Sunday, July 19, 2015

Veni Etiam Venezia

For a long time now, Venice has been my secret fantasy. Whenever I have a rough day at work I think to myself, let’s just pack it all up and move to Venice. I have always wanted to live there, just for a few months, just to see what the city is all about when you take away the tourist factor, when you stroll along the canals not towards the next postcard moment, but rather towards home, to spend the evening on your own balcony, watching the sun set over the lagoon.

However, when I read articles like this one from National Geographic, it becomes quite clear that the Venice I want to know so intimately no longer exists. We move through its streets from one spectacle to the next, gelatos in hand, in love with the idea of Venice, the romance of it all. We dream up phrases such as “sun-kissed water” and “lover’s paradise” as we spend an overpriced half-hour in a gondola, gaping at palazzos with fake façades, taking posed photos with smiles plastered on our faces. We buy Carnival masks as souvenirs and wonder, is any of it real?

Does it matter?

Venice may not be the great city it once was, the one the history books tell us whose influence stretched from Crete to Constantinople, the city that gave birth to Marco Polo, Casanova, Titian and Vivaldi, but I still love Venice. I love the way my heart soars when I stand in the Piazza San Marco with pigeons flying overhead, I love the hushed silence inside the Basilica San Marco, I love getting lost in the city’s alleyways and stumbling upon unexpected treasures. But most of all, I love that, even though this was my fourth visit, Venice still showed me something new every day.

The Renaissance sculptor, Jacopo Sansovino, whose works can be found all over central Venice, is credited with saying: “It is held by some that this word VENETIA signifies VENI ETIAM, that is, come again, and again, for however oft you come, you will always see new things, and new beauties.”

Venice might be vanishing, but as long as it still stands, however precariously, I will come and come again, and remember each visit fondly.

Do you love Venice as much as I do? Tell us what you love (or hate) in the comments below.

For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Wherefor Art Thou, Fair Verona?

We had a morning for Verona, we wished we had a whole week. A lesser-known jewel of Italy’s Veneto region, this charming city immediately claimed our hearts as we walked through its marble-paved streets following a hand-drawn map of the biggest highlights as recommended by our friendly host at Castion Veronese. It was only by chance, really, that we decided to come here and it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.

The city is best known as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Hordes of tourists congregate at Casa di Guilietta to catch a glimpse of Juliet’s balcony and have their picture taken with a bronze statue of the fictional lover down in the courtyard. Custom dictates that if you rub her left breast you will find luck in love. We didn’t do that (after 10 years of marriage, if we’re not lucky in love yet, we never will be!), but instead milled about for a while, watching people pose, kiss in front of the gate filled to the brim with lovers’ locks and scribble romantic messages on the walls.

Afterwards, on our way down to the river, we stumbled upon a market in the Piazza delle Erbe where I bought a tasty treat and Gareth indulged in some souvenir shopping. From there we ambled past Torre dei Lamberti, Verona’s tallest tower, until we found ourselves on the banks of the river Aldige. The 14th century Castelvecchio beckoned, but we’d had enough of art in Florence, so decided to rather appreciate it from afar.

Although not mentioned on our map, we came across the Verona cathedral. Not much for the eye on the outside, the interior overwhelmed with its Gothic marble arches and Renaissance artwork. I particularly liked the main chapel’s white walls highlighting the frescoed dome above.

Verona is also home to an enormous Roman amphitheater which dominates the Piazza Bra. It could host more than 30,000 spectators in ancient times and is still a popular venue for operatic performances. On the other side of the square the remains of an old Roman gate, the Porta Borsari, marks the end of the old town and of our visit.

I’m not sure whether I loved this city so much because it had been my first visit, but I would highly recommend spending a few days here. It seems like the perfect place for two star-crossed lovers to meet.

For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Gallivanting Around Lake Garda

“Hurry! The ferry is waiting at the dock already!”

“I don’t think we’re going to make it!”

“There it goes. When is the next one due?”

“Only two hours from now.”

Gareth and I looked at each other in dismay. This was pretty much the story of our Italian holiday so far, one mistake after another. We had bought an expensive day pass to explore all the little towns on the shore of Lake Garda, but now it was already midday and we were stranded in Lazise, after Garda and Bardolino only our third stop so far. By the time the ferry returned, we’d be late paying our parking and there wouldn’t be enough time to go to Peschiera or Sirmione, both of which looked very picturesque from the postcards on display everywhere.

We shrugged it off. Although we’d already seen all there was to see here, we decided to take another stroll through town, maybe grab a gelato or two. It was a lovely day and a holiday vibe hung in the air as tourists meandered along the shoreline. In the church just across from the dock, people dressed in their evening best were preparing for a wedding. There were worse places to be stuck for an hour or two.

We had started the morning off in the town of Garda, a lovely lakeside holiday destination. Locals walked their dogs along the shore, Gareth chased ducks, as usual, and I stopped to smell the flowers while we waited for the ferry to arrive. Already the coffee shops lined up against the shore were bustling as people came to have breakfast with a view.

Finally the ferry coasted up to the quay. Our plan was to stop at as many villages as we could. We weren’t disappointed by Bardolino. The town was picture-perfect with all the little boats in the harbour and the narrow, winding streets. We might have stayed there a little bit too long, because when the next ferry showed up, we had to go back to Garda again to put more money in the parking meter. We made it worth our while by stopping for milkshake and cake along the harbour.

When we stepped off the ferry again, it was in Lazise, clearly a popular destination from the amount of people lining the streets. There were old ruins to explore, curio stalls and pretty alleyways around every corner. By the time the ferry had come and gone, our feet were sore from all the walking. We sat down and dipped our toes in the clear lake water. Ah, bliss.

Our time at Lake Garda was much too short and I think you’d need at least two or three days to explore it fully. Which of its lakeside villages would you recommend as must-sees?

For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Boy and His Red Stallion

There was only one place Gareth insisted that we visited while touring through Italy - the Ferrari Museum in Maranello. Boys will be boys, and this one was giddy with excitement the moment we had parked and the first of the red stallions screamed past us. Apparently you can also pay to drive one of these iconic supercars yourself for a few minutes and the streets of this otherwise sleepy town was filled with the roars of V12 engines. I asked Gareth if he wanted to have a go too, but just the thought of scratching a multimillion-Rand car on a narrow Italian road persuaded him to rather watch from the sidewalk instead.

The museum wasn’t really what we had expected. For some reason we thought it would be a lot more interactive, but instead we were confronted with a number of rooms that had various models of Ferraris on display. Gareth promptly pulled out the SLR and proceeded to take a picture of every single car while I, the exact antithesis of a petrol head (I drive a blue car), was soon bored.

However, I was pretty impressed by the sleek lines of the "La Ferrari" on display in the dark room. I can just picture the two of us cruising around Italy in this beauty, blue skies and sunshine overhead, my hair whipping in the breeze, dark shades on Gareth... Well, a girl can dream anyway, can’t she?

Afterwards, we ambled through the museum’s gift shop, but everything was too expensive for our limited budgets. We walked back to the car, Gareth grinning from ear to ear every time some lucky guy in a Ferrari drove past.

We had parked next to the official Ferrari store and ducked in to have a final perusal of their wares. They were actually cheaper than the museum’s gift shop. Caps, jackets, bags, key holders, notebooks, socks - you name it, all available for sale and proudly bearing the well-known prancing horse. Gareth joked that even if you can't afford the supercar, at least you can don yourself out from head to toe in Ferrari merchandise.

And guess what? Gareth actually managed to take his own Ferrari home!

Are you a supercar fan? Have you been to the Ferrari Museum in Maranello and what did you think of it? Any other car museums you would like to recommend in the comments below?

For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.