Nestled in a valley of Cinque Terra and looking out onto the sea, Monterosso creates a connection to nature and exudes a slow, meditative vibe. Unfortunately, I inadvertently counteracted the mellow morning by drinking too much Italian coffee and giving myself the shakes. Nevertheless, a few hours by the sea was restorative and calming before our drive across Italy.
After just two hours in the car, we pulled into chic, clean Verona. We walked on marble paths and passed designer shops. The cobblestone streets had been perfectly maintained. The facades of the buildings were painted to look practically new. The statues were polished.
We found Plazza delle Erbe, a wide open courtyard surrounded by restaurants and storefronts. We strolled through the quaint market of beautifully displayed fruits, vegetables and souvenirs, all sheltered by spotless cream-colored awnings.
The only haphazard thing we saw in Verona came along when we stumbled upon the famous “balcony” and Juliet statue. This tourist-attracting little courtyard seemed to be the place where Verona instructed everyone to get all the naughtiness out of their systems. People would snap photos while feeling up poor Juliet’s right breast, stick their gum to one section of wall, scrawl their personal graffiti inside the tunnel and permanently affix a padlock to a gate. Attention tourists, Verona seemed to say, If you are unable to refrain from any inappropriate or mildly destructive compulsion, please do it here.
This manicured and maintained town was a stark contrast to our next stop – Venice. Dirty, wet, beautiful Venice. We drove into an ordinary residential area on the mainland and were greeted by our friendly and helpful host, Claudio.
After dropping off our things at the house and listening to Claudio’s thorough instructions for the bus system, we headed out to the famous island city of canals.
Oh Venice! What can I say…. She is like a proud woman who fully owns her age. She’s not putting on night creams or injecting Botox or getting nips and tucks to maintain a youthful appearance. Her age gives her strength and wisdom and credibility. As opposed to the pristine and controlled tone of Verona, Venice sends out a very different message to its visitors. This is it, people! What you see is what you get! I’ve been around for over two thousand years, so deal with it! She’ll be damned if she’s going to paint over graffiti or spackle a crumbling facade. The buildings proudly display their character and resilience over time.
After all, Venetians know that with a few strategically placed flower boxes and some colorful shutters, every building can exude its inner beauty.
In a single day our family had breakfast in Monterosso, stopped for lunch in Verona and ate dinner in the heart of Venice. As Brian and I rode the hot, crowded bus back to our rental house with sweaty, sleepy kids hanging on us, our morning by the sea felt like ages ago. We returned to Venice again the next day for a boat ride, more walking, more photos and more amusement at this fascinating city’s many dichotomies. Beautiful, yet rundown. Relaxing, yet pushy. Touristy, yet thoroughly local.
I highly recommend taking the #1 water bus through the city and getting off at the awe-inspiring San Marco Plaza. There are no words to describe it.
Take a break from the sales pitches of vendors, restaurant hosts and peddlers by turning off the main thoroughfares and winding your way through the quiet side streets. It’s okay to get a little lost. You’ll eventually find your way back out.
Seeing the city after dark is also a must. That’s when this city really becomes romantic…or as romantic as you can get with three kids in tow. Venice is an amazing place when the lights are shimmering off the water and the dimness camouflages her rough spots. Like any smart woman of age, she knows the right lighting can work wonders.