Sunday, June 01, 2014

Europa! (Part Two) - Viva la Italia!

After an awesome stay at Zurich, our next stop was Florence. A whopping 500+ kilometers by road, impressively managed by my brother-in-law. Though right at the start we were stopped by a dutiful cop who stopped us for ignoring a rather inconspicuous 'one-way' sign. We knew bribing wouldn't work. So coughed up a heavy fine and proceeded on our way. With due respect to the men in the car, their anxiety and the time and money lost, I must say the cop was extremely good looking (I only thought about it but my daughter loudly mentioned it!)

Anyway, so off we went. The journey was smooth, relaxed and interesting. Excellent roads. Amazing tunnels. The roads did take a 'toll' on our budget, though.

At Florence, we stayed in a small and quiet town called Bagno a Ripoli. With Florence as the base we made day-trips to Lucca/Pisa and Rome.

Day 2: As I have always heard, the entrance to the area within which the Leaning Tower is located is absolutely unassuming. But the moment you enter it, the entire square, with its cathedral, baptistery and
of course the Leaning Tower is breathtaking. These magnificent whitish-cream structures are offset by lush green lawns. The Leaning Tower just stands there like a moody hero - valiantly defying gravity. You just can't your eyes off it. Just how does it stand that way? Amazing! I learnt later that there are a few more towers like that in the world a few accidental and a few man-made. After clicking a few quintessential touristy pictures, we moved to the walled city of Lucca.

Lucca. This is one of cities I will never forget and would want to visit again. I don't know what, but there is some vibe that I felt as soon as I moved from the exterior part of the town to the walled area. The walls (dating back to the 15-16 C) don't just guard this town. They guard history, tradition and heritage. The cool air is thick with pride. It resonates culture. Probably the lack of the usual touristy crowd gave that special feeling about this place. So to speak, there isn't much to 'see' here. At least, you have a choice. The promenade has lawns for you to just 'be' and do nothing. I felt so drawn to it that I just didn't feel like leaving it.

Just one of the beauties
We had to rush out Lucca reluctantly as we had just one evening to visit Firenze (Florence city). Ah! The historic center of Firenze! What do I say? Is it for real? Someone might as well have just assembled settings of a couple of breathtaking buildings, some mind blogging statues, a romantic bridge and said, here you go. "the model of a dream city". How can one small area possibly contain so much art and history? Though I was spellbound by this unique place, I couldn't help thinking, didn't this place go through wars/ industrialisation / modernisation / urbanisation? How do they do this? Buildings contstructed 100s of years ago remain intact! No wonder it is a UNESCO protected heritage site. Imagine the effort the government and the people must be taking to preserve it. Having read so much about this place, I was saddened to realise that I all that I saw
was only a small fraction of this magnificent city. At least I am glad I could spend a few precious moments by the most amazing 'old bridge'. As I gazed into the glittering waters of River Arno by the setting sun, I thought of all the glorious people of yore who placed art above everything else in life and lived life like a dream.

Day 3: We headed to Rome with mixed feelings of anticipation and anxiety. We had heard horror stories of it being over-crowded, yet didn't have the heart to give it a miss. So we drove, parked and walked. The Vatican was our first stop. We walked around the square. Didn't brave the serpentine queue to the Sistine Chapel. We then moved visited the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum before calling it a day. It might've been the oppressing heat, the milling crowds or the tight itinerary but the city of Rome somehow didn't capture my imagination. But I must say, the only word that comes to my mind when I think of Rome is 'grandeur'.

Streets of Rome
The Colosseum

Day 4: After spending a couple of hours in a sweet little town called Greve in Chianti, we headed to Venice.

Venice on the face of it, is a regular city-broad roads, busy, tall buildings and business establishments. This part is the mainland, where we stayed. We took a bus to the Lagoon Area. From the bus as we caught glimpses of a busy port and the water reminded me that we are actually headed to this famed city on water. When we climbed on the first bridge, it looked like a regular canal on a river. But as we walked on, we were totally amazed by how an entire town could stand on water. With hundreds of bridges, it functions just like any other city. We learnt from our Gondola oarsman (gondolier) that there are even Ambulance boats. That bit of trivia came, thanks to an inquisitive nephew who remembered to ask questions, while the grown-ups forgot everything else while gawking at this water wonderland. We spent two half days here and I am glad we split it up that way. The first half we just walked around and explored. The second half was reserved for the luxurious and expensive Gondola ride, well worth all the money and effort. Fortunately for us, our gondolier took us around the calmer, residential parts of Venice. A very relaxing and yet interesting experience it was. He said he did not want to take us through the crowded, touristy parts, claiming "eet ees tooo noiseeee". As we were crooning the inevitable song from the film Great Gambler, my mind (as always) went off wandering, wondering about these people and their unique life. I might want to write a story about someone living there...someday.

A Gondola (not ours)
Clothesline-how did they get it up there?
So this rich experience rounded off our Italian part of the journey. I left this legendary land, promising to return sometime.

Note: These pictures are owned by me. They might not be of much use but in case you want to use them, please check with me first.

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