We have Guy Fawkes Night here in England today. Some simply call it Bonfire Night. It’s an interesting and, frankly, strange holiday. But, hey, everyone likes a chance to see a good bonfire and watch fireworks, right? Research work has kept me from blog writing this week, but I’ll steal a few minutes to add some comments about our recent trip to Italy.
Both my daughters were off school last week, so my wife organized an incredible trip to Italy. She is a master of international travel, adept with languages, great at planning and coordinating, and skilled at keeping costs down. I’m the lucky guy along for the ride. We left Sheffield on Saturday, 24 October and returned on Sunday, 1 November. We visited Venice, Rome, Pisa, Florence, and Treviso.
Venice is like being on another planet, or more appropriately, being on another part of this planet — the part with water. Travel on or over water is the way to get around. We took water buses to various parts of Venice from our rented apartment in Lido. We walked over many bridges that covered canals. I knew there would be many tourists, but I wasn’t prepared for just how many. Water buses were sometimes packed to the hilt. Streets were occasionally so packed with people that it was hard to move. Of course, we were contributing to the tourist count, but the number there in late October surprised me. The giant ocean liner we saw in dock with a few thousand paying customers certainly added to the total. I can only imagine what the middle of summer is like.
Below is a typical scene along a Venetian canal (click on the image for a larger view).
We paid for a half hour ride in a gondola. As I told my wife, and like anyone working in a tourist town like Venice knows, were we going to make a huge effort to get here and then not ride in a gondola? We also saw amazing glass blowing in Murano. I never tire of seeing skilled people performing their crafts. There are many forms of genius in this world.
Rome is a city I’ve wanted to visit since I was very young. I was into politics by age six, even seeing some of the Ford/Carter debates. Standing in the Roman Forum and trying to imagine the influence that place had on Western political thought gave me chills. We had to visit the Colosseum, too. The photo below shows the interior (click on the image for a larger view).
That place was crowded, too. What amazed me most about the tourists was the large number who so often chose virtual reality over reality. The inside of the Colosseum is one big selfiegasm. I’m not trying to play off the late, great George Carlin and his comments about driving (click here for that) because we all have a line in our minds about many things. Sure, we took a few photos and a half-minute movie, but most of the time we were inside was spent looking at and studying something we’ve wanted to see and experience for a long time. Maybe at age 45 I don’t get the thrill of having my back to something interesting and taking a few dozen photos like that, and then moving on to something else.
We saw many great sculptures, fountains, and buildings while in Rome. Getting around was pretty easy, though being stuffed inside an overcrowded bus like a sardine in a can wasn’t always fun. But since new bus routes went into effect here in Sheffield, I’ve repeated that experience a couple of times this week.
A brief trip to Santa Marinella gave us a chance to swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Seafood was amazing there! Italy gave us a chance to sample wonderful pasta, bread, and wine, but I really enjoyed the seafood. When we got to Pisa, there was really only one thing to see in the limited amount of time we had to visit. You guessed it (click on the image below for a larger view).
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a fun building to walk in! The spiral staircase along the outside walls took us to a height of about 180 ft (55 m). There was even a device at the top for dropping balls that could have replicated the (apocryphal) experiment Galileo performed there in the late 16th century. The lean angle is only about four degrees, but it somehow feels more than that when you’re looking at the tower or walking inside it.
Speaking of Galileo, I was most interested in seeing his tomb in Florence. Check out the photo below that I took in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence (click on the image for a larger view).
I like seeing a great scientist appreciated! I also enjoyed the lighting in the above scene. Galileo helped push our understanding of the natural world and how to investigate it. In other words, he helped moved us into the light from darker times in human history. We also saw tombs for the great minds of Michelangelo, Rossini, and Machiavelli.
Italy was an amazing country for us to tour for a week. Like many places we’ve visited, we left each city wishing for more time to explore. I’m sure Italy’s tourism bureau enjoys hearing tourists say that they left wanting more! If we are ever in Italy again, I think we’ll try to visit smaller towns that are less populated with tourists. We’ve sampled some of the great Italian cities, sights, and food, but in the future, I believe we’ll opt for a more laid-back approach that will allows us to experience more of Italy’s “normal” culture. Still, we had a great time!