If you are looking to experience a rich and crazy culture in Europe then it has got to be Italy!!! After all, this country is the foundation of European civilization — established by the Roman Empire and carried on by the Roman Catholic Church. While exploring Italy you come face to face with some of the world’s most iconic images from this 2,000-year history: the Colosseum of Ancient Rome, the medieval Leaning Tower of Pisa, Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Venus, the playful Baroque spirit of the Trevi Fountain…and the elegant decay that surrounds the canals of Venice. Beyond these famous sights, though, Italy offers Europe’s richest culture. Traditions still live within a country that is vibrant and fully modern. Going with an open eye is essential to experiencing both Italy’s past and the present.
Getting lost in Venice
We chose Venice as the first destination for our great roman holiday. Venice is one those magical European cities that everyone should visit at least once in their life. Stepping ashore after a boat ride from the station we noticed everything seemed particularly vibrant in this beautifully battered cityscape. With turquoise water shimmering everywhere, canals replacing streets, marble palaces and churches seemed to rise out of water. The car-free narrow streets suddenly make walkers feel big, important, and liberated.
Although a bit tired from our train journey we straightaway started exploring the city as we had limited time. We walked towards Piazza San Marco home to St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica San Marco), built in the late 11th century, but modelled after a church in Constantinople that’s 500 years older.
We also saw the Doge’s Palace, where Venice’s head of state, the Doge, lived for hundreds of years. Unlike the monarchs of other countries, the title of Doge did not pass from father to son through generations but rather the Doges of Venice were elected to the highest ranking position for a life-time term.
After spending some time here we moved on to our charming Gondola Ride. Riding a gondola is simple, expensive, and one of the great experiences in Europe. Gondoliers hanging out all over town are eager to have you hop in for a ride. While the high cost of a ride is a rip-off for some, it’s a worthwhile splurge for anyone enchanted by Venice’s otherworldly magic. The best way to enjoy a ride is establish the price, route, and duration of the trip before boarding, enjoy your ride, and pay only when you’re finished. While prices are pretty firm, you might find them softer during the day. Most gondoliers honour the official prices, but a few might try to scam you out of some extra euros, particularly by insisting on a tip.
Wandering through the neighbourhoods, we passed by the Bridge of Sighs and the iconic Rialto Bridge, which for a long period of time was the only way to cross the grand canal by foot. Our occasional stops at quaint shops that sell Murano glass and Venetian masks got us some great souvenir finds.
Finally it was time for us to continue further on to our next destination Florence. From our short trip Venice totally awed me with its surreal beauty and lovely views — which can hit you from any direction. If you pause anywhere in Venice and simply observe, you’ll witness the one-of-a-kind wonder of this forever-unique city on the lagoon.
Geographically small but culturally rich, Florence is home to some of the greatest art and architecture in the world. People around the world come to Florence to be immersed in its culture, renaissance art, architecture, museums, art galleries, palaces, churches and monument that display some of the greatest artistic treasures in the world. The 5 most popular and important spots to see while in Florence include the Galleria Degli Uffizi, The Duomo, The Museo di San Marco, The Basilica di Santa Croce, and the Piazzale Michelangelo.
We started off with visiting the Duomo or the Santa Maria del Fiore while there. It was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio as the third largest church in the world. The queues being so long during summer we opted to explore the exterior surroundings to maximize our limited time there. Another activity that we definitely enjoyed was sitting on one of the bridges that cross the Arno River, with a bottle of wine, and watching the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, a bridge that has stores on both sides and one of the city’s main landmarks – also the only bridge that was not destroyed by bombs in WWII!
Now a trip to the Tuscany is incomplete without a trip to Pisa. So the next day we were off exploring Pisa – a city which once echoed to the footsteps of one of the world’s most renowned Astronomer and Physicist, Galileo and a 185 feet tower which is famous for not standing erect!
As we reached Pisa station we were met by a jovial lady who was the local guide for our Pisa visit, and soon we were off like obedient school children, marching behind the guide who was brandishing an umbrella like a teacher’s cane. After a short walk we reached beautiful Piazza dei Miracoli. In the Piazza stands the cathedral – an exemplary masterpiece in Romanesque style with a fine facade is made up of grey marble and white stones. Next was the The Pisa Baptistery is a marvelous blend of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles.
And finally, the 200-foot-tall bell tower is famous for its dramatic 15-foot lean. Soon after construction began in 1173, someone said, “Is it just me, or does that look crooked?” The builders carried on anyway, using every trick imaginable to stop the tilt. In 1990, the tower was deemed dangerous, and the city was sealed and the next decade was spent in straightening the tower by about 12 inches. All that work has turned the clock back a few centuries — to Galileo’s time. Legend has it that the scientist, fascinated by gravity, dropped objects from the tower to time their falls.
Climbing to the top of the tower was an unforgettable experience offering great views and vertigo. Since only 45 people can ascend every 15 minutes, you reserve a 30-minute time slot when you buy your ticket (in person, or online no earlier than 20 days ahead and no later than one day in advance). Age restrictions apply: Kids have to be at least eight years old to clamber up the tower with you.
Despite its ancient past, Pisa feels youthful as its university is one of Europe’s oldest. It was here that Galileo studied the solar system and Andrea Bocelli attended law school before embarking on his musical career. After spending the whole day here we were finally back in Florence moving on to Rome the next day.
Discovering Ancient Rome
Rome- a magnificent, urban forest, rich in art, culture, and history. The city has many layers — modern, Baroque, Renaissance, Christian. But I feel for most of us, Rome is Caesar, gladiators, chariots, and thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Luckily, it’s possible to knock off the top symbols of Rome’s magnificence — the Colosseum, Forum, and Pantheon — in one great day of sightseeing. So we started of with the Colosseum. From the start, the Romans were expert builders. They pioneered the use of concrete and the rounded arch, which enabled them to build on this tremendous scale. This awesome example of ancient Roman engineering was begun in A.D. 72, when the Empire was nearing its peak. Wandering inside the arena I could imagine myself as an ancient spectator arriving for the games. Stepping inside one could almost hear the roar of the Empire. Ancient Romans, whose taste for violence exceeded even modern America’s, came to the Colosseum to unwind.
Don’t be taken in by the wannabe gladiators that swarm outside the Colosseum today. They’re officially banned from posing for photos for money, but that doesn’t stop them from hoping to swindle tourists into paying (too much) for a photo opportunity.
The Forum, your next stop, is right next door to the Colosseum (and covered by the same ticket). These few acres of land — arguably the most important piece of real estate in Western civilization — were the ancient center for politics, religion, and commerce. This is where the Vestal Virgins tended the perpetual fire, where Julius Caesar was cremated, and where Emperor Caligula had his palace.
Today the site is littered with small fragments of the huge buildings that once stood here.Walking along the rubble paths it felt like I was kicking some of the same pebbles that stuck in Julius Caesar’s sandals. 😊 😊
It makes you wonder what happened to the long-gone buildings? Earthquakes destroyed some of them, but more than anything, they were scavenged by Roman citizens. They carted off the precut stones and reused them in palaces and churches (some bits of the Colosseum ended up in St. Peter’s Basilica across town).
Thankfully, no one recycled the magnificent Pantheon (A.D. 120), the best-preserved temple from ancient Rome.
This stately building, about a 20-minute walk from the Forum, is the ideal remedy for a brain tired from mentally reconstructing the Colosseum or Forum. The Pantheon survived so well because it’s been in continuous use for more than 2,000 years. It went almost directly from being a pagan temple to being a Christian church.
Moving on we arrived at the Trevi fountain which unfotunatley was closed was restoration ☹ Therefore we moved on the super crowded Spanish steps. The Spanish steps unique design and elegance has made it a popular place for artists, painters and poets who were attracted to the place which inspired them in return. The artist’s presence attracted many beautiful women to the area, hoping to taken as models. This in turn, attracted rich Romans and travelers. After a short time, the steps were crowded with people of all kinds of backgrounds. This tradition, of the Spanish Steps as a meeting place, has lived on ever since.
Finally walking down to Piazza Navona we finished off for the day one of Rome’s most beautiful squares.
Now the Vatican needs a full day dedicated, so off we were the next day to see the Vatican Museums which house some of the world’s most beautiful and culturally significant art.
We started early as the colossal museum complex occupies the 5.5-hectare Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano and contains one of the world’s greatest art collections, finishing in the Michelangelo-decorated Sistine Chapel. There are kilometres of galleries to explore, with everything from Egyptian mummies and Etruscan bronzes to classical sculptures, cartographic tapestries and Renaissance canvases. The Stanze di Rafaello (Raphael Rooms) will stop you in your tracks as you pause to marvel at the Renaissance maestro’s amazingly detailed frescoes.
The Vatican Museums’ star attraction, the Sistine Chapel boasts two of the world’s greatest masterpieces: Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes (1508-1512) and his Giudizio Universale (Last Judgment; 1535–1541). For the best views of the ceiling design, which covers 800 square metres and depicts episodes from the Old Testament, cross to the chapel’s main entrance in the east wall (opposite the visitor entrance). Unfortunatley no photographs are aloowed inside the Sistine Chapel.
Entering St Peter’s Basilica for the first time is an unforgettable experience. The size and opulence of the cavernous 187m-long interior are breathtaking to behold, and wherever you look your gaze falls on yet another priceless masterpiece.
A much-loved sculpture is a statue of St Peter whose right-foot has been worn down by the touch of millions of pilgrims. Nearby, Bernini’s towering baldachin rises 29m above the main papal altar and the extravagant Cattedra di San Pietro stars in the tribune with its yellow window and mass of golden angels. Beneath the main basilica, and accessible by a door in the Pier of St Andrew, are the Vatican Grottoes, where you can see several papal tombs and columns from the original 4th-century basilica.
Note that strict dress codes are enforced for entry to the basilica, so no shorts, miniskirts or bare shoulders. Save one last gasp for Michelangelo’s greatest architectural achievement: the dome, reached by a side door to the right of the basilica’s main entrance, a creaky elevator ride, and a 320-step climb up a narrow, winding staircase. Emerge to soul-stirring panoramas of Rome’s rooftops awash in rose-gold light.
We spent another day in Rome walking around the streets doing viewing some other monuments such as Altare della Patria. Built to recognize the first king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, and honor fallen soldiers, the Altare della Patria remains a leading attraction in Piazza Venezia. The Altare della Patria pays tribute to Italian unification and those who fought for it. We also visited the flea market in Camp de’fiori.
And finally, our holiday came to an end ☹ I would definitely say if whether you are history buff, art lover or nature lover Italy has got something for everybody.
Tips for travellers:
- Beware of scams. As super touristy city Rome is the paradise of scammers and shady people. Fake tours, guides and tickets. Only buy tickets from official people. Someone may offer you possibility to skip lines or get cheaper tickets but remember to always think: Why would this guy get any special tickets if anyone else doesn’t have?
- Water fountains can be found around Rome and you can get free drinkable water from them
- You can skip the longest lines if you are clever. Traveling to Rome means waiting in queues for too long whatever you do. However, with small research and clever thinking you can skip the longest lines.
- Always carry big scarf with you.No, this doesn’t have anything to do with chilly weather or covering yourself from the sun. Churches and other sacred places in Rome have strict dress-code.
I highly recommend that everyone goes here at least once in their lives. Please let me know your views or if you have any questions as I would LOVE to answer them.