Tuesday, March 29, 2011


So finally my Italian adventure is at an end. I think I've seen a fair bit of the country: Rome, Pompei, Amalfi Coast, Perugia, Pisa, Florence, Ravenna and, of course, Venice. I've passed through many other places but those are the main places I explored to some degree.
I'm not sure yet what I think of Italy as a whole - the whole experience will take some time to digest I think.
The overwhelming impression I have is one of shabbiness. But then, Italy has been around for a very long time so I suppose it's a bit unrealistic to expect it to be pristine. However, looking beyond the surface is so much more rewarding. The history, culture, art.... the art!.... it just goes on. I think the only thing I haven't seen that I really would have liked to is da Vinci's Last Supper. It's in a convent in Milan (I think it's Milan) and you need to book for your 15 minute viewing at least 6 months in advance. Needless to say I'm not that organised. Nevermind, I've seen enough incredible things to keep me satisfied.
Geographically, Italy is far more mountainous than I expected. Even now, at the end of March, many of the alpine areas are still covered in snow. Driving from here to there and then on to wherever has been an integral part of the trip. There aren't many empty spaces and towns are very close together - though I suspect that's typical of everywhere other than Australia and North America. Driving through the mountains is nerve wracking at times but the views are spectacular. Times like that I wished someone else was driving and I could just look, and take photos.
From a history point of view I'd have to say that Rome was the highlight. The remains of the Forum, the Colosseum - I was just continually in awe at seeing these things I've rabbited on about for years and years. Coming out of the dungeon that is the metro to be confronted by the Colosseum, right there in front of me: something I'll never forget.
Apart from the history, Rome is a place I could do without. It's noisy, crowded and not at all relaxed. The traffic is nightmarish and pedestrians really do have to have to have their wits about them, 1000%. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy my time there, I did. There's just so much to see, you can't help but be enthralled.
The Vatican City, geographically in Rome but politically independent, has to be seen to be believed. St Peter's I only saw from the outside. I probably should have done the tour inside but it didn't happen. I missed the Pieta as a result. The Vatican museum is unbelievable. So much wealth and artworks from start to finish. Some of it was so over the top. Nonetheless, a marvellous collection. Of course, the highlight there is the Sistine Chapel. No words can adequately describe that ceiling. A true marvel.
Pompei was probably the shabbiest city I visited. But again, the history made it all good. The ruined city is fascinating to wander through. Ancient Rome as it really was. It was a really good feeling to stand in the same spot as Pink Floyd too (the amphitheatre).
The Amalfi Coast is so picturesque - real postcard stuff. Driving it is a bit stressful but the views are wonderful.
Perugia has faded in my memory a bit. I remember I liked being there and the old town centre was great to wander through, but nothing is standing out in my memory as "must see this" material. Mind you, I'm sure that when I look back over the photos I'll be jolted back there in a flash.
Pisa was perhaps the disappointment of the adventure. The cathedral, baptistry and Leaning Tower were as magnificent as expected but the town itself didn't endear itself to me. Get there, see the tower, leave - that'd be my advice.
Florence. Florence has the art. Florence has David. The Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, the statues everywhere. I saw so many wonderful works of art in Venice - da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, etc. It's just a fantastic place to wander and look and soak it all in. At the time I thought Florence was my favourite place to be. It has David after all.
Ravenna was a pleasant surprise. I stopped there just because it was convenient but I'm glad I did. The Byzantine mosaics in the churches there are a real treasure. They're rated as the best in Western Europe and it's easy to see why. Magnificent detail and colours.
I originally booked for 5 days in Venice but ended up staying for 9. Magic. It's the most expensive place I've been to but, jeez, it was worth it. No traffic, leisurely pace, the canals, the boats, the gondola, the architecture, the food, etc etc. I cried when I had to leave. Of all the places in Italy, in fact in Europe that I've seen to date, Venice is the jewel. I don't know what it is: the history's not as good as Rome's, the art is not as good as in Florence (or Paris for that matter). It's the ambience I think. It's just a lovely place to wander, sit, catch a waterbus across the lagoon or along the Grand Canal and look. It's almost impossible to get anywhere in Venice in a hurry and I think that's what I loved the most.
The last two days have been mostly driving: Venice, down the Adriatic coast to Senigallia, near Ancona and then further down the coast a bit more, then turn right and head across the country to Rome. Using the motorway (autostrada) it takes about 2 hours to get from one side of Italy to the other - east-west, that is. Tonight I'm in Fiumicino, a couple of miles from the airport.

Italy is expensive, particularly Venice, if you stick to the tourist haunts. In St Mark's Square you can pay 10, or more, euros for a coffee (I paid 16 for a glass of ordinary white wine!), yet not too far away, down a few streets, across a few canals, you can get the same coffee for 1 or 2 euro. And a whole bottle of vino for 12. It pays to look around. Many places will charge up to 5 euros (cover charge) just to let you sit down, even if you're just having a coffee.
Petrol is around 1.50 euro a litre - it's cost me about 200 to keep the Fiat going and I think that's a lot given I didn't drive at all in Rome, Florence and Venice.
The hotels have all been pretty good but they often have hidden charges. In Rome I was charged 10 euro a night just to have the car parked there, in Florence it was 15 a night. The hotel on the Lido wanted to charge me 5 euro an hour for wifi access and that's just outrageous. In that regard, the Astoria in Pompei was, by far, the best hotel: cheap rates, free wifi, free parking, home cooked food, friendly people (even though they spoke not a word of English), and within walking distance of the ruins. Can't go wrong.
Lido, by the way, is Italian for beach. So, Lido di Venice is, in fact, Venice Beach.

I'm sure I have more to say but whatever it was has deserted me now. I should go to bed anyway as I have a 9.30 flight to catch in the morning and a car to return before that.....



Michael said...

Hey, Julie. Sounds like you loved Italy and I'm soooo jealous that you got to spend so much time there. As to Venice, have you read the City of Falling Angels? It was written by the same author who wrote Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, though I can't remember his name. You might enjoy it.
I have a friend artist who spends about half his time in Florence. He worships Michelangelo like a god, so that may be part of his connection to Florence. He also has a friend who is a priest in the Vatican and showed me pictures he had taken from the roof of the cathedral (scary! I'd never be able to go up there) and other places no one ever gets to see even on a tour. Amazing place, Italy! Hopefully you will be able to buy that Venetian Villa sometime, eh?

9fragments - CJStrahan said...

That would be Salman Rushdie, then.

Julie, this post brought a tear to my eye. Wonderful. Best you book your next country soon - I fear Liverpool is going to seem a little drab :( xxxC