Edit: This post was (somehow) deleted from my blog and the latter half has been re-written. The content of the post remains the same.
This has been a trying year for so many across the world. We each, in our own ways, have struggle to thrive and survive. Many in places that are war-ridden or inhabitable due to famine and disease are literally doing their best to just keep breathing. They are the Holocaust survivors of today.
Personally, I’ve taken several setbacks in my professional and personal life as well. However, on a day like today, I simply wish to give thanks for the amazing people in my life and the wondrous experiences I managed to have this year. Thank you my friends, my family, and my awesome coworkers for making this year not only worth being thankful for but an unforgettable string of memories.
This year, I did something I have wanted to do as long as I can remember – I traveled. I know I already posted about Seattle and NYC – one trip reconnected me to long lost family and the other to the person I have become. The third trip, which I’m about to share with y’all now, opened my eyes and began to show me a path to becoming the person I want to become.
Travelling shows you sides of yourself you never knew existed. It may reveal that you have a cool head under duress (you get lost and then find your way back), it may reveal that you hate change (I really missed my regular breakfast), and most importantly, it will reveal to you how other people live, how they experience the world, and how we are all so different and yet the same. The last is a theme that seems more and more emphasized the more I travel.
This time around, I want to share you with the wonder that is Italy. I don’t really need to elaborate on the amazing history and art that is absolutely everywhere there but I can’t help but be utterly fascinated and awed by the beauty and philosophical depth that pervades the every day life of the Italian people.
I chose to go on a bus tour with a tour group and never regretted that decision. Throughout this tour I saw the wonder that is Rome (more on that later), went to small hill towns like Padua, Orvieto, Spello and Assisi, saw Verona and its iconic Juliet’s balcony, fell in love with beautiful Florence and it’s street artists, experienced the unique city of Venice (more on that later too) and finished off the tour in Milan with its almost jarringly modern vibe.
Upon arrival in Rome, I was directly submerged into the Italian cultural love of food and wine (though I don’t drink) and the showmanship every Italian is evidently a master of. The food, needless to say, was excellent. Pasta, salad, bread, meat, cappucino and wine are the staples of Italian cuisine as I experienced it. There were several dishes I would have loved to have but they contained pork (which I also don’t eat) and so my tasted buds were left satisfied but greedy for more.
Rome was easily the cheapest place in Italy that I had the pleasure of visiting. It also had more to share with the world than basically any city I have ever visited before. Despite spending all day walking around its streets or going from location to location on our excellent tour bus, we barely managed to see the highlights. As an art and history buff, I know I could easily spend several weeks in Rome and still not see it all.
Traveler’s tip: Find little cafes off the main streets for all meals – the food is excellent, the quantity is usually more than an average person would eat and it is MUCH cheaper than a sit-down restaurant. Also, there are little fountains in the walls so if you carry a water bottle with you, there is clean water for you to drink all over the city. Mineral water costs more in Italy than wine or coffee. In addition, if going anytime other than the height of summer, wear layers. It gets cold in the morning and after sunset but is hot in the afternoon. Good walking boots or sneakers are a must. Don’t wear anything you couldn’t last in all day. Those cobblestones hurt.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Vatican amidst my trip to Rome and just that itself was a treat unlike any other. The art is overwhelming and the atmosphere is unique. Tour groups from all over the world can be found in this tiny little country – and it is a country of its own. You just don’t need a passport or visa to go in thanks to agreements between the Vatican and the Italian government. Keep in mind though – unless you have a reservation, you will be in line for several hours waiting to gain entry. It is, after all, a site for holy pilgrimages and home to the Pope. If you follow the Christian tradition, there is plenty for you to see and many places to pray. You can even purchase blessed rosaries at the many shops in Saint Peter’s square. The piece de grace, of course, is the Sistine Chapel. However, there is no photography allowed there so I have no pictures of my visit to that wonder, just these few pictures leading me to the chapel itself:
Which brings us to the wonder that is Saint Peter’s Basilica. My words, and these pictures, cannot describe the majesty of the Basilica. Every stone and every column, the domed ceiling, the floors, the altars and the art – all of it is beyond breathtaking with good reason. Michelangelo, one of the most renowned, prolific and brilliant artists of all time had a big hand in its design and construction. The history behind the building and design of the Basilica is quite interesting. I’ll leave you to satisfy your curiosity with this wiki article. Though my pictures definitely do no do it justice, here are a few of my memories:
The Square itself is no less impressive than the insides of the gargantuan Basilica:
After this amazing but all-too-brief trip to the Vatican, we were rushed off to another of Rome’s signature delights: The Colosseum! With our tour group, we were able to actually walk around on the same ground the gladiators of old would have fought their battles and look down into the pits where hungry animals were kept in terrible conditions in order to make them blood-thirsty in beast vs gladiator battles. I must note, however, that most gladiators were mercenaries and volunteers who were very much akin to modern day professional sportsmen. They were paid generously for their services in most cases. Though the overwhelming percentage of gladiators were willing participants, there were undoubtedly slaves also sent into battle.
Also located next to the Colosseum is a stone arch that has not only withstood the test of time, it is a testament to the passage of human history and the extreme changes that have come about in the world since the fall of the Roman empire. The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch that was built in 312 and is the last remaining triumphal arch of the Roman empire. The steps leading to the arch half stone walkways that were laid back in the early days of the Roman Empire and are now part of the cultural heritage of the Roman people.
Beyond that Arch is where the Forum once stood in all its marbled glory. Today, only the marble-stripped foundations have been left behind. The history itself, however, is embedded into every brick in the area.
After the Colosseum and a short lunch break, we again ventured out into Rome and saw even more of its delights.
Walking through the streets of Rome was like a dream come true. We first visited the Spanish Steps which were so crowded with visitors that none of us dared to actually venture onto the steps for fear of being lost forever. Leading to the Steps are buildings housing the most expensive name brands in the world as well as the Spanish embassy in Rome.
Once we had visited the cultural center that is the Spanish steps (many locals also gather there regularly), we moved onto the most enchanting place of all, the Trevi Fountain, followed by the Senate, the President’s house, the Pantheon and the Navarro Fountain (also absolutely fantastic). I was just disappointed that the Pantheon had no trace of the Gods and Goddesses of old (it is now a Church) but it had the most amazing anti-rain system with a whole in the roof designed to let nothing but a slight mist into the building itself. The Romans were just brilliant architects, not to mention mind-blowing artists.
The Trevi Fountain might have been my favorite but Navarro Square holds second place with the Fountain of Four Rivers. These are places you have to see in person to truly understand their brilliance. Every sculpture, every building seemed so alive. There were so many stories told with every piece of marble and every brick. It was absolutely amazing.
That magical day will be a treasured memory for me forever. Rome is a city that I could easily spend another week or so in and still not see everything. Needless to say, I will be returning some day.
My adventure in Italy continued with Orvieto, a quaint and beautiful town, the next morning. There, we saw the cathedral that took my heart away. It is a fantastic study in architecture and art, built in both the Renaissance and Gothic fashion. The town itself was a typical Umbrian hill town with fantastic art casually thrown about here and there and in little alleyways. We also had an experience in genuine Italian pastries and hot chocolate while in Orvieto. Here are some visual recollections of my time there:
That afternoon, we continued onto Assisi, home of Saint Claire’s church and Saint Frances Basilica. Everything about this visit was grand, gorgeous and majestic.
Many pilgrims make their way to this unique town with an old Roman town center and one of the most visited Basilicas in the world, as well as the beauty that just blows your mind away.
We stayed in the town of Assisi that night but we first ventured out to beautiful Spello that evening for a meal I will never forget. If you ever have a chance, please do visit Ristorante Locanda del Postiglione – it will change your life forever.
That dinner was the end to a long and wonderful day experiencing the smaller towns of Italy and Umbrian cooking.
The adventure continues in Italian Adventures: Part II. Please do return and accompany me on the rest of my journey through Italy!