Innsbruck, Austria, Venice and Verona, Italy
Two of the pleasant surprises of this journey were our lunch stops in Innsbruck and Verona. While neither of these were highly lauded destinations, our group agreed that they were full of charm and interesting sights. We could have spent more time in each of them.
Entering Innsbruck was like dropping into a fairy tale. The majestic Alps surround the city as if holding it in a cupped palm making every backdrop gorgeous. The old town architecture didn’t disappoint. There were buildings in both the baroque and gothic styles. Quaint streets were filled with shops and cafes, gelato and strudel. My lunch included a deli-style sandwich on a pretzel bun. Delicious!
We visited Schloss Ambras, a Renaissance castle built by the Archduke of Austria, Ferdinand II, for his non-noble wife, Henrietta. The castle was built on the foundations of previously-existing buildings giving it an irregular shape. The lack of symmetry is disguised by the use of architectural painting. Quite unusual, but charming. There is an extensive museum containing a fascinating collection of armor. Also, peafowl roam the grounds, one of which is white and makes a beautiful scene when he opens his tail to show off to visitors.
We visited Verona after a full day in Venice (we’ll discuss that city later). Verona, like Innsbruck, captured my group’s imagination. A beautiful city, it boasts a river, a city wall, and an arena modeled after the Roman Coliseum. The pizza we ate there was phenomenal, and the marketplace sold fresh fruit, beautiful clothing items and assorted souvenirs among other things. We enjoyed people watching during a relaxed lunch and walking to the swiftly flowing river as we ate our gelato.
Venice, the city of canals, bridges and romance. We approached the islands (Venice sits on more than one.) via water taxi, enjoying the view and the cool morning air. Our group oriented ourselves in the Piazza de San Marco near the San Marcos Cathedral, a beautiful building modeled after a church in Istanbul. The Gospel-writer, Mark, is buried there. The system of canals, streets and bridges is quite beautiful. We enjoyed our ride in a traditional gondola. Gondolas are constructed from a single piece of pecan wood. The one we rode in was decorated with silver horses and brocaded seats.
The baked lasagne I ate in Venice near a quiet canal was the best I’ve ever eaten – cheesy perfection. Of course, we ate gelato, twice. We also visited two of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal, Rialto and Academia. Were I to return to Venice, I would venture across those bridges onto the other islands. The areas around the Piazza de San Marco are extremely touristy (not surprising since the majority of their economy is tourist-based) and crowded. Also, there is a sort of patrol that forces you to stand up. Sitting on the ground is not allowed in the Piazza! Cafe seating is at a premium and ordering overpriced menu items is required to secure it.
Navigation is difficult until you learn to watch for the signs pointing to major landmarks (Saint Mark’s Square, main bridges) on the sides of buildings. If you know the direction you wish to go as it relates to the major landmark, the signs will point you in the right direction. With the warren of tiny streets and crisscrossing canals, losing oneself in the midst of the city is quite an easy task.
One of the main reasons I was excited about traveling to Italy was to see if I could understand the language with my Spanish background. I found I was able to converse, though many words differed slightly. I could read the signs and understand basic vocabulary. I loved the lyrical cadence of Italian and enjoyed listening to others speak. Native speakers were receptive to my attempts and never rude as I tried out my rudimentary phrases.
Of the three places featured in this segment, I would choose to return first to Austria. I fell in love with the country and the people in my short time and interaction there. I definitely placed it on my list of locations to revisit.
Have you been to or wish to visit any of the cities or countries I mentioned? Which ones? Did you enjoy them? Where would you like to return given the opportunity or where would you go first if granted your heart’s desire? Let me know in the comments below. If you have questions, send those too! I look forward to connecting with you.
Next week: Switzerland