Find History and Romance Here
Update— I have extra printed postcards from this trip, let me know if you’d like one.
When we booked the trip, I did what I always do: looked for sample itineraries. I visited Italy once before when I was studying abroad, so I knew that it would be difficult to see a lot in such a short amount of time. Every website said it: You can’t see Italy in a week.
Since we arrived at home, I can confirm that it’s true. There’s so much to see (and eat) all over Italy, and many cities have smaller towns surrounding them with rich histories and lifestyles to experience. What was originally supposed to be a two-city trip (Milan and Florence), quickly turned into three. We actually booked our hotel for Venice while we were in Rome (thanks wifi & cheap travel sites).
Though our traveling-policy is usually to not overdo it, we set a very quick pace. We did manage to came back to our room to work or relax for an hour or so, but some days it was tough to stop (or to start back up again). For anyone looking to take this trip: it’s possible, but you’ll savor every moment not on your feet.
Religion and History in Rome
The Eternal City is one shrouded in myths and stories, much different from other famous cities. There are two legends about the founding of Rome, though both agree on the year — 753 B.C.
The first says that after escaping Troy, Aeneas of Virgil’s epic poems (Aeneid) went to the area and married the daughter of a king. His children eventually became Romans. The other is the myth of Romulus and Remus. These twins were born from a virgin, sent to a Moses-like death and saved by a variety of gods, animals or shepherds, depending on the version. Ultimately, the city is founded by and named after Romulus, who kills his brother.
Many cities advertise their rich histories, but it’s only Rome that has the past literally standing at its center. I was in awe the first time I saw the Colosseum in the distance. The Roman ruins stand out even though the city doesn’t have the modern steel and glass skyline of New York. I’ve never made it inside the Colosseum, but the entrance under its side is cold and dark. It’s really the only thing that reminded me that despite its impressive nature, this amphitheater saw thousands of deaths. Crowds watched both human and animal blood spilled here. It’s somber and strange when there are men dressed up in gladiator costumes for tourists.
Read up on some history (or get a guidebook) beforehand and you’ll be able to spot all of the important buildings. Some require more imagination than others, such as Palatine Hill, which is still being excavated and doesn’t look like it’s been restored like some of the more prominent structures. Here are other places we visited:
I said it about Florence, and I’ll say it again: You don’t need to be Christian to appreciate the Vatican and St. Peter’s church. It’s just huge! I highly recommend seeing the museum and the church itself.
The official Vatican tour was also worth it. It’s about three hours long, though I was told to see the entire museum would take much longer. We skipped many rooms including the contemporary art (Picasso, Matisse), to get to the Sistine Chapel at the end. You get a thorough explanation of Michelangelo’s famous fresco, “The Last Judgement.” Afterward, you can go back into the rest of the museum. Again, I’d highly recommend to get some sort of a guide.
There were lots of fun facts and jokes along the way. The most surprising was that the latest restoration of the fresco (1980 – 94) was funded by the Japanese Nippon Television Network Corporation with $4.2 million USD. Basically, this Japanese company owns the photography and film rights of the Sistine Chapel fresco. That explains why I don’t have any photos, but I’m sure a Google search will help you out.
I’m a big fan of museums and art (just in case you couldn’t tell), and this one was really amazing.
Venice on the Water
While in Venice we learned that Veneto, one of Italy’s richest states, had a referendum for independence from the rest of the country. The famous city of Venice is its largest municipality. About 4.8 million people live in the area. Almost 90% of eligible residents voted for independence. (Ultimately this vote was just for show).
We arrived into Venice’s S. Lucia train station and had a nice view of a city on the water (and covered in bridges). Of course we still had about 2 miles to walk to our hotel, after deciding that the water taxi was too expensive. Well, here’s our walk on Google Maps, with an estimated 34 minute travel time. Once we got onto the first bridge, we realized that it would actually be pretty exhausting to walk all the way there. Not to mention trying to run back a couple of days later to catch our train.
Our first stop after the hotel was Saint Marco’s Square, with a basilica, tower and palace at the center. This view onto the Grand Canal was really just beautiful. We also stopped at Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta To Go for a late lunch around 3 pm. It’s wise to have lunch before then if you want to sit down at a nice place. This applies to the other cities we visited as well. We got delicious, fresh-made pasta in Chinese takeout-style box. The owner was really sweet too, even after I spilled soda on the floor.
Venice is one of those places people dream of seeing and rightly so. Still, I don’t think you need to spend more than a day and a half there to take it all in. After a full day, we were scrambling for things to do. I’m curious if someone had a different experience.
Enjoy the sights of Venice.
Check out the first part of this trip in Florence, Italy.