27 Oct 2014
I got back from an amazing two-week trip to Italy on October 8. So why haven’t I posted anything about it yet? Well, both my husband I returned with the kind of cold that left us doing the bare minimum for over a week. Once I started feeling more human, there was writing to be done. And I’m still sorting through the 1,500+ photos I took in Venice, Florence, Rome, and Sorrento (with side trips to Naples and Pompeii).
It’s hard to condense this trip into a tidy blog post. I should have been posting as I went, but honestly, I didn’t want to take the time from experiencing it to write about it. Odd for me, but I think healthy.
Venice may have been my favorite place of all the wonderful cities we visited because it was so very different. It’s a city of 270,000 people, plus literally thousands of tourists, but except in the main piazzas, it’s even quieter than the suburban cul-de-sac where I live. There’s literally no traffic noise, because there are no cars. On the streets, one walks or maybe rides a bicycle. Boats are the only vehicle: water taxis, water “buses,” private boats, delivery boats, trash barges, aquatic police “cars” and ambulances (which do have sirens to get other boats out of the way.) Our hotel was on a narrow side canal, so most of the traffic were gondolas. We even had a gondola parking lot behind us; we could sit at the hotel bar and watch their comings and goings. (If your house or place of business was on one of those side canals, deliveries came by boat as far as they could, and were then hand delivered. Garbage was picked up daily in carts if the garbage-boat couldn’t reach your address easily.) All so exotic, especially coming from suburban America where the car is king and people will drive a quarter mile to the corner store.
But the wonders of Venice went far beyond its watery transportation. The main cathedral, San Marco, was a stunning, almost overwhelming experience that evolved over centuries as a way to display Venice’s wealth and power for political glory as well as the glory of God. Example: an 8×10 foot (or so–I didn’t measure) altarpiece plated in gold and ornamented with over 1,000 gemstones. The building was ornamented both inside and out with multiple colors of marble so it looked like a sunset. Amazingly detailed, stunning mosaics decorated the inside, both the walls and the floors. It was Art Overload, and it bordered on tackiness, but each individual bit was so wonderful that it worked. It did make me laugh that so many of the art works were spoils of war. Did I miss something in my religious education?
And if that amazing basilica wasn’t enough, another glorious church popped up roughly ever quarter mile. Example: we barely missed a vaporetto (water bus) to one of the outer islands and decided to explore the neighborhood while we waited for the next one. We wandered into what looked like an unassuming parish church to discover a lace-like black and white marble interior–stonework so perfect it almost made us weep–and, over a side altar, unremarked except for a small sign, a painting by Tintoretto. What truly impressed us was that this wasn’t a tourist destination despite its beauty. It was an active parish church. People from the neighborhood came in to light candles or say a quick prayer while we gawked. It felt like an active place of worship, like most of the people who came there were believers, not, like us, visitors soaking up art and culture. We found this all over Italy: artistic masterpieces tucked away in unlikely spots, with the locals seemingly appreciating them as a given. Of course we have a 16th-century masterpiece in our church. Doesn’t everyone have some great piece of historic art? Now I hear there’s a church on the other side of town that has heat and air-conditioning–that’s worth talking about!
The Cat-Herder and I, and the friends we travelled with, are already trying to figure out when we can get back to Italy and where we’ll visit. Not Rome again. Rome was a great experience, rich in history, but it’s also a huge, bustling city, and I find big cities kind of obnoxious. We’d love to spend more time in both Venice and Florence, but we’d like to day-trip to Florence from some wonderful outpost in the hills of Tuscany, which we got to see only from a distance. We’re all foodies and lovers of wine, and the idea of exploring Tuscany sounds ideal. And after a teasing couple of days in Sorrento, we’d love more time on the Amalfi coast. It’s gloriously beautiful. And I missed Herculaneum, so I want a rematch with the area.
Of course, we’d like to spend that time based in the four-star hotel in Sorrento or someplace just as plush, so we’re going to need to save our pennies!