Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Venice: Lonely and lively in the city of love

Rarely am I at a loss for words. But Venice, Italy? It's tough to describe.

On the one hand, it's winding alleyways, bridges and boat rides invoke something childlike. Imagine the glee I felt at having to get on the water taxi each day. I mean, I had to go for a boat ride to get from my hotel to where I was going. How great is that?

This guy beside me doesn't look as pleased as me to be on the water taxi.
The water taxis end around midnight, which means everyone has to get where they are going, including most of the people who work in Venice. That means all the restaurants take their last customers by 9:45 p.m. so they can can serve the meal, clean up and high-tail it out of Venice.

The result is a eerily quiet ghost town.

The mornings are full of workers schlepping items into Venice.
I wish they were playing poker. That would have made this scene perfect.

The afternoons are full of tourists.


And the evenings?


Very lonely.
The streets of Venice are empty and quiet in any place that isn't touristy. Sure there is the odd couple walking hand-in-hand on their honeymoon. And me wondering why they look so bored. But other than that? Ghost town.

One can't help but feel melancholy in this town. The fading pastel buildings are slowly sinking into a verdant watery grave. There are no right angles in the maze of alleyways where not a soul dares venture except a lost tourist. Yet, right around the bend is a crowded touristy avenue where you can ride a gondola for 100 Euro per hour.

It's all a bit depressing.

Yet, at the same time, it's beautiful.   

One of my favorite moments of Venice was walking along the canal at night. I was alone. I mean, really alone. I saw one couple walk past me during my walk. On the one side of me was the canal with the quiet sound of boats buzzing by. On the other side of me was a hedge of jasmine. It was a warm night and the jasmine fragrance filled in the air. Venice really is lovely, even in the lonely parts.  

Rather than have me struggle with describing Venice further, take a look at the wee photo gallery below.
Lonely but beautiful.

Yep, I'm in Italy.
The canals are a labyrinth of canals and bridges. As reader Blakeroo says, "it has that magical Harry Potter moving staircase charm."

Parking lot.

Lonely during the lively.
Back on the taxi after the action dies down.

Little known fact: The Japanese are expert tour groupers. They stay together and walk quickly despite the obsessive photo taking. It's the North American tour groups that act like a slow moving amoeba or like someone is trying to wrangle cats.
Hi there stunning architecture.
Scenes like this make me smile and think, Ah I'm in Italy.
Lonely again.

Lively again.
Livelier still.
Official Venice schlepper.
Chucking artichokes!
Lonely but lovely.
Just lovely.
Looking for love in all the wrong places.
How can one feel lonesome when there is a water taxi ride involved? I love me some water taxi. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Florence: Blowing a monumental wad

I did the Duomo from the front, from the rear, top, underneath and on the side. 

But it was the hotel that screwed me.

When I arrived in Florence, Italy, I thought I was lucky to have a hotel right near the train station. How convenient. How divine. Great planning. Nice job.

It was very expensive but all the hotels seemed to be expensive for the night I wanted them. At least this one was near the train station.

When I first walked in my ├╝ber expensive room, I had one thought: Old age home.

Not the kind of luxury I was imagining for the price I was paying.

But that's not all folks. No no. That's not all. The internet in my room, which was an extra charge, didn't work. Nor did the television. When I went down to the front desk, they said it would be no problem to use the internet in the lobby. But that's an extra charge, too.

Why would I pay for the broken internet in my room AND pay for broken internet in the lobby? 

I wish Italians knew the expression, "Are you fucking kidding me with this bullshit?" But they just stare and say, "Madame?" which pisses me off further because I'm not a madame. I'm a mademoiselle, bitches. 

Anyway. I didn't go to Florence to just stay at the hotel, so I dropped my bag off in the hotel and off I went to traipse around the city to see what I really came to see. 

Impressive. But why is no one talking about the hand-to-penis ratio here?
I love that Florence has taken their best sculptures and made incredible replicas to display in a piazza for all to enjoy. It's as if they decided to blow their monumental wad in one courtyard. They said, "Here you go tourists. Take your photos all in one sheebang. No waiting in line. Get up close, too. Check 'em out. We don't mind. We're not going to charge you a cover to see them either. We figured we'd screw you on the hotel instead." 

The place was a madhouse of tourists and tour operators, all waddling around piazzas and bottle-necking sidewalks. 

Typical tour guides wave a long flower to be easily located. I didn't have a hard time finding the tour guides. I had a hard time avoiding them.

Tour people.

The moment I reached my limit.
You'd think I'd be used to this by now. I manned up when I went to the Royal Wedding in London. I dealt when Pope John Paul II was beatified in Rome. But something about Florence made me snap.

Maybe it was my expectations. 

My friend Alan said to me once, 
"Disenchantment is good. It wipes away all the nonsense and shows us the truth. I can always build something worthwhile on the truth."
Best. Quote. Ever.

So when I'm in situations of disenchantment, I remember his quote. I try to build something worthwhile on the truth. But the absent vine-covered walkways, the (bad kind of) shady streets devoid of mom and pop restaurants, the shops rammed full of tourist tchotchkes... all meant that disenchantment had arrived in Florence and it was going to take me out for a crappy expensive dinner. (Note to self: Do NOT take dinner suggestions from a guy with a black eye and his friend who is sporting 12 stitches in his hand from their bar fight the night before.)

Disappointed and disenchanted, I weaved through the line of bars filled with 20-something Americans who were in Europe for the first time getting wasted with the same 20-something friends they get wasted with back home. Then I ended up at my shit hole hotel.

Then I realized something.

I could leave.

I had an apartment that I paid for in Rome for the month. And the high-speed train was leaving in 40 minutes to go to my apartment that had high-speed internet. I could pay for this hotel, stay in it and leave on the train in the morning... or I could leave NOW. 

I called the front desk to whip up the paperwork. They asked why I was leaving. I told them there were a myriad of reasons that I couldn't get into. Just get the paperwork ready already, Massimo.

I grabbed my backpack, left my map of Florence and high-tailed it to the conveniently-located train station next door. 

I was back in Rome in just over an hour. And I was the happiest I'd been all day.

Now I love Rome more, for one more reason:

It's not Florence.
Florence was all a bit much.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tivoli: The "cozy" Villa Hadriana

Can you imagine?

That's what I kept wanting to say on the day I toured around Villa Hadriana in Tivoli, Italy. 

According to Wikipedia, the villa was constructed as a retreat from Rome for Emperor Hadrian during the second and third decades of the 2nd century AD. That was just after Jesus made his big debut, yo. This place is OLD. 

Hadrian wasn't digging his digs in Rome (probably tired of the traffic and weaving around tourists), so he created this little getaway just outside of Tivoli. It was just a cozy villa, made up of over 30 buildings covering over a square kilometre. 

You know. A cottage of sorts.

Villa Hadrian gives you the ruins you believe in when you think of Roman ruins. And it gives them to you beautifully. I can always tell a day is terrific when I drift off to sleep with images of it in my mind. The statues, the water, the ruins, the vines draping over ruins... it all makes you want to know what it was like when the emperor lived there. I like to imagine him lazing around in his toga and gold crown, eating grapes and consulting with other toga wearing advisors on how to run various aspects of the empire. 

Can you imagine? 
So many things in Rome look like a movie set, when really, movie sets were designed after these scenes in Rome.

He doesn't have much to say, but that's alright. I don't know much Italian anyway... YET.

I love it when clouds cooperate with the composition. Those clouds ended up raining us out at lunch.

You know something is built right when it's still beautiful centuries later in the form of ruins.

Magical tree right in the middle of the action.

Near the end of the tour, the most beautiful places were the shady places. It was HOT.

Villa Hadriana can't help but be lovely. Even the poppies want to live here.

Some messages are universal.

Villa Hadriana was lovely. It inspired me to get back to painting. It also inspired me to lay around in my bed sheets and eat grapes. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rome: The real Roma

I've been in Rome for awhile now and I've noticed something.

The tourists all hang out in the city center. It's as if the Romans decided to corral the tourists in one place and say, "Here are some ruins! Here is some art! Take your photos. Leave your money. Ciao!"

Once the tourists are gone or are nestled snug in their hotel beds, the Romans go back to their regularly scheduled Roman lives.

It's brilliant.

You know why it's brilliant?

Because it's tough putting up with tourists all the time. Now I know that I am, in fact, technically a tourist. I'm corralled in just like all the other camera-toting, running-shoes-wearing, map-holding tourists.

My Roman friends, because they are kind, tell me that I am not a tourist at all. They say tourists know when they leave and when they return. They say I am on a journey and a person on a journey knows only when she leaves.

So true.

The city center of Rome is like Disney: Created for optimal dollars spent, except that here, everything is real and at Disney everything is fake. And Italy likes those tourist bucks, so the plan plays out. I suspect it is odd to be one of the cities chosen by the word as a top tourist destination. Sure, Romans are proud. It's fun to win. But the result is that their city is heaving mad with tourists.

Though Romans are grateful for the tourist bucks, I suspect they are a little resentful, too. I can tell this because when I'm with my Roman friends, the waiters are friendly and attentive. With my English friends, we wave, we call, we sit and we stew until the waiter feels like stopping by. (Incidentally, when I dine alone, waiters are attentive, but I think it's for other reasons.)

Still, I love Rome and the only thing I want to change about Rome is that I become more Roman like I vowed last year when I first met this luscious city of art, ruins and hotties.

I feel like the real Rome is just beyond my grasp. It could be just outside the Aurelian Wall that corrals all the tourists.

But I'll get there. I'll make it to the real Rome.

One Italian word, gelato and plate of pasta at a time. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rome: My favorite gelato

Rome makes everything sexy.

You stand in front of a Vespa? You feel kinda sexy.

Security guards walking down the street? Sexy.

The Vatican? Sexy.
(Ladies, you'll want to click on that link.)

Store catalogs? Sexy.

After spending so much time in sexy Rome, you even start to notice Jesus differently in all those churches. The six pack, the long hair, the hero thing. Whew.

Wow I feel weird admitting that.

And then there is gelato.

You can feel like Jabba the Hut, hauling your frumpy ass all over Rome, but when you get yourself a gelato in a cone, you feel like you're a hot porn star.

People all over Rome are licking gelato like they are at third base. Tongues lap up the drips of luscious hazelnut, lips smooch the mounds of peach and eyes roll back at the first taste of strawberry.

Porn. All over Rome. For 2 Euro.

You can tell a lot about a person's love life when you observe their gelato behavior.

There are the "Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday" types. These people get gelato daily. They also like to get busy daily, or would if they could. 

There are the "Can't Settle Down" types. These people taste test a lot of flavors before settling on just one. Once they make a choice and walk away with their cone, they are still thinking of what other flavors are out there that they could experience.

You'll also see the "Shouldas." These are the people that try a flavor but shoulda got the other one. These people live with regret. They probably regret most of the decisions they've made in life, especially in regard to relationships.

Then there are the "Monogamists." They found the one flavor that fills their heart with joy. They would eat this flavor everyday if they could.

Then there are the "Observers." These are a rare but sad breed. They aren't eating, partaking or even enjoying watching others partake in the gelato-eating orgy. I don't know how they live life but they must be sad and lonely.

I was a Monogamist when I first arrived in Rome because I liked hazelnut so much, but then a Roman friend of mine told me in all seriousness that I MUST try more flavors. Now I'm a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday type with Can't Settle Down tendencies. I'm not a Shouldas type as everything I've tried has been fantastic, which is also true of my love life come to think of it. And I wonder now if I can ever be a Monogamist again, but I know for sure that I can't be just an Observer.

Check out sexy Marni enjoying our favorite flavor of gelato (that day). It's Gnutella from Giolitti and we think it might actually just be frozen Nutella that was whipped into a frenzy.

I think she's thinking of love.
I'm thinking of something else.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rome: Fountains of thought

"Few people know so clearly what they want. Most people can't even think what to hope for when they throw a penny in a fountain."      -- Barbara Kingsolver

Of course, Romans thought that through. That's why the only wish you can have when you throw a coin in Trevi Fountain is that you return to Rome.

Rome, Promise me I will return to you. 
The Romans are full of good ideas. 

I think they spaced out fountains just far enough away from each other so that the moment you can't hear one, you hear another.

That's just how they roll here in Roma.

This is why they ran the world.

So as I walk through Rome, I follow the sounds of trickling water with my Hipstamatic (another great idea) and arrived at these works of beauty:

These fountains are for drinking water. Everyone takes a swig or fill up their water bottles as they walk by. Genius.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Triton Fountain

Triton Fountain

Random fountain in Villa Borghese

Another random fountain in Villa Borghese

Fountain of the Calderari (Coppersmiths), Piazza Navona

Fountain of the Calderari (Coppersmiths), Piazza Navona

Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona

Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona

Fountain of the Moor, Piazza Navona

Palazzo Farnese

Palazzo Farnese

Palazzo Farnese

Palazzo Farnese

Not sure where this fountain is. I was lost when I found it.

Lost here, too.

The Fountain of the Tortoises

The Fountain of the Tortoises

At the Vatican. Those are Bernini's statues in the background.

Outside of St. Mary's in Trastevere

On the way to the Vatican. This dragon seems to say "Eff YOU! I'm a dragon."

Roma, Promettimi che ritourner├▓.

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