We are reaching the fag end of our Europe tour with just two more countries to go before we return home. Off we are to Venice in Italy, the Floating City, which is a series of 117 small islands linked by renowned canals. We set sail in the vaporetti (water bus-a public transport boat) from the cruise terminal to reach Piazzo San Marco (St. Mark’s square) through the Giuddeca canal, which exposes us to amazing architecture and a fascinating parade of Venetian watercraft. It is then a walking tour of the famed square, referred to as the “the most beautiful drawing room in Europe”.
We find the place swarming with tourists. Pigeons are seen flying everywhere and resettling to peck the grain offered to them. We go inside the Basilica which dominates the square with its Byzantine-style onion domes and glowing mosaics. Leaving the crowd behind us we head to the narrow hidden side streets of Venice. On our way we see Marco Polo’s House, and pass through ‘The Bridge of Sigh’, the place where the convicted prisoners had the last glimpse of the world prior to their execution.
We join a memorable 35-minute cruise along the Grand Canal, the enchanting waterway of Venice, in a classic Venetian gondola with the traditionally clad Gondolier. We travel through small canals where we enjoy the quintessential Venetian experience, as we admire the Venetian palaces and charming bridges that line the breath-taking waterways. We request our Gondolier to sing us a romantic song, but he politely declines our request-after all wse are not Zeenat Aman and Amitabh Bachan in Great Gambler!
A short walk takes you to the Murano Glass Factory Showroom where you will see a demonstration of the ancient craft of glass blowing as well as shop for crystal pieces ! I buy crystal jewellery set for 100 Euros which is my prized possession today! Venice, a conglomeration of three lagoons, is undoubtedly the most beautiful man-made city with old world charm and endless lanes. There are no cars or bicycles or motorcycles here. It is boats, boats and more boats!
Next day, we stop at Pisa in Tuscany region. The main iconic attraction of Italy is the captivating Leaning Tower of Pisa, the first glimpse of which is just breath taking! It is raining hard and with umbrellas we eagerly walk around the monument. The wind is also strong and our umbrellas give way! The leaning tower sure is an architectural marvel, with millions of tourists flocking to the lawns there to click a photo pretending to hold the tower, which I also did. Visitors can climb the tilted staircase to upper levels of the tower and enjoy the slanted view of the world from the top. Ironically enough the tower is located at Piazza de Miracoli (the Square of Miracles), which is a wide walled area at the heart of the city .Partly paved and partly grassed, four great religious edifices are found here: the Duomo, the Leaning Tower, the Baptistry and the Camposanto. Although the weather is gloomy, the thrill of being in a foreign land and exploring great sites more than compensated for it.
My stomach craves for pasta, pizza and gelato and I did eat them to my heart’s content! Next on our itinerary is Florence, which is ‘Firenze’ in Italian. Florence’s most famous square, Piazza della Signoria, is the heart of historic centre and an open-air sculpture exhibit as well. It contains a copy of Michelangelo’s famed David. Edged by historic cafes, and presided over by the magnificent bulk of Palazzo Vecchio tower, this photogenic piazza is the hub of Florentine life.
The Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), is Florence’s first bridge across the Arno River and is the only surviving bridge from its medieval days It is lined with shops selling gold and silver jewellery and souvenirs. We see artists at work here and a travel companion got her face sketched here for 10 Euros, which was near perfect! Beware of pickpockets here!
Next day morning we leave for Rome, which proves to be the highlight of the tour. We soon end up at the chaos dominated Piazza Venezia square in the heart of Rome, which has nicknames such as ‘typewriter’ and ‘wedding cake’. The impressive sparkling white marble monument of The Victor Emmanuel II dominates this square. A little distance away lay Rome’s greatest archeological treasures, the mighty Roman Forum, containing the ruins of old Roman Empire. As I stood looking at them, I was surprised to see Julius Caesar come clattering in his carriage across the cobbled road. It was actually a dressed-up actor, bringing back history to life once again!
Our next stop over is at the immensely crowded Trevi Fountain with a splendid white palace-like structure in the backdrop. There is this legendary belief that if you throw a penny over your right shoulder into the fountain, it will ensure you of another visit to Rome. Well my temptation to visit this place is great and so I also threw a coin over my shoulder! It’s time to move to Vatican City.