When my odometer circled the 40 year mark my boyfriend thought a trip to Italy would be the perfect gift to celebrate this milestone birthday.  Graciously, he undertook the planning and arrangements for the 13-day Rome-Florence-Venice-Milan trip.  

Other than a trip to the British Isles and Africa I had no international travel experience.  However, by this point in my career I had traveled to most of the US states so I was an experienced traveler with over a million miles logged on domestic flights (too many take offs and landings to count).   The diversity of people and situations that I had encountered during my work had created a rich set of experiences that had left me highly adaptable and open to differing perspectives.  

We landed in Rome for a three day tour of the highlights, beginning at the Vatican.  It’s difficult to explain my feelings upon entering Vatican City and the Vatican Museum for the first time.  As we walked the Gallery of Maps and the Sistine Chapel I literally could not take in all of the beauty and the wealth of knowledge and artistic masterpieces that had been amassed.

Having now returned to the Vatican Museum on three additional trips it is getting easier to assimilate the stunning display of creativity but I still find it overwhelming.  On this first visit the chapel had not yet been fully restored so scaffolding obscured the viewing but the portion that had been restored already demonstrated the brilliance that was to come upon completion. Since 2000, the restoration of the Sistine Chapel has been largely completed leaving it, once again, vibrant and dimensional.  I was reminded of Michelangelo’s masterpiece recently as I watched “The Two Popes” on Netflix.  If you want to take a quick trip to the Vatican I highly recommend this movie.   

After Rome we travel to Florence where after seeing many of the highlights including the Duomo and the statue of David I’m ashamed to say that we spent the remainder of our time shopping and eating.  As we crossed over the Arno River on the Ponte Vecchio (escaped from bombing in WWII) I purchased a gold link bracelet and earrings that I still love and wear to this day.  Upon reaching the secluded Oltrarno neighborhood, home to the Medici’s Pitti Palace, we made our way to the Madova Glove store where our fingers handled buttery soft leathers in a vast array of colors.  After purchases of gloves in varying styles and unique colors we made our way back to the Westin Excelsior to pack for our train journey to Venice.

You can’t help but notice when you arrive into Venice that the architecture is uniquely different with more Moorish than Italian.  Venice’s dominant role in the silk and spice trade brought many influences to this floating city that is typically seen from a boat.  Surrounded by water and approached via the Grand Canal, the constellation of water taxis, gondolas, and a myriad of differing types of boats, each with their own unique purpose, is what cars are to all other cities.

In addition to the water-filled roadways and byways, Piazza San Marco at night was a magical discovery.  Orchestras ring the piazza, each hired by a specific restaurant who has their own hawkers to draw your attention with invitations to sit and enjoy the music.  After browsing our selections we chose a table facing the Palazzo Ducale where we sipped champagne as we enjoyed the music under the nighttime skies of an ancient city.  My Venetian glass candies collection was started on this trip with my first visit to the island of Murano and my collection of Venetian lace tablecloths began during this trip with a visit to Burano island.

We wrapped up our trip with a visit to the spectacular Duomo, shopping, and eating in Milan where we were fortunate to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting.  Given that we were traveling during the Spring shoulder season the crowds were very low and we had ample time to reflect on the drama present in the painting that we were viewing in its original location, the dining room of the former Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.  It was extraordinary to be standing in the exact spot where Da Vinci had stood between 1494 to 1498 as he labored over the composition.  

Amply nourished in spirit and body we departed Milan for the flight home filled with thoughts of the unforgettable moments we had experienced.  I returned to the US eager to return and share those moments with family members.  

Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.

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