Italy

The first time I visited Europe, I took a train to Venice and wandered the streets and canals from midnight to dawn.  The islands off the coast of the Italian mainland afforded a sense of independence from Italian political uncertainty at the time for the merchants who were based there.

The confined space demanded a highly-optimized use of land, with narrow walkways but broad canals.  Being such an architectural oddity has added to the fervor of its appeal to tourists today.  Because of the dominance of the tourist industry on its shores now, visiting late at night when tour groups have departed lends an ominous ghostliness to the town.

There is little new construction in Venice due to risks of increasing sinking of existing land mass simultaneous with anticipated rising global sea levels.  So Venice feels like an 18th century relic.  Nothing new is going up. So the islands stay as they’ve been since the Renaissance.

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After nightfall, moonlight and incandescent lighting casts the buildings in a rich patina of aged classical architecture.  Because there are few straight streets or canals, you can wander for hours and never know exactly where you are.

There are a few landmark areas you eventually come to which help you orient. But trying to get anywhere deliberately without a map is nearly futile.  The tower in the square of San Marco is a great place to study the layout of the canals you’ve spent hours wandering. And you are tromping around in a tower where Galileo perched his telescope as he instructed others about planetary movement.

The docks of San Marco are also the main water taxi launch spots. Gondoliers offer navigation of small inlets within the main island that are too tight for motor boats.  Ferries depart here to go to the other islands in the bay.

Another jewel of northern Italy is Florence, a few hours train ride south. This city is famed in part for its role in the Renaissance philosophical and artistic revival.  The city retains much of the original architecture from the time.  So you’ll get the feeling that you’re walking in the same setting that Leonardo da Vinci himself frequented.

The massive Duomo in the center square provides a great view from its tower, as does a day-long stroll on the hillside across the river.  I followed one of my father’s traveler tips in seeking out places to dine. “Walk until the menu of the day is written in chalk.” You’ll tend to find yourself of the fringes of the city of course. But where the chefs get to invent new dishes each day is where the food is best.

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One of my personal interests in travel is seeing historic ruins. As the seat of one of the largest former empires there are plenty of ruins worth touring. Pompeii, just south of Naples is the town where Mount Vesuvius entombed an entire city during one of its eruptions. The entire town is excavated now. So you can meander down the streets staring at the ominous volcano in the distance.

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In the heart of Rome, the Colosseum and Roman Forum are an easy stop on your tour.  They appear quite ominously against the city skyline at night.  Amid the modern bustle of modern Italy, it’s stirring to see a gaping hole in time where the local community has permitted the architecture of the ancients to remain among us as a reminder of their tremendous legacy.

Take me home!

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