Here we are folks. The very last leap of the trip. Journey’s End. It feels as though an entire month has passed since we arrived in our small B&B in Rome, with no idea of what to do first except walking from one souvenir store to the next. We were in high spirits, ready to conquer each sight. Now as we bought our last breakfast cappuccino in Italy, I felt well versed in my broken Italian. I could practice and I was garnered with appreciation by the local population for my efforts. And here I was. Boarding a plane to a country that wanted nothing more than perfect American English out of its visitors.
Yet, the idea of returning home felt refreshing. I love Italy. It will always be like a second home to me as I had stated before in my Florence posts. But Home is home. Lancaster Pa is my home. And I can return with more stories to tell, an enlightened mind, and ignited inspiration.
Thank you all for joining me on this adventure. This was a great experiment, and hopefully, I can make more blog entries like this for future adventures. Again, thank you all, and I hope you stick around for what the future holds.
We awoke early in Lugano, hoping to find not only breakfast, but the activities that we missed last night. The morning was brisk, as most early mornings were. Cool enough for a stroll through town. We came across a set of steps and saw they lead down next to the lake. An easy short cut for the way down, but not so easy coming back up. On the way down we noticed a railway going down the mountainside. For a moment I thought our life could be easier until I saw the weeds cultivating around it. Abandoned. It left for a hauntingly breathtaking image of what could have been or what once was.
As per our usual, we caught a cappuccino in one of the Cafes as well as a croissant to accompany it. Eating outside, some small sparrows hopped by, hoping for some scraps to fall. We tossed them a few crumbs, perhaps a little too large for their beaks and then they fluttered off only to return for more. This went on until a pigeon flopped in to disturb the peace.
After some time of walking off our cappuccino and croissant, we concluded that the stores were not opening any time soon. So we agreed to march back up to our apartment and gather our things for our final destination. Milan.
I didn’t know what I would find in Milan. Four years back, my roommate suggested we go to Milan on one of our free days, but we ended up going to the beach because of the unbearable heat. All I knew was that Milan was a fashion capital (ugh. Fashion), and Pepperidge Farms Milanos we’re named after this place. Come to think of it, I was hoping to find a packet of Milano Cookies in Milan just so I could say I ate Milanos in Milan. But, I was not disappointed, because…
I was a happy camper that day.
As I said, we had no idea what to do in Milan, but as we found out for most Italian towns, when in doubt, visit the cathedral. Entering the cathedral was easy enough, and I expected to see about the same Romanesque Gothic hybrid architecture I had seen in most other churches. But when I stepped through those door, I had felt something I had not felt for a long time on this trip.
Just like the great mosaic in the front of Pisa’s Duomo, I felt the majesty of God surround me as I navigated between towering arches and high ceilings. Both believers, followers, and tourists alike gaped in awe of the work of human hands making way to a space dedicated to the King of kings. We paused for a moment to soak it in. We sat down and prayed.
After the calm of our Father’s house, we set out for another great point of interest, as per my sister’s request. Back in December of 2018, we had the privilege of witnessing the opening weekend of the Starbucks Reserve in New York. Now that we were in Milan, we just had to see that Starbucks Reserve. Needless to say, we couldn’t find it. We checked the maps over and over, and concluded that our phones must be broken because it was saying we were right on it, but it was nowhere to be seen… Keep in mind, most cities in Italy are ancient, and half the buildings are repurposed. We looked to our left…
… there is was.
With no further ado, we crossed the busy streets and entered a wonderland of coffee. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. That cathedral we went to was nothing compared to this (not really, but you get the point). It was slightly smaller than the one in New York, but it had the same spirit. Tubes and piping full of coffee grounds and freshly brewed coffee coursed through to the bar dispenser. A giant wheel churned the coffee beans around. And a large vat sat front and center of the display. The best part, however, was the coffee. We ordered our usual cappuccino, and sat by the display, watching them work away at various brews.
We didn’t do much shopping… imagine that, going to Milan the fashion capital and not shopping. But we may have allowed ourselves to drool over the many Prada and Louis Vuitton purses hidden in the confines of spotless windows (my mom anyway. I hate purses). The most spectacular aspect of theses shops wasn’t the stores themselves, but the large barrel vault glass ceiling looming above. One would have mistaken it for a mall, but it was outdoors, and a walkway from one square to another.
My mom in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The rest of the day, we went to see two exhibitions, both dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci. Something I had not learn before was just how involved in Milan’s culture Leonardo was. I didn’t even know that The Last Supper was located here, and to see it we had to book two months in advance. He even helped in the design of the Navigli in Milan. So, the exhibitions we went to see were all based on his sketches. The first exhibition had more to do with the writings in his journal and thought process behind each sketch study. The second was much more interactive and involved live replicas of his machinery, as well as digital restorations of his greatest works. Upon leaving the exhibitions, we stopped in Piazza della Scala to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s memorial statue before returning to our hotel.
We had a big day scheduled for ourselves, so we spent a relaxing morning on the poolside. And get this. The pool was on a barge that was floating on the lake. How amazing is that! Everyone was too chicken to swim because “it was too cold”, but I jumped on in and it was the most refreshing thing ever.
After about an hour of swimming and relaxing, we headed back to our hotel and got prettied up for the wedding. I normally wear tuxedos, because wearing a dress just doesn’t feel right. However, the bride preferred if every woman wore a dress, and since it was her big day, who was I to go against her wishes.
Next, we made our way to the docks for something special. A boat ride to the island where the ceremony would take place.
The island was remote, surrounded by nothing but the blue waves of the lake and green forests behind. A perfect place for a matrimony. The only difficulty however was the hike up the winding paths, particularly in heels (which I luckily did not have, but many other fine ladies did). As we waited for the ceremony to begin, I admired the various statues of what appeared to be Roman gods over looking the lake and guarding this reclusive place. They were sacred watchers, standing ever so firmly watching over as the ceremony commenced.
The coordinators ushering us into the space where the couple would be finally joined. It was on the same lake that the young man had proposed to the fair maiden. Now it was here he would claim his bride. The ceremony was quick but heartfelt. Eager young lovers were joined together at last for (hopefully) the rest of their lives.
From that point on, it was a merry celebration and Bacchanal (for me anyway. I must have had four glasses of wine). We danced the night away and made many memories for years to come.
No sooner we had arrived to Venice, we were just about to leave. We had time to kill before our next train, so why not enjoy it? We walked along the narrow streets and over winding canals. Here and there we would spot gondola drivers eagerly waiting for customers to start their day.
We followed the narrow streets and signs pointing towards Piazza San Marco. Slowly but surely we made our way there when finally, through the last archway we emerged into the light. And there we were. Piazza San Marco. No other places could replicate it. Not even extravagant Venetian Hotels catered to gambling. We arrived, long enough to soak in its enormity before we had to leave.
We quickly made a dash for our train, nearly getting lost along the way. We still had to gather our suitcases. Somehow we made it. And next we knew we were on our way to Lake Como.
Do you recall that wedding I was talking about in the last post? Well, that’s the destination of the wedding. Lake Como. And tonight was the cocktail party, where we would meet the bride, and their families as well as ours from far and wide.
Lake Como was almost out of a dream, and I could see why they bride and groom chose that destination. This was first time seeing the lush Alps and the expansive lake before us. We acquainted ourselves this the stretch of town alongside the shore before preparing for the cocktail and welcome dinner.
At the cocktail, we familiarized ourselves with other guests and caught up with relatives we hadn’t seen in a while, including my Aunt Arlene and her family whom we just saw the day before. We couldn’t have asked for a better day or evening.
Leaving Florence is always bitter sweet. Once you leave, all other place just don’t feel like home. But we had places to be and sights to see. And our next place was a town known for its canals. That’s right. We were going to Venice.
Upon arriving in the train station in Venice, we were overwhelmed by large crowds of people swarming in and out. Before us was the sight of the Grand Canal, a sure sign that water was their road and boats were the only way to get around quickly. Our hotel wasn’t too far, but we found something else that was very surprising.
A familiar face in the crowd? Asking for directions I couldn’t help but wonder. She caught sight of me, to which I included, “Don’t I know you?”
With joyous exclamation we embraced one another. It was my dear Aunt Arlene, who traveled with my cousin, the other Emily, and her boyfriend. They were quick trying to catch the train to Verona, the city where the great tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was set. They gifted us water bus tickets and were off in a hurry with promises to see us at the wedding. (Wedding, you ask? Yes wedding, but that will be for another day.)
The Grand Canal before our tour
After settling into our hotel, we made a quick dash to Piazza San Marco to meet with our tour group. We awaited along the pier, taking in the sights of boats passing by on various errands. Looking into the water, it certainly wasn’t as clear as the water we had seen before. Not with all the activity transpiring on the surface. Soon we boarded a large boat and were ferried to our first island, Morano.
I had seen glass sculpting before. As a matter of fact, when I was searching for art schools, Tyler School of Art won me over due to their glass work courses and studios. But in the end it wasn’t in the budget. Anyhow the glass works in Morano were a sight and art to behold. The careful maneuvering as well as attention to detail brought the glass sculpture to fruition before us in the hands of the glass sculptor. Before us we saw an old and traditional art come to life.
After our time in Morano, we sailed across to Burano, a town of lace. It was the perfect opportunity to to have lunch by the waterfront. And it was the perfect opportunity to partake of the wonderful local cuisine, particularly in the seafood department.
Our last stop on our tour was the town of Torcello. It is the oldest part of Venice, being the foundations for the famous city. It was founded around the 4th century AD, and the style of the buildings showed. There was a small chapel open to adoration and prayer. Seeing as no tickets or lines were involved, we went into our Father’s house and sat down for a while. It was a much needed break and breath of fresh air from the cacophony we were exposed to throughout this trip so far. It was great to have some time to sit down and reconvene.
After Torcello, we returned to Venice. The rest of the night was ours to do as we wished. We had wanted to venture back to Piazza San Marco, but it got dark and things were closing down before we could. So instead we sat down for dinner and had one of the best marisco dishes I’ve had in a long time.
As I am writing this, it’s a bit late coming out. Mostly because I was exhausted after this trip and didn’t feel like staying up for two more hours to write. So with no further ado, here is my experience of yesterday.
We traversed Tuscany to Cinque Terre, the five cliff towns. I had been here before and couldn’t wait to see the clear blue waters and the immense cliff faces again. On our way to the destination, I couldn’t help but notice giant slabs of white stone below shining mountains. As it turns out, those mountains were the source of most marble. I’m not sure where I thought marble came from. I had never thought of it before. Now I was seeing it for the first time. It got me thinking, we don’t use marble that much in art any more. These days sculpture utilizes more renewable and reused materials. The materials in a contemporary sculpture often relate to the message it wants to portray. It’s almost as though marble sculpting is a dead art.
At long last we arrived to the first town, Manarolla. It was a small quiet town as I remembered. From what I remembered, many tourists went cliff diving here and went for a refreshing swim. This time there was no cliff diving, but still swimming, and I understood why. We had gone down to where the boats get launched and were planning to dip our toes in the water until we saw a young couple proceed down, and what happened next was terrifying.
The young man slipped on the mossy bank and hit his head on the stone floor. He wasn’t moving. His partner screamed for help, and the people around pulled him out of the water. Someone witnessing above must have called an ambulance, because they informed us one was on its way. By the time we left the town the ambulance had arrived. I could only pray that it wasn’t too late for him, because his head was bleeding terribly.
After that scare and the cautionary incident, we took the train from Manarola to Vernazza. The last time I had gone, my roommates had gone for a swim along the cliffs while I stayed behind on the rocks since I didn’t have a swimsuit on. We had gone swimming that time there because the place we had wanted to go wasn’t available. It was a place known as the hidden beach, and it had been closed off due to a landslide. Four years later it was finally open again. All sorts of people came to swim, both local and tourist. And a few more came to paint. (Maybe for next time I should bring painting supplies.)
After our quick look at the hidden beach, we went to the sandy bank in front of the village and finally got to dip our feet in the cold Mediterranean water. It was clear as I remembered, and refreshing. I felt at peace. After some time, we had to rejoin our group to go to the next town.
Our next stop was Monterosso. A perfect place to go swimming, sunbathe, and… get drunk. I remembered when we came to this town, we parked our stuff on a rented bench and went swimming. Then my professor suggested that we get something a lot of people were walking around with… a Drunk-ass bucket. They had strawberry daiquiri and piña colada. So haven had piña coladas with alcohol at the beach in Ecuador before, I thought I could just relax with my piña colada by the beach, soaking in the sun… I was just wrong. The only good thing that came from it was a (drunk) philosophical conversation with said professor. Then I had the dumb idea to go swimming after. The ride back to the bus that day was not smooth.
So! Haven learned my lesson from last time, I did not order a Drunk-ass bucket. We ate lunch, walked along the boardwalk, and waited for our boat to the next town. Something I did not realize from before was the tunnel leading to another part of the town through the mountain. We took in the sights of people causally resting their blankets and towels on the pebbles, sand and rocks, letting their children play in the calm sea and what appeared to be the mouth of a river.
We boarded a ferry that took us around the cliff sides to our last town, Porto Venere. The sight of the enclaves in the natural rock walls was breathtaking. Here and there I could spot shrines and grottoes dedicated to the Virgin Mary or Jesus on lonely rock islands. I could only wonder how they got there. It was when we reached a castle looking over the cliff when we knew we arrived to our last destination. At this town, we concluded that a nice drink would suffice to closing out our day.
From there, we took another boat back to our bus, and from there, the bus back to Florence. I wish we could have done more with our last night in Florence, but we were far too exhausted. We checked into our new hotel for the night, bought a second suitcase for all our souvenirs and crashed.
Our morning was very refreshing. After a relaxing breakfast, we went for a stroll before our first activity. We had plenty of time, after all. So we went to see all the best points Florence had to offer, including the Ponte Vecchio as seen above.
I remembered exactly where Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria was. It brought back fond memories of those hot summer days where I stood before those statues, sketching the dramatic poses depicted by Giambologna. I was also brought back to my first day ever in Florence where we briefly toured the layout of the town, and not only wandered through here but alongside the Uffici Gallery.
We still had time to kill, so I decided to visit the best Gelateria in Florence (in my opinion anyway). Right next to Piazza San Lorenzo is a little gelato store called Leonardo’s, and it was the first gelateria I ever ate at in Italy. We were the first customers of the morning, and like always, the people were very kind. After grabbing out gelato, we proceeded to the steps in front of San Lorenzo and enjoyed it while watching the world go by.
Up next was the complete tour of the Duomo, including the Baptistery. We waited for a little, and as we did I took the time to sketch some of the smaller features of the cathedral. I began with the smaller dome and started to work my way up. As I worked I thought I had seen some figures moving by the shadowed archways depicted below. But looking closely, it wouldn’t have been possible for people to occupy that space, since there’s no way up there. My mind must have fooled me since people are allowed to venture up to the top of the dome itself, and there were people there.
Our tour began in the Baptistery, one of the older buildings of the complex. Much the the cathedral in Pisa, the inside of the Baptistery harbored the same amount of power and glory through medieval mosaics. The inside seemed darker this time around as they were restoring the inside. But all the same, God’s might was reflected through rings upon rings of story telling, angelic hierarchy, and the depiction of the last judgment.
Something that did jump out to me upon observing this for the second time was the depiction of the last judgement. My memory had warped the size of the Devil as compared to Jesus. From what I remembered, the Devil was almost the same size. Seeing him stuck out and posed as a foreboding figure from what I had seen in the past. Probably because my professor at the time pulled so much attention to Jesus casting the sinners to be damned by that thing for all eternity. But seeing it a second time, I realized how my mind twisted the memory of the mosaic.
It is hard to see because the tarp is partly covering the Devil. But notice how much smaller Satan is compared to Jesus. So much attention was brought to this terrifying figure the last time I had seen it that the idea of damnation seemed larger than Jesus. And while it may have been put there to scare pagans into getting baptized, it was never really the point of God’s story with us. In way, it is a visual message for Christ’s followers, by coincidence, that God is bigger than sin, or the guilt or shame brought on by it. God is bigger than our fears or the troubles we are facing. Through Christ, we will overcome.
Next was the inside of the Duomo itself. The inside of this particular cathedral is nothing extraordinary to look at in terms of decoration, but what got me was the space itself. Everything was tall. The arches, the ceilings. But the characteristic that I could not take my eyes from was the dome itself.
The fresco in the Dome drew me in with its symbolism and depictions. I found much more that I had passed off before. Father Time with a broken hour glass. Death breaking his scythe. Various beasts from the Divine Comedy and other Christian texts brought to life. Righteous souls called to the heavens on empty fields while the wicked are chased into the inferno which is peeled open. But there was a detail I found disconcerting in the dome. Two actually. There were two large cracks running from the base up to the center. I asked our tour guide the story behind them, thinking it might have been brought on by an earthquake, or the time the golden ball on top of the dome was knocked down by lightning. It turns out that those crack have always been there since the beginning, and because the construction of the dome was so meticulous, it has to be monitored 24/7.
Aside from the dome, there was one more thing I wanted to capture inside the Duomo. Particularly in the stained glass window above the front door. As I promised, here it is:
After our time in the Duomo, it was time for us to see the one thing every tourist must see in Florence…
I had visually studied the David before, as seen in a previous post. That time I had only captured the face, spending well over 30 minutes toiling over what is considered one of the greatest sculptures of all time. Almost everyone captures the face, I thought for many years after. This time, I wanted the part that no one seems to focus on. The hands.
The most jarring aspect I found of the David when I first saw him wasn’t only the side, but the inclusion of the sling. No one ever thinks or notes the sling he is holding. He just comes across as a nude figure made of marble. But he does have a sling, which has a stone. Which in turn, we are drawn to the hyper real ness of his hands, then arms, then slowly the rest of him, almost as though the figure is made up of flesh.
After our long day of touring, we were exhausted. We passed out for a few hours before getting ready to embark again, only we were going for a leisurely stroll this time. We walked those streets that were still familiar to me, taking in the evening ambiance before settling once again.