It was a cool late night in Venice, the rain strong and sideways as I walked through the downpour. Crossing over a canal bridge I saw this umbrella flapping about under a warm street light, not a single person around.
It reminds of that rainy night every time I use it.
The red buses, distinctive metro signs, and people from the world over. London is everything that is expected and more, although the buildings are a bit shorter than I expected. Sitting in Trafalgar Square listening to the street musicians and feeling the world buzz around you is quite an experience. So much of what surrounds you is historic, and if walls could speak these would be the ones to listen to. All types of food from the world over are served in everything from basic street stalls to posh, experimental restaurants. While an incredible city, my impression was that London lacks the cultural cohesion one sees in the other large European cities. Perhaps this is a good thing- London is after all the financial center of the world, and few other places on earth rival its international vibe.
The sweet smell of fresh bread and poured coffee wafts through the air. The Cathedral of Saint Stephen of Metz was complete in 1550, and to this day towers over the city with its stylized stained glass panels. On Sundays mornings the cobblestone streets branching out of the cathedral square are filled with local art stalls, craft beers, and hand-picked flower bouquets. Situated in northeastern France right on the border with Germany, the city of Metz carries the scars of countless wars throughout the centuries but has retained its essence. Once a thriving economy based on producing the raw materials for rapid industrialization, the area has morphed into a center for tourism, shopping, and technological institutes. Nowhere else have I so starkly felt the boundary between the old and the new- a tempo at once slow and steady but at the same time vibrant and energetic.
There are intersections of history and the force of nature; points in time where humans are reminded of their relative helplessness in the face of giant waves, the ground under their feet trembling, or winds that blow down everything in their path. Pompeii is a living testament to this interaction. In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted and engulfed the entire city in hot ash. Walking through the remains of the old city and then up the slopes to the source of its destruction was a slightly surreal experience. Sometimes events come brush up right up against you, imploring you to think of your own relationship to your environment.
Amsterdam is the real sin city- and with everything that is legal there, visitors get a feeling for what individual responsibility really feels like. Canals run like arteries through the city, with colorful houses stacked alongside. The memories of history and art are dense, signaling back to the golden days of the city a few centuries ago. Most all of the locals spoke more than three languages, effortlessly switching between Dutch to flawless English, and were kind and welcoming. Bicycles are a lifestyle, and it’s important to try and follow the local traffic conventions to try not to piss off (too many) locals.
Florence has a heart of art and culture, a living embodiment of the contributions of Italian greats such as Brunelleschi, Giotto, da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Looking down onto the city from the surrounding hills, the Duomo sticks out as a reminder that this is, in fact, the Florence of old. Michelangelo’s David is breathtaking, arguably one of the best examples of artistic insight and vision ever.
I walked circles around the much-larger-than-expect statue, admiring cold rock that had been contoured and smoothened to appear as flesh. A less-crowded side room was filled with many of master’s unfinished pieces (pictures above), and I was left even more in awe of how David was accomplished. How did Michelangelo take a block of white granite from the mines of Tuscany, and remove everything else revealing the lifelike towering figure?
Sculpture to me is one of the truest forms of art because it is a symbol of the value of taking away as opposed to adding.
Local pubs and eateries line the streets, and one repeatedly finds themselves in a familiar scene- a tall pint of malty, rich Guinness on the table and the hum of loud debates and laughs among friends. No one is a stranger in Dublin. The distinctly Irish 13th-century architecture gives Dublin a feeling of age, and yet the city is youthful and energetically progressive. Ireland is a country of deep history, rolling countrysides, and light-hearted people.
Rome is somewhere that you realize history is not dead- it lives on in the present. Many of the great buildings in the heart of the Roman empire still stand tall today and the philosophies, technologies, and political systems of this civilization persist as the socioeconomic bedrock of modern society. With every step, you can feel a connection to the last 2000 years of human progress- from where we were to where are today. Romans were optimists; they boldly asked “Why not?” and forged ahead. The incredible architectural and aesthetic accomplishments throughout the city are a tangible testament to this spirit.
The warm Spanish sun, a table full of freshly caught seafood tapas and sangria, and ocean waves wooshing ahead. Life is good in the port city of Barcelona- not too slow but not too fast, decorated with the organic architecture of Gaudí and colorful coastal flowers. Around you a truly international sense of fashion, music, and art that. You check yourself when you begin walking too fast through the hilly streets, asking yourself “What’s the rush?”