Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Italy Stop #4 : Florence (Firenze)

Of all the places we visited, Florence is the one place I could visit for an extended time. In Rome, there's so many famous historical things to see and all the hustle of a major city blended into one. Pisa has one big albeit crooked bell tower and the charm of a smaller town. Pompeii, well it's Pompeii, and it's a phenomenal site in itself. Florence is still different. It's a small city, with lots of great food, markets, shopping and the like all within an easy walk. The people are friendly and it is more of what I suppose I would have expected of a European city, if I had really any expectations formed in my mind. The touches of great artists over the centuries grace the architecture. It's beautiful, relaxing and probably my favorite city of the entire trip. I did make a stop to see Michaelangelo's statue David, as well as the cathedral that plays host to the tomb of Machiavelli, Galileo, Michaelangelo and other higher ups in the Catholic world. The Grand Hotel Mediterraneo, our hotel in Florence, had a unique touch in the room; they provided a nice map with two marked routes for those guests who like to walk or run for exercise. It is attached to a string and has a flat pocket to hold a room key snug while running. Despite mostly rainy weather, I caught one morning that was only slightly drizzling and took advantage of the map. Just to run along the banks of the Arno river with the morning traffic bustling by was a wonderful experience I won't soon forget.

We did spend one night in Venice, and while I can say I've been there, I'm not in a rush to go back. The narrow foot-traffic only streets were interesting, and the few shops that were open had quite the variety of goods from the latest in haute couture to the downright quirky. It was easy to get lost in the maze of shops and streets. Admittedly it was near the end of my trip and I was pretty exhausted.

One thing did stand out, I had the single best lasagna I've ever had in my life at a local eatery in Venice. It left me rethinking my own recipe; actually the whole trip has me starting completely over with a new take on Italian dishes. As much as I aim to find the local restaurants when traveling, sometimes it's difficult to do. That wasn't the case in Italy. I had McDonald's one time, and even then it was a menu item they don't serve in the US.

Overall I am very glad I made the trip to Italy. It was everything I couldn't begin to expect and more. Being surrounded by history at every turn is a different feeling than I've experienced anywhere else in my travels. As I've told a few friends, here in the US things are considered "old" at 200 years and gain a "wow" factor by being closer to 300 years old. In Italy however, it requires adding an extra zero to that number to get even the slightest nod. Realizing just how much we have and yet haven't changed as humans in that 2000 (or more) years provides a perspective that just can't be gained anywhere here in the US. At least not anywhere I've traveled, yet.

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