The train journey to Venice was comfortable, taking us just over two hours to reach the Venice Santa Lucia station. We boarded the local water taxi on the Grand Canal and made our way to the famous Rialto Hotel. Along the way, it was a beautiful sight to see the gondolas float past ferrying tourists.
Venice is an archipelago of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by over 400 bridges. It is said this picturesque city traces its origins to Roman refugees who fled to these islands during the German and Hun invasions in the fourth century. While its beginnings were possibly based on strife, this place is currently one of the most sought out destinations worldwide.
The Doge’s Palace and onward to Murano and Burano
We strolled at leisure through the narrow streets and over small bridges. The following morning, our first stop was the Doge’s Palace built in Venetian Gothic style. This is among the main landmarks of the city. The palace was the abode of the Doge of Venice, the former head of state of the Venetian Republic. It was founded in 1340, and over the ages, extensions were added. The palace was turned into a museum in 1923.
Our next stop was Murano and from the palace grounds, we stepped into a boat. Murano is a series of islands in the Venetian lagoon. It is famous for its glass making. They showed us how glass is made and for us onlookers, it was quite surreal. They had glass samples from Egyptian times, right up to this present day.
I have seen a fair bit of lace work but I was quite taken by what awaited us at Burano. This place is famous for lace making and it even had a school dedicated to lacemaking.
Burano is also well regarded for its small brightly painted houses popular with artists. Our guide told us that if someone wishes to paint their home, the owner must first send a request to the government; the authorities will then respond by suggesting colours that are likely to be approved.
Later that evening, we returned to Venice and we reveled in the company of our gondolier. He sang us a folk song or what was maybe a piece of music composed in their traditional style. The gentle music accompanied by the wind in the canal was soothing.
Lake Como, Lombardy
The following morning, we took a water taxi to the railway station. Our destination was Lake Como — a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since days of yore.
Some three hours later, we reached the Palace Hotel. It was a beautiful property built alongside the lake. The Como lake is shaped much like an inverted ‘Y’. Its northern branch begins at the town of Colico, while the towns of Como and Lecco sit at the ends of the southwestern and southeastern branches, respectively. The small towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna are situated at the intersection of the three branches of the lake. We were, meanwhile, near the Alps, soaking in dramatic views of the scenery.
As we explored the area, we came upon the single-track funicular railway which carries passengers up the steep mountain slope, between Como and the village of Brunate. We decided to experience it for ourselves too.
The seven-minute ride crosses over a scenic stretch of countryside with sweeping views over Lake Como and stretching as far as the Swiss Alps. The Huffington Post called it the most beautiful lake in the world. I couldn’t agree more.
What was an equal treat, albeit a gastronomic one, was dinner that night. Pizza is said to have originated in Italy and while it has become a well-liked treat all over the globe, we decided to dig into an authentic, and now famous, Margherita pizza. It was accompanied by some spaghetti and a bottle of good Italian red wine. A sumptuous dinner it was indeed.
Celebrity home gazing en route Bellagio
The park alongside the lake was brimming in the early morning hours with fitness enthusiasts. I couldn’t help but exclaim that anyone would want to settle in this place far away from the maddening crowds of city life. The temperature in July was warm and balmy — perfect for tourists like us.
Later that morning, we boarded a ferry bound for Bellagio. Along the way, we were shown celebrity homes in the distance — spanning George Clooney, Richard Branson, Lionel Messi, Gianni Versace, among others.
Bellagio was teeming with tourists. Small stores sold precious and semi-precious stones, restaurants were aplenty and I enjoyed walking and exploring at ease. We only spent a few hours at Bellagio but we made good use of this time shopping, haggling and shopping some more. The place was very likeable and especially so because of its friendly locals.
Milan, the fashion city
One of Italy’s commercial centres is Milan. This was to be our final stop in our tour of Italy. We checked into the Hotel Dei Cavalieri, located not too far from the Grand Cathedral Duomo di Milano.
Interestingly, the cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. Its construction began in 1386 and it was completed only as recently as 1965. This edifice is built in Gothic style and has a capacity of 40,000 people.
Just beyond the cathedral was the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest shopping mall that continues to thrive. It even lends its name to several upscale shopping and residential properties in India; it possibly imparts a sense of being high end. And speaking of high-end, the Galleria housed the best of brands and this was shopping nirvana for the discerning.
If you are on a ‘hurried’ tour of Milan, it is a good idea then to hail a popular pedicab. It is essentially a rickshaw tour of Milan that gives one a quick overview of the city. We chose to ride in this Italian rickshaw, partly for the tour and equal parts for its novelty. They sure made it look cool!
Our rickshaw rider took us to Sforza Castle, built by the Duke of Milan. We were also shown the Porta Sempione, which was one of Milan’s city gates. The latter is marked by a triumphal arch called Arco della Pace. We also visited several small museums.
A treasure trove of memories
Later that evening, there was a heavy down pour. We took shelter in a small restaurant and over dinner, we reflected on the many places we’d visited. Every Italian city was unique and replete with history.
We had sure created fond memories and the tour, in general, was nothing short of spectacular. The vacation gave us close insights to a lot of Italy. As we boarded our plane for the homeward journey, I quietly waved au revoir; it is Italian for ‘goodbye until we meet again’.
This is the second part. The first part can be read here.