ITALY

The hustle and bustle of Rome can be mellowed by the tranquility of Venice

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I’m often asked what my favourite travel destination is and I always have to think long and hard before I respond because there are just so many to choose from. It’s a difficult question to answer because I love different things about every place I’ve been to. That said, Italy ranks high up on the list of places I would visit again…and again…and again!

The culture, the food, the art and of course, the wine make you feel like you’re living in a fairy tale.

My first trip to Italy was in 2010 as a post-grad student. I travelled to Bologna for a week-long course at Università di Bologna. I was fascinated by everything in the city but most of all the narrow, cobbled streets and how the town square (or Piazza as they call it) just came alive with bustling activity at dawn. I marvelled at how people had their coffee standing as if it was just an inconvenient stopover on their way to doing something important. I found out later that its more expensive to sit for your coffee than it is to have it standing on the counter. It took me days to grapple with the fact that shops close for up to two hours in the afternoon as Italians take their all-important siesta and that dinner is generally eaten around 8pm. A culture shock if ever there was one!

Fast forward years later I planned a trip for some friends and I back to this cultural haven. We started in Rome and ended up in picture-perfect Venice. A memorable experience if ever there was one. Rome was blazing hot, busy, noisy and almost too touristy. If I had a do-over I wouldn’t go in July, which is the peak of Summer and the height of tourist season. But these are lessons you learn as your passport pages fill up.

Directed by google, we visited The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, The Pantheon and The Fountain. Truly magnificent. The ruins at The Forum make you feel like you’re walking into a marketplace centuries ago to bargain for your daily supply of vegetables. That this place has been preserved for eons is unbelievable. Our second last day in Rome was spent in the Vatican City. Wow! We spent hours meandering through dead Popes embalmed in their papal tombs in St Peter’s Basilica and marveling at artefacts in The Vatican Museum. As I watched tourists go about their day from a café in the piazza and I patted myself on the back for my travel planning skills.  

On day four we took the train to Venice. I always try take the train when traveling between cities in Europe. For me it’s a great way to see a country and watch its people, which is one of my favourite pastimes. Sometimes its also cheaper than flying, though European low cost airlines give the train services tough competition.

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Arriving in Venice is actually indescribable. It’s a fairy tale guys. Stepping out of Santa Lucia Train Station onto a water taxi and zigzagging between boats and gondolas had me gobsmacked. I wondered at how buildings “floated” on the water as people stepped on and off the water taxi. Of course the buildings, bridges and boat docking stations weren’t floating on the water but I had to gather my senses to come to this realisation. Lol!

Over 4 days I over-indulged in Venetian cuisine, saw a 360-degree view of the city from St Mark’s Campanile and took a romantic ride on a gondola. A truly enamouring experience. We were in the city in the year of the Venice Biennale. I was so obsessed with seeing the city and taking in its beauty that I didn’t go this world-renowned exhibition – a regret I hold to this day. A reason to go back, I think.

Whether you’re with your loved one (I recommend) or with friends who enjoy cultural trips and copious amounts of wine, Venice is the city for you. But do make sure you have a solid budget – you really can’t be counting Rands and cents when it comes to enjoying this marvel of a city.

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