cul­ture tri­fecta in one trip

Won­ders await you in Venice, Florence and Rome

Edmonton Sun - - TRAVEL - LANCE Hornby

VENICE — Din­ers are twirling squid ink spaghetti when a sud­den gust sweeps their pa­tio um­brella and flower bas­ket into the Mis­eri­cor­dia canal.

But the ris­torante staff don’t flinch. They wait a few mo­ments for a pass­ing plea­sure craft to ini­ti­ate rescue, snag­ging the brolly and re­lay­ing it to pedes­tri­ans on an arch as the boat glides un­der­neath. Ap­plause en­sues — even the colour­ful cam­pan­ula hang­ing plants sur­vived the dunk­ing — and it’s back to pasta, wine and a cold Peroni beer, while kids and canal­side lovers stroll by un­der a near full moon.

Mi­nus of­fice build­ings or mo­tor ve­hi­cles, noth­ing seems to dis­turb this part of ‘La Serenis­sima’ (serene city) and beyond. Ev­ery­day peo­ple watch­ing is of­ten one of the best rea­sons to visit Italy.

Venice, rip­pling out­ward on its la­goon from Pi­azza San Marco, can ab­sorb crowds eas­i­est — and does all the work for you when it comes to photo-ops.

While check­ing out San Marco’s vast open-air square, Museo Cor­rer and the breath­tak­ing rooms of the Do­ges Palace (go online for any num­ber of multi-at­trac­tion ticket of­fers that can be pur­chased in Canada), pause by the Bridge of Sighs. Only 11 me­tres and fash­ioned from Is­trian stone, leg­end has it doomed con­victs took their last long­ing look at Venice’s beauty en route to con­nect­ing jail cells or ex­e­cu­tion.

As gon­do­liers greet each other slip­ping around hid­den bends, walk­ers can ex­plore Venice from two di­rec­tions ap­proach­ing or leav­ing San Marco via the glo­ri­ous Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal. Vene­tians carry out daily tasks amid a flood of vis­i­tors, mak­ing de­liv­er­ies on carts madeto-mea­sure tight con­fines.

One man wheeled stacks of bread over a bridge, an­other guided a gi­ant out­board mo­tor up the op­po­site side.

It’s hard to re­sist duck­ing down one of the al­leys, be­neath hang­ing linen and soc­cer kits dry­ing in the sun, to find a cu­rio shop, au­then­tic Mu­rano glass or sip an espresso.

A gon­dola ride/guide is about $120 for half an hour, more ex­pen­sive in the evening or for longer ex­cur­sions. But Venice also boasts an ef­fi­cient pub­lic wa­ter trans­port sys­tem for a few dol­lars that can dou­ble as a sight­see­ing tour, dock­ing near all ma­jor at­trac­tions on the Grand Canal.

FLORENCE

Art and ar­chi­tec­ture are om­nipresent here, sun­rise and sun­set gild­ing the Ponte Vec­chio, the shop-lined bridge that first spanned the Arno in 1345 and the only one spared bomb­ing in the Sec­ond World War. It leads through wind­ing streets and the first glance of the soar­ing Duomo, the city’s tallest struc­ture, which took much of the Mid­dle Ages to perfect.

Atop the cathe­dral dome, un­bro­ken views of the city’s vast ter­ra­cotta roofs have barely changed since the 1400s. Many vis­i­tors rel­ish the chal­lenge of the 463 steps to the dome’s ob­ser­va­tion cir­cle. The cathe­dral’s pri­mary trea­sures, in­clud­ing Ghib­erti’s orig­i­nal Gates of Par­adise doors, have been moved to the ad­join­ing newly ren­o­vated Mu­seum dell’opera, pro­vid­ing a more de­tailed Duomo his­tory. Just as re­ward­ing a view is the nearby Cam­panile Gothic bell tower, 414 steps with rest stops al­low­ing views at dif­fer­ent lev­els.

It might take a full day to ex­plore ev­ery wing of the Uf­fizi Gallery, stuffed with the Medici dy­nasty’s great­est paint­ings and sculp­tures, and some will still want to come back.

But take a break from the masses and cross the Arno to less-touristy cafes, or fol­low the Ponte Vec­chio south to the Pitti Palace. This fam­ily tried to out-spend the Medi­cis, but wound up ced­ing them this prop­erty with its multi-themed museums.

The top at­trac­tion at the

Pitti Palace is the vast Boboli Gar­dens, opened to the pub­lic in 1766.

A dif­fer­ent van­tage of Florence, the Tus­can heights and stately homes sur­round­ing the city await those who make the full hike and de­scent of its cy­press trees, foun­tains and sculp­tures.

ROME

Dur­ing three days in the Eter­nal City, we spent a night at a B&b-style ho­tel near Vat­i­can City, aptly named The Pope’s Win­dow, a five-minute walk from St. Peter’s Square.

A more scenic ap­proach is via Cas­tel Sant’an­gelo.

At night, cross­ing its pedes­trian bridge over the Tiber, spot­light­ing stat­ues of an­gels, you can hear busk­ing mu­si­cians make ideal use of its for­ti­fied walls for acous­tics.

Wake up early for the short­est line into St. Peter’s, the world’s largest church, its dome de­signed by Michelan­gelo, who also sculpted the mar­ble Pi­eta near its en­trance. Bernini’s mar­vel­lous Bal­dacchino is the canopy of the Pope’s al­tar near Peter’s rest­ing place and the crypt of many other pon­tiffs.

The sprawl­ing Vat­i­can museums can be most over­whelm­ing for vis­i­tors, as sin­gle ticket hold­ers, fam­i­lies and tour groups from a hand­ful to 100-plus merge at the en­trance. But see­ing such Greek, Ro­man, Me­dieval and Christian trea­sures in one place, cul­mi­nat­ing in the Sis­tine Chapel, are worth a few hours of crowd chaos.

Take it back out­side for a more leisurely pace, start­ing at the Pi­azza Del Popolo with its twin churches. Cool off with a lemon/choco­late gelato at the top of the Via del Corso and win­dow shop your way to­ward the or­nate Span­ish Steps.

All the selfie sticks be­ing wielded in the close con­fines of the Trevi Foun­tain have the in­ten­sity of crease traf­fic dur­ing NHL play­offs. But walk or take the Metro a few stops to the ex­panse of the Colos­seum and the shaded Pala­tine Hills, a con­ve­nient dou­ble-ticket ad­mis­sion.

Imag­ine how and ex­actly where 50,000 cit­i­zens once crammed into the Colos­seum for en­ter­tain­ment, fea­tur­ing man, beast and even staged naval bat­tles.

On the Pala­tine, marvel at the ru­ins that pre-date the glory of Rome to the found­ing of the seven hills where you can also see mod­ern arche­o­log­i­cal digs in progress.

An­other op­tion is to be­gin a day of tour­ing here and end up at Pi­azza del Popolo, next to the green­ery of the Villa Borgh­ese.

no PAIN on THE TRAIN

Rome’s Ter­mini Sta­tion, Santa Maria Novella in Florence and Venice’s Santa Lu­cia are all right in the heart of their re­spec­tive cities, with ho­tels and some at­trac­tions not far from where you exit the train.

There is di­rect ser­vice from Rome’s Fi­u­mi­cino Air­port to Ter­mini in about half an hour for about $20. From Ter­mini, wide-rang­ing Tren­i­talia ser­vice with com­fort­able creature com­fort cars, the AV se­ries run­ning fre­quently be­tween ma­jor cities. It takes less than two hours from Rome to Florence, past rolling hills and Tus­can farms dot­ted with small palaz­zos, a lit­tle longer time be­tween there and Venice, and about five hours to com­plete the loop from Venice to Rome.

It’s handiest to buy tick­ets from raileu­rope.ca in Canada, which pro­vides info on sched­ules and plenty of online sup­port, as well as routes in other coun­tries.

LANCE Hornby/ Toronto sun Pho­tos

A view from the Rialto Bridge. You can also cruise the Grand Canal in Venice by a wa­ter bus.

Cas­tel Sant’an­gelo, orig­i­nally de­signed as a mau­soleum for Em­peror Hadrian, later used as a fortress by me­dieval popes. Right, St. Peter’s Square, with a colon­nade of 140 stat­ues of saints and mar­tyrs, can hold 100,000 peo­ple.

Gon­do­las for rent at the land­ing of Pi­azza San Marco in Venice.

The in­spir­ing dome of St. Peter’s Basil­ica, the world’s largest church.

The Gates of Par­adise by Lorenzo Ghib­erti cel­e­brates Florence’s de­liv­ery from a plague.

The Duomo in Florence. The tower to the left is the Cam­panile, which you can climb for ex­tra­or­di­nary views of the city.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.