Viva, Europa: A Continental Escapade (Part I)

As someone involved in the creative and lifestyle industries, I have to constantly expose myself to beautiful, inspiring ideas: in the hopes of eventually referencing them when the right project comes along. There are many ways to find your inspiration. You could take a pretty picture, eat at a nice restaurant, or stroll along the streets to find that sometimes evasive muse. As for me, there’s one place that ticks all the boxes when it comes to looking for inspiration: and that’s Europe.

A few months ago, I’ve had the pleasure of travelling once more to my favorite continent together with my family. From Italy, to Germany, to Belgium, to France, we spent a little more than 2 weeks exploring the finest of what its grand cities and quaint towns have to offer.

The very first stop on our roadmap was Italy. I’ve covered this country pretty extensively before in my previous blogs, going on several fashion and fine-art themed holidays in Rome, Milan, and the Amalfi Coast, respectively. Now, get to know how our family spent another few days in the land of pizza and pasta, this time from the spellbinding town of Assisi, to the grand canals of Venice.

Stepping off our shuttle, we arrived at Assisi simply astounded. Finally, we could witness one of Italy’s most revered towns, which was the birthplace of Catholicism’s most prominent saints, St. Francis. While our transportation went fast, we were ready to slow down, and admire the place’s wonderfully preserved landmarks.

 

Since the 13th century, pilgrims have been flocking to this town to venerate St. Francis, a friar who notably abandoned his family’s wealth to better serve the poor. In turn, a basilica was built in his honor, aptly named the Basilica di San Francesco. A walk inside actually reveals plenty of frescoes and paintings, rivalling numerous art museums in the continent.

From the basilica, we then headed to the town’s gorgeous streets, which themselves have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, one could notice plenty of artisan shops dotting its main roads, many of which sell local crafts such as ceramics, or regional specialties such as cured meats and cheese. We heard that Umbria, a region which Assisi is part of, is celebrated for its longstanding cured pork tradition.

 

Having a sampled a bit of Assisi’s delicacies, we decided to indulge in a more generous serving of their renowned cuisine. After a quick discussion, we then headed to Ristorante da Cecco, a family-run restaurant known for their stewed porks, parmesan-topped beef tenderloins, and grilled rosemary lambs. Perfetto!

 Right after our filling lunch, we happily hopped onboard our shuttle, leaving Assisi for our next destination: Pisa.

First coming into importance under the Roman Empire, Pisa went on to flourish in the 10th century as a formidable commercial port, even rivalling other cities such as Venice and Genoa. Still, its most notorious landmark is the Torre Pendente, commonly known to many as The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Of course, we all couldn’t help but strike a pose as we took our photos.

Nearby, we also came to see its surviving Romanesque architecture, as the tower itself is situated in a complex that houses the local Duomo (church), Baptistry, Campanile, and the Ospedale Nuovo di Santo Spirito (hospital).

However, we then had to go back to our hotel, leaving the following day for probably the most enchanting experience on our tour’s Italian leg. The canals and chic mosaics of Venice were calling!

Touchdown Venice! In this sprawling metropolis, more than 100 small islands form a charmingly built city. There are no roads, just canals, all of which are lined with Renaissance and Gothic-era palaces. We landed right at its scenic port, curious to see what treasures lie ahead.

At the top of our Venice itinerary was the Piazza San Marco, the city’s principal public square which locals affectionately call La Piazza (“the Square”). Historically, this is where Venice’s social, religious, and political institutions converge, in a painting-like layout filled with great arches and meticulous marble decorations. Indeed, it’s such a picturesque venue that even Napoleon himself deemed it “the drawing room of Europe”. Based on the glorious architecture we’ve seen, I would definitely agree.

A trip to Venice wouldn’t be complete without a romantic gondola ride, so my family and I went ahead and called for one of these beautiful vessels to fetch us, and tour us around the city. As someone who prefers cultural sightseeing to outdoor adventures, this is an experience that I’d highly recommend to put on your travel bucket list. A gondola ride will simply take your breath away.

An often-overlooked aspect of Venice is its cuisine: its restaurants being less prominent compared to other high-profile eateries in Rome and Tuscany. Locals also tend to avoid many cafés in the center of town, mainly due to the mobs of tourists looking for a quick bite. Yet should they want to indulge, they head here, to the Caffe Florian. Founded in 1720, it is not only Italy’s first café (favored by artistic icons such as Charles Dickens, Goethe, Lord Byron, and Marcel Proust), but also its most beautiful.  I could easily stay all day staring at its glittering neo-baroque décor and 19th century wall panels, many of which depict the city’s histrorical heroes. The star of the show of course was its food, which includes cakes, parfaits, and pastries prepared without any pretensions, just the way Venetians like it.

 

We then headed out to sounds of classical music, fitting for such an elegant historic venue.

Right after, I left my dad and son to their own little touring trip around the city – while I met up with my old friend Eunice, who knew more about Venice than I did. Curious to learn more about her travel insights, I decided to join her for another round of touring through Venice’s canals.

 

So our walking (and boating) tour begins!

Eunice and I took a stroll towards the marvelous Grand Canal, Venice’s main water traffic corridor. Lined with more than a hundred buildings, this area demonstrates the cultural richness created when the city was still an independent republic.

This is because from the 13th to 18th century, Venice’s noble families showed off their wealth by building beautiful palazzos, each one competing to be more extravagant than their next-door neighbor. While I wouldn’t advocate keeping up with the Joneses, it’s amazing to see how the labors of their competitiveness survive (and thrive) to this day.

The meticulous brick details and arches are even more stunning up close, especially as one goes through the narrower channels of the city.

Venice is also a showcase for artistic innovation. At the annual Venice Biennale, hundreds of pavilions from around the world exhibit the best of their art, architecture, cinema, dance, music, and theater scenes – the result of thousands of hours of research and practice so their exhibitions are in line with the prescribed theme. After exploring inside, Eunice and I went ahead for a little break, with a glass of wine at hand of course!

While we toured around on foot, my dad and son had their own Venetian escapade by gondola.

For our next stop, Eunice and I headed to the L’Ombra del Leone Café, conveniently located by the Grand Canal. With offerings such as crispy prawns, tasty pastas, fruit bowls, and crisp white wine, the place makes for a pleasant lunch alongside the world-class view.

The owners were also more than happy to have their pictures taken with us.

Full from our delicious dinner, Eunice and I decided to hop onto another gondola ride to explore the city. Night completely fell, transforming Venice’s colorful palazzos into bright golden structures that reflect like paintings onto its canals.

Few cities compare to such sights – maybe Paris, maybe Budapest, but there’s really no place like Venezia. While it would be romantic to see more of its glimmering canals, it was also nice to tuck into bed and call it a night. So, I bid my friend Eunice goodbye, and went our separate ways. We’d definitely meet up soon.

Waking up, Venice’s sunshine turned into a slight grey. I thought to myself: “maybe this is a sign to move onto another place, and inspire myself even more.” And so, together with my loved ones, I did.

Stay tuned for another preview of my family escapade in Europe! There’s so much to see, hear, and taste that it would be hard to cover each and every leg. For more details on the experiences to witness in this European tour – head on over to http://worldjuanderer.com/juanderlist/essential-europe-2/, or inquire with our travel specialists today. #WithYouWhileYoureOutThere

 

 

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