We planned to spend the winter of 2008/09 in hibernation, saving for our trip home to NZ to get married. However, we decided to have one last, awesome late-summer holiday before hunkering down….so it was off to Italy in September 2008.
First stop – naturally – was Rome. There is only one word to describe Rome: WOW! It’s an assault on the senses; around every corner there is a fantastic statue or building or ruin that takes your breath away, and you have to virtually wire your jaw shut to stop from tripping over it. I’ve heard it said that you either love Rome, or don’t, and I certainly fall into the LOVE IT!! category.
When we arrived, it was around 35deg and it was HOT. Nevertheless, we hit the streets and got thoroughly lost amongst hoards of bewildered tourists and glamourous locals. We gaped our way through the impressive Colosseum and wandered through the amazing ruins on Palatine Hill. The Trevi Fountain was a popular place (getting close enough to throw a coin over your shoulder was mission impossible), as were the Spanish Steps (oh, to be Audrey Hepburn and have a clear shot!).
The Pantheon was beautifully preserved, with the hole in the ceiling the only source of light, and the Temple of Adrian was a lovely sight in a bustling business area. The Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II was beautiful, and the panoramic views of Rome from the top of the steps were fantastic.
The Vatican City was okaaaay – I think after the amazing sights of downtown Rome, our expectations were pretty high. We queued for what seemed like hours in the heat (a tip: it would be worth buying the more expensive VIP-type pass to jump the queues at a place like this!).
St Peter’s Basilica was impressive, as were the vast numbers of (pilfered) art works in the museums. Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel have been restored over the years, and while ‘The Creation of Man’ was cool to see, the chapel had nothing on St Peter’s.
After imbibing probably twice our body weights in water, we took a train north to Florence. After orienting ourselves with the massive Duomo in the centre of the city, we quickly attempted our escape from the throngs of people, and after fighting our way across the goldsmith-filled Ponte Vecchio, found ourselves on the other side of the river, climbing what seemed to be a HUGE hill (the heat does funny things to your mind!) to find somewhere for a picnic lunch.
We found an area near two pretty churches, with amazing views down into the city, and ate our proscuitto-and-random-cheese sandwiches. That was probably the last decent meal we had in Florence – we seemed to make some shocking choices of places to eat! After one meal at a ristorante offering ‘Menu Turistico’, we vowed never again to be pulled in by the English wording and tempting outdoor seats! We queued for a while to see Michelangelo’s ‘David’ – one piece of art that, unlike ‘The Mona Lisa’ or ‘The Creation of Man’, lives up to all the hype. The detail, the veins and muscles, the pose and the posture….it was awesome. Unfortunately you can’t take photos, but I think he’s something you have to see and walk around yourself to appreciate how amazing he (and Michelangelo’s talent) is.
Escaping the mobs of people, our next stop was slightly inland, to Bologna. Known as the food capital of Italy, I had high expectations from Bologna, and she didn’t disappoint. We stumbled into a great little cafe that had (a) the best mushroom risotto and (b) the All Blacks playing on the big screen! With our stomachs happily full, we climbed the 97m Torre Asinelli (one of Bologna’s leaning towers) for more brilliant views. Dinner at Pizzeria Bully was, despite the dubious-sounding name, a gastronomic delight, and the wine was phenomenal. There’s not a lot of “touristy” stuff to do in Bologna, but it was nice to stroll with the locals rather than be pushed along by a sea of camera-toting tourists.
From Bologna, we headed further north to Verona. In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, we found ourselves in a very pretty city with a beautiful 1st-Century amphitheatre (‘The Arena’) slap bang in the middle.
Narrow, cobblestoned streets and pedestrianised piazzas make this a fun and easy place to explore and get lost in, although the crowds in search of Casa di Giulietta make it a little less poetic than you’d expect. The House of Juliet, with THAT balcony, has a free courtyard, and people jostling to have their photo taken leaning down to their Romeo. There’s a bronze statue of Juliet, and apparently rubbing her heart brings you a new lover….for many, I think it’s just an excuse to touch her boob. The walkway into the courtyard is covered with graffiti and post-it notes of couples declaring their love – it sounds tacky, but it’s actually quite cute. After dinner, we strolled past The Arena and an opera had just started – it was so beautiful and haunting, but our dwindling budget didn’t stretch to the €90 seats, so we sat outside on the steps for a while, and then I had to be content to drift off to sleep with the cast of “The Notre Dame of Paris” singing my lullabies.
The following day, we took a day trip to Venice. We had no map, and no real idea of what we wanted to do or see, so we got ourselves terrifically lost in the tiny, winding streets. The canals and gondolas were pretty, and walking through ankle-deep water to get across Piazza San Marco because the tide was up was an experience.
The street hawkers were bolshy (I could have bought “genuine” Gucci/Louis Vuitton/Chanel/Hermes/Bulgari bags – in fact, I could have bought one of each, all for less than the price of a real one!) and everything seemed to have tripled in price, but the carnavale masks were beautiful and the Murano glass sparkled temptingly in the sun. There were a few too many people for our liking, but Venice was definitely worth visiting. We enjoyed some really good hole-in-the-wall pizza, too!
Our whirlwind nine-day tour ended back in Rome, where we soaked up one last afternoon in one of the most dizzying and beguiling cities in the world. There is so much truth in the saying “Roma, non basta una vita” (“Rome, a lifetime is not enough”); I loved it, and would go happily back for more.