Excerpt from my journal:
11 April 2009
"The trip to Italy was a grand success. My ranking of the cities I saw:
Venice was very touristy, it's true--but not even the hoardes of fanny-packed, sunscreen-lathered, camera-toting foreigners could take away from the utter beauty of a city built on water. Leigh and I embraced the cliché of a gondola ride through the canals, and we're both so glad we did--it was well worth the sixty Euros to float aimlessly along the turquoise water, taking in a sea-level view of old architecture under the Venetian sun. If it's true what they say - that Venice is sinking and in fifty years there might be nothing left - then the world will experience an incredible loss. Unless something is done soon to prevent or slow it, I think the city really will slide gracefully into the water someday: at night during high tide, water was within inches of the sidewalk, sometimes sloshing over our feet as we walked along the moonlit waters. Venice is a city I want my grandchildren to see."
You can find my pictures of Venice here >>
"I found Florence just as touristy as Venice, and without the charm of the sea. It houses some of the best artwork in the world, of course, but one can't live in a museum, flinging open the shutters to a white-washed room of Da Vinci masterpieces, in the way that one could fling open the shutters and be greeted by the sunrise over a private riverway, waves lapping up against the side of a boat.
"Siena gave me a brief, refreshing taste of Tuscany that left me wanting much more of that Italian authenticity I went to Italy searching for, though I knew I wouldn't find it in the great metropolitan cities we were visiting. Maybe it was more the train ride to Siena that did this--piqued my appetite through the miniature wineries and rolling green hills. But a visit to the Tuscan countryside requires a delicacy and planning that was not present on this trip--one cannot simply barge in on the quiet life of a Tuscan farmer without proper notification.
"Naples is crowded, noisy, and dirty. It does have a magnificent view of the ocean, and I did eat the best pizza ever at Ristorante Brandi, the restaurant that boasts the invention of the Pizza Margherita. A visit to Pompeii made the horrific night train from Venice to Naples worthwhile, but without a map, guide, or booklet, I'm afraid I still know next to nothing about the remains of an ancient civilization preserved by volcanic ash.
"Rome was fascinating. I was enthralled by the Coliseum and Forum, and mildly appalled by the obvious wealth of the Catholic church at the Vatican. Two days was certainly not enough time to really experience Rome, but I'm not sure I could see everything it has to offer if I had two decades on my hands. "
Click here for photos of my Roman adventures.
Day 1 in Florence is what I would describe as a classic tourist error in judgment. Don't get me wrong - it was a great day. But we probably should have put more thought into how the day was structured. Chris and I got up early and made an agenda - we knew we wanted to see the Duomo, the famous bronze doors, the Ufizzi, and the David. Clearly a full day, but with only two days in Florence, we had a lot on our plate. Logically, we started with the Duomo, because that was the closest of the sites. After a sprightly early-morning jaunt up the 463 stairs to the top of the cathedral, we were greeted with a stunning view of the city. See these photos and more at this link. We then headed to see those bronze doors (first the outdoor reproductions, then the Ghiberti originals in an otherwise unremarkable museum across the street).
Next, we ambled over to the Accademie, which is the museum that houses Michelangelo's famous sculpture of David. The line was almost two blocks long, starting from the entrance of the museum and wrapping itself snake-like around two more buildings before settling in a patch of hot, bright sunlight. Chris and I squinted at the end of the line for a good ten minutes without moving an inch, and then decided to try our luck at the Ufizzi. Perhaps we should have known that the line to get into the biggest and most famous of the museums in Florence would at least three hours long by the time we arrived at noon. Here, we waited thirty minutes before giving up and ditching the line in favor of lunch.
Lunch, however, was a success. We climbed a large hill at one end of the city to the cafe at the top and enjoyed some delicious sandwiches along with the view.
Dinner that night was one of the best meals I had in Italy. I ordered tagliattelli with fresh artichokes. And you know it's good when the waiter takes your order and then heads to the bar to chop up those artichokes and take them back into the kitchen.
The plan was to fly into Rome on a Tuesday and meet up with two of my high school friends, Wheeler Frost and Chris Graham. Leigh would be joining us on Sunday in Venice.
Alas, not all plans go accordingly. Since the previous Saturday, I had been plagued with an annoying case of the common cold. Unfortunately, on Monday night this escalated to an unbearably sore throat, hacking cough, and an inability to swallow. So instead of heading to the Munich airport bright and early on Tuesday morning, I headed into town after a sleepless night to visit a German doctor recommended to me by my friend Tyler, who (as it turns out) was plagued with the very same sickness one week before. There I discovered that a visit to a doctor's office in a language that is not your own can be a very daunting experience. For example, how do you tell them that you are allergic to Sulfa, or describe accurately the mucus build-up you've been experiencing for days?
But I'll spare you most of the details. It all worked out, and I left the office with four prescriptions in hand (antibiotics, cough suppressants, nasal spray, and double-strength Ibuprofin). By that night, I was a new woman. The next day, I booked a train ticket from Munich to Florence for Thursday and got myself on the same flight home as Leigh for the following Sunday.
All's well that ends well, right? In essence, yes. But getting to Italy still wasn't going to be that easy. Thursday morning I woke up far earlier than necessary (like, 5:30 unnecessary), terrified that I would sleep through my alarm. I took the 7 am bus into town for my 7:45 train, arriving more than thirty minutes before departure. I headed directly to Platform 1, after checking and rechecking the platform number on all posted and computerized signs. And, lucky me! the train arrived early. I hauled my luggage on at 7:25 and settled in for a nice, long ride. At 7:28, the train departed. At 7:29, panic set in.
It was a simple train station mix-up, both completely understandable and completely my own fault. While I did read that the train to Munich departed from Platform 1 at 7:45 am, I failed to read that a train to Nürnberg left from that same platform at 7:28. So there I was, headed to Nürnberg when I needed to be going to Munich to get on that next train to Italy. The four men trapped in the compartment with me showed a mixture of sympathy and annoyance at my utter overreaction to my mistake. There was a mild case of hyperventilation, a tear or two, and the continual utterance of "I can't believe this! I'm such an idiot! I can't believe this! I'm such an idiot!" The nicest man in the bunch got off with me at the first stop (a mere ten minutes outside of Regensburg, but just long enough to ensure that I would most definitely be missing my train to Munich) and got me on a bus headed back to the train station in Regensburg.
The whole thing was blown way out of proportion because of my fear of having to repurchase a train ticket (those do not come cheap!). Luckily, the Deutsche Bahn system is much friendlier and understanding than any airline, and I was able to hop on the next train to Munich for a change fee of only 18 Euros and a total delay of just three hours. And to be honest, I'm glad it happened. Now I know, and I will never, ever make the same mistake again.