You can sure try to see everything, I know I did, but there’s just too much to see in all three of these fabulous towns. Here are few suggestions from a truly, geeky tourist.
If you go to Disneyland, you have to see Mickey. If you go to Paris you have to see the Eifel Tower. If you go to Venice you must take a gondola ride. I don’t care how cheesy, expensive or touristy, it may seem to you, it’s a must do. Of course, some of us love touristy and cheesy so that makes it all the better. The Grand Canal is bustling with water traffic and though you can witness the activity from the famous Rialto Bridge, and you should, experiencing it from inside a gondola, while sipping a bottle a vino is the bomb.
The Piazza San Marco, (St Mark’s square to you and me) is the social, religious and tourist center of Venice. The massive Piazza is lined with restaurants with patios that no ordinary human can afford to sit in. They not only overcharge for Bellinis, (the drink of Venice) but charge an entertainment fee as well. The entertainment consists of small chamber groups playing Viennese waltzes and the like. While you are allowed to enjoy them from the Piazza for free, please refrain from yelling “Freebird” in between compositions. Not only is this rude, classless, and redneck, but your wife will never let you live it down, trust me. If you must sample a Bellini, and trust me on this too, you should, then just amble over to the Lagoon side of the Piazza and stop in at one of the more affordable patios with a much better view as well.
For a totally free treat, and who doesn’t love free treats, just start walking. Getting lost in Venice is exciting, fulfilling and surprisingly easy to do. Just head out from any spot at St. Mark’s Square and before you know it, you’ll be swept back in time. I’m pretty good at directions and I was lost and loving it. There is so much to see, so much to buy and so many Bellinis to drink you really won’t care if you ever find your way back.
The old town of Florence is basically an open museum with original works of art right out in the open and everywhere for you to enjoy. It is one reason this city seems so safe: they do keep an eye out for vandals, crooks and trouble-makers, with cameras and police strategically located around town. Like Venice, it’s a great place to just roam and get lost.
While everyone flocks to the Duomo, instead take a 5 minute walk to the Piazza della Signoria, one of the best piazzas in Italy. Filled with Florentines, tourists, musicians, and art, this piazza also features a copy of Michelangelo’s David, standing right where the original was located until being moved in 1873 to the Accademia Gallery. Nearby is the Loggia dei Lanza, an open alcove full of sculpted treasures including Benvenuto Cellini’s extraordinary “Perseus with the Head of Medusa.” Enjoy the music from musicians set up and playing for tips, the people watching and the restaurants along the Piazza. To save money, order your wine at the bar inside and munch away at the free appetizers there. If you grab a seat on the patio it will cost mucho Euros but standing at the bar, the munchies are free.
Now that you’ve seen the copy of David in the Piazza, it’s time for the real thing. Michelangelo’s David is so spectacular it has its own museum: the Accademia Gallery located a short distance away. It is well worth the admission (currently 22 Euros or about 30 bucks American) to see this masterpiece carved by Michelangelo at the ripe old age of 26 in 1501. Once inside, though there are a few other works by the master there, the David holds his own and is a definite highlight of any visit to Florence. The Wife swears she saw him take a breath and although I’m sure this was just wishful thinking, it is hard to believe this masterpiece was carved from marble.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so you aren’t going to see it all in one either. I’ve always wanted to see the Sistine Chapel since my days as a house painter and listening to my jerk boss constantly yelling at me, “Hurry up, it’s not like your painting the Sistine Chapel.” Well, now I know exactly what he meant. This is another fabulously famous work of Michelangelo’s and well worth fighting the crowds for. Actually you can avoid a lot of the crowds and see a small portion of the Vatican Museum if you go with a tour group. Unless you have an audience scheduled with the Pope–and believe me, I tried but he was conveniently out of town during my visit–you should hook up with a tour group. Not only will you hear amazing facts about the works, but tour groups get in one hour before the general public and by “General” public I mean about ten thousand of them in line when you are leaving.
The Colosseum was started in 70 AD and completed in 80 AD. Heck, it took longer than that to build the mall up the street. This is the original Mile High Stadium, Fed Ex Field or whatever corporate named stadium may be in your home town. This place had reserved seats, numbered rows, concession vendors and restrooms (just for the men though; and you ladies complain about the wait nowadays.) They had their version of the beer man, but he yelled “Warm Vino here.” Okay, I made that last part up but the rest is true, or at least that’s what the guide in the tour group I snuck in with said.
Rome is another city worth roaming in–get it? There are Piazzas everywhere with ancient statues, Egyptian Obelisks and other works of art right there for everyone to enjoy. For an extra treat, drop in to any church you see that is open and you will see museum quality works of art for free, though a small donation would be appropriate. Just be sure and wear long pants and a little more than a tank top as they ask you not to bear your knees or shoulders in these holy places. You may want to refrain from yelling” Freebird” if the organist is performing as well.
by Michael Ryan
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