Venice: The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

For my last day I had intended on checking out the Venice Biennial but when I arrived I discovered the prices were well beyond my budget. I shifted gears and checked out the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and I’m so glad I did. First, that woman could collect art. And after Italian Renaissance overload I was so happy to not see a single biblical reference!

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The collection is displayed in her former home and in much the same way it was laid out when Guggenheim lived there. Each room had a picture of the room as decorated in the 1960s. It was interesting to see the art in a non-gallery context.

20130624-123935.jpgDining room then.

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The gardens were my favorite part. All the brick walls were covered in honeysuckle. Currently in full bloom, the smell is intoxicating.

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The space is so lush and green. Just the type of space to relax and escape the bustle of Venice.

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Venice: Burano Island

There are several islands in the Venice Lagoon that aren’t a part of Venice proper but are serviced by the local transit service. Murano Island is famous for its glass makers. Burano is an adorable island deeper into the lagoon that just slays you with charm. My gardening friends would especially love the bright flowers against the colorful buildings!

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Venice: Rialto Market

My hostel in Venice was a 500 year old building and located just one varpetto (water bus) stop from the Rialto Bridge. Amazing location to explore a really unique and beautiful city. The best part of the location, for me at least, was the near by Rialto Market. Venice doesn’t have a lot of grocery stores (or space) so most folks do their shopping at the fish and produce market.

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Each morning I would walk past and pick up fruit to snack on throughout the day. The selection is incredible. Everything is, of course, delivered by boat and one more I caught a glimpse of the special boat crane they use to move stacks of fruit crates!

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Florence: A Grab Bag

Florence was a quick stop. I arrived late the first night so I only had 1.5 days to poke around. As the seat of the Italian Renaissance my priority #1 was to see as much ridiculously famous art as possible. Checked off Michealango’s David, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (a longtime favorite), several Rembrandt self-portraits and a smattering of Di Vinci. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Other smatterings:
My hostel was an honest-to-God villa. Lots of fancy lady day dreaming went down.

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My buddy Jessi suggested an awesome sandwich place for lunch. I got a sandwich and small glass of wine for €4. So, basically heaven.

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Rome: The Borghese Gardens

After shipping a box home to my personal storage unit parents house, I was determined to spend my last half day in Rome just basking in the Rome-ness of it all. I took the bus to the Borghese Villa (unfortunately I couldn’t get a reservation to the museum that worked with my schedule, next time) and stopped at a father-son butcher shop. Oh to be friends with that nice old Italian butcher!

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The gardens make up the second largest public park in Rome. The villa, that houses the aforementioned museum, was once the home of Napoleon’s sister who apparently liked to use her maids as foot stools. Charming woman.

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It was so nice to have some quiet (and shade!) before heading to the train. Ciao Roma!

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Rome: Dia della Dolce Vita

True confessions: I bought a paperback copy of Eat Pray Love. I’m crushed by the cliche. Please feel free to judge me mightily, it’s just so typical. I was so embarrassed by myself I bought Jane Austen’s Persuasion along with it to dilute my shame. A Jane Austen novel was the less girly book. I guess there’s a first for everything.

And naturally, I have all the fervor of the converted. I’ve avoided the book because, frankly, it seemed like overly indulgent pseudo-religion for the self-obsessed middle class (but let me tell you how I really feel…). I absolutely inhaled the Italy section while on the train back from Naples. Her thoughts on the quest for pure pleasure intersect greatly with what I’ve been thinking about lately, both for my current trip and my reentry into civilian life.

Gilbert describes a walk she went on at one point in Rome. It included several places I still had yet to see. So, in an attempt to cheer myself up after the Day of Stabby and my Chicken Out Naples experience, I set out on a day of pure pleasure. I was determined to do exactly and whatever I felt like and preemptively absolved myself of any guilt.

First, I had to reconcile with the Spanish Steps. We were meant to be friends, our introduction was just rudely interrupted.

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The rest of the morning was a leisurely stroll from one shop window to the next, admiring this and that piazza’s fountain, and surveying the produce stands (fancy prices to match the fancy neighborhood).

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Next, I walked along the river for quite a while. It was a Monday so it was fairly quiet, a few runners on the other side, a couple of scullers rowing on the Tiber and a handful of dudes stuffing purses to sell. And so often when we get left alone with our thoughts for a while I started thinking about the the people that had done the same thing I was doing. All the people that had walked along this river and thought about their lives. I didn’t make any decisions and who knows if they did either but the slow but steady currant has a way of making many things feel less overwhelming.

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I had lunch at this awesome pizzeria. You want to put mushrooms and truffles on a pizza big enough to keep my full past dinner time for €8? Done and done.

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I walked back across the bridge and finally visited the Pantheon (which I kept mentally calling the Parthenon because that’s what happens when you fly from Athens to Rome). The opening in the dome makes me what to come back when it’s raining.

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And since no personal pilgrimage for balance is complete without gelato, I went to Giolitti’s. This Rome institution was suggested to me by many, many people. The gelateria is in the Belle Époque style and all the servers wear bow ties. They have the largest selection of flavors I’ve seen including an whole section of liqueur flavors (champagne gelato is proof that there is good in this world).

This trip has and continues to teach me many things but the lesson I keep learning and relearning is that no one is scoring my vacation. There is no merit pay for how many sites I visit or photos I take or how early I get up. And, in the end, I always manage to see the things I really want to see.

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Rome: The Vatican

As I said on Facebook, the Vatican is bonkers. I felt mostly how I expected to feel: inspired by the beautiful art, satiated on Jesus for at least a century and grossed out by the wealth of the Church.

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The long, seemingly unending hallway leading to the Sistene Chapel is the best example of the Church’s gross excess. Or, as my dad put it, “there’s a reason the Reformation happened.” Of all this gross excess the map portion was my favorite. Apparently the painted map of Venice is so accurate it is safe to use for navigation!

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The most awe inspiring part of the day was the views from the top of the cupola. (Honorable mention: Michealango’s The Creation of Man, that ceiling is truly phenomenal.) After climbing 323 increasing narrow steps, the 360 degree view from the top is incredible. Nature and its artificial manipulation is awesome.

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Pompeii: A Day Trip in (Mostly) Pictures

Up bright and early for the morning express to Naples!

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Made a pit stop at the National Archeological Museum in Naples for art and context of Pompeii.

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There is a separate, private railroad that takes you down the coast to Pompeii. My typical “follow the other tourists” strategy backfired.

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Travel has a way of teaching you important lessons.

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My master plan had been to eat pizza in Naples on the way back but I found out the place recommended to me had closed for the day. I went out, thinking I could just find something but Naples way intimidated me. I’d heard so many stories and the town was just so dirty that I went back and hung out in the train station. I felt like a big scaredy cat but I didn’t want to get mugged! I arrived back in Rome about 20:20 and immediately took a bus to Campo de’Fiori and tried the pizza place my buddy Mia had suggested. Turns out it is owned by a dude from Naples. Redemption.

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Rome: Stabby

This morning, after a lovely time sitting in the sun eating strawberries (I take vacation seriously) a series of things happened that made me pretty much want to kill everyone.

-I paid €17 for 100mL of sunscreen because sunscreen is stupid expensive in Europe.
-I dropped my phone and shattered the screen.
-The bathroom stall door at the Colosseum whacked me and sliced my heel.

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-Every tourist in the world was at the Colosseum including many, many Harley Davidson enthusiasts in town for a world Harley meet-up.
-It was 90 degrees and muggy (though that has been true every day).
-I overpaid for lunch because I was hungry and couldn’t figure out anything better.
-I had a minor freak out about bleeding money.
-I felt generally gross and sticky because wearing sunscreen when you just sweat all day is yucky.

And then, it happened, the final straw. I was trying desperately to have a Roman Holiday moment amiss all the tour groups when I saw someone waving a Confederate flag. A Confederate freaking flag. I wanted to throw something. I guess the flag into the fountain would have been a start.

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So, I took myself home and skyped my parents (Happy Father’s Day, Dad!). Then I went looking and (finally) found a grocery store and bought some snacks for tomorrow’s day trip to Naples. I rounded out my recalibration evening by buying myself a €7 dinner to make up for tourist prices at lunch. Pizza and gelato are excellent self care. New day tomorrow!