The lights lit up the town as night owls swarmed around the restaurants and confectionary shop windows, drawn to the allure and the warmth of the light and the tantalizing smells that slipped into the crisp night air. Welcome to Venice, Italy. Or, as the locals and true lovers of the city, call it, Venezia. A floating city, full of dreams. Over the summer I went on a trip with my family to the lovely country of Italy for two weeks. During our time there, we traveled to three different cities, three different worlds of wonder. Venezia left a wonderful imprint on my mind. The warm air, the peaceful atmosphere that was kept even as I roamed the streets before the gentle rays of dawn had even touched upon this side of the earth. I stayed in the mainland, and took a bus to the islands of Venice. From there a water bus awaited, ready to transfer all of the passengers to their homes, their jobs or to places of pleasure and fun. During our trip to Venice, our first stop was to the popular and crowded Rialto. The Rialto is the commercial center in Venice, known for it’s markets, boothes and the Rialto Bridge that stretches across the Grand Canal. The great arch of the Rialto bridge was incredible, and there were shops as far as the eye can see. Locals scammed tourists with promises of cheap prices and glittering souvenirs. Both visitors and locals roamed the narrow streets where no vehicle could drive, but the Grand Canal filled with traffic. There were people everywhere, almost to the point of overwhelming anyone who wasn’t used to it. The rush, the crowd, it was exhilarating. The constant flow of people, and the laughs and smiles, it was almost as if everyone there moved as one. I was caught up in the energy there, and threw myself into the fray. It was a blur, though at the same time each moment was as clear as crystal. The food, so warm and fresh, tempted me at every turn. Shops full of candied fruits and melt in your mouth chocolates, chic clothes in the latest Venetian styles caught the eyes of many. Although there were many stalls filled with false luster and gold, deep in the back alleys, there are places that only locals knew of. The secrets hidden there were small shops, not much to look at, at least, not at first. But upon stepping inside you are immediately awed by the pure talent and genius that lurks there. My favorite of these shops was most definitely the mask shop. Handcrafted Venetian masks, with curled feathers and delicate, hand painted designs. I had already amassed quite a collection of good quality masks at that point, along with a few cheesy and touristy ones as well, but it is the mask I got there that is the pride of my ever growing horde. It’s a white mask with lace along the edges and large white curled feathers on one side, and it’s just so elegant and refined. Wandering the back alleys, following the trail of locals as they roamed their neighborhoods was truly the best part about the Rialto. To get to be swept away by the magic, and then so see the mystery hidden beyond it, I couldn’t ask for anything more. For two blissful days my family and I among the world of the Rialto, snapping photos of the Gondolas and their drivers, the architecture, and the faces of strangers as they too soaked in the magic. On our third day we left the colorful Rialto behind and took the water bus further down the tranquil Grand Canal. We drifted down to Saint Mark’s Square, the moon high up in the sky on that chilly night. In English, we would know it as Saint Mark’s Square, but in Venizia they called it the Piazza San Marco. We explored the wide open square, admitting the strains of sweet melody that came from the live music that was played at every corner, and in every restaurant and cafe. A large, closed church loomed, and a great tower blocked out the moon if you stood at the foot of it. I went out to the Piazza San Marco at quite a late hour with my parents, so we were able to see all of the wonder, but without the constant crowd of other tourist in search of the perfect place to take a selfie. What intrigued me the most about that piazza was the large clock that stood above everything. It had the chinese zodiac on each number space. Another part of the Piazza I enjoyed was watching the guys with roses swarm around the tourists, scamming them into buying roses, and then walking away casually when the police passed by. We spent several day in Venezia wandering through the various sections, from Ca’ d’Oro to Dorsoduro. On the day we hopped on the boat and wandered down the Grande Canal was the day we visited the world famous Peggy Guggenheim museum, where extraordinary works of art were displayed. From modern art by aspiring artists to paintings by Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim had quite the collection. The next day was our last, and my mom and I went off to explore the back streets, taking pictures of the neighborhoods. Then we stopped on the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore where a magnificent church stood. It was occupied by modern art and a peaceful atmosphere, and was illuminated by prayer candles. Italian architecture is incredible, with such detailed paintings, and logic defying archways. After exiting the church we were met with an unexpected rainstorm, thunder clapping through the sky. We rushed through the storm, before we were given the gift of a gorgeous rainbow arching across the cloudy and grey sky. That night we took the water bus around Venezia on the Canale di Fusina, back to our hotel, where we would depart the next day. Venice was by far my favorite place on the trip, and it really has a place in my heart. It’s kind of sad though, because the water is slowly rising and the buildings are sinking. Eventually it will become another playground for scuba divers. It’s both tragic and romantic, the sinking city.
To reach our next destination, we boarded a train down the country, to the city of Florence. After a few hours on the train, and a very long drive across hills and through fields, we arrived at our lodging. It was a lovely little farmhouse outside of Florence, in Tuscany, surrounded by miles of undisturbed countryside and wide open sky. It was almost out of a picture, it’s undisturbed beauty, out on the middle of nowhere. My time in Florence was quite a peaceful one. No one to disturb my long naps, bathing in the warm sunshine during the early mornings. One of my favorite parts about being in Florence, besides the tranquility, is the chance I got to experiment with the Italian food that my dad brought back from the Italian grocery store. I went with him, once, to get some of the scrumptious olives that are famous in Italy, and I must say it was a lot to take in. Italians have such a wide variety of food, and about four hours later we emerged from the grocery store, triumphant with our bounty. I enjoyed playing around with the different flavours that Italian food produced, so unlike American food.. Each bite is filled with such flavor, such vigor. It was a joy to discover new flavour combinations, and try things that I didn’t even know existed. A good portion of my time in Florence was spent out in the countryside, roaming through the sunflower fields and petting the farm cats that resided at our lodging. But of course we couldn’t stay there for the whole trip. So once my family stuffed enough supplies to last a lifetime in the car, we were on the road once again, going down to the city of Florence for some sightseeing. Along the way we stopped in a field with giant rolls of hay, got lost in a little town and passed several small shrines along the road dedicated to the Italian gods. After doing some research and asking some of the locals who lived near the farmhouse where I was staying, I was able to discover the meaning behind the shrines. They were of the Italian gods, and they were put in places so they could bring one luck and blessings. Many went to the shrines and left flowers, treats and rosaries. There were many shrines along the road I traveled in Florence, dedicated to gods such as Jove the Italian Sky God, Lucifer the God of Light and the Sun and the God of agriculture and wolves, Lupercus. There were niches with statues of Goddesses in them as well, including to Fortuna the Goddess of Luck and fortune, Marica the Goddess of agriculture, and Copia, the Goddess of plenty. Finally we arrived at Florence, and I do believe that parts of me melted in the intense heat. We sought out the shade of ancient churches, marvelling at the arched ceilings painted so vibrantly. We avoided the restaurant promising American burgers and instead took a seat at a lovely, local place with some incredible pizza. We didn’t stay in Florence for long, and soon took the long journey back to our quiet cottage away from the hustle and bustle of civilization.The next day, our third and last day under the Tuscan sun, we took a drive down to a little town that was not too far away. We sought out the potters that were rumored to reside there, poked around in a library and museum and just drove around mostly. We never did find the potters, probably because no one understood a word we were saying. We returned to our Tuscany cottage, and spent our last day simply relaxing. We soaked in the majesty of a Florentine sunset for the first time the evening. There weren’t any tall houses, streets or any other traces of human existence besides the villa we stayed in, a few farms, the acres of olive trees and sunflowers. There was nothing to obstruct the gentle rays of the sun as they burst into vivid shades of red, yellow and orange, with traces of faint purple along the edges. It’s colors streaked across the blue sky, before fading away in a blaze of glory. I still have that sunset burned into my mind, and I hope to never forget it. The next morning we packed up our suitcases and headed back to the train station, this time to a much larger, much more busy destination. The capital of Italy, home to the Colosseum, the Vatican, and the Sistine Chapel. You guessed it, the city of Rome.
Rome was much hotter than Florence, the sun scorching whatever its rays touched. But despite that, one couldn’t help but be awed by the fascinating surroundings. Our hotel was an hours drive away from Rome, which was a bit of a pain. On our first day we headed towards the heart of the city, and made our way through the Castel Sant’Angelo. It’s museum that was once used as a castle and fortress for popes, and before that was a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It was right next to the Fiume Tevere, more commonly known as the Tiber River. We explored its many levels, from the dungeons to the gilded ceilings at the top. We spent a whole day in the Castel Sant’Angelo and walking around the cluster of vendors that lay between there and the Piazza dei Tribunali. The next day is when we really started exploring the city though, crossing the bridge over the Tiber River to go wander around on the streets and , and eating at lovely little cafes. In a back alley, there was a little antique store filled with swords and halberds, and even a full set of armor. It was great to look at all of the old stuff that was collected. The next day we returned to the back alleys, stopping by the Museo Napoleonico, where memorabilia from the Napoleonic age is on display. We observed the locals as they went on their way, and went on our merry way. The next day is when we went to see the Arco di Constantino and the ever famous Colosseum. It loomed over us as my family and I took dozens of photos at every angle possible. We had plenty of time in Rome, and we spent a portion of it swimming at our hotel. The rest of the time, we were out on the streets wandering around, cooling ourselves off with spray bottles and the most incredible gelato. We also spent time admiring all of the beautiful churches and museums that appeared at every turn. One day, we heard rumors of a place filled with hundreds of cats, and naturally we went to the ruins where people said they were. The cat sanctuary, the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, has been rescuing and finding homes for hundreds of cats for years, and when I visited they had about 50 with them. On our last day in Rome, my mom and I had a bit of a girls trip, passing through Piazza Navona and taking selfies in the Pantheon. We spent a lot of time shopping, and then finally, the next day, it was time to bid Italy farewell. It was such a wonderful experience to be able to travel there and see so many different things, and interact with so many different people despite not knowing the same language. I will always cherish those memories of Italy and one day, I hope to return and enjoy the adventure all over again.
By Cat Shewfelt