The first time I visited Italy, I travelled alone on a whistle stop tour of the country’s most famous cities and landmarks. I flew out to Venice airport and immediately thrust together with the other travellers and introduced to my female travelling companion Sarah, who was also single and travelling alone. I shared rooms with her on the tour as it saved money. When I look back now, I felt so brave, a female touring Italy alone.
We took a boat taxi into the heart of Venice and I immediately fell in love with the place. The tightly packed streets, winding and curving their way through the water thoroughfare was simply charming to me and I decided that this was going to be a destination my Beyond Characters in the book series would definitely be travelling to at some point in the series.
We visited the Doge’s Palace, St Marks Cathedral, and The Florian Café to listen to the little orchestra play. The hustle and bustle of St Mark’s Square was incredible with the hourly chime from the bell tower the place was just magical to me. I had my first taste of Venetian gnocchi, a rich and creamy sauce rather than the usual tomato based one. Oh my lord! It was heavenly and I’ve been to so many Italian restaurants since and no one seems to know the recipe. Although, I do make my own version which is a close as I can get to the original.
I loved all the little antique style masquerade and gift shops too and I fell in love with the Gondolier who sang ‘Amore’ as he punted through the little canal ways. I thought it all so very romantic, even if I was there, travelling alone. So quaint and cute. I didn’t go over the bridge of Sighs until my second visit as I only had one day in Venice on my first trip, which is why I had to return and spend the whole week there, just to soak in the atmosphere and I hope I captured the beauty of the city in Vampire Sorceress, the third book in The Beyond Series.
As I caught the boat taxi back down the Grand Canal at night, I looked up at the apartments in the grand merchant’s houses and saw chandeliers and marble walls adorning the interiors and decided there and then that Venice deserved another trip so I could look around these sumptuously decorated buildings.
I then went on to Rome, stopping off at Pisa along the way. I didn’t go up the leaning tower as I suffer from vertigo at the best of times, but I did go into the little Baptist bell tower and was fortunate enough to hear a demonstration of the acoustics in the place as a monk arrived and began this haunting Grigori chant which echoed and reverberated off the walls of the building. Very spooky and atmospheric.
Although I didn’t think as a city Rome was a pretty as Venice, but it certainly made up for it with museums, coliseums and amazing Piazza’s. So we had the trip around the coliseum and the old Roman city, and though I find this history interesting, I do love the comparisons of then and now.
I went to look the Castle of Angels where the Popes used to reside and the Piazza Navona which was once the Chariot racing arena of ancient Rome. I was particularly excited about the tour company arranging a trip to the Vatican, which was just amazing. Incredibly beautiful inside with untold wealth in antiquities and the Sistine chapel was awesome. To think Michelangelo had painted the ceiling and all the cardinals from around the world would gather there to choose their new Pope.
St Peters was a pilgrimage for Nuns! That’s all I can say. The Cathedral was impressive, but I’ve never seen such a huge gathering of nuns, all dressed in slightly different versions and colours of their uniform from around the world crossing themselves, kneeling and praying and kissing effigies.
I was fascinated because I’m drawn to worlds that I think are quite secretive and no-one really enters unless invited or become a member, so I’m always quite inquisitive about lives and people I will probably never normally mix with, purely because of circumstance. I’m like that with all secret societies, gypsies, Freemasons, Royalty, witches and vampire covens! Exploring and learning about worlds I probably will never get the opportunity to enter really does feed my imagination.
The tour then took me to Assisi, where we saw lots of Monks, who had taken a vow of silence, just going about their daily chores. One actually nodded and smiled at me which I felt quite honoured that he’d even acknowledge the ordinary folk who sin on a daily basis! I just remember with Assisi that St Francis was from there, the monastery was dark with lots of cellar-type chambers and a very steep hill to walk up. It nearly killed me.
I then headed out to Florence. The Ponte Vecchio bridge was filled with tightly packed boutique shops piled precariously on top of the bridge.
The Medici Palace was amazing. It doesn’t look much from outside and the decadence of the interior was amazing. Imagine that this was once filled with rich materials and sumptuous furniture too. The finest in Italy. A very powerful family of it’s time. And I could now imagine vampire and witches covens living in such luxury in my books.
Florence is beautiful and the Uffizi museum more than makes it a great city to visit, I saw all the greats, Michelangelo’s David statue, Botticelli, Raphael’s. Beautiful and I could have stayed in that vast art gallery all day. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio bridge with its little shops and I ate in the main Piazza della Signoria, full of street artists, musicians and beautiful marble statues.
Naturally, Florence did also end up in my book Vampire Sorceress as Amethyst and Galleano self-indulgently had a flying tour of Italy. The Medici Palace was amazing and I think I managed to cram a lot into that day, but I still think Venice has the edge. I feel like I come home when I return to Venice. Maybe I lived there in a previous life!
So when I returned to Venice, I visited the surrounding islands such as Murano, famous for its glass blowing and amazing glass ornaments and chandeliers, Burano, famous for its brightly coloured fishing houses, Casa Nova’s House on the edge of the water and finally Lido. An ultra-modern island where the rich and famous live. It has its own beaches and trendy bars and we stayed to sunbath for the day and party on the beach at night. Needless to say the Lido beach party crops up in the latest Beyond novel – Lycan Lamia too. God I love Italy!