“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” - Coco Chanel
Knowing that I would be traveling to the beautiful country of Italy, I thought this would provide a great fashion story. After all Italy is the country that produced a number of influential fashion designers. Guccio Gucci, whose signature GG handbags are one of the world’s most recognizable status symbols. Gorgio Armani, whose classic menswear line was made famous by a young Richard Gere in the classic movie “American Gigolo”, in the early 80’s. Who could forget Emilio Pucci and his geometric prints with a sophisticated fusion of color still worn by women today. But a funny thing happened along the way to a fashion article. I discovered there was more to Italy than fashion. I discovered a country with a rich and vibrant culture that’s also steeped in tradition. I also discovered how a strong passion for traveling can be life changing in many ways. When traveling with a group of 11 people, some of whom I’ve never met in person, to a foreign country, it’s amazing how quickly friendships are made and bonds are formed.
The first stop on our whirlwind Italian Tour was Venice, Italy. Venice is the capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, built on more than 100 small islands in a marshy lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. There are very few cars or roadways, mainly canals and boats for your transportation needs. You have not lived until you’ve taken a water taxi!! We arrived by water taxi to the Hotel Villa Mabapa, our home for the next 2 nights. The Hotel Villa Mabapa is beautiful picturesque property situated between the Adriatic Sea and Venice Lagoon. The city of Venice reminded me of a first love that touches a place within your soul and never let’s go. Her beautiful architectural wonders appear to rise from out of the water, like a phoenix rising up from the ashes. Her Grand Canal snakes through the city that is filled with narrow, mazelike alleys and small squares. As we made our way through Piazza San Marco also known as St. Mark’s Square we saw a number of truly astounding architectural wonders, such as The Bell Tower, Doge's Palace and the most notable being St. Mark's Basilica. The exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica is a marvelous site to behold with its ornate paintings and granite statues that decorate the outside. The interior is a marvel itself, unfortunately photographs are not allowed once inside the Basilica. The first thing you will notice about Italy is the large number of outdoor cafes that lined the narrow cobblestone streets. We enjoyed lunch at a café called Terrazza Sommariva which was situated near the Rialto Bridge which was the first bridge to be built in 1591 that crosses the Grand Canal. The outdoor cafes are perfect for people watching. I learned very quickly that meals in Europe are an experience to embrace. So to have a meal that last 3-4 hours is not uncommon, in fact it’s encouraged. Venice is also home to the finest glass artisans in the world. The Murano Glass factory offers glass blowing demonstrations using the same techniques dating back to the 15th century. It is truly an amazing sight to see. Our stay in Venice would be incomplete without a ride in its famous Gondola's.
"The city of Venice reminded me of a first love that captures a place within your soul and never let’s go.”
The sights, sounds and intimacy of Venice gave me a feeling of déjà vu. I found the people of Venice to be very warm and welcoming. The language barrier was not a big issue. I found it amazing that we were still able to communicate without being fluent in Italian. The highlight for me of my time in Venice was on our final night in which we took advantage of exploring the neighborhood near our hotel. The hotel suggested a nearby restaurant which was roughly a 10-15, minute walk from the hotel. As we started walking to the restaurant we noticed a tall slender man wearing an apron coming towards us. Unbeknownst to us the hotel had called ahead to advise of our arrival. Alberto, the tall slender man was there to escort us to the restaurant, Trattoria La Battigia, literally walking halfway to our hotel to meet us so we would not get lost. I’ve never seen such hospitality anywhere. The food was as amazing but the conversations we had were even more soothing as we began to share our individual stories we learned about each other. As we dined on a succulent seafood appetizer platter, followed by the best steak filet I’ve ever tasted, ending with a decadent chocolate cake mouse desert our last night in Venice was the beginning of a memorable Holiday. We laughed with each other. We bonded over serious and not so serious moments. Again our meal time was 3-4 hours and we were encouraged to linger. This would process would repeat itself with each new experience we shared throughout our Italian Holiday. As we bid Farewell to beautiful Venice and all her charm, we looked forward to the new adventures that awaited our group as we headed to our next destination of Florence, Italy.
We traveled by private motor coach to our next destination, Florence, through the picturesque countryside of Italy, crossing the Apennine Mountains. Florence is the capital of its region, Tuscany. We arrived at the Hotel Athenaeum which was located within walking distance of magnificent Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral. When walking through the streets of Florence you get the feeling of being in an open-air museum the beauty of the buildings and squares. The architectural style of Florence is a mix of the different eras in the history of Florence consisting of Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque. The city of Florence is also known for its Leather Market District. You can purchase the finest in high quality leathers goods. There are many street vendors as well as small shops to choose from.
Our stay in Florence gave us an opportunity to visit the city of Pisa which was about an hour away by train. As we made our way to the train station we really got a taste of an authentic European experience. Traveling by RailEurope was fun and exciting. Purchasing train tickets prior to leaving the states is stress free and very convenient as the lines at the train station can be quite long.
The city of Pisa is located in central Italy's Tuscany region and is best known for its iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower and other architectural marvels are located in Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). The Leaning Tower of Pisa was completed in the mid 1300’s after many delays caused by wars, debts and engineering issues. The soft ground on which it is built is responsible for the tower’s leaning position. Among the other sites to see in Pisa are Clock Palace, The Cathedral and the Baptistery. After viewing these marvelous iconic buildings, it was time to visit another wonderful outdoor café. With its backdrop of the Leaning Tower the Caffe Pasticceria I Miracoli was the perfect place for a glass of prosecco and an Italian pastry, before heading back to Florence for one last dinner in this Florentine paradise.
As with all meals in Italy there are usually three parts to the Italian dining experience. The same was true of my Italian Holiday. With Venice as the antipasto or appetizer and Florence as the primo or second course, I was ready for the secondo or main course, the ancient city of Rome. Saying “Arrivederci” to Florence as we looked ahead to our Roman Adventures.
Rome, (Roma), is the capital of Roma province of the Lazio region of Italy. Rome is located in the central portion of the Italian peninsula, on the Tiber River. Rome is a city that is rich in history on a spiritual level, as well as, architectural. Our home for the next three days would be the Mercure Hotel in Piazza Bologna located in the heart of the city. This location was within walking distance to shopping, wonderful restaurants and very close to the wonderful sites that are found in Rome.
I was in awe as I toured the many places I had only read about or seen on television. Being able to walk through the ruins of The Forum from which the Caesars ruled their far reaching empire was an awe inspiring moment. Exploring the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater of the Roman Empire was another moment that I found mesmerizing. I could almost hear the voice of Julius Caesar as he made his most infamous speech. The sights I saw included The Arch of Constantine, The Arch of Titus, The Temple of Rome and The Temple of Venus. But nothing could begin to prepare me for our visit to The Vatican City.
The Vatican City at roughly 100 acres is the smallest independent country in the world, that is encircled by a 2-mile border with Italy. Our journey began by walking through St. Peter's Square which is a very large plaza located directly in front of St. Peter's Basilica. St. Peter’s Basilica is breathtaking with its ornately decorated exterior. The interior is even more magical but as with all religious structures no photos were allowed. As we prepared to visit the Sistine Chapel I relished the time spent in the Papal Garden. It’s a very serene and quiet place where one might find time for quiet reflection. The Sistine Chapel is everything I imagined and more. The Sistine Chapel is most famous for the painting of its ceiling by Michelangelo. The painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is centered around several scenes from the Old Testament beginning with the Creation of the World and ending at the story of Noah and the Flood. Pictures do no justice to the workmanship of this enormous creative endeavor. It is something that one must see in person.
"Make a conscious choice to meet new people, try new things and visit amazing places. "
As my Italian Holiday was winding down we came across another wonderful restaurant which quickly became our favorite. Trattoria da Neno was located just minutes away from our hotel had a delightful atmosphere with owner Massimo and staff taking great care of us. The days and nights in Rome seemed to pass by very quickly. As soon as we arrived it seemed it was time to go.
There were so many moments that occurred during this glorious time abroad that time and space won’t permit me to share with you. I will leave you with these last reflections. I encourage everyone to travel abroad and experience other people and their culture. In the final analysis as different as we think we are, we’re really the same. We want the best for our families, our friends, and ourselves. We want to enjoy life’s moments big or small. Make a conscious choice to meet new people, try new things and visit amazing places. It will change your perspective and quite possibly change your life. Ciao!