Thursday, April 22, 2010

No cars allowed... Venice, Italy (and pictures from Florence)

Here are pictures from Florence...

The Duomo with its white, pink and green marble. This church became my favorite but didn't stay my favorite for long. to the church (cut off from the picture) is the tower. Erin and I went up the tower instead of the dome because the dome was closed for the Easter weekend.

The inside of the church. Compared to the outside it was actually rather plain

On the free tour of the city we took they showed us a few gelato shops with homemade gelato and it was AMAZING!!! The first day I had chocolate fudge then the second I had half strawberry (so flavorful) and cheesecake (one of the most amazing things I have ever eaten). We ate gelato almost once a day :)

Erin and I eating our gelato

Me and the pont de vecchio

The view from the top of the tower. I love cities from above, especially european cities.

Santa Croche, one of the other churches in Florence and apparently where a bunch of famous people are buried like Michelangelo and Galileo.

A tripe sandwich :) it was actually pretty good! Tripe sandwiches of Lamprodatos are a Florantinian specialty.

The flag throwers Easter morning

All the people in front of the church Easter morning.

The cart from which they set off fireworks

The colored smoke.

A sampling of the fireworks

The inside of the gorgeous dome!

And on to Venice!
I have had such an idealized image of Venice for nearly my entire life (or at least since I read The Thief Lord about a dozen times). It seemed like a city that existed in a parallel universe, a city where cars didn't exist. Everything happened by water or walking and I thought that was so cool. The charm of a city so confusing one could get lost extremely easily somehow appealed to me. Anyways, because of this extremely idealized view Venice was both a city that must be on my travel list but was also in high danger of not living up to my extreme expectations. However it took the same amount of time as it took to mount the first bridge over the Grand Canal for me to fall in love with the city itself and not the literary renditions of it. Yes I know its touristy, yes I know it is a dying city (it looses 1000 inhabitants a year) but it has charm. It is different. We soon decided we needed an actual map to find our hostel and with that didn't have too much trouble. We were staying in an old palace on the Grand Canal (though on the other side of the building) and while it was rather run down it was easy to imagine the elegance that once existed there.
There wern't too many street performers in Venice but this guy was awesome! He was playing actually recognizable songs on crystal glasses near our hostel.

Who wouldn't fall in love with that? I especially loved the little bridges that crossed the small canals and the doors that opened directly to the water. They really do use the water to get around too. We saw plenty of actual residents using their boats. There are the gondolas yes but also garbage boats, police boats, delivery boats, mail boats and even UPS boats.

The Grand Canal. This is where most of the activity was. There are water taxis that go up and down the grand canal and also to the other islands. We took one of them down the canal and saw a lot of the sights from the water as they were meant to be seen. Rick Steves (that guy who writes the tour books) also produces a podcast (an audio file) of tours all around Europe and he was our friend on this trip. We took his tour of the Vatican, Florence, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, St. Marks Basilica and the Grand Canal. Its so interesting to listen to him and actually learn things about what you are seeing without having to pay for an actual tour. Some of the palaces along the Grand Canal are so pretty! The amount of wealth that used to be centered here is amazing.

Gondola, gondola, gondola!!! The gondola men kept on trying to get us to take a ride but well... a bit out of our price range. Some of their boats are so decked out its crazy. I loved their costume of the striped shirt and the hat though :)

sitting on the grand canal. I could have sat here for days on end! There was so much going on and well... I'm in love with this city!

St. Marks Square. There were so many tourists it was a bit crazy but it wasn't too hard to look past them all and see the true beauty of the square. There is St. Marks Basilica (which became my favorite church), the campanile (the tower) and the Doge's palace. For as much as they say the lines here are awful we had no problems whatsoever. It took us maybe 10 minutes to get into St. Marks Basilica (the final resting place of St. Mark after crusaders "rescued" his body from Muslims who were about to desecrate it) The inside is COVERED in gold (see next picture) which shows how amazingly rich Venice was at one time. There is also an alter to St. Mark at the front of the church which has so many jewels and gold it is almost gaudy. The tile floors were almost the most interesting (and sad) though because it wasn't flat. They have so many floods here and the ground is moving so much that I dont know how some of the buildings are still standing. Venice may be completely underwater in a hundred years... its sinking. :(

Another view of St. Marks Square. The campanile (the tower) fell about 100 years ago and they re-built it. We decided not to go up it because we were having so much fun just wondering around the city. The first day we attempted to get lost but ended up finding us again! It was easier to get lost when we were trying to find where we were going than when we were trying to get lost.

So many gondolas!!!

Can you see why I love this city?
While we didn't go on a real gondola ride we did go on what tourists like to call the "poor man's gondola" Basically it is an oversized gondola which ferries people back and forth across the canal.

This palace was across the canal from the palace we were staying in... and it was where Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were staying because she is shooting a movie in Venice. Cool right?

So overall take on Venice: it exceeded my expectations. We had so much fun just wandering the streets seeing all the little canals and getting lost in the tiny streets. We took a water taxi to Melano to see the glass blowers and walk around and that was so pretty! After our two nights there we really didn't want to leave but I suppose when Rome is the next city its not too bad...

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