I did not know that I had started to tire a little of Florence (yes, that is indeed possible) until I left for a trip to Venice and came back more relaxed and with an extra spring in my step. Much of my needed break from Florence had to do with the weeks and weeks of rain we have had; and even if it had not been raining in Florence, it had been grey and gloomy. I am used to bright sunshine in February in California, and the grey moody weather was taking its toll on my energy. Florence’s old center is also dominated by hard surfaces – all stone with not even the tiniest lawn or even trampled earth around the roots of a tree in the middle of a square or squished between a house and the road.
Venice in contrast felt like a spa weekend: not only was it sunny but the sun was also reflected off the water – twice the sparkle and brightness after weeks of grey. Florence for me is the noise of tourist groups wandering below my apartment, scooters rattling over the cobblestones at neckbreaking speed, and drunken partygoers bellowing in echoing alleys. Venice, however, was the sound of lapping waves and seagulls. It took me a while to figure out the relative silence – no cars, no large city buses, and no scooters. Not even any bikes! And February meant fewer tourists, which meant even more peace and quiet.
Instead of the cobblestones of Florentine roads, the shimmering waves of the canals created a soft surface and with their movement seemingly alive. Taking a vaporetto (water bus) reminded me of holidays on the seaside, and the gleaming wooden motorboats and gondolas created the impression that everyone here was on holiday. Gliding nearly completely noiselessly along in a gondola through small empty back canals felt like meditation. The waves rocked the gondola soothingly while our gondolier hummed Italian folk tunes (no, we did not pay extra for the singing; some people whistle while they work, and I guess our gondolier liked to hum).
Florentines and tourists alike are not willing to make room on the tiny sidewalks in Florence. A walk home on busy evenings often seems like a game of chicken – who is willing to get out of the way before we actually run into each other? Pedestrians in Venice seemed more relaxed and willing to make room; since there were no cars or bikes, even smaller alleys seemed large enough to hold pedestrians (at least during off-season). In Florence, even the smallest alley is a passageway for at least scooters and bikes.
In Florence, the dominant building color is ocher, or maybe better called a Tuscan brownish yellow. Venice seemed brighter. That may have a lot to do with the weather since it was actually sunny, but a lot also with the reflective surface of the many waterways. Buildings were also brighter – many more white accents on the outside, bright red and orange walls, seaside-green shutters, and red-and-white or azure-and-white striped mooring poles.
While Florence seems to have party dwellers till early into the morning, Venice seemed to fall asleep a few hours after sunset as very few people were walking the streets at night as the full moon rose and the cold wind from the Grand Canal whipped open coats and jackets.
Back from Venice, I can still feel the rocking motion of imaginary waves when I close my eyes as my body has adjusted to the motion of rocking boats over the last few days. I feel more mellow, and even the Florentine sidewalk congestion did not bother me on my walk back from the train station to my apartment; I feel like I just returned from a spa weekend as my sun-kissed cheeks glow and as I move through the throng of people with zen-like calmness (lets see how many days that will last).