Transcendence, Sore Feet and Grandeur at St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City, Italy

Following my last post on the Vatican Musuems, take this one as a continuation in both spirit and layout form.

What does it feel like to be illuminated from the inside out, to feel like your mouth will never fully close from all the grandeur around you and to not even care that your feet are screaming bloody murder with each and every step. Take a visit to St Peters Basilica after spending the previous day walking all over Florence and you’re almost guaranteed to feel the same way.

After finishing up in the museum, our small tour group wound it’s way towards what would be the grand finale, St. Peters Basilica.

Fun fact, while this canopy over the alter may look massive, let me assure it it’s even larger than you would think. Bernini’s baldacchino is 96 feet tall and contains about 100,000 pounds of bronze… thats right, bronze. A reason it might not look as large as it really is would be because the dome above it is a staggering 452 feet.

There is never a moment when you are not just standing here in awe, utterly dwarfed by it all.

To say this was a magnificent end to a morning full of wonder would be an understatement. It’s hard to fully state just how beautiful, awe-inspiring and humbling it is to visit a place like the Vatican and know you’ve only seen maybe 10% of all that is to see. I have a friend who’s been here four times already and is still ready to go back at a moments chance and if I lived any distance shorter, I would be the same. As it is, I don’t know when i’ll be back but I know with a fervent assurance I could spend a solid week here, day in at day break and day out at sunset and still feel there was much to see and learn.

~m

The Incomparable Palazzo Pitti- Florence, Italy

One of the Florence’s largest architectural monuments, the Palazzo Pitti seems doomed to be forever eclipsed by the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Vecchio, even while very much holding its own in regards to beautiful art and history. The fact that tourists seem to forget about this palace (or maybe it’s the slightly drab exterior that does it) worked out perfectly for me and the bf however, and we bought tickets and were inside in a matter of minutes.

There is just so much to see here, the galleries divided like so: Museum of Costume and Fashion, the Royal Apartments, Palatine Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, and the Treasury of the Grand Dukes.

We had planned to see the vast Boboli Gardens afterwards and then cross back over the Arno to the other side of Florence to visit the Uffizi Gallery, so we only toured the Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments, but I would genuinely love to go back and see everything one day.

The crowds were minimal apart from some small tour groups and there were plenty of moments where we had whole rooms to ourselves, the decadence of that experience almost too great at times- imagine yourself surrounded on all sides by lush gorgeous paintings, evocative sculptures, tall incredibly ornate ceilings and the realization you’re standing in a building that’s been around since the 15th century.

From a window on the first floor, a view of Florence over the Grotto steps you even further back in time.

Amid the rooms full of rosy peach tones and gold accents, the room spilled with deep, vibrant emerald was one of my favorites.

I don’t know how long exactly we stayed inside, maybe two hours? It felt both a good while and like no time had passed when we made it back downstairs and into the fresh crisp air and streaming sunlight. After a quick stop to retrieve the bf’s backpack from the cloakroom and stow away the books and souvenirs I had purchased (of course), we got out the separate tickets we had purchased to enter the Boboli Gardens (just an extra 6 €) and headed that way with much eagerness, because the way I saw it, if the interior had been so splendid, I couldn’t wait to see what kind of beauty the gardens would hold.

~m

The Walk to the Palazzo Pitti- Florence, Italy

After leaving the Florence Cathedral and having re-energized ourselves with coffee and pastries, we headed on our way to the Uffizi Gallery. Afterwards the plan was to cross the Arno river via the Ponte Vecchio and finish up the day at the Palazzo Pitti.  We were a little worried the weather would turn ugly as we had a couple of stop planned along the way and while we had already endured 3 days straight of rain in Venice with no problem, we didn’t want to do it again in Florence.

Thankfully by the time we reached The Basilica di Santa Croce, the skies had cleared up again to picturesque cloudy fluffs with brilliant blue beneath.

Completed in the 14th Century, Santa Croce is the principle Franciscan church in Florence and is also the largest Franciscan church in the world. While we had been planning the way we would walk to the Uffizi Gallery, we had seen this church as kinda on the way and figured, why not stop by? We didn’t go inside but even just getting a chance to see the beautiful exterior was worth the detour. We sat down on one of the many benches around the square and eventually, only a bit reluctantly, made our way to the next stop on our walking tour, the Palazzo Vecchio.

The town hall of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio is an immensely interesting building thats bursting with history but this was another place we decided to save for a later visit. One of the reasons for this is we’d seen a couple of interesting historical  residence/art museum type buildings already in Venice and we were sure the Palazzo Pitti would have enough to hold our interest in this regard (spoiler alert: it 100% delivered on that). From what i’ve read, the best way to visit the Palazzo Vecchio is to take a tour as there are many rooms and halls that are only accessible via guided tour so, definetly something we put on the list for a longer return trip.

The exterior is incredible in it’s own right and just next to it is the Loggia dei Lanzi (also known as the Loggia della Signoria as it’s on the corner of the Piazza della Signoria where the Palazzo Vechio is situated)  which is an amazing open-air sculpture gallery. Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to visit the Palazzo Vecchio, I can’t recommend enough to at least pass by the area, especially if you’re headed to the Uffizi Gallery as it’s a straight shot from there.

After leaving the dramatically beautiful statues behind, we made it to the Uffizi Gallery and were confronted by a rather huge line. We had expected this one however and had previously discussed that if the line here was incredibly long, we would head to the Pitti Palace first instead and finish up the day at the Uffizi Gallery when we came back. This was mainly because I was more keen to seen the Boboli Gardens of the Palazzo Pitti than any art held inside the gallery and so, we kept walking on towards the Arno river and crossed the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of Florence.

Taking our time, we made it to the Pitti Palace by around 1pm that afternoon and found no line to get inside- fates way of telling us we had made the right choice by coming here first maybe? Either way we happily headed inside to explore the opulent interiors.

~m

The Bridge of Sighs and a Beautiful Goodbye – Venice, Italy

I feel like I write the phrase “it was like something out of a dream” so often on this blog that people must think i’m always half awake when I travel, but the truth is that though I would consider myself a writer of at least some skill- there’s always places that I visit that truly do leave me without the necessary adjectives to describe them in any way that does them justice.

We woke up early that last day to wander our way down the quiet and still sleeping streets to make it to Piazza San Marco and get a chance to see it one more time before we left. Not only did we get spared from the constant drizzle of the days before, but there were absolutely no crowds yet and apart from a couple of other dedicated photographers walking around trying to get their best shots, the area was fairly deserted compared to the last time we had been there.

(credit to the bf for taking the photo of me standing in front of Basilica San Marco, I would almost say he’s looking to challenge me for title of head photographer on our trips  )

The previous two days that we’d made our way to see the Bridge of Sighs, it’d been fairly impossible to try and get a good shot because of the crowds but that morning, we had the bridge that overlooks the canal it’s suspended over all to ourselves. After I had finished looking at the beautiful coastline and the islands on the other side (and wishing we had maybe a little bit more time to make it over to explore them), we walked up to the bridge and there was just one guy there, trying to take a good selfie of himself in front of it. He saw us and asked very nicely if we would take a photo of him and I enthusiastically obliged and snapped two photos from him, after which he thanked us with a big smile and walked off to admire the canal coastline himself and suddenly we had the view of the Bridge of Sighs all to ourselves.

A really rather popular tourist attraction in Venice, the Bridge of Sighs is a beautiful enclosed arch bridge built in the 17th century as a way to connect the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doges Palace. The general consensus seems to be the name of the bridge comes from the idea that convicts crossing the bridge to the prisons would get one last glimpse of the lagoon through the covered windows and heave a despairing sigh but…. historically there doesn’t seem to be much credence to this. Personally I can attest that the view is limited from inside the bridge as the glass panels are very cloudy and also crossed with steel bars on the inside, but I can also say that if I was crossing any bridge as a prisoner, I would probably let out a good number of sighs no matter what.

The walk back to our hotel was unhurried as we had already packed up the night before and had our transportation to the Venezia Santa Lucia train station arranged by the staff, so we had plenty of time to marvel at all the unique and beautifully colored buildings that surrounded us.

Once back at the hotel we tucked into breakfast and then time seemed to rush on by until suddenly our water taxi was there and it was time to check out and begin the journey to Rome.

A thrilling and beautiful ride on a lovely water taxi, bright morning light streaming in through the windows as the city rushed by us made a pretty perfect way to say goodbye to Venice.

~m

The Doges Palace and the Rialto Bridge- Venice, Italy

Having already purchased tickets that granted entrance to the Doges Palace at the Correr Musuem, we were able to get in past the long line that snaked around the building, saving us a whole world of wasted time and enabling us to get more out of our last full day in Venice.

The Doges Palace is a must-see if you’re visiting Venice, so I could easily understand the long lines outside and also justify the way the interior was more than a bit packed in. And what, exactly, is the Doges Palace? This is the question the bf had when we first made plans to visit, and I couldn’t easily provide an answer since I hadn’t really researched it much up to this point (for shame right?). Basically, the Doges Palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice who was the chief magistrate and head authority of the Most Serene Republic of Venice from the years of 697–1797. They were elected for life and served as the civil and military leader and as such, their surroundings reflect this.

Taken from the visitor website to the Palazzo Ducale, this helps give an idea of what the general tour of the Palace will consist of : “the Museo dell’Opera are located at the ground floor; what used to be the palace’s kitchens are now partly occupied also by a space for temporary exhibitions. The visit to the upper floors starts in the extraordinary courtyard, from where you pass up to the Loggia on the first floor (where the Doge’s Apartments are located) and then to the Institutional Chambers, throughout the first and second floors. The visit finishes with the Armoury and Prisons.”

The change of scenery from the Armoury over to the Prisons is an almost jarring one, and one that begins by crossing through the famous Bridge of Sighs.

I do have to admit though, as weird as it probably sounds, our favorite part of the visit was to the prisons rather than through all the grand opulence of the palace. For me it was the great contrast between the two that made it all the more interesting and especially seeing the cells and even some of the artwork the prisoners had made. We spent the longest time here, lingering in the narrow corridors until eventually we made our way back to the Palace over the Bridge of Sighs once more and exited out to head towards the Rialto Bridge, the oldest of 4 bridges spanning the Grand Canal and a top recommended sight to us.

We walked our way through some more winding streets, making idle plans for the rest of the day-pizza and some gelato perhaps? All morning there had been a somewhat steady sprinkling, but for just a few minutes as we looked over the bridge to the Grand Canal, the rain let up enough for us to enjoy the view.

Satisfied with having successfully seen everything we had planned to that day, we headed back into the maze of streets to find a good souvenir shop I could buy some postcards for friends at and then afterwards hopefully procure some tasty gelato to cap our last full day in Venice. The next morning we would wake up at sunrise to take in some of the early morning light and give our farewell to this first stop of our trip, and head on to Rome.

~m