We started our day way before the sun came up, heading to the airport for a 5:50 am flight to Venice. Upon landing in Venice, we were energized by our arrival in Italy. Now, usually you don’t think of the taxi to or from the airport as an attraction, but today it was as we boarded a private water taxi which took us to our hotel. The boat was beautiful and the views from the water were amazing.
After a local lunch that included outstanding pasta, we were joined by Federica, a lovely professional tour guide who has worked with our groups in the past. She led us through Venice providing us with an insider’s understanding of this amazing city. We were all interested to learn how Venice was built and could not fathom that the whole city is basically perched on tree trunks drilled deep into the silt of the marsh.
Visiting Doge’s Palace, we all really enjoyed the unbelievable artwork as well as the stories our guide told us. The Doge was the ceremonial head of state in the Venetian government. The palace was actually the seat of the government containing the Doge’s residence but also housed courtrooms and administrative offices. The architecture and artwork are filled with symbolism that is meant to send messages of justice, strength, fairness, and power tempered with oversight. The entire Venetian system was very focused on checks and balances and an avoidance of too much power being granted to any one person. From the palace, we crossed over the famous Bridge of Sighs to the prison next door.
Heading outside we explored San Marco Square, viewed St Mark’s Basilica, and learned more about the beheadings, which once took place in the square. Then it was back on a boat for us as Federica took us though the beatific neighbourhoods and canals in Venice including the Grand Canal.
While out and srabout, we had our first taste of Italy at a local shop with beautiful pastries and great coffee! The pick-me-up was much needed and was delicious. As we walked and drank our coffee and hot chocolate, we discovered that around every corner there is another church or magnificent building. The dense architecture of the city is really outstanding.
We finally made it to the Jewish ghetto. We learned that the ghetto in Venice was the first ever ghetto and it was established exactly 500 years ago, in March 1516. The word ghetto derives from a similar Venetian word. Through our visit, we understood how the Jewish community’s history in Venice evolved and ultimately how the community was all but destroyed in the Holocaust.
We ended our day with dinner at a lovely restaurant that introduced us to the best dessert in town, the local ice cream, definitely a sweet ending to a wonderful day.
Good Night 🙂
It’s hard to believe that we’ve only been in Italy for two days. Everyone is truly enjoying themselves and we’ve seen, done, and learned so much already. Today we started out in Venice with a lovely breakfast at the hotel and then headed out to catch a waterbus. As we walked to the bus stop, we talked about the logistics of using small low boats for everything in the city – deliveries to stores, garbage pick-up, ambulances, the school bus… All by little boats. The waterbus travelled down the Grand Canal and although it was bigger than the local boats, it still wasn’t particularly big.
Our hotel in Florence is located a few minutes’ walk from the city center which made it easy to drop our luggage and head on out for a full day of touring this beautiful city. The hotel is quite beautiful too actually! As we made our way through the city, we had a chance to appreciate the Mercato Centrale as we walked through it and checked out the seemingly endless stalls of leather products and other locally produced items. Finally, we reached the stunning Great Synagogue of Florence. Before going in, we had a delicious lunch at a lovely dairy Italian kosher restaurant next door. The synagogue was simply phenomenal. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures there, inside or outside the building, but it’s worth googling so that you can see how stunning it is. It may be hard to appreciate from a photo though how incredible the size of the building is – it took our breath away. After climbing the stairs to the museum and balcony, we were able to see just how high the ceiling and dome really are.
Our next stop was the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower – known as the Duomo of Florence. This church is clearly the centerpiece of the city. The construction of the building began in the late 13th century but was only completed a bit more than 200 years later. A UNSCO World Heritage site, this basilica is one of Italy’s largest churches and it’s dome is the largest brick dome in the world ever constructed.
Our last site of the day was the beautiful view point at Piazzale Michelangelo where we watched the beautiful sunset and gazed out on the whole city as the lights went on to illuminate it in the evening. We also had the chance to see the first of several reproductions of the famous David statue (and tomorrow we will see the real thing!) Later in the evening, as we finally made our way back to the hotel, we saw the second reproduction of the David outside the Uffizi Gallery. The Piazza in front of this gallery is filled with amazing statues. Seeing them all lit up at night was really a treat.
Dinner this evening was a two and a half hour, delicious and relaxed meal. The owner of the restaurant was our server and he took a lot of time to explain our options to us and a bit about Italian food. We sampled for different types of mozzarella and enjoyed amazing pasta. I have to say, spending time with your children is really delightful. We all had such a nice time at dinner and it really was the perfect way to end our day.
All the best,
Our third day in this beautiful country was incredible! We began with a visit to the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s famous David statue. I almost felt bad for the other artwork in the gallery as it is all significantly overshadowed – literally and figuratively – by the 17-foot tall masterpiece. We were amazed at the enormity of the statue. We also enjoyed seeing some of Michelangelo’s unfinished pieces that are also on display in the gallery. It was interesting for us to consider that Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he began work on David and he completed it in less than three years.
Gila Cherny described the experience to me by saying, “At the Galleria Dell’Academia, where the magnificent statue of David is located, the rooms were covered in renaissance paintings and statues, all of which portrayed amazing scenes with lots of hidden meaning. The statue of David was located in all its glory in the center of one of the rooms, which was truly magnificent to see up close. It was an incredible and educational experience!”
The remainder of our day was spent outside of Florence on a very full day trip with our wonderful tour guide, Natale, who has guided for Aardvark trips for years. He took us on a scenic drive to the Tuscany countryside pointing out many interesting things along the way and sharing many stories with us. Our first stop was the medieval walled town of San Gimignano with its famous tower residences. The historic center of this town is a UNESCO world heritage site. We had a wonderful time exploring the old city, and especially enjoyed the beautiful views from the hill on which the city is built. Throughout the town, there were shops selling items made from olive oil, beautifully painted pottery, and other locally made crafts. And, we saw the well that supplied drinking water to the family who once lived in the building. Another building we entered was an art gallery and we were stunned at the size of the large room inside. The facade of the building did not suggest such a large space inside.
The town of San Gimignano is also known for the white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, produced from the ancient variety of Vernaccia grape that is grown in the area. With that in mind, we moved on to lunch at a local winery that is owned and operated by a lovely family. Lunch was simple but absolutely delicious and we enjoyed learning a lot about wine, the winemaking process, and Tuscany. Daliya Wald summed up the experience by saying, “After touring the gorgeous area of San Gimignano, we were treated to lunch and a tasting session at a winery. We were greeted by staff who briefly recounted the winery’s history, the family’s story and what makes their products different from other wineries. We sampled wine (rosé, white, red and a dessert wine), young and old cheese, and extra virgin olive oils (regular and with garlic, chili, mushroom, truffle, and rosemary). We were also treated to bread with various toppings, pasta, and almond biscuits. The tranquil atmosphere and views of the rolling hills made the experience that much better, and everyone felt incredibly lucky to be part of this unbelievable experience!”
For the day’s next destination, we moved on to the city of Siena. We had a chance to see the center of the town, which is transformed once a year for a famous horse race. Driving through Siena upon our arrival we also saw the city’s important churches and got a nice overview of the city. As we explored the town, we had the chance to learn a bit more about Italian Jewry and to visit the synagogue that was once the center of a thriving Jewish community. Built in the late 1700’s on the site of an older synagogue, the plain façade gives no indication of the beautiful sanctuary inside.
At the end of the day, we settled into our seats on our tour bus for the remainder of our drive to the city of Rome. Everyone was looking forward to reaching our final city on this journey and exploring it for the remaining two days of the trip.
Our fourth day in Italy would have been perfect if it hadn’t rained all morning, but no weather in the world would have stopped us from making the most of the day. We started off by walking in the Jewish ghetto and exploring the place and its history. We visited the Jewish museum and also the main synagogue. Our guide, Sara, was delightful and we all really enjoyed hearing more about this unique community. She told us about the life of the Jews in Rome throughout history, before World War II and living in Rome today. During lunch, the students had time to explore the area a bit on their own and choose their own restaurants for lunch. We continued the day with a beautiful walk to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Along the way, we saw the Column of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza Colonna. Since the column is only a couple of minutes from our hotel, we quickly realized that there are ancient structures and ruins around every corner in this city. Moving on, we saw the massive and beautiful Piazza Venezia.
Reaching the Colosseum, we met our guide who took us through these unbelievable ancient sites. While exploring the Roman Forum, we spent a lot of time viewing the Arch of Titus and discussing the significance of the imagery of the menorah being carried into Rome after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Throughout the Roman forum, our tour guide gave us insights into the society that had lived and ruled in this area since ancient times. We also visited the site where Julius Caesar was cremated and buried. Throughout the tour, our guide contextualized ancient Roman history with our own Jewish history. For example, we learned that the first Jews to settle in the area of Rome came in the year 161 BCE. They came on behalf of the Maccabees seeking assistance from the Romans with fighting the Greeks. Although they were turned down, they decided to stay and there is archaeological evidence of their synagogue just outside of Rome. Inside the Colosseum, we all marvelled at its construction. To be honest, I’m not sure I have to say any more about this as the Colosseum truly speaks for itself.
Zac Alpert raved about the day saying, “It was exhilarating to see and learn about the Colosseum, the Arch of Titus, and various other structures from the ancient Roman Empire. The sites were amazing to visit and explore. This tour became the highlight of my trip to Italy.”
It was a great day and we are all exhausted. Dinner lasted for hours again as we enjoyed our meal and the conversation between everyone was really interesting.