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Pristine Italy

ITALY | Friday, 22 February 2013 | Views [283]

Italy! Nestled at the bottom of Europe, this country not only has immense historical and architectural value, it has also been blessed with an amazing geographical location. Good weather, amazing beaches, and turquoise blue seas - it lives up to everyone’s expectation! Whether you’re an art enthusiast, historian, architect, deep sea diver, shopaholic or a glutton- there is something for you here!

There is no direct flight to Italy- but a number of options are available for stop-overs. You can fly via Dubai or a few other European cities to either Rome or Venice. We took a 14 hour flight to Vienna, where we explored the city for an hour (the advantage of having a Euro Visa makes you eligible to holiday in any country in Europe) and then took another one hour flight to Venice.

Early in the morning, we enjoyed a water taxi from the airport to our Hotel Santa Marina in Venice. Finding the hotel was a challenge- it was neatly tucked away in a corner. Yes, Venice is just like how we see it in the movies! Little waterways, tiny bridges, small bistros and gondola rides- that’s what makes Venice so romantic! After checking in at our hotel, we started exploring Venice, through the only way one can- by walking. Venice is made up of small alleys; it has no roads for cars or buses. For the longer distances one can take the gondolas- small wooden boats maneuvered by handsome Italian men. Our first stop in Venice was the St Mark’s Square. Italians call it the Piazza San Marco. The Piazza is dotted with iconic sites. At the beginning there is the San Marco Cathedral, splendid in all its beauty. The Basilica’s arches and walls have paintings, sculptures and frescoes on them, some carved out of gold. On one side of the square one can see the Bell Tower rising up, tall in all its glory. The other side of the square has the famous Doge’s Palace, on which me and my mom invested a considerable amount of Euros (my dad seemed too uninterested and my brother started chasing pigeons when we told him to accompany us). The Palace was worth the Euros though. Designed in Gothic style of architecture, every inch of the castle had mosaic on it. We then went on to explore places to eat in Venice (which we would be visiting over and over again for the next few days, Venice isn’t that big you see). Italian food is amazing, however since we’re vegetarian, our palate was limited to pastas such Al Arrabiata and Penne with Basil Sauce, and Pizzas and Focaccias with various toppings.  We ended the day by visiting the Rialto Bridge. Made out of stone, this bridge gives a splendid view of Venice and the Grand Canal, with the sun setting in the background and gondola rowers singing while they maneuver their boat to a stop below the bridge.

The next day we hired a gondola for an hour, and the guide took us all around Venice, showing us all there is to see - the Bridge of Sighs, the Zaccaria church and the Grand Canal. After this we crossed over to a small strip of land across the mainland of Venice to visit the Santa Maria Basilica. One of the most important cathedrals in Italy, this Basilica is often visited by the Pope himself. It is decorated with paintings, carvings and frescoes adorning full walls. There are a few depictions from the Bible itself.

On our final day in Venice we took a waterbus to the neighboring islands.  One of the most interesting things I remember from this day (apart from the fact that the islands had very complicated Italian names) is this sign we came across on an old port wall- “Something Strange Happened Here”. It was specially designed by an architect. There are way too many nonsensical versions as to why this sign was made. We ended our stay in Venice by strolling around at Zattere and enjoying the view across the Mediterranean Sea. Grab a bite, sit by the sea while the evening breeze blows in your face- a must do in Venice!

Bidding adieu to Venice, we took a short flight to Naples. From the airport in Naples we hired a car and drove to Sorento, a two hour drive from Naples. After checking in at Hotel Hilton, we spent the rest of the day lounging around in the Hotel itself. The next day, we took a bus to Amalfi coast. After a very rash drive around the mountain and down below to the coast, we reached the most beautiful shore I have ever seen in my life! The water here will actually deceive you into believing its blue! We hired a speed boat to take us around the coast. This was the best part of the trip- lying there under the sun with the blue sea ahead of you. We went through tiny tunnels and dark caves. We saw limestone, stalagmites and stalactites. There were parts of the cave that were so dark, that only a part of sunlight could peek through. It lit up the water in a strange and eerie way. We went around the whole coast of Amalfi and Capri till sunset, stopping only once in between at Positanofor lunch. This was definitely the most enjoyable part of the trip!

The next day, just for fun, all of us grabbed a map and trekked up a mountain nearby. After 2 hours of climbing, we reached this town nestled right up in the peak of the mountain, with a beautiful little church. After coming back to the hotel, we decided to make a trip to Pompeii. Pompeii is an ancient Roman city, now in ruins. There were ruins of ancient vases, and paintings carved on stone. It reflected the intellect of people during those days, the way they constructed roads, toilets, and a drainage system, how they stored their grains and protected themselves from wild animals and bad weather. It was a nice historic touch to our stay in Sorento.

From Sorento we drove to our last destination in Italy- the capital city of Rome. Our hotel, The President, was located at a good spot with the Coliseum five minutes and the Vatican City twenty minutes away. Most importantly, we were craving Indian food by now, and it was a relief to know that there were atleast a few multi-cuisine restaurants in Rome (believe me, there was nothing apart from Italian food anywhere else. Also believe me when I say you’ll get sick of all the pizza and pasta within ten days) and a very nice Indian restaurant close by. On the very first day, we visited the Coliseum. One doesn’t need to visit the Roman Coliseum to know what a marvel it is! This is one of the most ancient buildings in Rome. While chunks of the building have eroded without any hope for restoration, much of it still stands tall. Evil things happened here – animals were left onto slaves, or made to fight with each other, gladiators fought each other till death and the victor drank the victim’s blood. For a brief period even executions took place in the Coliseum. It’s funny to imagine how people enjoyed all of that. There is also a clear hierarchy visible across the Coliseum- senators were seated right in the front, while the lower stratum of society and woman got seats all the way at the top end at the back of the Coliseum. The bottom of the Coliseum, below the stage had complicated pulley systems and secret passage ways to create magical appearances and illusions. It is said that later the Coliseum was also used by the Pope for preaching. But this is not an established fact. The Coliseum is one amazing piece of architecture!

Vatican City was next on the agenda. The Vatican City is the smallest country in the World- only 44 hectares! It has its own laws, and an army to protect the Pope, called the Swiss Guards. Saint Peter’s Square has two beautiful fountains leading up to the Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Basilica is said to be the holiest of all Catholic churches. It is indescribable in its beauty. Inside, it’s almost like the depictions on the wall -paintings, frescoes and sculptures, come to life. The carving is so perfect; it is unbelievable- marble looks like cloth until you touch it. There are statues of many Saints, and tombs and relics inside the Basilica. Bernini’s design of the St Peter’s Baldachin and St Peter’s Throne is the most remarkable construction in the Basilica. While the Baldachin is a tall bronze structure that signifies a Christian ritual, St Peter’s throne looks like a ray of light because if its color. No word can describe the beauty of this church completely. We then proceeded to the Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum is among best and the biggest museums in the world. It took us almost four hours to visit the whole museum. It has many artifacts - vases, utensils, weapons from the Bronze Age. It has old dilapidated Roman sculptures as well as new beautiful ones. It also displays a few paintings by Da Vince. A part of the museum displays the Egyptian Age and also has a preservedmummy body for display. The Sistine Chapel is also connected to the Museum. Many parts of the Sistine Chapel are inaccessible to the public, like the room where the Pope is elected (Papal Conclave). But what the public is allowed to see includes the most valuable and beautiful paintings in the world by artists like Michelangelo and Perugino. Tapestries adorn the wall from top to down, and depictions are carved all over the ceiling. Tapestries and frescoes adorn wall after wall, until one reaches the last accessible room. This room houses Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’, one of the most prized paintings in the world. This painting is huge in size and a remarkable piece of work. Despite its small size, the Vatican City took us a whole day to explore!

Over the next two days the trip was more relaxed. We shopped at Condotti. This street has every brand imaginable! We also visited the Monument of Victor Emmanuel. It’s a large white building, and is completely made of marble. Incidentally even this structure is located very close the Coliseum.

At the end of the trip, I was going back with mixed feelings! I loved Italy, but I was also homesick (and food-sick)! We boarded a flight back home to Mumbai, via Munich in Germany. Unfortunately this time we couldn’t go out and explore Munich because of paucity of time. Italy is a traveler’s heaven and an architect’s dream. It’s evolving into one of the most popular tourist destinations, and is definitely a must-see. In fact, am going to go back for more as soon as I can!

Tags: amalfi, beaches, blue waters, sea, venice

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