Although Paris eclipsed many of the other European cities as the city of romance, personally I have felt that the cities of Florence and Venice are equally romantic in their own right. Nearly 2 decades ago, the connectivity of these two cities with Rome is excellent, especially via train rides.
When I first arrived at Florence, what struck out the most to me is the Duomo and the earthy colour of the city. The Duomo just captivates my heart, and seems to be the heart & soul of the city (also serving as my landmark when I was looking for directions). 😀 Located right at the Piazza del Duomo, the structures built in the 15th century inspires subsequent generations of architects. Laying my eyes on the structure, what strikes the most is the earthen-colour with brick as the staple of the dome structure at the top.
Florence has more to offer – appreciating all the arts in Uffizi Gallery, taking a stroll along the Ponte Vecchio bridge while visiting Pitti Palace & Boboli Garden next to the bridge, taking a view of the city from Piazzale Michelangelo and many more attractions off the beaten track. During our visit, Uffizi was extremely popular and without a pre-booking to enter, it was almost impossible to get in. Hence, plan your visit and book early. Spending a full 2 days in Florence city did not seem enough, only covering the surface of the city.
Visiting Pisa is an easy day-trip out of Florence, just to peek at the famous leaning tower. From the main train station of Pisa, it is a little walk away about 30 minutes. We were lucky as it was a slightly cloudy summer day when we embarked on the walk towards the tower. Once you reached Piazza del Duomo, the structures greeting you will be the Leaning Tower & the cathedral. During summer, many tourists make a beeline to go up the tower. If the climb is a little daunting, many also uses camera tricks for capturing funny moments to “save” the tower.
Reaching Venice is indeed a dramatic entrance as you are immediately faced with a city right in the middle of canals and water. Small alleys are the norm in Venice, as we struggled to find our hotel amidst the confusing alleys. Cobbled stone ways, tight alleys almost brimming with locals & tourists alike, take caution in walking in the city.
After settling into the hotel, the first place to head towards St Mark’s Square. As its name suggest, it is really a square – where a lot of tourists congregate to take a first view of the canal city. The square is popular with restaurants and cafes, serving coffee and food all day long catering mostly to tourists. At one corner of the square is the Basilica.
Gondola rides are popular activities for all tourists. Any of the stops will get you calls from the gondolier. You have a basic one, with a singing companion with a guitar or ukelele, or even a private gondola bringing you to routes not usually taken. Take it, as I regretted not splurging on a private boat then. Definitely would have been more romantic for a private gondola, with the gondolier and perhaps a companion providing a rendition of Italian romance songs. Sans the other tourists taking gondolas, perhaps. 😀
I believe in recent years, the Italian government does not allow big cruise ship to stop at the city, only much smaller cruise ships. During our visits, it is always amazing how these cruise ships passed by the extremely small canals. Back then, I was actually worried whether the canal is deep enough, whether there will be some small accident to push the cruise ship against the buildings!
Personally, I think a 2-day stop at Venice provides plenty of time to enjoy the city slowly and take a sip (or more) of coffee at the local eateries.