07 May, 2014

Italy!

Once again I've been AWOL recently, this time with very good reason: I was in Italy! (And then after that I have no excuse for the continued dry spell... Whoops!)

My host family was away (well, at least the girls were) for the entire two weeks of school vacation around Easter, so I got two entire weeks off from au-pairing. The first week I spent mostly in Karlsruhe, with a day trip to Mannheim on the side. I went with one of my au pair friends, Emily, with the intention of going to the planetarium (spoiler alert: we didn't make it to the planetarium).

The main attraction in Mannheim was a huge park called the Luisenpark, which has so much to offer. Most of it is like a huge garden, with nice landscaping, a lake, playgrounds, a sculpture garden, a Chinese tea house, a miniature zoo, and many other things, including, of course, a gift shop. Emily and I didn't even make it to most of it, but we did walk around quite a bit and take a boat ride on the lake. We also visited the mini zoo at the Luisenpark, the Mannheim castle, and a church in the center of the city. All in all, I liked Mannheim, and I would like to go back there a visit a few more things (including the planetarium next time).

But, this post is about Italy...

Maxim and I spent a little over a week in Italy in total. From Friday to Wednesday we stayed in a small town called Perticara, in a house owned by Maxim's friend's parents. Maxim and I were joined by the aforementioned friend, his parents, and his sister and her boyfriend. The first Friday hardly counts as a day of vacation, since it took us 13 hours to drive from Karlsruhe to Perticara. Normally that trip takes about 8 hours, but we ran into traffic seemingly at every turn. Part of the drive that did not include traffic was driving through the Swiss Alps, which was quite an experience. The mountains were beautiful and huge, but the windy roads made me feel slightly ill.

Finally arriving at the house was such a relief. We arrived in the dark so we couldn't really see our surroundings, but in the morning we were greeted by the view. The house is situated on top of a hill, and from the house there is a great view of the surrounding valley and mountains. Unfortunately I didn't take pictures that day and then the rest of the time is was foggy.

The days in Perticara were relaxing. We ate, we strolled around the surrounding town of Novafeltria (getting there involved ridiculously windy, nausea-inducing roads), drank Italian wine, and ate lunch at local restaurant on Easter Sunday (coincidentally, the restaurant is owned by a German). Then, on Wednesday (my birthday), Maxim and I left for what I saw as the main attraction: VENICE!

I'll leave out all the details about getting there, finding parking, taking the bus, and settling into our apartment and just go right for the pictures. Venice is so beautiful and unique, it feels like a dream that I was even there.







Maxim took this one.

And this is only a fraction of what we saw. I've gotten to a point as a tourist where I just don't feel like taking pictures anymore. I would rather enjoy something fully with my own eyes and be present in the new place I'm exploring, rather than spending all my time behind the lens of a camera or the screen of an iPhone. I didn't necessarily take pictures of the most touristy things (notice the lack of pictures of Piazza San Marco, St Mark's Basilica and the Rialto Bridge, arguably the most sought-after sights in Venice). I generally took pictures when something specific caught my attention, like the leaning tower in the top photo or the curve of the canal in the second to last photo.

We were only in Venice for two nights, but I thoroughly enjoyed the short time we spent there. I didn't really have much of a plan going in (planning for Venice was my job, since Maxim was studying for an exam in the weeks leading up to the trip), but that was fine with me. All I really wanted to do was wander around among the canals, eat gelato and pizza, and soak in the sights. That's precisely what we did, and it was wonderful.

It always astounds me when I go to old cities that all of what I can see was built before there were modern machines to help the building process. It was all done by hand or with (relatively) simple mechanical devices, without electricity and without motorized equipment. This awe was amplified even more in Venice, when I thought about the fact that Venice is built on water and all the foundations of the buildings had to be submerged and reinforced to withstand the pressure and power of the water. All of the original underwater foundations are built of wood, a building strategy that would be inconceivable today, and yet they are still standing after hundreds and hundreds of years. I think in today's technological age we tend to regard anything pre-Industrial as primitive and less effective, but all you have to do is look around Venice to realize that that just isn't true. Before modern machines, people were still inspired to build beautiful and powerful structures, whether for practical purposes or to show off their wealth, and they didn't let a lack of "modern technology" stand in their way. We are all the more fortunate for that because we get to see the beautiful and awe-inspiring traces they left behind.

And I in particular felt very fortunate that I got to spend my last evening in Venice marvelling at this view:

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