Florence, Venice, & Way Too Much Gelato
Florence and Venice are two very different cities both teeming with culture and uniqueness. Florence has one main river and those famous Tuscan hills while Venice is surrounded (and sometimes submerged) by waterways and those famous Venetian gondolas. Both have a very rich cultural history and were important cultural hubs during the Renaissance.
You cannot look upon Florence without observing the massive cathedral rising above the other, more conspicuous buildings. Il Duomo just might be one of the most impressive buildings that I’ve seen, not only for its grandiose nature but the one-of-a-kind manner in which it was constructed. The massive dome was designed by Brunilesschi and actually consists of an inner and outer dome. What’s amazing is that it was built free hand without using any scaffolding, something unheard of at the time and still pretty unheard of today! I remembered from Humanities class in high school that Brunelesschi won a contest to design the dome and thinking it must be pretty impressive to witness and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
I spent a lot of time in Florence just hanging out, shooting the breeze. My first night I joined a Couchsurfing meet up and we played some music on the stairs of the massive church. A few days later I was drawn to a park by the sound of a djembe and wound up leading some drum lessons to some really nice high schoolers who were hanging out. Seeing magnificent church after magnificent church, it’s always a welcome respite to take a day off from sight seeing and just take in the fresh air and lay down some fresh beats.
One of my favorite spots in Florence has to be the Piazza Michelangelo, which happened to be a two minute walk from the campground where I pitched my tent. Crowds gather every night for a view of the sunset over the city, gradually peeking underneath the city’s bridges. One of Michelangelo’s statues overlooks the cityscape where he trained his artistic talents for many years.
What really stood out for me in the city was some of the most scrumptious sandwiches around. The line outside All’ Antico Vinaio reflects its popularity, as well as the not so subtle moans from patrons taking their first bite of their massive 5€ sammies. A sandwich this tasty was too good not to share so I picked up some extra and joined some of the local hungry and homeless people on the street.
If Florence has incredible reasonably priced food, than Venice might be the opposite. There are many ‘tourist trap’ restaurants that are highly overpriced using frozen ingredients that will have you asking ‘Am I really in the food paradise that is Italy?‘. But the uniqueness of the aqualine architecture more than makes up for the sometimes underwhelming food. Plus if you do your research you can find some great reasonably priced meals. I really enjoyed cicchetti, the Italian version of tapas, where you can enjoy different small plates and great house wine. (The word is pronounced chi-keh-tea. In Italy the sounds of ci and ch are the opposite of English. For example, pistacchio is pronounced pis-tac-key-oh.)
You can spend a few days wandering around Venice’s infamous water logged streets. Which is a good thing considering my original flight from Venice to France was cancelled the night before due to a strike by the French aircraft controllers. So I spent two extra days soaking up the sun on the beach in Lido and admiring the local architecture. The image of St. Mark, the winged lion, can be seen throughout the city. The church I attended as a kid was St. Mark’s Church where my great uncle (who played a huge role in my ability to travel and have these experiences) served as a pastor. My younger brother Craig even has a tattoo of the winged lion, making it surreal to see the image cast in magnificent statues.
There are a few small islands in Venice which have their own unique little niche. One of the ones I visited is Murano which is home to some of the most talented glass blowers in the world. Watching the experts heat and beat the glass, adding different minerals to create magnificent colors, makes you appreciate all the work that goes into their craft. Some true masterpieces were on display in their showrooms such as intricate chandeliers with price tags larger than what I spend traveling in a year. The workers cool their glass slowly for at least 24 hours, but I found the best way to cool myself quickly was with some authentic Italian gelato!
My buddy Josh who I was hanging with in both Florence and Venice had an even greater addiction to gelato than I did. Anytime of day, multiple times a day, it didn’t matter. The seductive call of the waffle cone overflowing with sweet bliss was overpowering. I was able to limit myself to one gelato a day, which I considered a strong feat of willpower. Once the gelato courses through your veins it is like heroine in assorted flavors, the urge for more is omnipresent. On every corner there is a gelateria ready to take as rage of your cravings. It was a good thing I was camping on the outskirts of the city, far removed from being able to submit to those midnight sugar cravings.
My time in Italy was certainly sweet, for many more reasons than just the sweets. So much cultural history, art, picturesque landscapes and architecture. So much pride goes into each meal, the brick oven pizzas, the locally produced wine. Grazie mille Italia!