveling together so much!
Food recommendations Venice
Rossopomodoro-nice fresh food
Rosa Salva Bakery
Ai Barbacani good dinner and kind staff Florence
Ostaria Pizzeria dei Cento Poveri- nice for lunch, 10 Euros
Trattoria Sant Agostino- wonderful dinner
Mangia Pizza- really good pizza! Rome
Pane and Vino-Great sandwich near Coliseum
La Boticella was wonderful-authentic bossy Italian mom
La Casa del Caffe- by the Pantheon, great coffee, supposedly the inspiration for Starbucks
Pinsere- fun pizza like things; great and happy employees
Pizza Zizza-good and fun right
by St. Peter’s
Aperitivo at Angelinas Cafe- kind staff and good food for the price
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