Saturday, March 11, 2006

MY ITALIAN HOLIDAY -"LA DOLCE VITA"
(All photos are taken by Niwde)

Suffering from a feeling of ennui I suddenly remembered the slogan "Italians Do It Better" on the T-shirt that my ex Sardinian boyfriend had worn occasionally in bed. So I immediately booked a two-week holiday for my sister and I to Italy to experience the "sweet life" it’s known for.

Florence:






I think there is no person in the world who wouldn't fall in love with the city of Florence. As the birthplace of the Renaissance period that flawlessly managed a perfect equilibrium between art and commerce, it’s glorious past still reverberates. As a Libran in birth I find this sense of balance very endearing. We stayed at Hotel Delle Nazioni located around Santa Maria Novella which is very close to all major attractions of the city. We immediately became friends with a couple of young locals, Andreas and Lucas who work at one of the bars/cafés around Via Panicale. Our new friends gave us tips on how to live like locals and also recommended "Sieni Antica Pasticceria" at Via San Antonino around Mercato Centrale. Sieni Antica Pasticceria , a restaurant /bakery opened 1909, which not only offers the best inexpensive Tuscan dishes that melt in your mouth but makes "baccini chocolato el inferno" that heavenly balances the bitterness of dark chocolate, sweetness of sugar and complex jolt of wine, a feat that not even the best Godiva chocolates have achieved. My sister and I spend a whole day in Galleria degli Uffizi which houses a collection of masterpieces of many artists like Botticellis’s "Birth of Venus" and "Primavera". After absorbing all the arts we had paninis and espresso at the café inside Uffizi, which has a terrace that has a panoramic view of Piazza Della Signoria and a close up view of Palazzo Vecchio. Most of our days in Florence were spent in exploring Centro Storico, like admiring sumptuous Gothic architectural breakthrough of the Doumo and shopping for bargains at San Lorenzo Market and Mercato Centrale. Walking during midnight along Ponte Vecchio with new interesting friends, as the sight of floodlight enhances Florentine architectures and the River Arno twinkles from the reflection of the moon and stars, we couldn’t help but to be spontaneously romantic.


Tuscan Hills: Asciano/Siena





Beautiful is such a simple word to describe the view of Tuscan hills. We felt like we were inside a painting, at the sight of the spectacular sunset glowing intensely over the hills that look like eternally holding on to the clouds, straight-line vineyards and cypress trees that seems like giant exclamation marks arrogantly emphasizing their own magnificence. When we arrived to Hotel Montaperti (exactly located to where the bloody battle between Florentine and Sienese, which inspired Dante Alighieri's 9th circle of Hell occurred) we were surprised by the interesting modernity and "slick as Gucci shoes" design of the place. Its minimalism was a fascinating contrast to the luscious landscape outside. Since I mistakenly missed to book another extra night in our itineraries, I immediately asked the concierge for an extra night.
"Sorry Mr. Cabrera, we are fully booked right now. But I’ll ask my colleagues if there’s a hotel nearby you could check into." was the answer I wasn’t ready to hear. The panoramic view on the balcony of our Rem Koolhaas inspired bedroom helped a little to take our mind off the fact that we might end up spending a night in a stable outside. Fortunately the concierge phoned to inform us that they booked us a room at Castello di Leonina Relais. A fortress owned by Cardinal Fabio Chigi in 1100, Castello di Leonina Relais is now a 4 star hotel. Even though they added new technologies for comfort they still managed to retain the whole original structure of the castle. The smell of incense in the hallway and sandalwood in the washroom added the feeling of luxurious medieval living authenticity to the place. Rose-cheeked from the wine, we sat on the garden with the view of the hills. While a nice breeze of spring air carrying the fragrance of ilang-ilang, we felt sated and could only utter the word "perfection."

Rome:







The image of a giant statue of Jesus Christ and waving bikini-clad women in the opening scene of Felinni’s "La Dolce Vita" perfectly sums up what Rome is all about. Just like the iconic scene Rome is full of contradictions. Elevating one’s soul through arts and history is an easy task to accomplish in Rome, where they are all phenomenally concentrated. A real transcendent thrill occurred to us when we spent a whole day at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican extreme lavish display of wealth and rich history, made us captivated by Roman Catholicism all over again.

We walked around the Colosseo and the ruins and tried to picture life during the Roman Empire. Thanks to a cup of delicious gelato, the warm afternoon almost made us jump into the Trevi Fountain like Anita Eckberg in the film "La Dolce Vita". After exalting my well being, and praying for my soul to go to heaven, I opted to indulge in the hedonism the city of Rome offers. Rome has a very colourful nightlife. Following the advice of a friend of mine, I explored the darker parts of the city that normally cannot be found in any travel guidebooks. A very important tip to remember- the closer to the Vatican, the seedier the place. But if any of the circles of Dante’s inferno would at least look like one these places, then what a wonderful way to burn.

Venice:







We slightly dreaded going to Venice in May, when it becomes an "Italian theme park". The question of "will the magnificent grandeur of Venice be awash by the sea of tacky badly dressed tourists?" kept crawling into our minds. But as soon as we sat foot at Venezia Santa Lucia all our anxieties vanished. Even surrounded by large cattle in fanny packs, the city’s splendour fiercely radiates. We were blown away by the Venetian majestic offerings – lavish and flamboyant architecture, were contradicted by virile gondoliers who stood out like a "brachettas" in early Venetian pantalones. Although eating like "doges" around Piaza San Marco being serenaded by two battling orchestras was so tempting, we managed to save our money by just having "cichetis" and "ombres" from bars/café around the city. We visited and lit candles in churches that were gilded inside with 24-carat gold, draped in rich tapestries and covered in baroque paintings. We went from shop to shop to find the perfect Murano glass that we could afford. During the night, the city is extremely enchanting, as bridges cast dark shadows on the canals and all you could hear are whooshing sounds of the gondolas and violins being played by buskers.


My Italian holiday went beyond every possible expectation I had for it. I'm still basking in better than post-coital afterglow of the experience.