September 27 may have been the saddest day of the year for me... it was the day we flew home from a three-week, whirlwind trip to Italy and Croatia! Besides the jetlag, a fairly good language barrier, and the endless amount of walking we did, our holiday (does it count as a holiday if you come back more exhausted than when you left?) was — to sum it up in a single word: surreal. Everything, from the food to the architecture, was utterly incredible, and something I hadn't ever experienced before. A common cherry tomato or the average-sized parking spot will never quite taste or look the same again.
We flew from Toronto direct to Venice — and if I can recommend anything about an international flight, it's that they're best done at night! As someone who suffers from motion sickness on hour-long plane rides (what a fantastic travel buddy I make), a wonderful little behind-the-ear patch made the eight-hour flight somewhat hazy and oddly enjoyable. I was able to sleep through nearly half of it, and only recall about the same.
Our plan was to rent a car in Venice, and drive directly to the La Spezia area (about a 5 hour drive east from Venice). The website airbnb.com was what we used to book all but one of our accommodations throughout the trip — people from all over the world put up apartments, condos, cottages, rooms, B&Bs and nearly just about anything that classifies as an 'accommodation' for rent. We passed on the opportunity to stay in the back of a street-parked VW van, unfortunately! A way to truly feel immersed in the local culture and landscape is to get out of the hotels and into ‘real life’ living, not to mention help cut the costs of your travels by half.
Locando Del Papa was the most charming little hillside B&B I've ever stayed at: originally a farm settlement, dating back to the 1600s, it has been completely renovated and modernized, making our stay that much more comfortable and unique. Not more than a 45-minute drive to the real gem of the area — Cinque Terre — we drove through scads of tiny villages and townships, frequenting local and authentic eateries and merchants all along the way. Let me just say this: if you have never eaten a stone oven pizza hand-made by someone named Papa Sergio in Italy, you have never had a real pizza! The same can be said about the locally grown produce — who knew a cherry tomato was capable of tasting like an earthy, sumptuous, watery slice of heaven?Before returning to Venice four days later, we traipsed around the incredible sea-side villages of Cinque Terre (Google Images doesn't nearly capture the magnificence these villages possess), rode bicycles along the upper wall of the medieval-esque town of Lucca (where Portrait Of A Lady, starring Nicole Kidman, was once filmed), and climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the city of the same name. Looking out across Pisa from the very top of the tower was breathtaking and amazing. The five degree slant of the structure only added to the slightly daunting experience!
Which brings me back to Venice: A city thought to have been established in the early fifth century, Venice was truly a huge step back in time. We rented a second-floor apartment for two days in the heart of the main island. The interior had original plaster ceilings, Murano chandeliers, and terrazzo floors... an experience all in itself really. The building dated back to the 16th century, and many of the surrounding buildings were even older.
A vaporetto from San Marco Square took us to the island of Murano and we were able to visit a bevy of glass-blowing factories and shops selling the famous local wares. Everyone has heard of Murano glass — it was something else to be able to see where it's actually made. Lying in bed at night listening to the hustle and bustle of local nightlife below, thinking of how the likes of Mozart and Shakespeare had come before us... by day and by night, Venice was such a romantic and memorizing city; if you ever have the chance to visit, you must!
I'd love to write more about Italy, but I think the pictures will speak for themselves — thank you Stephanie Greig for filling in while we were away.
» Crispin Butterfield owns Urban Theory Interior Design, and has been designing residential and commercial spaces in Brandon and abroad for the past 10 years. She welcomes your inquiries at designchick.ca
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 19, 2013