Water and Gondolas

I know, I promised you some time ago we were heading to a new city. I apologize if you feel you’ve had to ask “Are we there yet?” one too many times, but now we are!

After a whirlwind of a few days in Florence, we hopped on a train heading north to Venice.

I was once again unsure of what to expect, aside from water and gondolas. My first impressions from stepping off the train into a water taxi were that Venice seemed bright, lively, and beautiful.

We moseyed for a minute around our hotel looking for food, but all I got was a taste for the city.

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And we weren’t even in the heart of it, yet. Our hotel was across from the main island, so we ended up taking a complimentary shuttle boat over there to find some grub.

 

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Throw that Focaccia Porchetta Funghi Formaggio sandwich in a panini press and voila–lunch is served.

 

I’m pretty sure my little adventuring heart would’ve been perfectly content to wander the entire premises of the island for the whole two-ish days we were there, with no agenda other than to soak it all in.

Stumbling on little alleys of water tucked between rows of buildings.

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Tall, intricately designed structures of all colors that seem to exude character and confidence, somehow piquing your curiosity.

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But certainly, there were sites to be seen and explored, as well.

 

Though we had just tackled a palazzo the day before, we took on another one our first day here: The Palazzo Ducale [Doge’s Palace].

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This place was no joke, and neither was the business that took place here, once upon a time. There is more history hidden in these walls than you might think, but to spare you a lesson in something I’m certainly no expert on, let’s just say this space was a true symbol of political power, filled with people who dedicated themselves to governing with justice and keeping the peace.

One of the most surreal experiences was having the opportunity to walk through/over the “Bridge of Sighs”. As the story goes, criminals being carried off to prison after receiving their conviction in the palace had their one last look at Venice–and freedom–as they crossed the bridge to their fate, heaving a heavy sigh.

 

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From the outside.

A little bit of rest gave us energy to mingle more meandering with finding a dinner spot.

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Yep, that’s lasagna!
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And just like that, our first day in Venezia came to an end.

 

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Food Chronicles: Florentine Edition

You didn’t think I’d let you leave Florence without getting a taste for the cuisine, did you? Saved the best for last, I suppose.

I think if I had to construct a food pyramid of consumed food groups on this trip, at the bottom would be the tetrad of P’s: pastries, pizza, paninos, and pasta. At the top you’ll find cappuccinos and gelato.

Though, the more I think about it, the more “pyramid” does not seem to be the most fitting shape, based on the number of cappuccinos consumed alone. But let’s go with it.

We already covered dinner the first night, but let’s just take a second to throwback to that memorable first meal, because this truffle-topped gnocchi doused in a liquid-gold butter sauce is worth revisiting:

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Breakfast at our hotel was usually something like this:

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With a side of this:

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Then another one of these:

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Because, when in Rome. Or rather, Florence.

Really, though–by the end of our stay, when I kindly asked our breakfast host in passing for a second cappuccino, he replied “It’s already on the table. I know you!”

Somehow, that one tasted a little better.

 

For lunch, we fueled up with paninos. Our first day, after working up an appetite wandering the halls of the Uffizi, we discovered this place nearby:

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And it did not disappoint:

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Bread that’s crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, layered with salty prosciutto, creamy cheese, and an earthy tartufo spread. It made the wait and lack of personal space inside well worth it.

 

The next day, between seeing the statue of David and the Palazzo Pitti, we gave a place called ‘Ino a try:

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They make pretty good paninos:

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Though I had picked up a few words and pleasantries at this point, “tartufo” became an important and often-recognized one in my small Italian arsenal.

Because you can’t go wrong with anything that comes with truffles on it in any way, shape, or form.

 

Which made one of our choices of pizza for dinner one night quite simple…

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…well, you may call it pizza. I call it a truffle mixture with a side of bread, cheese, sauce, fresh basil, and more cheese.

 

Don’t worry, we didn’t forget the meat.

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There are times to be adventurous, and there are times to go with what you know–or at least, what you know you’ll enjoy. And these were thoroughly enjoyed. To the point where the plates were pretty much wiped clean.

 

Our last night, we stumbled on this little place near our hotel:

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Where the words “spinach ricotta ravioli” and “butter sage sauce” practically leapt off the menu and beckoned.

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It’s a good thing we literally walked everywhere. And I’m able to use the word literally, literally.

 

Of course, we can’t have dinner without dessert. Though, really, anytime can be gelato time.

My first taste was on our way back from the Duomo.

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There’s always a good excuse for a gelato break, and it can be given at any time. Exploring a giant palace that will let you back in with your ticket on the same day? Take a gelato break.

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What I failed to realize on my second full day in Italy was the fact there was Nutella-flavored gelato, and then there was just plain Nutella you could opt to have with your gelato. I, of course, somehow managed to find myself with half a cup full of straight up Nutella. Delicious, but overpowering.

It’s a good thing there were plenty more opportunities to make up for my snafu.

 

In all seriousness, I love how the simple act of having a meal not only becomes such a memorable part of your travels, but invites you in to get a taste for the culture, creating an opportunity to absorb another way of life. It brings all the sites and wonders of the city to life, because you’re not just standing back to observe and appreciate–you’re stepping in and living it.

Squeezing through cramped spaces and tiny tables crowded by friends and family eating together. Waiting in line on the street for your lunch. Sitting on some steps enjoying your gelato as people bustle around and cars whizz by. Each experience, each meal–yes, even each gelato break–is like getting a peek behind the curtain into the inner workings of something you’re not sure you can even grasp to begin with.

Maybe after a few more cups of cappuccino and scoops of gelato, I can begin to start.

La Fine di Firenze

It has been a joy to look back through photos from our last day in Florence–and boy, did we do it up right.

On the earlier side of the morning, with the help of some cappuccinos, we hup-two’d over to the Galleria dell’Accademia to behold the famous statue of David, crafted by Michaelangelo.

 

 

I know.

Whether I overheard this from one of the many nearby tour guides, or gleaned it from our trusty old friend Rick Steves, I can’t remember…but I believe Michaelangelo carved this out of an unwanted, undesirable block of marble. Nobody wanted to touch it, but this 26-year-old was up for the challenge.

Of course, it fascinated my little mind to think about all the ways Michaelangelo and his work intertwine with the story of David. Young. Outcast. Overlooked. Courageous. Facing giants, literal and figurative. Victorious. Timeless.

It’s all so satisfyingly fitting.

 

After caffeinating and eating, we took on a giant of our own–the Palazzo Pitti.

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And that’s just the outside.

Mesmerized, I couldn’t help but transport myself to another time and imagine what it would be like to roam these halls as a tenant, rather than a tourist.

 

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I kid you not, with each room we entered, my jaw dropped open a little more.

Each room, seemingly more ornate than the last, lavishly decorated from floor to ceiling.

 

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Literally.

 

 

Word of advice: if you ever venture to Italy, be sure to find some good exercises to strengthen your neck muscles. You’ll spend a good amount of time looking up.

And what good would a palace be if its opulence wasn’t rivaled by beautiful views of the surrounding city.

 

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To say nothing of the sculptures and statues.

 

 

And what palace would be complete without a courtyard and gardens:

 

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These photos really can’t do this place justice, nor do they even begin to scratch the surface–I took so many more. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, I think I’ve gone on long enough.

After a little siesta (wait, what country are we in?), our sore and tired feet carried us to a place close by for dinner. Some reprieve awaited them the next day with a train ride to our next destination–Venice!

Farewell, Firenze. Until next time.

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PHOTO CREDIT: My dad. Too pretty to keep to myself.

A Museo and A Duomo

If you ever need to know how to get on my good side brighten my day, throw me in an art museum and take away the key.

Well, maybe let me out eventually.

In all seriousness, what I lack in artistic capabilities I make up for in the ability to appreciate someone else’s. Considering Italy is in no short supply of such talents, I was happy to offer up my services.

I love the beauty of a piece of artwork in and of itself, but also what’s behind it. A portrait, a landscape, a figment of imagination–I take it for what it is, but then muse on the who and what and why behind it.

If you know of any good over-thinker support groups, feel free to pass them along.

 

The first museum halls I had the pleasure of roaming were that of the Uffizi Gallery.

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The inside of the outside. [Please excuse the crane.]
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As you turn the corner from the entrance, you stare down a long hallway lined with busts, sculptures, and portraits, and topped with intricate paintings.

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So much to marvel already, but so much left to explore.

Duck into any opening from the main hallway and you’ll lose yourself in a maze of Renaissance artwork…

 

…and sculptures…

 

…no issues spending an entire morning here.

 

After having our fill and fueling up with paninos [more to come on those!], we paid a visit to Il Duomo di Firenze, a cathedral known for its revolutionary dome that stands above the labyrinth that is Florence.

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And that’s just the outside.

 

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Looking back.

So much to observe, appreciate, soak in, and ponder. I’m once again lost in thought, contemplating the tenacity it takes to work day in and day out on a place that I wouldn’t see through to fruition in my lifetime.

The patience it takes to piece together a masterful fresco inch by inch, stroke by stroke.

The focus and determination it takes to meticulously chisel out each fold, each expression, each hair on each sculpture.

It all leads me to think that while there’s an art of this time that is lost nowadays, there’s another lost art of patience, endurance, and acceptance of not seeing the fruits of that labor (and working hard regardless) that, I would argue, is sadly fading away in a world that’s demanding instantaneous gratification, results, and rewards more and more.

So much to take in leads to much food for thought, and a hunger for more.

 

Speaking of food, don’t worry–we kept our minds and ourselves well fed, but more to come on the actual food later.

Till then, I’ll just leave this picture of the Arno River at night right here.

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First Impressions

You only get one chance to make a first impression, right? Well, Florence is a pretty great place to represent, if that adage also applies to entire countries.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect of this city, especially when one of the first things I saw out of the airplane window when we landed was a giant IKEA.

After we packed into a little taxi and embarked further into the city, though, I quickly came to realize everything in Florence seems small, compact, cramped, and confined.

 

Tiny cars navigating their way around pedestrians through narrow, winding, cobbled streets.

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Buildings stacked like blocks on top of each other–all different shapes, sizes, and colors, each one seemingly unique.

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You think about how a city with so much depth, so much history, so much character, has had to adapt over time…I’d say Florence has aged gracefully and acclimated pretty well, all things considered.

But who’s asking.

 

After settling in, our first venture out led us to the historic Ponte Vecchio bridge nearby.

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Ponte Vecchio bridge, from the outside

From inside, as you’re coming upon the bridge, squeezing through crowds of people bustling by, you see both sides of the street lined with shops vying for your attention, as glistening jewelry and shiny trinkets catch your eye with each passing window.

The bridge itself is a pause in the seemingly endless string of shops, drawing your gaze out over Arno River.

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Looking out from one side…

 

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…and the other

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A corridor at the end of the bridge.

 

We moseyed around there until it was time to head back to our hotel for dinner. On the roof.

Yes. The roof.

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If you ever have the opportunity to dine on a rooftop, ever, anywhere, at any point in your life, I highly recommend it. (Except maybe on your own roof, because that could be dangerous. Unless it’s designed for that kind of thing. I digress.)

Enriching. Humbling. Breathtaking. It certainly set the bar high for the rest of the trip.

But beyond the beautiful views were beautiful people. Rafael and Esmerelda will welcome you to their tables like you’re family. He will serve you his finest year of water. She will share with you a recipe for homemade gnocchi, just to prove how easy it is to make, as well as her leaf collection she just gathered from the trellis by the stairs.

Speaking of gnocchi:

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This was hands down one of the best meals I had. Fluffy, creamy, pillowy puff balls of potato pasta topped with a butter sauce and shaved truffles.

I confess, I’m glad there was bread to sop it up, or I might have had to lick the plate clean.

Such a delightful introduction. Nice to meet you, Florence. I couldn’t wait to get to know you more.

Veni, Vidi, Vici

If you know me for any short amount of time, you’ll come to find that I done been bit by the Wanderlust bug, and there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it. Whether I go looking for adventure, or adventure finds me, I enjoy exploring new places, submerging myself in other cultures, and discovering the vast intricacies of this world I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

I recently returned from spending ten days of my life in three of the most enchanting cities I’ve encountered, all found in the charming nation of Italy. And, while there, I decided the best attempt to process and share this trip, and do this place and these experiences an iota of justice, was through the good ol’ blogosphere. Thus, a post-trip blog is born.

To give you a 30,000 foot overview…

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Started in Firenze [Florence]:

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Then ventured up to Venezia [Venice]:

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Then down to Roma [Rome]:

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So much happened in between, and I would love to share it all, if you’ll allow me. Whether you’ve attempted to ask me about the trip, and spoken words have escaped me, or you just want to lean in and see up close from afar, I’d love for you to come on this journey with me.

Italy is rich with people, history, food, & features–it has so much to offer, and I’ve barely broken through the surface. Become a student alongside me of another place, another people, another culture, another time. Come see the world through other eyes, other ears, sights, smells, and sounds.

Veni, Vidi, Vici – I came. I saw. I observed. I absorbed. I learned. I pondered. Didn’t even begin to conquer.