A year ago I was in Europe and lately I’ve been thinking over some of the places that were the most memorable from that trip. If you read my travelogue posts from back then you already know the details of each place I visited, but I thought I’d do a series of short writing pieces over the next three or so weeks where I give my thoughts on particular cities or regions as a whole. I’m not going to talk about every location; just the ones that have been on my mind. The order that I write about them will be in the approximate chronological order of when I visited and each writing piece will feature two locations with a photo from the trip to accompany each of them. As a bonus, at the end of each writing piece I’ll note where I was, one year ago that day.
Florence is sometimes referred to as the birthplace of the Renaissance. It is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, and for good reason. Michelangelo’s David, the Florence cathedral, and the old city hall are just a few of the many attractions people visit Florence to see. All of those things are great and I make sure to set aside time for them, but my first priority in Florence is just one thing: gelato. Florence is the holy land of gelato and when I come to Florence I’m guaranteed to eat a few thousand calories worth of it before leaving. You can hardly walk 100 feet in any direction without passing a gelato shop, but not all gelato is made equal. The best gelato in Florence, in my opinion, is on the south side of the Arno River, which can take a little while to walk to from the city center but is completely worthwhile. My personal pick for the best gelato shop in town is an establishment called La Carraia, but with such a large selection of shops I would encourage people to try lots of places and find their own favorites. Also when you’re on the south side of the Arno be sure to walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, where you’ll find a large parking lot with probably the best view in the city.
The city of dreams. Venice is my favorite city in Italy, which doesn’t make much sense considering how expensive and inconvenient it is. Everything costs more there, you really need a detailed map to find anything other than the most prominent of landmarks, the only public transit options are the expensive waterbuses, and during the day sections of the city are completely overrun with tourists. And yet in spite of all that, Venice has this almost magic quality to it. The canals, the architecture, the beauty of the city both during the day and the night; it’s not like me to get mesmerized, but Venice does it. Most people, however, only see a small part of Venice, since most people day trip into the city from the mainland or they arrive on a cruise ship. Staying on the main islands is very expensive, but it is one of the few cases in travel where splurging gets you something significantly better than the cheaper option. You get to see Venice when most of the tourist horde is gone, and if you stay several days you can get out beyond the tourist zones to really appreciate the entire city. Walk out east to the tail end of Venice (the main islands are shaped similar to a fish) and see the quiet residential zones, or take the waterbus out to the more distant island clusters. There is so much more to Venice than San Marco Square and the Grand Canal, and the more effort you put into exploring the city, the more it rewards you for your efforts.
On this day, one year ago, I arrived in Split, Croatia. I was staying at the same hostel I had stayed at back in 2012, and when I knocked on the door I found that the same lady was still running it. “I have returned.” I said. “So you have.” she replied.