I returned from Italy last week. The experience was beautiful, amazing, and I learned an amazing amount from this trip. I am working on writing up several postings for this trip, so there will be several upcoming articles based upon my experiences last week. But, the two cities I visited, Venice and Florence, were fascinating and I look forward to visiting both places again in the future. Venice was beautiful. We were really only there for one full day though, so there was a lot that I wanted to see and do that we just didn’t have the time for. Everything I’d heard of Venice was that it was a dirty, polluted, smelly city. As a result, I was expecting something incredibly gritty – maybe something like the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, but without all of the crazy homeless people defecating on the sidewalk. I was thinking the sidewalks and alleyways would be strewn with litter and that the canals would be brown. As a result, my expectations for the ambience were so low, that the city almost felt like Disney in comparison – like an area that was kept clean and sanitized to meet tourists standards, but not in an overly pristine and homogenized way like Disney. It was as though the worlds best set designer had been given the keys to Venice and told “Make it look like a beautiful, romantic ideal, but lived in and vibrant”.One of my favorite things to do while I was there was to just start walking around the neighborhoods, wander down the alleys until I either ended up in a residential courtyard, or found my way back to a main street. Watching the locals walk their dogs, hang their laundry out the windows, picking up on the true atmosphere of the locals and immersing myself in the culture is my favorite part of traveling.