Buon Giorno da Italia!

5 Oct

Greetings from Italy!  Our longest, busiest, MOST FUN ‘side-adventure’ so far- 6 days, 4 people, 3 cities, 2 pups and 2 countries!, I’ve decided to break it down into two separate posts, so here goes Part 1!

As you all know, one of our favorite things about all of our road trips has been the drives themselves…the beautiful scenery…Well, despite all the ‘pretty things’ we’ve seen over the last few months, NOTHING could’ve prepared us for what our eyes would see en route from Stuttgart (Germany) to Venice (Italy) via Switzerland (check out the Maps page).  In the words of the Beav, ‘Golly jee willikers, Wally!’

Switzerland has HUNDREDS of lakes, of all sizes...

Nestled in the Alps...

After driving all morning, we decided to stop an impromptu lakeside picnic.  The weather was clear- sunny and (relatively) warm- the water was calm and the hills were green…We feasted on sliced chorizo, cubed German butter cheeses, whole grain crackers and the juiciest clementines we’ve ever had…Best picnic ever, hands down!

Could there be a better place to eat lunch?!

Refueled, onward to Italy!  The afternoon’s scenery was much like the morning’s…Rolling green hills, calm crystal blue lakes and snow-capped jagged mountains in the distance.  This was the first (of several) day that the phrase, ‘straight out of a magazine,’ was oft repeated.

A quick note about the blue Swiss lakes…Apparently, the rich, turquoise color is due to the reflection of the limestone deposits suspended in the water…

Maybe the 230492th we passed? 🙂

You can see the edge of the pavement in the lower lefthand corner...That's how close the highway runs next to the lake...No rail...Awesome.

Nearing Italy...Not as many lakes, but pretty mountains...

The Swiss-Italian border...

Italy has long been our favorite European country, of the ones we’ve visited, of course.  It’s a combination of things really…The endless vineyards, the brightly colored buildings with terra cotta roofs, the history (I’ll never forget the first time I marveled at Rome), the people (much friendlier than the Germans, I must admit), the fabulous beaches along the Mediterranean…The list goes on and on…It could also help that we’ve spent so much time there as John works in Naples several times every year.  Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t things that take some getting used to- workdays starting at 10a, unapologetically horrible drivers, dinners served at 10p…Regardless, you can imagine how thrilled we were to get to share all of this with my parents, who were seeing Italy- and Europe!- for the first time!

The drive to Padova continued…Through Milan, through Verona (yep, of Romeo and Juliet fame)…And while the eye candy was different here than it was in Switzerland, it was still so gorgeous.  Thousands of grapevines filling vineyard after vineyard, churches centering tiny hillside villages, the occasional castle dotting the tops of distant mountains…

Maybe the 192326 vineyard we passed? 🙂

Dulcie thoroughly enjoyed her 'bird's eye view' from her perch on the luggage in the back...Ah, yet another perk of having a station wagon!

Padova (or Padua, as it’s called in Italian) is a small, picturesque town in northern Italywith a dense network of arcaded streets opening into large communal piazze, and many bridges crossing the various branches of the River Bacchiglione, which once surrounded the ancient walls like a moat.  Two claims to fame?  Galileo was a lecturer at the Padova University many moons ago and Shakespeare used the city as the setting for his ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ 🙂

The Prato della Valle, the largest square (uniquely, it's an elliptical!) in Europe...

Basilica di Sant'Antonio, built in 1230...The Saint's bones are buried inside...

After a delicious Italian meal (*think Caprese salad, pastas and pizzas!) and a good night’s sleep (John had found us the coolest, funky, artsy boutique hotel we’d ever seen!), we hit the ground running the next morning to our FAVORITE city on Earth…Venezia!

Venice, also known as “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Water”, “City of Masks”, “City of Bridges”, “The Floating City”, and “City of Canals,” stretches across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. The saltwater lagoon stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. About 60,000 people live within the city itself.

The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially silk, grain and spice trade) and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century, making Venice a wealthy city throughout most of its history.

Now as you all know, there are no cars in Venice, which means that you have to park in one of the many lots on the mainland and take a boat into the city.  It’s built around the large Grand Canal with lots of side ‘alley’ canals turning off of it (and off each other).

Coming into Venice on the Grand Canal. We opted for a water taxi (instead of a bus) just to make life a little easier...

The bright, multi-colored buildings can't help but make you happy 🙂

On the water taxi...

Lowcountry Pups, feeling right at home on the boat 🙂

Lots of different kinds of boats share the canals...Private, business, taxis, buses and yes, the famous gondolas 🙂

In Venice for less than an hour and already in love with the city!

Don't let the wide-openess of the Grand Canal fool you- this is what all the other 'roads' look like! (Mad boat driving skills, huh?!) Turning off toward our hotel...

And while the ‘roads’ are all water, there are still lots of wide ‘sidewalks’ in between all the buildings, so once you get to stop, there’s really very little need for a boat again until you’re ready to venture back out of the city- which translates to a whole lotta walking! 🙂

A 'sidewalk,' lined with shops, cafes and peppered with private residences...

I just love this picture of John (and Dulcie) on the Rialto Bridge, the main bridge in Venice. Yes ladies, he's taken 🙂

On the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal...

So after checking into our hotel, walking around a bit to get our bearings and grabbing a bite to eat at a canal-side bistro, it was off to see the sights!  First stop, Piazza San Marco, the social, religious and political center of Venice.  A remark often attributed to Napoleon calls the Piazza “the drawing room of Europe,” as it’s one of the few great urban spaces in Europe where human voices prevail over the sounds of motorized traffic. SUCH a neat place!

Piazza San Marco, filled with tourists, pigeons...and music...

The Piazza is dominated by the Basilica of San Marco at its eastern end. Three high flagpoles with bronze sculptured bases stand in front of the Basilica. The Venetian flag of St Mark used to fly from them in the time of the republic of Venice and now shares them with the Italian tricolour. To the north, the Clocktower and to the south, the Campanile. At the opposite end is the museum, the Procuratie. And in between all of the above are the most beautiful (and ridiculously expensive!) shops and cafes, including Italy’s oldest restaurant, the Caffè Florian, and the Gran Caffè Quadri, whose orchestras often take it in turns to play.

An interesting factoid…The Piazza has served as inspiration for other public areas around the world, including the 5-acre Austin J. Tobin Plaza that was located at the World Trade Center in New York City until September 11, 2001.

Basilica di San Marco, considered the best example of Byzantine architecture in the world...Originally the Venetian Rulers Cathedral, it wasn't opened to the city's residents until 1807.

Close-up of a gold mosaic...Millions of tiles...For its opulent design, gilded Byzantine mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, since the 11th century, it's been known by the nickname Chiesa d'Oro, Church of Gold.

The altar in the Basilica...

The Clock Tower is my personal favorite building on the Piazza, just because of how neat it is!  Placed where the clock would be visible from the waters of the lagoon and give notice to everyone of the wealth and glory of Venice, both the tower and the clock itself date back the 15th century.  Starting at the top, there are two great bronze figures, hinged at the waist, which strike the hours on a bell. One is old and the other young, to show the passing of time. The bell is a signed original from 1497. Below this level is the winged lion of Venice, followed by a semi-circular gallery with statues of the Virgin and Child seated, in gilt beaten copper. On either side are two large blue panels showing the time: the hour on the left in Roman numerals and the minutes (at 5 minute intervals) on the right in Arabic numerals. Twice a year, at Epiphany and on Ascension Day, the three Magi, led by an angel with a trumpet, emerge from one of the doorways normally taken up by these numbers and pass in procession around the gallery, bowing to the Virgin and child, before disappearing through the other door. Below again is the great clock face in blue enamel and gold inside a fixed circle of marble engraved with the 24 hours of the day in Roman numerals. A golden pointer with an image of the sun moves round this circle and indicates the hour of the day. Within the marble circle beneath the sun pointer are the signs of the zodiac in gold (original, dating from the 1490s), which revolve slightly more slowly than the pointer to show the position of the sun in the zodiac. In the middle of the clockface are the earth and the revolving moon (to show its phases), surrounded by fixed stars.

The Clock Tower on Piazza San Marco, facing the lagoon...

Adjacent to the Piazza is the Doge’s (pronounced ‘doe-jees’) Palace, a unique example of Gothic architecture.  And in case anybody doesn’t know, a Doge is a Venetian king, except by the 1800s, the Doge no longer had any real power and was merely a figurehead of the Republic..  Since John and I have been visiting grand castles for months now, this ‘residence’ was a nice change of scenery in that it just doesn’t look like all the other royal residences or wealthy government buildings…

What do you think? Fit for a king and his Republic?

Our walk continued toward the lagoon (which actually looks just like a big harbor!) where artists and street vendors lined the edge of the sea…(To my Lowcountry peeps, picture the Battery, only WAY older 🙂 )…From this edge of the city, you can see several of the other islands that make up Venice.  A happy side note…While standing on the flood wall, gazing out over the lagoon, John turned to me and said, ‘You know something?  This is my absolute favorite spot in Venice…right here with the docked boats and the fish smell and the wide open ocean…’  ‘Yep, mine, too.  You know what that is, don’t you?’ I continued. ‘Because it’s the closest thing to home we’ve seen in months.’  ‘I miss home,’ he sighed.  ‘Me, too.’

The edge of Venice...

Gondolas docked in the Lagoon...One of my favorite scenic shots of the city...

Local artists and street vendors...The main items for sale? Murano glass (including imitations!), scarves and Venetian masks...

We spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost in the city…Venturing away from the tourist-laden piazzas and thoroughfares to the back ‘alleys’ and residential districts.  FYI, those are always the BEST parts of any city!

How would you like this for a view on a random side 'street?'

Or a random piazza like this?

Taking a gelato break 🙂

Favorite flavors of the trip? Dulce di Leche (caramel), Fiordilatte (sweet cream), Amarena (cherry), Fragola (strawberry) and 'Schlock' (Almond gelato with caramel, chocolate and toffee) 🙂

Meanwhile, back in the room...Surveying our canal down below 🙂

After a very full day of playing tourist, you can rest assured that we needed a top notch dinner to cap it all off!  Unfortunately, Venice isn’t known for its food (John and I even remembered that from our last trip here) :(, so it just meant a little more planning than normal.  No problem!  Being the foodie that I am, I had already made us reservations at Da Mamo, serving the #1 pizza in Venice, as voted by the LOCALS.  (Another rule of traveling- always pay attention to what the locals are saying- they know best!)  And while I can’t say it was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, I can say that we had a delicious meal in a great little AUTHENTIC eatery off the beaten bath.  Heck, the owner greeted us at the door, gave us a complimentary appetizer tarts and four small after-dinner aperitifs served in dark chocolate edible thimbles!

Always a favorite for John...Caprese Salad...Sliced tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella with fresh basil and balsamic glaze...Mmmm...

Another of John's favorite (dining) aspects of Italy 🙂

A sample pizza (no, I won't bore you with posting pictures of all 4!)...This was actually Dad's 'Taurus' Pizza (they offer pizzas based on the Zodiac- how cool is that?!)

We decided to spend Day 2 in Venice with a hop (on the water bus) over to Murano, the series of small islands linked by bridges in the Venetian Lagoon, about a mile (25 minute boat ride) from the historic city.

Murano’s reputation for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction to the city’s mostly wood buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still interwoven with Venetian glass. Soon, the glassmakers were the city’s most prominent citizens- they were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state and found their daughters married into Venice’s most affluent families. The catch? Glassmakers weren’t allowed to leave the Republic.

Murano’s glassmakers held a monopoly on quality glassmaking for centuries, developing or refining many technologies including crystalline glass, enameled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicolored glass (millefiori), milk glass (lattimo), and imitation gemstones made of glass. Today, the artisans of Murano are still employing these centuries-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass and glass jewelry to Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers.

Arriving on Murano...

Unfortunately, the rain arrived, too...But that didn't stop us! 🙂

We loved the buildings...Glass factories and showrooms on the first floors with residences above...

We stopped in a factory to watch a glassmaker in action...SO NEAT!

All types of showrooms...From the largest and widest selection...

...to intimate and very selective...and for the record, it's all as expensive as it looks! Jeez!

Mom and I both loved these Venetian (Murano glass) Balloons! But at 500 euro ($700) each, they had to stay in the showroom 😦

So after another long, TOTALLY FUN, day full of exploring, eating (spaghetti with clams, baked lasagna, calamari and more gelato were on the menu today!) and even a little shopping, we capped off our Venice adventure with a night walk around the city…

Back at the Rialto Bridge...

It took Max and Dulcie a while to get used to the lack of grass in Venice (there is NONE), but even they learned to love it 🙂

And with that, the Venice portion of our adventure drew to a close…The next morning, we were up and at ’em, back on a water taxi and headed for the mainland.  Next destination?  The Swiss Alps!  Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

Arrivederci per ora! (Bye for now!)

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