The Romance & Fashion Capitals

Venice (or ‘Venezia’ in Italian), a city in northern Italy proverbial for tourism, goes by several other names including “City of Masks”, “City of Bridges” and “The Floating City”. However, none of these monikers befits this Italian stunner more than “The Romance Capital”. Indeed, many who have visited Venice left deeply stirred within, intrigued by romantic charm of this breathtaking city on water. Us included, without a doubt.

We couldn’t have visited Venice in weather more awful: there was a deluge during most parts of the day, so much so that flooding was a very real threat. Not that floods (or ‘Acqua Alta’, as known to Venetians) are rare occurrences in Venice. As a matter of fact, it is said that even floods should not deter tourists from visiting Venice; all is required would be a pair of rubber boots and off they go! That said, it was most certainly comforting to know that floods in Venice seldom linger, for they usually recede after 2-3 hours.

Once landed on Venice after a bumpy boat ride on choppy waters, we headed straight down one of the numerous narrow alleys and scanned for a local bistro to satisfy our growling stomachs. It’s bizarre how Singaporeans like to flock together – apart from 2 other couples who decided to have sandwiches for lunch, the rest of us all settled for the same restaurant. That must had been one elated restaurant owner!

Following our exceptionally saporous lunch of pasta, we followed our tour leader around as he showed us the must-see famous sights and sounds of Venice including St. Mark’s Square and Basilica, Bridge of Sighs and Rialto Bridge. Then we were ushered into a small factory to watch a Murano glass-blowing demonstration. Fascinating, that demonstration was. We were then led into the shop front where beautiful pieces of Murano glass graced the shelves. Although not obliged to purchase any of the pieces, we ended up acquiring two pretty tea glasses which, till this day, we still have not found a use for.

Despite the downpour, several of us agreed upon renting two gondole (in Italian, singular – gondola, plural – gondole), complete with two musicians, for a ride along the Grand Canal. We were quite a sight, huddling close together and carrying umbrellas on the gondole rides. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience which did not come cheap. Rental for a gondola generally costs about 100€ for a 1-hour ride, and does not come with musicians at that price. Such a ride can be a rather delightful experience for first-time visitors to Venice, but only if you could somehow forget the price and ignore the stench at some parts of the canal. Remember – concentrate on the novelty of the experience and you’ll be fine!

We left Venice with an inexplicably deep sense of regret. Despite being warned of its touristy aspects, the mister and I fell hopelessly in love with the Romance Capital. T’is a pity that the weather was acting up the whole time during our visit; it vastly limited our activities, and much of the time was spent ducking from shelter to shelter. It is imperative that we revisit.

For the record, we broke 3 brollies during that one day in Venice. The gusts were that strong.

The next morning, we headed for Verona prior to Milan. Verona is a city in Veneto between Venice and Milan which is chiefly known for its Arena and the tourist trap that is Juliet’s House & Balcony. Verona is in actuality far more than that. If anything, it being awarded world heritage site status by UNESCO, predominantly for its urban structure and architecture, should count for something.

The rain seemed to fancy us, for it ‘tailed’ us like hound dogs wherever we went. As a result of getting caught in the rain several days in a row (we were sometimes too indolent to utilise the brolly), I was feeling a little under the weather. The mister, who astutely noticed that I was becoming less chatty and more touchy by the minute, wisely decided upon chilling at a nearby cafe over traipsing about aimlessly.

In no time, we were back in the coach and on our way to Milan. Our first stop was Castello Sforzesco, the symbol of power of the House of Sforza, which reigned in the 15th century after the Ambrosian Republic of Milan collapsed. It now houses several of the city’s museums and art collections.

Milan (or ‘Milano’ in Italian) is touted to be one of the leading fashion capitals in the world, alongside Paris and New York. According to Wikipedia, New York and Milan are considered the economic and true current media fashion capitals of the world while Paris and London are considered symbolic fashion centres of Europe. None of these makes much sense to me since I do not boast to have an impeccable fashion sense. Rather, I often opt for functionality over fashion. Nevertheless, we all know that Milan is home to many world-famous fashion designers – including Versace, Armani, D&G, Prada and Trussardi – who are widely regarded as fashion maestros. And the one place where their boutiques all convene – Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, reputed to the be world’s oldest shopping mall.

Within walking distance are the renowned gothic Milan Duomo and La Scala, Milan’s opera house. The Milan Duomo is the seat of the archbishop of Milan and Milanese, like most of the Italian population, are Roman Catholics. This astoundingly beautiful gothic cathedral apparently took 5 centuries to construct. In contrast, the partially completed gothic-styled Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is rumoured to be taking no more than 150 years (construction is still underway). One could only imagine the many vicissitudes the Milan Duomo must have witnessed over the 500 years of construction.

The Milan Duomo is purportedly also the largest gothic cathedral, and second largest Catholic cathedral in the world (the honour of being the largest Catholic cathedral goes to Seville Cathedral; St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican City is not considered a cathedral and the reasoning eludes me). Statistics and rankings aside, the cathedral casts an imposing presence as the nerve centre of Milan, for most of Milan’s streets either radiate from or circle around it. If you intend to visit Milan, this Milan Duomo is a must-visit. Accord some time to thoroughly explore the cathedral, and if you could, take the walk up to the roof of the cathedral at a small fee of 3,50€ or make use of the elevator for 5,00€.

Tomorrow we would be travelling south-westwards to warmer climate. Can’t wait!

The Carnival of Venice (Carnevale di Venezia in Italian) is held annually where people wear elaborate costumes and masks, then hang out all over town. This is the reason why one sees masks in all shapes and sizes being sold as souvenirs in Venice throughout the year. The Carnival season lasts for several weeks and culminates on Shrove Tuesday, the day of the Carnival. It is a fun time to visit Venice so as to soak in the Carnival spirit as people costume themselves, drink and make merry.


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