I arrived at Venice at the tail end of a run through Italy - and quite literally a run. I sought to conquer 5 cities in 10 days.. and I was starting to get wary by the end of my trip. However, no matter how fleeting the encounter, Venice is such that no one can leave away unbranded by it's unique character.
My first mission was a trip on the number 1 Vaporetto line. Since the city is accessed via many canals, in lieu of a bus system Venice sports a fleet of bus boats. The number 1 runs up and down the Grand Canal - giving amazing views of the 17th and 18th century homes and monuments. Italy itself was unified a little over 150 years ago, and before this was separated into a series of city states that clamored socially, politically, and artistically to trump one another.
As a result of this - the wealthy Venicians made every effort possible to show their supremacy with the intricate designs of their homes. It is astounding to witness the results - roman columns, marble inlays, intricate porticos.. living in such luxury seems something out of a fairy tale. The number 1 line - if caught at the mouth of the canal - gives a 20 minute ride through the heart of the city, for a paltry 3 euro, that showcases some of the grandest of these homes and Venice's major sites from water level. One of the best values I encountered in Italy.
The Palazzo Ducale, Basilica di San Marco, and Piazza San Marco, three of Venice's top sites, are conveniently located right next to each other at the far end of the Grand Canal. The Palazzo Ducale is where the city state of Venice was ruled from, and is one of the grandest repositories of art by Tintoretto, who was commissioned to paint over a dozen of the rooms. The Basilica di San Marco is a massive Gothic church that has a unique history - claiming to be the final resting place of Saint Mark. The Venician monarchs required returning Venicians to bring a treasure as homage to the church from their place of travel. As such, the crypt of the cathedral today is a remarkable museum of this motley assortment of treasures from all corners of the earth. The Piazza San Marco, the square in front of the cathedral, is famous for it's droves of pigeons - watch your head!
I only had 2 days in Venice, and about to leave Italy I was reminded of one site I wanted to see dearly but had yet to encounter. The original David, in Florence. I realized that it was within my grasp - just a 25 euro, 3 hour train ride away - and decided to cut my stay in Venice short to see Michaelangelo's greatest sculpture. After meandering in Venice, I awoke early and caught the first train to Florence.
The line for the Accademia Gallery was significant, but I wasn't going anywhere. Within this block of structure was the one reason I had come to this city. Upon entering the main doors and snaking through security I emerged into the main hall and walked, transfixed, to the beauty before me. 17 feet of perfectly molded marble in the form of David - frozen in the moment just after his slaying of Goliath. It is impossible to describe - the intangible feeling that one gets when gazing upon such things. You feel insignificant in comparison to such greatness..but then you are reminded that your appreciation for the art is the sum of the process and labor that went into it. Michaelangelo can still speak to us today, his voice eternally vested within the flowing lines of his work. The David was the most perfect sculpture I had ever laid eyes on - the proportions unnervingly accurate. Standing paralyzed in admiration, it seemed that the giant block of marble before me was more alive than I - and that at any moment he would move from his poised position and step down from his pedestal - walking among the reasonably shocked spectators below.
Leaving, quite stunned, from the Galleria I sought out Florence's Duomo and Baptistery. The cathedral in Florence is one of the most colorful, beautiful Gothic structures I saw on my trip. The astounding level of detail was becoming to be redundant in my travels - but the colorful augmentation of the design set this structure apart. The adjoining Baptistery was a work in it's own - it's gilded doors praised by Michaelangelo himself as "The Doors to Paradise". The list of men who have passed through these doors is astounding - Dante Alighieri, the author of The Divine Comedy, was baptized within these walls. Looking up at the gilded ceiling, I couldn't help but wonder if the devil, portrayed as a blue monster eating the souls of the damned, wasn't the inspiration for the devil Dante wrote about in The Inferno - who was also a blue beast.
An unbelievable adventure, my time in Italy - at least for now - was over. I went on this trek alone, and at the beginning was uncertain of my decision to do so. However, the amazing people I met, experiences we shared, and time I had to myself ratified my faith that I had made the right choice. They say that you have had a good trip when you are ready to go home - but I was not ready to leave.. Italy is such that you never want to.
It's tough to imagine another city that has held unto it's heritage more so than Venice. As you stroll through the narrow streets - bisected by flowing canals - you are bombarded with stimuli straight out of the past. You see the slender gondola's floating by, full of tourists willing to pay the ridiculous fares. You smell fresh flowers and roasting pizzas. You are met with an eerie silence..the typically intrusive sounds of cars roaring through a city replaced with the tranquil humming of boat motors.