Things I Appreciate 10x more after a week in Italy:
-Churches. I don’t know if it has to do with the fact that America developed mostly separate from religion, but the churches in Italy (and Europe as a whole, I assume) are phenomenal). It says so much about culture, too, which the most elaborate building in a city is the fabulous cathedral in the city center.
-Free bread/water in restaurants. Yeah, that’s not a thing here. We paid around 2 euro for water at am every restaurant, and bread baskets always cost extra. At most places, wine was almost as cheap as water.
-Wine. Kind of a given for Italy, but still, I didn’t realize how important wine is here. Almost every sit down restaurant sets up tables with a bottle of wine waiting for customers. Italians sit down at dinner and often drink an entire bottle of fine wine between two people. And if you don’t order wine? The waiter gives you a disapproving look like ‘oh good. More uncultured Americans’.
-Dessert/Coffee/Limoncello/Dessert Liquors (or a combination of them). This is a lot like the wine. Waiters expect you to order dessert or coffee or limoncello after a meal and definitely judge you if you don’t. Not that you have to persuade me to order dessert, but still, it’s a lot of food to have a bottle of wine, a big plate of pasta or pizza, dessert, and coffee or liquor in one sitting. We never quite got to the coffee or liquor part-dessert was about as Italian as we got.
-Take Home Bags/Boxes. When you order a meal in Europe, you’re expected to eat it all or leave it. I’ve never tried it, but I imagine asking for a to go box at an Italian restaurant would be public humiliation. Which means that when you order a pizza at a restaurant, you eat the whole darn thing. That’s a lot of carbs for one week.
-DENMARK! I am so ready to be back in a city where I probably couldn’t get lost if I tried, where I won’t get harassed by street vendors and beggars, and where I can go back to sit on a bus or a public bench and not have to make small talk with the tourists around me. On a weird subconscious level, I think Copenhagen knew we were going to miss it, because we saw reminders of it all week-Venice’s Carnevale was partially funded by Carlsberg/Tuborg (the huge Danish beer company), there was a statue of a pig-boat thing in Florencefrom one of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy takes that seemed to be a city symbol, and a street vendor in Vatican City even thought me and Lauren Ashley were Danish (score). I appreciate Copenhagen so much more as a homey, hyggelig city that’s small and calm and not overly touristy or chaotic, and it’s crazy knowing that I get to leave my Italian vacation and go right back to my Copenhagen vacation!
There’s a snapshot of my week if you’re not gonna be patient enough to read my Italy monologue, but I think we saw some pretty cool stuffy, so continue on if you dare!
So I’m writing this on my phone on the plane back to Copenhagen so I have something to occupy my incredibly short attention span, and I’m already struggling to find a way to describe the past week in a reasonably sized post so Belle won’t yell at me. Again.
But at the same time, this is the kind of European vacation that might actually rival Belle’s newfound friendships with Nemo and his buddies, so forgive me if I ramble a bit about the conundrum that is Italy.
The coolest thing about Italy to me was that each city we went to had it’s own unique feeling and atmosphere. I think it says a lot about Italian history and the way the cities exist now-it was almost disorienting to go from a city like Rome to a city like Venice and to still believe we were in the same country.
A quick run down of the cities we visited and the feel of them:
Rome is probably both the greatest historical city in Italy as well as the biggest tourist trap in Italy and a huge, overwhelming metropolitan area. It was incredible to see all the typical sites-the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Arch of Constantine, Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum, Vatican City, etc-but sometimes they were borderline overshadowed by all of the street vendors waiting to pounce on anyone who looks slightly touristy. Around the biggest attractions, like the Colosseum and even in the square in front of Vatican City, you couldn’t walk ten feet without someone trying to sell you an all inclusive guided tour of a landmark, sunglasses, knock off designer bags, flowers, or even kids’ toys. But you couldn’t escape the culture of the city, no matter how many men thrust scarves in your face, and I loved seeing the historical aspects of the city. I took Belle’s advice and saw the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain at night-both so worth the struggle to find them with my horrible sense of direction-we even followed the tradition of throwing a coin over our shoulders into the Trevi for good luck to return to Rome someday (apparently if you throw 3 coins in, you’re destined to marry a Roman and move to the city, but let’s be honest, anyone who’s lived in Copenhagen is holding out for a Dane).
Getting off the train in Venice was almost a culture shock in and of itself in the best way possible. Venice is small and quaint and picturesque and every canal was gorgeous, and while there were crowds of people and street vendors everywhere, they weren’t nearly as pushy or in your face as the ones in Rome. It helped that everyone was in a great mood because, by a very happy mistake booking hostels, we ended up in Venice on the last two days of Carnevale, which was truly incredible to be a part of. All of Venice was set up for it-there were vendors selling masks on every corner, every plaza had some kind of music or food or cultural option, and the city hosted all kinds of free things to celebrate. There was a huge theater set up in front of St. Mark’s Basilica, and there were people dressed in the most ornate costumes imaginable all around the plaza. We also got the chance to take a ferry to an island off the main body of Venice called Arsenale for a Carnevale party, complete with women on stilts, fire dancers, water shows, fireworks, and live music. I took too many pictures of the costumes and festival itself to upload here, but I put a gallery if my favorite costumes below, and you can click here to check out the Flickr page where I’ll post all of the pictures from Italy!
Two most entertaining parts of our few days in Venice: we got to the city just after a lot of rain and rough currents and strong winds had swept through the city, which somehow flooded the canals all over-and because the whole city is canals, practically the whole city was in water. Anywhere around a canal had a few inches of water-we are lunch in a restaurant near Ponte Rialto, the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal, that had a solid 6 inches of water everywhere and had raised boards set up so that customers could order without getting soaked. Even the main square where all the Carnevale festivities were was flooded-we tried to wade through it to get into the Basilica, and it was halfway up our calves. Being cheap college students, we weren’t going to spend 10 euro on the boot covers people were selling, so naturally we carried our boots and waded through the water in tights. Talk about classy tourists. Second fun fact: all the public transportation in Venice is on water. The ferries are like busses, little motorboats are taxis, and even the police ride around on boats. I don’t think I saw one car while I was there, which was kind of refreshing.
Florence was a really pleasant halfway point between Rome and Venice. It was a more urban city than I expected, but it still has such a rich history, and the reminders of the Renaissance and the Medici influence were everywhere. It had a very laid back, relaxed feeling, and it had both upscale shopping areas and historical districts that were close enough to walk between in one night. It felt completely safe to wander around the city at night, and the art and architecture of Florence was stunning. We saw Michelangelo’s David while there-which I wanted to see for the value of saying I saw it, if that makes any sense, but you can’t see the statue without appreciating it for more than the historical value. There’s so much detail in the anatomy, from veins in the arms and hands to tendons in the neck, that I couldn’t not understand the artistic value of it (heads up to Case kids-we couldn’t take pictures of David, but I did get an awesome sticker to put on my laptop case, so yes, I will be roaming around campus with a naked Renaissance statue on my computer). We also got a workout in by climbing to the top of both the Il Duomo and the belltower next to it-that’s over 900 steps just going up, and then we struggled coming down as well, but the view was gorgeous.
I also can’t talk about Florence without mentioning how beautiful the area around it, Tuscany, was. We went on a wine tour of Tuscany to the Chianti region, which is known worldwide for it’s red wine, but I was almost more amazed with the views of the countryside than the wine itself. It’s so hilly and green and scattered with old villages and vineyards and olive groves (we tasted olive oil produced at the castle we visited as well, so perfect) that it makes Florence seem more calm compared to other parts of Italy.
Finally, arriving in Milan was yet another case of Italian culture shock. Pulling into central station looked like we were in an American airport or train station-it’s so modern and chic and grand compared to other parts of Italy. Walking into the city, I noticed two things: first, even though I was dressed pretty well for me (hey, I was wearing real pants, that’s always a plus), I still resembled the equivalent of an American college student during finals week compared to the Italian natives. They pulled off outfits I wasn’t even sure runway models could pull off, and part of the fun of lounging around the Piazza Duomo was people watching how good everyone else looked. Second, Milan resembled an American city most closely-I’ve never been to New York, but Lauren Ashley says it looks just like NYC (but cleaner)-but there are still landmarks that remind you how old and historical the city is. You’ll be walking and suddenly come across an old run down church in between a Gucci and Prada, plus the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is housed in Milan, and Il Duomo in the center of Milan is absolutely incredible to see. We even walked through a gorgeous park that could be like a Central Park that lead up to a huge Renaissance castle that fades into the setup for the World Expo that will be in Milan in 2015 and then runs into the ancient facade of Il Duomo-talk about a cool contrast.
So Italy was a whirlwind of culture, history, walking, wandering, and lots of confetti from all the festivals going on. Most importantly, getting an idea of Italian culture made me appreciate parts of American and Danish culture so much more. It’s midterms week for me, so I may actually have to buckle down on work now…but (pardon the pun in advance), it was nice to just let go and say ‘When in Rome!’ for a week of fun!