Thursday, October 27, 2011

Firenze e Venezia

I figured I'd give another update on the eve of my Fall Break, lest I go away and fall behind by four countries. I know it's nearly November, but back in September I returned to Tuscany for a weekend in Florence (Firenze).

We started our tour through the little city at the Uffizi, which is basically a religious art museum. It was interesting and all, but there are only so many depictions of "Mary and Child" that my eyes can take. I just kind of roamed around thinking, "Why do all of these artists paint such an ugly Jesus?" and then I got hungry and wanted to leave. Museums aren't really my "thing." I'd rather explore the city streets, examine the buildings, eat, relax, and just kind of get a feel for how everything works there. After the Uffizi, there was no shortage of that.

We then headed to Piazza Santa Croce (which, if I'm not mistaken, is the piazza in which my favorite Italian teacher in high school once lived) to find the market and something to eat. One thing I love about Italian cities is that there are little to no high rises. When you're walking down a street, you can see straight down to the end and past the city into the mountains. Who know I'd like mountains so much?

Mountains at the end of a street in Florence. We don't have stuff like that in Philly.
The restaurant, for me, was rather lackluster. I made the mistake of going north of Rome and foolishly ordering carbonara, because I just can't seem to give up on it yet. It was very yellow and eggy, and they used bacon. Bacon, people. I didn't finish my meal.
After lunch, we headed back to the Duomo of Florence and proceeded inside. A lot of the people I was with found it to be somewhat disappointing, but, on the contrary, I absolutely loved it. For as extravagant and detailed as it is on the outside, the Duomo of Florence is very plain on the inside. It's large and full of tourists, but it's very quiet. By no means am I a religious person, but it just had a sense of reverence that the other churches I've visited simply don't possess. 
The outside of the Duomo
 The inside of the Duomo - as close as you can get to the altar
Then we headed to the market, which is famous for its cheap, good-quality leather... that I didn't buy. I'm sorry; 90 Euro isn't cheap for anything. And everything cheaper than that is ugly. I did, however, enjoy strolling about the market, being heckled by immigrant sellers and listening to everyone try to haggle. Also, there was a really cute dog outside one of the stores.

The cutest and saddest dog I have ever seen
Of course, we had to sample the nightlife in Florence. It took us awhile to exit the hostel, mainly because half of us had a new roommate - an Australian make-up artist. After everyone's make-up was done, we headed back to Piazza Santa Croce, bringing him with us. We found a little bar next to the basilica and set up camp there for the night. It was tiny and there were barely any people there, but it was a good time all the same.
We had a short day on Sunday, as we had to catch a train at 3 in the afternoon, but we made the most of it. We had heard of a point that you could climb to and view the entire city, so we headed there across the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio is a great novelty, but it's really just a crowded bridge that you can't afford once you get on it. I prefer to see it from a distance. And then we did. We climbed an absurd amount of stairs (and I had a respiratory infection, mind you!) to the top point to see the view.

 The old walls of Florence

The Duomo from the top point
And then I left Tuscany for what could be the last time this year. I only cried for twenty minutes.
We didn't have much time for rest; the next weekend, we hopped on a faster, more expensive train up to Venice. Venice had a bit more character than Florence... but that was not always a good thing.
Our train pulled in at around 9 pm. Quick memory refresher: it's dark at 9 pm. New fun fact: it's even darker in Venice at 9 pm. Venice is a canal city, so there are no streets and very few street lights. It's also very confusing to walk around in. Needless to say, we got horribly lost and had to ask anybody and everybody for directions. Fortunately, but perhaps unfortunately, we found our hostel.
After a somewhat hostile encounter with reception, we were given the key to our room. We opened the door to find four mattresses, and that's about it. No sheets, no blankets, and sacks of fiber insulation that I think were meant to pass for pillows. We had to ask for our bedding, which turned out to be thin, white sheets that looked like they had just been freshly ripped from someone's curtain rod. We were unaware that we had to ask for blankets, so the first night was very cold.
What else is there to do in Venice besides explore and shop? Answer: not much. And that's just what we did. We walked around for about an hour until we found Piazza San Marco, which I'm not sure contained more people or pigeons. To my dismay, most of the architecture was covered by scaffolding, including one of the only things to see in Venice: The Bridge of Sighs.
Deeming the actual city of Venice too crowded and dirty, we bought water taxi tickets and headed over to the far more peaceful Murano, which, as many of you know, is famous for its glass blowing industry. 
  Sand outside a glass blowing factory. It's basically just glass.
We spent about five hours in Murano, sampling some of the region's famous seafood and shopping, shopping, shopping. To everyone who got a souvenir: you're welcome. Then we returned back to Venice for a nice, relaxing night at the hostel. There's really no other type of night to be had in Venice; the whole city basically closes down at 9 pm.
The next day we were up bright and early and ready for our gondola ride. One thing about Venice that is definitely worth the money (lots of money... be prepared) is the gondola ride, if for nothing else just to chat with your gondolier. Ours was named Georgio, but he called himself Georgio Clooney. Far from it, but he sure could pilot a long, skinny boat.
  The gondola ride - probably the most beautiful part of Venice
We explored a bit more after our ride, hitting up a little restaurant on our way to the train station and having one more delicious meal.
  This was "Chittarra" pasta with lamb. No, I didn't share.
Venice wrap-up: it wasn't my favorite. It's very, very crowded with tons of tourists; you may as well just visit Little Italy in Disney World. What was really disappointing about it was the lack of "everyday life." I didn't really get to see how people lived there, or maybe I did, but they just blended in with the rest of the tourists. Venice is also very dirty and is covered in graffiti. It's not your typical Italian city, so be prepared when visiting.
So, now we're all caught up. New updates are coming in the near future... Dublin, Amsterdam, Prague, and London: here I come! 

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