All popular tourist destinations have their main draw cards. For some it's the 'big city life' of New York, others the clear blue water and white sandy beaches of Mauritius, and the list goes on and on. Regardless of what floats your gondola, Italy will still impress you in ways you never thought you could even be impressed!
I'm by no means an art fundi and like most people, I just have a general knowledge of famous renaissance artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and their works. Italy, specifically Rome, changes all that in an instant.
Italy's basilicas, fountains, piazzas, monuments and landmarks are so much more than just buildings - they're mind boggling, larger than life, beyond sexy mixes of architecture and art.
Case and point
Within the walls of Vatican City lies St. Peter's basilica - the largest church in the world. No other church on the planet is allowed to be bigger. As we wandered through it's massive, beautifully constructed hallways, we gazed upon awe-inspiring sculptures, statues, frescoes and murals. We arrived at one that was roughly four meters wide by over eight meters high, an enormous painting depicting, like many renaissance works, a scene from the Bible. As we're taking photos the tour guide says, 'Don't be fooled - there are no paintings in St. Peter's basilica. Everyone looks around like, 'Errr... What?'. She goes on to explain that all the 'paintings' in the church are actually mosaics - millions of tiny pieces of colored glass cemented together so closely and perfectly they're unnoticeable unless you're really close. Mind blown! I looked at the size of it and the size of the frescoes way up on the ceiling and thought, 'Holy crap, that would've taken ages to do!'
That's the thing about the renaissance architecture in Italy, it's art on a completely different level. Every inch of every wall, floor and ceiling in St. Peter's basilica, as with the other main basilicas, are adorned in sensational works of art. Each individual statue on a plinth, painting on a wall, fresco on a ceiling - hell, even a door by itself, are all meticulously designed, sculptured and perfected with incredible detail.
Still in Vatican City, we headed to the Vatican museum - another marvel amongst marvels. A great deal of paintings and sculptures make up the numerous hallways and rooms; with one in particular, the Hall of Tapestries, completely impressing the hell out of me. What you see next will more than make up for the price of the tour. We walked through the entire hallway staring up na snapping pics of the many fine sculptures that make up the length of the ceiling. We reached the end of the hallway and once more the tour guide says, 'Don't be fooled - there are no sculptures in this hall.' The look on my face was wtf, you're joking??? They're all three dimensional paintings. I kid you not, the positioning of the lights along with the paintings' astonishing rendition of shadows and details were so precise they looked exactly like sculptures! I couldn't believe it. I stood against the wall and looked straight up at the ceiling and sure enough they were completely flat and not protruding like sculptures at all. Mind blown. Again.
Not sculptures at all, but paintings. GTFO
The rest of Rome was incredible to say the least. The Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and the Roman Forum. Well, we all expect the Colosseum to be impressive, and hell yes, it was. I was surprised to see that they're actually rebuilding many parts of it. The original floor where the gladiators fought and died has not been there for ages. What you see is actually the 'below floor' level where the slaves and animals were kept, but they're currently about a quarter of the way building a new floor on top of that.
The forum was interesting to walk through and have a look at the ruins of what once was a very important area in Ancient Rome. As well as the Pantheon - one of the oldest buildings in Rome and nearly 2000 years later it still holds the record for the largest concrete dome in the world. Truly an architectural and engineering feat for its time. That's what I loved most - the fact that back then people pushed the limits of design, architecture and what was possible. Whether it was impressing the Gods with a marvelous statue or pleasing the emperor by building a flippin' Colosseum - bigger and better seemed to be the order of business.
Firenze, Pisa and Venezia
The cities in Italy are simply gorgeous beyond words and have played important roles in the art and architecture of the renaissance period. Florence has many museums such as the Uffizi and the Accademia, which is home to Michelangelo's David - one of the most praised renaissance sculptures for its unique pose and incredibly well proportioned anatomy. I don't always take selfies but when I do it's with a world renowned work of art haha! The gallery also includes a slew of creative and beautiful plaster sculptures of nude women by lesser known artists. Apart from art and landmarks, Florence just exuded an uncanny natural beauty. One evening, on the walk back to the hotel I shot a photo with my phone that, without any filters or retouching, looked like a painting!
With two days in Florence, I spontaneously decided to hit a quick detour to Pisa. An hour long train trip west of Florence; I spent half a day marveling at how much the Tower of Pisa is actually 'leaning'. The answer - so much I'm shocked it's still standing! I grabbed a strawberry and lemon gelato outside the tower area and relaxed a bit (which was incredible. I swear at times I could taste real fruit in it).
Next stop, a place that's been on my bucket list for years - Venice. In a word - Be-you-ti-ful! (if that's a word). This time of year is very quiet and at times I was the only person on a street... and there are a lot of streets. Google maps had served me well in Rome and Florence using its 'download offline' feature, but not even that could save me from getting lost in Venice. The city is quite literally like a maze with countless streets and alleyways, some so narrow that two people would barely be able to pass each other. I was lost for nearly an extra hour each time I ventured out but discovered such quaint, special, little places along the way. Almost like secret passageways to newfound areas to explore.
Like I said - beautiful.
If you ever had the notion that Venice was romantic - you'd be dead right. At every turn couples would be making out; in the streets, on bridges, in San Marco's square, ev-er-y-where. And not just a sweet peck on the cheek or quick kiss on the lips, like full on face sucking! Like after the twelfth time I saw it I was like, 'Jeez people, just get a room already!'. To be fair, I'm probably the same haha.
Venice was by far quite expensive. Mainly catered towards tourists, a 40 minute gondola ride costs 80 euros and that doesn't even include a musician to serenade you as you drift through the canals of the city with your sweetheart. For shopaholics, there's plenty to keep you busy. Venice and Florence have a great deal of unique jewelry stores. Furthermore Venice in famous for it's Murano glass and has many stores boasting a wide range of artistic or practical glass items. Of course there are loads of brand name fashion stores as well, but also something else quite popular in Venice are stores that sell masks - really extravagant ones at that.
The food, surprisingly, was decent to average. I don't think I experienced Italian food at it's finest. After the first day I thought perhaps I just ate at places that weren't that great and I'd probably find better, but I didn't really. Spaghetti and pastas were nothing to write home about and I had pizza almost every day. That too wasn't mind blowing either. The more basic pizzas (i.e. margheritas) were often better. Chicken on pizza isn't a thing in Italy and you won't really find that. I tried both sit-down restaurants and pizza takeaway spots were they're sold by the slice and are just heated up when ordered.
There's a quote that states that; the mind, once stretched by an idea never returns to its original dimensions. Italy completely achieves this. I walked away seeing a plethora of incredible sights that left me with many new ideas in art and design to use in my own work. Anyone wanting to travel; family, friends, lovers - Italy has something for everyone. Okay, article done - now go to Italy already!