Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.
Where we are: We’re in Florence, Italy now, having spent a week in Venice and four days in Bologna. After the last year and a half of no sightseeing and no tourists, this city is more than a little overwhelming—the art, the history, the crowds.
Venice, the Most Serene City
Our eight days in Venice passed by in a dreamy haze. It turns out La Serenissima exists in some weird alternate reality (the Magic Kingdom, perhaps) where normal 21st century life goes for a vacation. The city, if you can call it that, has all the usual modern conveniences, except cars. Or normal people, wearing suits and carrying briefcases. There are no office buildings. No gas stations. It’s difficult to find electrical tape, or a proper grocery store, or an eye doctor. (And don’t tell me to just Google these things—trust me, even the Google struggles with reality in Venice.)
The Magic Kingdom, it turns out, doesn’t have a proper supermarket, & shopping for groceries in convenience stores gets old.
Lee began hanging out on the Lido (another island), which felt more like Miami Beach than the Magic Kingdom, but at least that was a step (however small) toward normal.
I feel a little odd admitting this, but after about five days, I got a little bored. Eight days is too long to tourist (exhausting!), but not long enough to settle in.
Now we’re in Bologna. When we stepped off the train Sunday evening, traffic was a bit of a shock. As were wide, paved urban streets.
We came to see the big Eataly—it’s advertised as a theme park, the state fair, and a gourmet grocery all in one.* We originally booked at the Holiday Inn Express across the street, out in the ‘burbs, because Eataly was truly the only I thing I planned to see. We’re only here for four days, which for us feels like just passing though, so I figured we’d focus on the thing I most wanted to do.
Then last week, I discovered that Eataly isn’t reopening until the day we’re planning to leave. We have an Airbnb booked in our next destination (Florence), which is a bit of a nuisance to unravel, so we changed our booking to a hotel closer to Bologna’s historic center, and came on anyway.
Lee asked me this morning what my agenda was for today. I rattled off several things: cappuccino, replacing the teaspoon that housekeeping accidentally took at the Hilton in Reykjavik, and checking out some Roman ruins in the basement of a furniture store. There are more famous things here, like cathedrals and museums and beautiful old palazzos, but last night we found an open-air bar in the park behind our hotel, and we drank prosecco while a dog-walker played catch with her charges, and we watched people playing on clay tennis courts and Lee took pictures of graffiti on an old train engine. It was, in short, a perfect evening.
That’s why we are the worst people to consult for vacation advice. A friend of ours asked us once if she should visit Uruguay; what I wanted to tell her was that it’s difficult to buy well-cushioned sneakers in Uruguay—I don’t think that was the kind of advice she was looking for. I’m more likely than not to skip the one main tourist attraction, because I don’t like lines, or crowds, or getting up early, or some other excuse. My memories of a place are often tied to food. And I’m rarely wedded to a particular plan—if something doesn’t work out, I’m probably just as entertained by the not-working-out as I would’ve been by the thing itself.
*Update: it would be disingenuous of me to not address the Eataly situation. It was . . . laughable. Maybe it was because of Covid, or just the fact that we arrived about fifteen minutes after they re-opened, or maybe it just really sucks. Not sure. Most of the exhibits were empty, the restaurant we ate in was the worst meal we’ve ever had in Italy, and the shopping was paltry. I’ve been to ‘normal’ Eataly stores all over the world, and I’ve loved every one, except this one. Luckily, we were both amused by the lame-ness of it all.
From my writer’s notebook:
One of the major industries in Florence is art restoration. There are little workshops everywhere, scattered all over the city. It makes sense, I suppose: the very bones of the city are the Renaissance made real. If you need someone to restore your frescoes, or repair your sculpture collection, or maybe clean some paintings or put the diamonds back in your tiara, this is a good place to find an expert.
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