Great Escapes: Venice & Florence
|Botticelli's Birth of Venus (a.k.a. "Venus on the Half-Shell") is one of the many treasures in Florence's Uffizi Gallery.|
A traveler in Florence has ample opportunity to fall in love with art — whether it's adorning a canvas, arranged on a plate, or worn by a trend-setting Tuscan local. This city is clearly Europe's beauty capital... the birthplace of both the Renaissance and our modern world.
Today, Florence overwhelms travelers with more artistic splendor per square kilometer than anyplace else. In a single day, you can look Michelangelo's David in the eyes, sway to the seductive rhythm of Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and climb the modern world's first great dome.
You'll stroll streets walked by Leonardo; window-shop the high-fashion boutiques; lick lots of gelato; and end the day bumping elbows with hungry locals in a crowded osteria.
With a good guidebook, you'll discover that — with its rough-stone beauty, masterpiece-packed museums, gotta-go-back restaurants, and artisans sipping Chianti — Florence offers many of the very things you came to Italy to see.
Venice for many is an overcrowded, pre-packaged, and tacky tourist trap. But you'll find that Venice is magic — and with each visit it becomes more so. Researching our new guidebook, I peeled back the tourism to see the village and feel its past.
In the lagoon, I slogged across an uninhabited island and sank my feet into the same muck the first Venetians did. In the market, busy merchants looked right past us camera-toting tourists to sell their fish to real customers. And after midnight I sat in a moored gondola, just to be slapped around by the waves.
|Away from the throngs of tourists, getting lost is a treat in residential Venice.|
Gazing into a still canal, a fish arcs up from the deep and then out of sight. An old Venetian woman looks up at me, we both say "bella," smile, and walk on... thankful for a place like this.
Engineers love Venice — a completely manmade environment rising from the sea with no visible means of support. Romantics revel in its atmosphere of elegant decay, seeing the peeling plaster and seaweed-covered stairs as a metaphor for beauty in decline. And Venice awakes first-time visitors from ordinary lives to a fantasy world unlike anything anywhere.
Each evening, as the flood of daytrippers recedes, Venice cranks up that Casanova magic. Dance across St. Mark's floodlit square. Glide in a gondola down dark canals, dragging a finger along buildings marooned in another century. Pretend it's Carnevale time, don a mask — or just a clean shirt — and become someone else for a night. That's the beauty of Venice.