It’s so weird, coming to Italy. I’ve been studying Italian since I was about 11 years old and listening to it in some form or another since I was una bambina, so in a way, it didn’t feel like a foreign country as much as a homecoming.
I’ve read about the country so much, listened to their music and watched films and TV shows. To hear people speaking Italian around me is like being all wrapped up and snuggled in a warm blanket, made up of this beautiful language that is usually dormant in my mind. I love it – the nonnas, the overly romantic couples, the men who border between appreciative and creepily leering in their gazes, and the little babies whining “Mamma, aspetta!”
Venice felt like walking into a postcard. It was a labyrinth of alleys and piazzas and bridges and you turn and turn and you lose yourself but its not really lost but poetically adrift.
The words of Tolkien come to me over and over on this trip. And in Venice, they’re especially true. “Not all those who wander are lost.”
If you turn two corners, you escape the tourists and happen upon little churches tucked away, or little shrines to Mary hiding in the wall and marked only by some dusty dry flowers. You find where the Venetians live and overhear a nonna telling a story from her open window. Flowers hang down and lazy bees hover above the canals, not realizing the splendor of being in Venice.
Turn another two corners at random and you are back in the busiest of streets. There are plenty of tourists and a handful of gypsies. St. Mark’s Piazza was surprisingly lacking in pigeons when we went and we went each day. We found a horde of them in Florence though, so maybe they were taking a holiday here.
We went in Doge’s Palace (where the government was run and Cassanova imprisoned), up the Campanile tower for some lovely views of the Grand Canal, and into the Basilica.
We couldn’t have asked for a better place for our little hotel. It was bare bones, four flights of stairs, and the room looked like a Gryffindor’s acid trip, but the people there were nice (gave us a glass of champagne when we arrived!) and just a few steps away was the Rialto Bridge. Over the grand bridge were the markets, fruits and fish and masks and glass as far as I could see.
I spent some time wandering and stumbled upon a little bookstore. It was fun to see Il Grande Gatsby on the shelves. I was tempted but it’s a little above my Italian reading level!
Also, one would think Italy would be terrible for celiacs but it’s actually the best place in the world! Italy tests all their children for celiac and there is senza glutine food everywhere. I think it’s because food and enjoying it, are such intrinsic parts of life here. There’s a saying “Non si invecchia a tavola”, meaning one doesn’t grow old at the table. And I think that applies here.
So we ate at two adorable restaurants. The first, La Vecia Cabana, had a GF menu for me, and after I ordered, they moved the bread basket to Jes’s side and came back with GF bread and breadsticks for me! Oh my goodness! And towards the end, one of the waiters came over and told me he too was celiacci. But wait… Before we left, they brought Jes some pastries and me… Gluten free cookies!!!!!!! They tasted just like the Italian bakery I went to as a little kid. It was the sweetest thing. On our last night we came back and they recognized us and remembered I was celiac. Bawwwww.
The second place we went to was good too! It was called Trattoria Da Fiore, and as soon as I told the waitress, she immediately knew what I could and couldn’t have, and was super sweet and knowledgable about it.
We went to Murano and Burano on our last day. Murano is where they blow glass into the most stunning, intricate sculptures. We watched as a man turned an orange molten sphere into a vase, and then another into a horse. He pulled at the glass with metal tweezers and the horse’s limbs emerged crystalline and clear. At the museum there, it was hard to wrap our minds around how old some of the glass was. How did people ever figure out how to make these?
Burano is where they make lace and we met a little nonna who was delighted to overhear us speaking Italian outside her shop. We saw her sewing away and marveled at the little lace butterflies, farfalle, on the door. But mostly we wandered the brightly painted buildings. The brightest shades of red, blue, green, orange, pink, and purple, their reflection in the canals created a wavering watery rainbow.
From Venice we took the train to Florence, where we are spending a last couple days and flying home a week early due to the sudden passing of my grandfather. It’s fitting that I end this trip in his favorite European city. His eyes would light up when he spoke of seeing Florence in his army days. He was an incredible man and I have always tried to live my life to make him proud.
I am a little sad to miss Rome but it’s okay. We’ve been traveling a month. We’ve been to six countries on this trip if you count Monaco. Rome has been here for three thousand years, so it’s not going anywhere. Next time to Rome, and also the south of Italy, to the tiny village of Siano where my Nonno came from. And Germany! And Holland and Greece and back to Ireland and Wales and more England and then Asia and Africa and Australia and EVERYWHERE.
I’ll get there. It’s been an amazing ride, this past month.
Now I’m off to enjoy our last night in Florence. There will be a Florence update too, of course.
Buona giornata, tutti.
Sempre con amore,
(Also, no bucket list this week… Hope to be back on track next week!)