(Ed. Note: This is the final installment of Bob Zozobrado’s Italian holiday)
While crisscrossing Italy on the Business Class section of the very efficient, modern, high-speed (240 kph) Italo trains, dashing merrily from one beautiful and historic city to another, I realized I was having my share of “the sweet life.”
Awed by breathtaking sceneries, bewildered by Renaissance and Gothic structures, served with delectable cuisine and the best wines ever, I had nothing else to ask for during my recent weeklong Italian holiday. Here are some more of the enchanting places we visited.
We started our Italian holiday in this city, the capital of Northern Italy’s Veneto region. I have always wanted to visit Venice and enjoy its canals and romantic bridges on a gondola ride, with the gondolier singing “O Sole Mio,” like what I see in the movies.
But, alas and alack, it rained on the day we were there. So, a gondola ride was out of the question. We took a water taxi instead and sailed along the canals, admiring the mystifying Gothic and Renaissance structures that line the waterways.
When we returned to the Piazza San Marco, the rain had stopped but the entire piazza was flooded with ankle-deep water from the canals, as it was high tide. We then sought refuge inside the beautiful Basilica di San Marco, the floor of which never fails to attract visitors because it is made of mosaics of attractive Byzantine tiles
We also made sure we would capture in photo the very famous Bridge of Sighs, which spans one of the minor canals next to the basilica. It earned its name because it connects a courthouse to a prison; as convicts cross the bridge, they let out a sigh of regret as they take a last look at the outside world.
From up north, we sped down to Pisa, a city in the Tuscany region, known for its Leaning Tower, a 56-meter tall bell tower made of white marble. It stands beside a humongous cathedral, which has a very interesting interior as it is made of striped marble.
The tower was already leaning when it was completed around 700 years ago because the soft ground on which it was built affected its foundation. The builders had already completed the first three floors when they noticed the tilt. They then reinforced the foundation and continued building to complete the construction.
The cathedral has a baptistry, which is also a tourist attraction on its own because of its perfect acoustics. In fact, anytime you go inside it, you hear people singing, as they want to listen to their sweet, melodious voices reverberating inside the domed structure. All three buildings are right next to each other in the city’s Piazza del Miracoli.
This is another beautiful city in the Tuscany region, where the 2003 Hollywood romance-drama Under The Tuscan Sun, which starred Diane Lane, was filmed. Of course, our tour guide lost no time showing us the exact sites featured in the movie, much to our delight.
The town hall, which gained a lot of exposure in the movie, naturally became everybody’s favorite backdrop for selfies and souvenir shots.
Walking a short distance to the end of a narrow cobblestoned street led us to a small piazza with the Garibaldi monument, to honor the greatest General of the Italian army, and who was credited for the country’s unification.
From the piazza, one can see the breathtaking view of the Tuscan valley, also featured in the film.
We traveled east to the hometown of St. Francis, a hill town in the Umbria region, and visited three churches.
First was the Basilica di Santa Clara, named after the very good friend of St. Francis. This is where the original San Damian cross of St. Francis is kept. The story goes that, when St. Francis was still a young boy, he chanced upon this cross in an abandoned, crumbling church. As he went near it, he heard a voice telling him to build a church for the cross. He and his friends did it.
The second church we went to was the magnificent two-level Basilica of St. Francis itself and the adjoining, massive Piazza di San Francisco. The saint’s body is kept inside the crypt under the main altar. What makes the church interiors really attractive are the 13th-century frescoes depicting the life of the saint. It elicited in me a wonderful feeling that teetered between sublime and heavenly.
Then we had to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiori, which houses the small church St. Francis and his friends built to conduct their ministry of helping the poor. The original small church still stands at the basilica’s altar (that’s how small it is), to the right of which is the exact spot where the saint died due to health problems.
My Italian holiday was not only a “discovery tour.” It was an affirmation of my Catholic faith, an enjoyable “walk-back” to the Age of Renaissance, and a savory feast of culinary delights! La dolce vita indeed!
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