My Grande Bellezza trip consisted of visiting 3 of Italy’s most beautiful cities: Rome, Florence and Venice. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I did it and naturally, it needs to be documented.
Planning to do the trip in the heart of January meant the weather wouldn’t be the warmest but it would certainly be much warmer than we’re used to here in NYC. For a city trip this is perfectly okay, considering the temperatures would be in the high 40-s/50-s with the advantage of encountering less tourists. As it turned out, this was a perfectly great, a grande idea.
«Quando sono arrivato a Roma, a 26 anni, sono precipitato abbastanza presto, quasi senza rendermene conto, in quello che potrebbe essere definito “il vortice della mondanità”. Ma io non volevo essere semplicemente un mondano. Volevo diventare il re dei mondani. E ci sono riuscito. Io non volevo solo partecipare alle feste. Volevo avere il potere di farle fallire».
“When I came to Rome at the age of 26, I fell pretty swiftly into what might be defined as the whirl of the high life, but I didn’t just want to live the high life, i wanted to be the king of the high life. I didn’t just want to attend parties, i wanted the power to make them fail. “
That is a quote from La Grande Bellezza. I’ve always wanted to see Rome but even more so after watching La Grange Bellezza last year, a movie that in my opinion pays ode to Rome more than any other movie ever made even though Rome has turned the main character, Jep, into a cynic over the years.
I arrived in Rome in the afternoon and stepped out towards the Colosseum right after. I tried to sleep as much as I could on the plane so I would have enough energy to last a few hours until bed time wondering around the streets of Rome. I headed towards the Colosseum with my pre-paid tickets with me. I decided to have a coffee first in a cafe across the street from it (how surreal it seemed to be sitting across from the Colosseum enjoying a cappuccino!) thinking I had plenty of time left before closing visit time. Unfortunately, closing visiting time was a lot earlier than I thought so I missed it. This meant I would have to do both the Colosseum and the Foro Romano the next day after the Vatican (mamma mia, what a full second day that would make). So what I ended up doing on that first late afternoon/evening in Rome is walk around the Colosseum, Foro, and the streets and piazzas of Rome.
Day 2 in Rome started with a visit to the Vatican. First, the visit to the Musei Vaticani lasted about 2 hours. I had bought the tickets online so thankfully I did not have to wait in the long line.
This visit to the Musei is an overload with beauty of Raffaello’s and Michelangelo’s work. I feel like I took infinite pictures of the many beautiful ceilings. To think of the work that was put into them. Le stanze di Raffaello are full of frescos of vibrant colors painted on the walls and the ceilings by either him or his students.
Ceiling after ceiling after ceiling. Amazing aren’t they? Walking through the Musei is like foreplay though for what you’re about to see on the last stop where the tour reaches its climax…the Sistine Chapel (perdonami Signore for the choice of words). Back in the day, the Pope appointed Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the chapel. Michelangelo, who was a sculptor at heart, had no choice but to accept and he did not do bad at all. I was looking for pictures to upload but of course I have none since they don’t allow photographs to be taken inside the chapel. What I did instead of taking pictures is take a moment and sit in different locations of the chapel to absorb what I was in the presence of.
St. Peter’s basilica followed next. My first thought as I stepped foot in the church was: “holy shit!” (again, perdonami Signore). The mother of all cathedrals. The details of the work done is out of this world. The grandiosity of it makes you believe there is a God even if you had a moment of doubt at any time (guess that was the point of building these cathedrals and hiring the best artists to turn stone and marble into divine monuments of art):
After I was done with my Vatican visit, I had to rush to make it back to the Colosseum, Foro and Palatino. I did a quick walk to St. Angelo’s castle, walked across the Ponte St. Angelo bridge and took a moment to take a look at the Tevere river following in the footsteps of Jep Gambardella.
Then, I proceeded to walk and have a coffee at Piazza Novana because I needed to see it in daylight:
Vecchia Romana is where dinner was served. A place suggested by a friend to dine with the locals.This is where the real Romans eat. Great experience. Pasta and wine of course.
Still unsure how I managed to do all of this in one day but I needed to see as much of Rome as I could. Rome was not built in one day and it can’t all be seen in one day but I did my best. As always, vacation after vacation would probably be needed. Laying at a beach for a week? Nah…that’s too easy.
Arrivederci Roma! A Firenze tomorrow!
“andrei sul Ponte Vecchio
ma per buttarmi in Arno!”
“I would go to Ponte Vecchio
and throw myself in the Arno!”
These are lyrics from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, an aria called “O mio Babbino Caro”. I would change the lyrics a bit and say “andrei sul Ponte Vecchio, ma per non buttarmi in Arno” (“I would go to Ponte Vecchio, BUT not throw myself in the Arno”).
La mia bella Firenze. I have wanted to visit Firenze in the longest time. I knew deep in my heart I would fall in love with it and indeed I did as soon as I first laid eyes on it. Firenze is where they all lived and produced masterpieces: Michelangelo, Donatello, Raffaello, Da Vinci, etc etc. This is the cradle of Renaissance.
I arrived in Florence mid day, after taking a train from Rome. Upon arrival I met up with a friend of mine who was such a sweetheart and went above and beyond showing me around for hours. I got a good tour of the city in the late hours of the afternoon until the evening. Exactly what I wanted to do to get a feel for the city right away.
Firenze is so beautiful in rain. It awakens the poetic side of you and it makes you want to write poetry over a glass of Chianti Classico. A couple of pictures from our walks/drives:
The next day was tour day. This was a full day tour of Florence including the Accademia and the Uffizi museums. The tour started with a view of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo, which I was very excited to do during daytime. It was a rainy morning but lovely nonetheless not to mention it worked out for the best since I ended up capturing some great photos up there. The view was spectacular. Florence’s buildings are all a different shade of beige and dark yellow which suits the city so well. Far in the distance, you could see the beginning of the Tuscan region, with the yellow villas and cypress trees (ahhh Toscana…I shall see you in warmer weather, I promise).
After the Piazzale we headed to the Duomo (Santa Maria Del Fiore) and the Accademia museum. This is where my friend Ema joined us. Poor Ema had lost a day in Florence due to a big time Alitalia fuckery (there is no better word to describe it) and had traveled early morning to make it to the tour.
Our tour guide gave us some history on the Medici (the most famous, rich and powerful family in Florence during the fifteenth century), the position of women in society during Renaissance, etc. The Duomo had carvings consisting of 7 symbols some of them illustrating the then belief that man was pure and woman impure. Hey, no surprise there. We are all aware of 2000 years of religious nonsense (#fuckery) about a woman’s place in society. The Duomo is a massive, gorgeous cathedral made up of white, green and pink marble.
The Accademia museum is where Michelangelo’s original Davide is. More than ready for the real deal. We checked out some other art pieces including several religious paintings as well as The Rape Of the Sabine Women prototype. The real sculpture is in the Piazza Della Signoria:
Piazza della Signoria is so gorgeous. It’s filled with some of the most beautiful sculptures of Florence including Donatello’s Judith, Cellini’s Perseus with the head of Medusa, and of course the first copy of David:
Back to the Accademia: the adjacent room had some unfinished sculptures of saints from Michelangelo and right there, facing us all, stood David. Nothing can prepare you for how marvelous Michelangelo’s David is. If that is not divinity I don’t know what is. Michelangelo’s masterpiece is a reflection of how well he knew human anatomy. You can see David’s veins and you envision blood running through them, his diaphragm and you envision it filling up with air. This was what Michelangelo was born to do.
A selfie could not be helped. I was pretty sure this would become the most famous selfie of the trip and I wasn’t wrong 🙂 :
And here is David captured from a different angle 🙂 :
One funny fact I learned is that our dear Michelangelo probably did not wash himself throughout the 90 years that he lived. We couldn’t stop thinking about how much he must have stank (among other stinky people of course) and what this may have meant for his love life. Maybe he never had much of a sex life (sad) and just spent his life producing masterpieces?
Next stop was a drive to Fiesole, a small town overlooking Firenze. This is where you see the Tuscan landscape take shape. This is what I observed from Piazzale Michelangelo in the morning. I’m definitely stopping by here to hang out longer next time.
Uffizi is next. This is a painting gallery full of some of the most beautiful Renaissance paintings in the world. It is the biggest art gallery in Italy. Botticelli’s Primavera was my favorite piece. No one painted women as beautiful as Botticelli did. The elegance, exquisite delicacy, femininity and beauty with which the female figures of the Primavera were painted is breathtaking. The birth of Venus (also featured at the Uffizi) of course is his most famous piece, filled with symbolism depicting the female nude figure of goddess Venus.
Filippo Lippi, who had been Botticelli’s master for some time, also painted women beautifully. I think it was in the workshop of Lippi that Botticelli learned how to paint in such detail and delicacy and where he probably learned to paint women (Women weren’t exactly hanging out in these workshops back in the day. Botticelli had been specifically looking for a workshop where he could be more exposed to women).
This is Lippi’s Madonna with Child showing a graceful Madonna dressed in the Florentine style of the time:
As I walked around the Uffizi, I pictured a Florence full of workshops, where all these artists learned how to paint and sculpt during the Golden Age. They couldn’t have known they were going to gift the world with some of the most beautiful art pieces that would be treasured for as long as humanity exists.
All this magnificent art can make one feel so insignificant.
Michelangelo’s only painting besides his frescos at the Sistine Chapel, was also here at the Uffizi. It’s called “The Holy Family” and he painted it to gift it for someone’s wedding. You can tell this is a Michelangelo painting. It is as if he has painted sculptures.
Our tour ended and it was time to fulfill the desire for some typical Florentine dinner. So well deserved. I had all the pasta and pizza I could in Rome. It was time for some beef and roasted potatoes. Chianti too of course. Dinner was served at a place called Trattoria Marione very close to the Duomo in one of the narrow streets.
Next stop was to be Venezia. I left Firenze feeling sad but sure that I would be back.
“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” ― Truman Capote
Venice. At very first glance, it was just like I had imagined. We got a view of the Grand Canal as soon as we got out of the train station. We arrived at the hotel mid day and were ready to get out and walk around Venice right after. The room we ended up getting looked like something that belongs to a museum:
Emily, who was a fellow traveler who had purchased a similar travel package I had, joined us that first day in Venice. She was a lot of fun to hang out with and brought in a very happy-go-lucky attitude into the mix. The three of us met up a few minutes after getting settled at the hotel and started walking towards St. Mark’s square. We were told it would be a 30 min walk and ended up feeling really good about walking it because we got to really feel Venice. Day 5 of non stop walking was a bit rough on my lower back but on the bright side of things, it’s the non-stop walking that saved me from coming back from Italy carrying at least a few extra pounds. There is no other explanation given that I had all the carbs and wine I could have. And this explains the slim people of France and Italy. As well as the wine, as I’d like to believe.
We walked the beautiful narrow cobblestone streets of Venice. We crossed over the canals from ponte to ponte and took plenty of pictures on the way.
It was foggy and misty but we didn’t really realize how much mist had covered Venice that early evening until we reached St. Mark’s (or San Marco). Once we reached the square we were in awe. The basilica is the first thing we saw and it was absolutely beautiful. So different from the Duomo of Florence, this Basilica was darker looking and was not all marble. The details did not disappoint. The mist made the square look like something out of a fairy tale (as if walking by canals was not fairy tale-y enough). We could see partially covered by mist buildings in the distance…ghost buildings! Everything looked so surreal.
The pink lanterns in the square added to the fairy tale effect. I loved the contrast they created against the grey. I took my favorite pictures of the trip that evening:
Once we were done taking in as much of this mystic beauty as we could and enduring as much of the damp cold as we could (the temperatures were not too low but the damp weather made it feel colder), we started heading back at the hotel with a stop for dinner on the way. Wine was served (for me anyway) of course.
The stars had come out by the time we reached our hotel and I spent some time just sitting outside looking at the Three Arches ponte, the canal, and the stars above. I mean, when would I get to see nights like these, stars in Venice again?
The next morning was sunny and beautiful. The view from the hotel was so great (pinch me, am I still asleep and dreaming?).
Off we went to get to St. Mark’s via a different route wanting to pass by the house of Casanova. We passed Grand Canal as we crossed over to Rialto. A spectacular view of the Canal from the ponte.
Needless to say, several coffee and snack stops were taken along the way to not only feed the stomach with yummy stuff but to also give ourselves a break from all the walking. We never found Casanova’s house because everyone we asked had no idea about it. They all gave us this strange look as if the man never existed. Casanova, the one who seduced your great great great…great grandma, you know? Nope they did not know. Or so they claimed.
I was enjoying our experience in Venice. It was the most relaxing of the trip and certainly came in the right order. I wouldn’t have liked it as much had I visited the 3 cities in the reverse order especially since it was all to be done in 6 days.
The goal at St. Mark today was to go in the basilica and out in the second floor balcony to take a better look at the square and surrounding areas. It was a clear day so you could see a lot more. What a perfect weather combination we got! So lucky to have experienced Venice in mist (especially) and now in clear weather too.
A gondola ride happened first upon the arrival at the square though. Much needed since it was so relaxing after hours of walking. When you’re in Venice a gondola ride is a must.
The inside of the Basilica was beautiful. A very different church from what I had seen so far indeed. This had its walls covered in mosaic work. Again, the details and the amount of work were amazing.
The rest of the evening we walked some more and made wine and food stops. If I was to describe Venice in one word I would not choose the word romantic over mystic. Surreal and unique is already something I was aware it would be.
More star gazing before bed on that last night in Venice and in Italy.
The next morning we took another look at our gorgeous hotel view and headed towards the airport on a boat (YUP, on a boat) 🙂 :
This was the Grande Bellezza trip and it lived up to all expectations. The Gods were very kind, collaborative and granted me comfortable weather to walk in, manageable crowds of tourists, a sunny Rome, a cozy rainy and sunny Florence, a hauntingly beautiful/foggy/misty and sunny Venice. The rest was up to me to do my best to take in as much of the beauty as I possibly could. I couldn’t have asked for more.
If you ask me which city was my favorite, and I absolutely had to answer, my answer would be Florence. There was something magical everywhere but the magic of Florence was my kind of magic.
“This is how it always ends, with death. But first there was life. Hidden beneath the blah, blah, blah. It is all settled beneath the chitter chatter and the noise. Silence and sentiment. Emotion and Fear. The haggard, inconstant flashes of beauty.”