By Shivya Nath – The Shooting Star
You’ve been to Rome and Venice – navigated the fairy tale waterways on a gondola, marvelled at the first century engineering perfection of the Pantheon, spent many a romantic evening with aperitivo, and ticked off the famous sights in two of Italy’s most charming cities. Or, you’ve decided that these quintessential Italy experiences are just not for you.
Now get rid of your guidebook and pre-conceived notions, and gear up to immerse yourself differently in the Eternal City (aka Roma) and the home of the Grand Canal (aka Venice). After all, traveling is more than just the seeing of sights; it is moulding yourself to live, eat and celebrate life like the locals.
Navigate the waters of Venice on a kayak
Feel the pulse of the Floating City in its very veins – the maze of winding water channels, in the backdrop of magnificent marble churches and 13th century Venetian architecture. Pick up a kayak and oars from Venice Kayak, chat up a local boatman or gondolier to figure out directions and one way "streets", and when your muscles tire from rowing, find your own private spot on the water to watch a sunset to remember. Perhaps the most intimate way to experience the ageless charm of Venice.
Enroll in gladiator school in Rome!
Ever dreamt of becoming a knight (or dame, for lack of a title for a female knight) in shining armor? Travel back in time to ancient Rome, don a traditional Roman tunic and body shields, arm yourself with a sword, familiarize yourself with age-old rules in the arena, and let combat training transform you into Russell Crowe; no kidding! Take a fun and free two-hour lesson at the Gladiator School of Rome Museum, or go all in at the rigorous two-month course at Gruppo Storico Romano; what’s life without a little adventure anyway?
Mask or no mask, get festive like the Venetians
If you want to shed the impression of Venice as an unfriendly city once and for all, feel the zest of the locals at one of the city’s fascinating festivals. The most popular – of course – is Carnival, when the city appears in masked faces and colourful robes for one of Europe’s biggest masquerade parties!
Some might argue that few faces behind the masks are those of Venetians today, who are more likely to surface on traditional sixteenth century boats, rowing the length of the Venetian lagoon, during the Regata Storica, or in a soulful procession on a temporary bridge across the Grand Canal, to commemorate the saving of Venetians from the plague during Festa della Salute. Either way, the festive side of Venice will make your heart sing.
Nights are for ghost hunting in Rome
Flipping through the pages of Roman history has left you awed but bored; we get it. Find your daredevil side (or battle those butterflies in your stomach, whatever works for you), and hit the dark alleyways of Rome by night, where dark legends of dragons and demons lurk around every corner. On a walking "ghost tour," rub shoulders with tragic stories dating as far back as 3,000 years (and even appearances of revolutionaries carrying their heads in their hands), and when you feel too spooked out, hole up with locals in a 14th century pub. This is sure to be one history lesson you’ll never forget.
Learn the sweet and sour secrets of Venetian cooking
Few people in the world know the secrets to the original, moist, melt-on-your-tongue, perfect Tiramisu, and you can be one of them. Join a cooking class in the house of a Venetian, where family recipes have survived the test of time, or at the cooking school of a renowned local chef, to treat your mind and taste buds with the art of Saor – balancing sweet and sour flavors – in traditional foods like bigoli (Venetian pasta), risotto and fettuccine. What better way to carry a part of Italy within you always?