A Quick Roam Round the Streets of Rome

Today we are leaving Capri (sadly) for our last stop in this whirlwind tour of Europe.  We’ve really enjoyed Capri (more specifically Anacapri) and if we hadn’t been away so long, another few days here would have been heavenly.

But five weeks on the road is quite a bit and there’s a part of each of us that is keen to get home.  We pack our suitcases into one of the open top Capri taxis and head down the windy OMG Mamma Mia road for the last time wondering just what Rome will have in store for us.

To be honest, although we have met some absolutely lovely people that have made our time in Italy pleasurable, we have had enough of the rude attitude we have found from the majority of Italians we have come across and we are not exactly fired up about our next few days in Rome.

To fill in some time, we stop at a cafe along Marine Grande, a coffee here, a sandwich there, an icecream, a glass of wine.  It’s a great spot for people watching, and being a Saturday morning, it means one thing – the tourists are in!

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The busses, boats, taxis and funicular queues sport masses of people, growing in number then clearing, and then growing again.  It’s crazy!  I wonder how people feel about coming to Capri for just the day – I bet they end up wishing they were staying at least one night.

Finally, it’s our turn to depart on one of the massive ferries.  I’d like to tell you about the trip, but the truth is I fell asleep.  It may have only been a 40 minute ride, but it felt like I was asleep for hours!  We disembark the ferry and head to the waiting area to flag down a taxi to get us to Napoli Centrale train station, where we’ll be boarding our train to Rome.

I’ve heard the drivers in Napoli are absolutely crazy but to see it with your own eyes is incredible.  They just drive anywhere, whenever, no matter if there’s a car right there in front of them.  It’s no lie to say that every second car had a dent, or multiple dents or parts that would have been hanging off the car if it hadn’t been for the layers of sticky tape holding it together.

But we manage to make it safely to the station and after waiting what seems like AGES for our train (and encountering some more rude people along the way), we are finally on our train and heading to Rome.

It takes less than 1½ hours to get to our final destination and we aren’t sure quite what to expect when we get off the train.  On our way through from Florence to Naples, the station didn’t look very inviting at all, to the point where I was beginning to rethink staying where we had booked.  But we were quite surprised to find our way out into the streets easily and even found our hotel without too much trouble, which was quite the surprise inside.

It was quite early in the day, so after a freshen up, we decided to hit the streets to see what it was all about.  We were in need of another one of the Hard Rock Cafe’s famous steaks and a load more broccoli (we ordered an extra side of seasonal vegetables to which the waitress replied I’m really sorry, but it’s just broccoli, to which we replied that was exactly what we wanted – she must have thought we were plain weird!).

Rome has a similar kind of feel to Budapest (not as beautiful or awesome though in my books) – gritty, but you know you kind of love it.  You want to get to know her and explore her nooks and crannies because you know it will be worth it.

I just hope I can muster enough passion for exploring to get through the next few days because I’m really intrigued to check this place out!

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The Bluest of Blues

This morning we have Rosaria’s Capri Cake to look forward to for breakfast.  Capri cake, or Torte Caprese as it’s rightfully known in Capri, was created in the 1930’s by two Austrian maids who wished to merge the Mediterranean flavour of almonds to the most northern taste of chocolate.  There’s really not much in it – sugar, margarine, egg yolks, dark chocolate, almonds, vanilla and baking powder (not forgetting a little icing sugar for decoration) – but the taste is rich and chocolatey.

Our hosts have also told us a bit about limoncello and how they are currently brewing a new batch, which probably won’t be ready before we leave (boo hoo), but with the number of shops that we saw selling it yesterday, I’m sure we’ll have no trouble trying to find some to taste.

One of our hosts suggestions was to take a boat tour of the island of Capri and it sounds like just the perfect thing to do in order to escape the crowds.  We catch the bus down to Marina Grande, and although the next boat isn’t scheduled to leave for a couple of hours yet, as we round the corner and walk past the LaserCapri shop, a gentleman says Next cruise 11.15! – which is like, now!  So we jump right on board with the tickets that Carlos pre-arranged for us.

Departing Marina Grande, the sun is shining beautifully over the town and the water is twinkling like it’s strewn with diamonds.  What a life!

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Damn, I’d forgotten my hat – so my scarf would just have to make do as a turban of sorts to keep that sun off my head, no matter how unfashionable it looks.  Soon we are smoothly bumping our way over the waters with our boat guide pointing out things along the way – the Statue of the Scugnizzo (the statue of the boy nicknamed Gennarino), the amazing blue and green grottos where our boat backs in as far as it can for us to check out the stunning waters – colours like I’ve never seen, homes of the rich and famous and the Faraglioni – legend has it if you kiss your sweetheart while passing through, you’ll have good luck!

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There are some bumpy times on the waves as we pass by Marina Piccolo, but this one and a half hours is one of the best ways to see the island and feel Capri.  Highly recommended.

Afterwards, we stop for lunch along the water of Marina Grande, watching the ferries come in and depart offloading their tourist cargo, all the while this little daschaund ran around keeping an eye on everything.

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And when we got back to our room that afternoon, there was waiting for us, two small glasses of limoncello.

 

Lots to see in Little Capri

Awakening this morning, we join our hosts Carlo and Alessandro Scoppa (Rosario hides out in the kitchen!) for breakfast.  Apart from supplying you with a great spread of food to start your day, with fresh coffee to boot, they love to hear about how you plan to spend your day, giving suggestions along the way.  Breakfasts are simple but with plenty of choice – I go for the ham with tomato and cheese with some fresh bread, along with not one, but two of Carlo’s espresso’s.

We don’t have to go so far for our first sight of the day – the San Chiesa Michele.  In fact, it was once a part of the same building we are staying in.  When you visit San Chiesa, all the glory is in looking down.  There are some gorgeous altars surrounding the church’s octagonal layout, but the highlight of this church is the tiled floor, which tells the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve.

There’s also a spiral staircase leading to an upper floor where you can get a great birds eye view of the stunning floor.

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Monte Solaro is the highest point of Capri, reaching 589m above sea level and you can get there by taking the chairlift from Anacapri.  Apart from being the highest point on Capri, it is also the most panoramic, with views of the whole island afforded from its terraces.

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Unfortunately for us today, the view on one side is not so great….

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…but we still manage to sneak some views of the Faraglioni and the Marina Grande side of the island.

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There’s a little cafe where you can stop for a drink and lots of seating to take a rest if you are one of those adventurous traveller’s who hiked up the mountain instead of chair-lifting it.  It’s good to get up here early-ish in the morning before all the groups of tourists start following you!

At the bottom of the chairlift, we start following a stone-paved, curving path along a shopping street that leads us towards Villa San Michele.  The shops sell everything from linen clothing to capri sandals, from limoncello to touristy t-shirts and from ceramics to Murano glass.  Hang on, Murano glass????  Yes, Murano Glass – it seems there’s not a place in Italy that you can’t find it, but to me it seems a silly thing to buy here in Capri!

We decide to leave our shopping til after our visit to the Villa – besides, there are enough people crowding the shops at the moment.

Villa San Michele was the dream of Swedish physician Axel Munthe.  Axel had visited the island of Capri as a teenager and fallen in love with the ruins of San Michele, along with a plot of land owned by a farmer who was getting on in age and looking to sell his plot.

Although Swedish he actually spent a great deal of his life in France before moving to southern Italy to look after the poor and sick, whilst working towards seeing his life goal come to fruition.

As Capri was littered with Roman ruins, many of the locals gave him pieces of the ruins to help complete his villa – one such find being the Sphinx that overlooks the Gulf of Naples.  And of course, there’s a legend here about the Sphinx.  Legend has it that if you rest your left hand on the sphinx and make a wish while looking out over the sea of Capri, your wish will come true.

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To learn about how Axel’s wish came true, you can read his book “The Story of San Michele”, which of course you can buy in several languages at the villa bookshop – it’s one of the most widely translated books in the world!

We still have loads of time before this day ends, because the sights of Anacapri are relatively close together, so we decide to catch one of the little orange buses down the hill to the centre of Capri.  Hmmm, seems everyone else on the island is here too – groups of tourists, groups of school children, just groups and groups of people everywhere!  There aren’t any particularly outstanding shops and you find yourself heading for the alleyways just to get away from people for a moment’s peace and quiet!

It’s down one of these alleyways that we find the Charterhouse of San Giacomo.  It’s one of the oldest buildings on Capri and was originally a convent.

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Now it houses a collection of somewhat dark and scary paintings by the artist Karl Diffenbach, though throughout the building you will notice fantastic old frescoes in the photos above.

All in all, we are so glad to be staying in Anacapri, away from all the madness.  At the end of the day as the tour groups go back to the mainland and the sun goes down, the quietness is almost deafening, but certainly welcome and this is when you can begin to enjoy Capri the most.

For dinner we try what looks like a relatively newly opened wine bar, Casa Rossa Wine & Food (named for it’s location right across from the Casa Rossa Gallery.  The menu consists of whatever’s on the chalk board (the moveable board is plonked on or near your table once you are seated) and so does the wine list.  I ordered a type of pasta which I had never heard of before but which turned out to be like two giant pieces of ravioli, with mushrooms and cheese inside – just divine.  Washed down with a really nice glass of red, and served by a really friendly guy, we really just enjoyed this place.

The Little Island of Capri

Back at Florence’s train station, we discover something that would have made life a little easier had we known it before – there is a luggage porter service at the station, where for €5 a bag, a porter will put your case on a trolley, accompany you to your carriage and load your bag on board (not to mention getting rid of any pesky passengers which are sitting in your pre-allocated seat!).  It was here we met our second nice Italian – the porter chatted away to us about his home town of Sorrento and where we should try to visit if we have time.  A nice goodbye to Florence.

A few hours later, we arrive in Naples, jump in a cab and head to Molo Beverello where our high speed ferry to Capri is waiting.  The journey takes about 50 minutes and we get our first glimpse of Capri’s Marina Grande.

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It’s chaos at the port with passengers disembarking and waiting to embark, all over the place, but we are soon in one of Capri’s many open-topped taxis and driving our way up the winding road to the top of the island – home to Anacapri.  It feels very special and a welcome change from the big cities.

In Capri, or more precisely Anacapri – because this is the part of the island on which we are staying – is an old Monastery.  Converted into three rentable apartments, along with the main residence, it was once a part of the San Michele Monastery – the church next door – which we’ll visit tomorrow – is open for viewing and I’ll tell you why then.

The monastery itself prospered for nearly 200 years, with the church being completed in 1719.  However, it was requisitioned by the state and converted into military barracks during the Taking of Capri.  In 1883, Russian-Dutch Count Oswald Papengouth bought the whole building and transformed it into a hotel named Castello San Michele. It never made enough money to cover the expense of restoring the building though so it was sold and eventually divided into several lots – as it remains today.

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Our B&B occupies what was the nuns’ choir, part of the cloister and the study of the Abbess.

At the suggestion of our hosts we choose one of the nearby restaurants for dinner so we can try some local Caprese dishes including the beautiful Caprese Salad (mozzarella, tomatoes and basil), Caprese Torte and finishing off with a glass of limoncello – for which Capri is best known.

We are off to a great start in Capri.

Exploring the Incredible Sights of Florence

Not really knowing where to start in exploring the city of Florence, we head towards the Ponte Vecchio and start from there.  The Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) was first mentioned in records dating back to 996 and was designed in part as a defensive structure against attacks from the water.  Of course it has been rebuilt many times thanks to flooding of the Arno River which is spans but it has always played host to various shops and artisans.

Now it is lined with jeweller after jeweller, no doubt selling overpriced jewelry to the hoardes of tourists that come to pay homage to the bridge.

Before deciding where to go next, we decide a coffee is in order, so we make a stop across the road from what happens to be the Galileo Museum.  Well, no better place to check out next then!  I’m not one of those people who gets science, maths or philosophy, so I can’t say that I got the full experience out of this museum, although I could certainly appreciate it.  But with all of its mathematical and planetary calculation devices, early forms of machinery for checking the weather and atmospheric conditions and science equipment – I could imagine that someone who was, would get a real kick out of the museum.

The thing that I thought was coolest, was this…

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Gallileo’s fingers.

We try to get into the Uffizi, but the lines are incredibly long and we are not in the mood for waiting in queues, so we move on and find ourselves stopping for lunch at a local trattoria, which is a type of eating establishment that is less formal than a restaurant.  There are big tables of workers here and the staff flutter around attending to everyone in an efficient but friendly manner.  Our meals were delicious (especially the beautifully simple and undressed salad – I always think dressing and oil ruin a salad) and the wine was unbelievable.  We loved every bit of it!

Emerging from the alleyways of Florence into Piazza del Duomo, you can’t help but gasp at the sight of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.  Like a monstrous drawing coming to life before your eyes, this magnificent church stands 90m high and 153m long and takes pride of place within the square.  It is the third largest church in the world after St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London.

Inside, a loud speaker echoes ‘shhhhh, shhhhh, be quiet’ reminding the tourists to take note of where they are and pay due reverence.  The beauty of the church lays on the outside really, but if there’s no line, it’s of course worth a visit inside.

For something different, we head past the Cathedral to visit the Ospedale Degli Innocenti – hospital of the innocents.  Funded by the Silk Guild and taking 26 years to build, it was the answer to Florence’s problem with abandoned babies for over fie and a half centuries (it still cares for children).  Babies were usually left with a token of some kind – usually a half of a medallion or something similar – in the hopes that it would make reunion possible in the future.

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Today, it is undergoing extensive renovation and as a result, there is only a small room available (for an entry fee of 1) which tells the story of the building from its conception.  At the entry to the building you can see the turnstyle door, the unofficial ‘loading point’ where the babies were left.  Of course, children are no longer left in this way.

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Our last stop for the day was the Gucci Museum, which we just happened upon on our way to our evening tour meeting point.  Inside, is the story of Gucci, which began in Florence in 1921, along with displays of some of Guccio Gucci’s most successful products.  From scarves to handbags and from luxury travel goods to homewares, this compact museum is a good way to take a break from the normal museum route and it is really interesting to note that a lot of the pieces could easily be relevant in today’s society.  Did you know there was even a Gucci car?

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We figured we wouldn’t have been in Italy properly if there wasn’t pizza involved and what better way for this to happen, than to learn to make it ourselves.  So we booked a tour with Florencetown for a pizza and gelato making class in the Chianti Wine Region.  We drove up into the hills with our chef/guide Daniel, along with seven other visitors and before long we were kneading dough like there was no tomorrow.  We watched Daniel make the gelato, though he got people involved in the process along the way.  Afterwards, we sat together to eat our pizzas with big glasses of beautiful red wine and a variety of local toppings (it is here I discover basil salt for the first time and I’m in love!) with a helping of homemade gelato to top it all off.  It was a great night and we even get to take home the recipes!

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But perhaps the best part of the night was this…

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Pizza in Pisa

The first half of today, we are spending in the small town of Pisa for obvious reasons – the tower.  It’s pretty much the only thing Pisa is known for, apart from being the birthplace of Galileo.

After all the stairs of yesterday, we were glad to have booked a guided tour to get us there and back, and even more glad that we had not opted to climb the tower’s 284 steps, which meant that when we arrived, we had plenty of spare time to ourselves to enjoy the small town.

So, a bit about the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  This simple bell tower in the middle of the Square of Miracles (named not because of any miracles that happened here – rather that everything in the square is so beautiful that it is a miracle) has been leaning since day 1 due to the soft ground in the area, which weakened the foundations of the tower.

In any case, it is a major tourist attraction and all along the square you will find people trying to take that funny photo of themselves pushing the tower over.

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By 1990, it was on a 10º lean and it was decided it was tie to do something about it before it fell over.  They pumped concrete underneath the foundations to steady the tower and it now leans at 4º and is curved slightly as a result of the rectification works.

Deciding to stop for lunch in the little square while the other tourists were still occupied with their photo taking, we head to one of the little cafes selling pizza.  Each one in fact sells pizza, so it depends on whether you want to eat in view of the tower, or want to wander further away where the price is no doubt cheaper.  We ordered two ‘individual size’ pizzas, which were way more than we should have eaten but that were so damn delicious we couldn’t help but finish them off, did a spot of window shopping and then made our way back to the square for our walking tour of the Cathedral.

The Cathedral and the baptistry are also sinking.  The Cathedral was consecrated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II and it’s Romanesque architecture represents the wealth of Pisa at the time.   It was here that Galileo was baptised.  It was also here where he formed his theory of “isochronism of the pendulum” whilst looking at the chandelier swinging for incense ash coming down.  The chandelier, now known as “Galileo’s Lamp” can be seen in the Cathedral.

At the end of the day, we catch a local bus up to Piazza Michaelangelo for incredible views over the city of Florence until it begins to rain, forcing us to find the refuge of our villa.  Tomorrow, we will explore Florence.

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Not Every Day is a Good Day

When you are travelling, it’s not always fun and games.  Yes, I know – you aren’t working and you’re living it up in cities around the world, how can it not always be a good day?

Well, let’s just say there can be tough days.

Like the day we left Venice.  We began trailing our suitcases down towards the waterfront, when a local bar owner stopped us.  “There are no boats today”, he said.  We looked at him, not exactly comprehending what he was saying.  “There are no boats,” he repeated, “there is a special race on the water and there are no other boats running”.  But how do we get to the train station? I ask.  “You will have to walk, there is no other way”.  Great.  Now I don’t have any problem walking, and in fact the walk wouldn’t have taken that long, but we had a backpack each and two large suitcases which we would have to guide up and down all the canal bridge stairways from San Marco to the train station and of course I was helping Mum to carry her suitcase up the stairs also.

It wasn’t a joyous start to the day, and when a tourist walked right across and stood in front of me to take photos while I was trying to lug my suitcase up the stairs, I lost my composure.  Are you kidding me right now?  I asked her.  “Why don’t you carry your suitcase a different way, it might be easier” she dared to say to me.  Because I am also carrying my mothers suitcase up and down all these stairs and this is the easiest way for me because I am starting to tire, I said, as if I had to explain myself.  Why couldn’t this rude, selfish woman just move out of the way?

Anyway, we finally made it to the train station, albeit tired, hot and a bit mad.  We managed to buy a ticket and find a train that was going to the next station in Venice (a task in itself) and settled in to ride the next two stops.

Arriving at Venice Mestro, we had some time to fill in before our train to Florence, so we headed out of the station and across the road to find some lunch.  We sat at a cafe, where we were served the most horrid meal but the most sour-faced, nasty waitress I’ve just about ever come across.

Time to board the train – just about every platform at the station had a lift from the ground floor up to the platform – except ours, so once more I lugged both suitcases up the stairs.

Our train eventually came and we boarded, but the luggage racks were all full already, so I tied the two together and left them in the passageway behind us, checking every now and again to make sure they weren’t in anyone’s way.

Finally, an inspector came along and said I had to move the bags – fair enough, but I said to him where shall I put them, there is no room.  He pointed to a small space left on the luggage racks high above our head and said “Put it there, or wherever, I don’t care”.  But I can’t lift them, they are too heavy!  “I don’t care, not my problem”.he said.

Soon a couple of the male passengers started talking in rapid Italian – I thought, great, they are thinking what a stupid Australian, not putting her luggage in the right place – I struggled to lift one suitcase onto the high railing, but of course, it could not fit, so I was obviously just going to have to stand there and hold it up for the entire trip.

But it turns out the Italian gentlemen couldn’t believe how rude the attendant had been and they began discussing how we could accommodate the bags.  They kindly helped me lift down the suitcase on the high luggage rack to a vacant chair after checking with the person sitting next to it and I had to lob the other one on top of a bunch of other suitcases, which no doubt enthralled the owner of those cases.

One of the Italian gentlemen begged us not to think of all Italians as being so rude and chatted to us on and off throughout the trip, even helping us down off the train with our bags once we arrived in Florence.  Some faith restored.

With a few minor hassles and some more rude Italian attitude, we finally got ourselves on to the tramvia and arrived at our hotel, only to lug our suitcases up another five flights of stairs.

Tomorrow will surely be a better day.

The Artisans of Venice

The outlook for today is miserable.  The note at the reception desk says thunderstorms and rain all day long with zero hours of daylight (I admit I was sceptical at the zero hours of daylight bit).  Great day for sightseeing, especially via boat, island hopping style.  NOT.

However, stepping our way outside the hotel, there isn’t any rain in sight yet, so we start navigating our way through the alley ways of Venice, until we come to our waterbus stop to make our way to the first of the islands – Murano – where the famous Murano glass is made.  When you arrive at Murano, you’ll notice there’s a number of glass factories where you can see glass blowing demonstrations – we turned left off the boat at the Coronna stop and kept going as far as you could to a pinky red coloured building to see their demo for no other reason than we could see lots of people lined up outside.  They weren’t very pushy and just suggested that you could kindly leave a tip for a beer or coffee for the glass blower on your way out or stop by the shop if you felt like it.

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Original Murano glass, handblown by authentic glass masters, is generally VERY expensive so you need to check around to make sure you are getting good value.  There is a huge difference in the quality and style of the works between shop to shop and obviously the more modern amazing pieces are set at a higher price, but justifiably so.

I’m not wiling to part with much, although if this was my last stop there would have been a few pieces I would have gladly paid big bucks for, so my treasure to take home is this little horse…

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Burano is the island best know for its brightly coloured homes.

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Oh, and its lace.  Sadly, very little original handmade Burano lace is available nowadays, and it is generally very expensive.  Much of the lace on sale in the shops on Burano is machine made lace imported from abroad (think the People’s Republic of China).

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We manage to find a shop that at least has a working lacemaker in it and which it turns out has been visited by Elton John (who owns a property along the Grand Canal).  Here, we buy a few pieces doing our bit to support the local economy, before boarding the waterbus back to the mainland.

It’s fun finding our way home through really quiet streets, devoid of tourists for a change (I know I am one, but I mean to say the groups of day trippers and tour groups that plague the streets every five minutes in the most popular parts of town).  Quiet and different from other parts of town, this is really enjoyable.

Another thing thing that is really enjoyable is our final night dinner, which we decide to take in at a local cichetti bar.  Cichetti is Spain’s answer to tapas or pinxos – small pieces of food.  With cichettti, you choose from the selection of warm food first, before finishing off with any number of cold dishes, all washed down with your selection of red, white or sparkling wine.  Our cichetti bar is small and locals seem to pop by for an evening drink before moving on.  It’s really lovely and a great experience to end our trip with.

Our evening ends as it was supposed to being – with thunderstorms (massive booms of lightning louder than I’ve ever heard in my life) and constant drizzling rain, but it doesn’t matter cause we are tucked up in bed watching Eurovision LIVE for the first time.

Tomorrow – we hit Florence!

Who Let the Doge Out?

Aside from being the home of Marco Polo, Venice was also the birthplace of a couple of other history greats.

Giacomo Casanova, one of the most famous lovers in history – in fact so famous that his name is now defined in urban dictionary as ‘a smooth-talking charmer who has mastered the art of finding, meeting, attracting and seducing beautiful women into the bedroom’ – was born in Venice in 1725.

He was a clever fellow, despite his poor childhood and ‘theatre parents’ and under the watchful gaze of his grandmother he entered the University of Padua at the age of 12, graduating with a law degree.

Not long after he began his career of debauchery, among other things.  He found his passion in life when he had an affair with a 16 year old girl and her 14 year old sister…ahem….at the same time.  Years later he was to meet one of the sisters again (in the bedroom) along with her daughter, who just happened to be his daughter…confused?

He was a womanizer, a scam artist, alchemist, spy, church cleric, a prisoner…..the list goes on.  But that’s what makes his story so intriguing.

Whilst working as a church cleric, his gambling debts landed him in prison.  After this, he tried his hand at military life, which was short lived when he discovered it be incredibly boring.  No worries, he became a violinist.  He started tawdry affairs with everyone from married women to nuns and virgins.  After escaping from prison once more, he fled to Paris where he pretended to be a 300 year alchemist who could create diamonds from scratch.  Given his ability to lie with a straight face, he was pegged for a short lived career as a spy.  He became a wealthy man for selling state bonds in Amsterdam, but lost it all spending his fortune on his lovers.

Casanova’s schemes worsened and worse they got, the broker he got.  He ended up duelling with a colonel in Warsaw over an Italian actress.  He returned to Venice in 1774, but after writing a vicious satire of Venetian nobility, he got kicked out once more.  Casanova died aged 73, after being seized by Napoleon Bonaparte.

And one place you could be almost sure to run into Cassanova back in the day was Caffe Florian.  Caffe Florian jointly holds the title of the world’s oldest café with a cafe in Paris.  It was the only café that admitted women at the time, so it’s no surprise to find out that Casanova spent a fair bit of time hanging around here.

It’s sprinkling on and off today, so we head for an inside activity by visiting the Doge’s Palace in San Marco.  A doge was the most senior elected official of Venice and his palace was not only his home, but housed many of the various government offices.  We weren’t really expecting this visit to be very exciting – the building from the outside is quite lovely, and the grounds inside have nice architecture (in particular there were some wonderful old columns that used to feature at the front of the palace)….

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…but it’s not until you go up the stairs and inside the actual palace buildings that you begin to wonder where the hell you are and how you got transported back to this brilliant period in time…

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There was also the Prison and the Bridge of Sighs – not named as I thought because of its astonishing beauty, but because it was a bridge through which prisoners saw their last glimpse of freedom.  We ended up really, really enjoying our visit to the Doge’s Palace and thought it was well worth the €18 entrance fee.

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They say that wet, rainy cities spawn great musicians.  Like Andy Wood was to Seattle, so was Vivaldi to the Venetian classical music scene.  A true showman, but with loads of pure talent, he loved nothing better than to show off his fiddling (so to speak).  It’s surprising then, that there’s not a single statue to commemorate Vivaldi in Venice.  There is one way to celebrate the life and times of Vivaldi whilst in Venice though, and that’s to see a classical concert.

There are several on at any one time.  Tonight, we venture up the stairs of the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro to hear a performance of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’, as well as Pachelbel’s Canone.  Performed by I Musici Veneziani complete with period costumes, it’s a nice way to spend a few hours in this city, which becomes so much quieter once the day trippers and cruise boat groups leave.  We had a wonderful evening listening to some incredible music.

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Did I mention how exciting it is to visit these places where such amazing historical figures blazed their trails and wrote their fortunes?  So exciting.

The Tourist

Ever since I watched ‘The Tourist’ starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, I thought it would be cool to ‘arrive’ in Venice via water taxi.  Speeding along, the wind and water spray in your hair….

So after two flights, one from Nice to Lyon and then onwards from Lyon to Venice, we are boarding the orange line Alilaguna boat (not at all like Johnny’s transfer) to the Rialto stop and dragging our suitcases up and down the many stairways over the canals, and navigating the twisting turning alleyways towards our Venetian hotel.

For our time in Venice, we are staying in Locanda Ca’Amadi – a building that dates from the 13th century and was the house of Marco Polo between the 13th and 14th centuries.  Marco’s family apparently owned several buildings in town.  In fact the balcony that overlooks the canal from the breakfast room of our hotel dates back to the 13th century, as its delicate state proves.

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During the 15th century, the palace was the residence of Count Francesco Amadi (hence the name) – a family of merchants who had great prestige in Venice and included important members of the political and clerical life of Venice.

History never ceases to amaze me and the more I travel and explore, the more amazed I become.

So who was Marco Polo?  He was the son of Matteo Polo, himself an explorer.  In 1260 Matteo and his brother Niccolo had sailed from Venice to the near east, ending up in northern China.  They met the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, who was very curious about their homeland, asking them all sorts of questions.  He gave them a message for the Pop to send 100 Christian priests to China.  Unfortunately the Pope died before they got home and they had to wait almost two years to give the message to the new Pope.

At the age of 18, Marco left on a voyage with his father and uncle, where they discovered interesting things such as ‘a peculiar kind of spring that spat out a black, oily liquid’ (oil). People used it to smear onto rashes and for curing ulcers on animals.  They used sign language to communicate and ask directions.

Meeting back up with Matteo and Niccolo’s friend the Khan, Marco became the Kublai’s attendant, returning with him to Beijing. The Great Khan sent him to different parts of his empire to investigate and report on conditions.  He even followed the Khan onto the battlefield in Manchuria.

After 17 years, he became homesick, and in 1293 the three sailed back to Venice to find it at war with Genoa.  Marco somehow landed himself in prison, where he dictated his story to a cellmate, a romance author who later released the story to great acclaim.  Upon his release, he became a wealthy merchant, marrying and living happily with his wife and three children.

It would seem Marco became more of a household name than his father simply because of his luck in landing himself in prison – he had no intention of writing about his travels.

We will start to explore Venice tomorrow, but for this evening – a nice pasta in front of the Rialto Bridge is in store.

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