Gay Florence, Venice and a Thing Called ‘Sensory Overload’

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

I have always thought that there are few things better than excess; however there are times that an interesting human phenomenon called “Sensory Overload” can occur. (Yikes!) When one or more of the body’s senses experience over stimulation from the environment with sights, sounds, emotion, a breakdown of some sort can materialize. First diagnosed in the early 1900’s and studied extensively in the 1970’s the syndrome is somewhat a common occurrence in either Florence or Venice. While varied symptoms can occur when this is experienced, the “constant state of arousal” is why I always enjoy taking people for a couple of days and nights to both destinations. I suppose it is true that I have a hard-on for travel on several levels.

Florence and Venice, thus far have not really nurtured the “Gay-Friendly” moniker. As far as I am concerned, both are excused from not being a place famous for Pride Parades or with Rainbow Flags flying. (Yet) Each has a definite “gay presence” but only a handful of genuine gay clubs, bars, and restaurants. Florence has long been a key destination for travelers looking for romance and a taste or authentic Italy. Back when European travel was only for the very wealthy and polished, Florence was part of “The Grand Tour”. The capital of Tuscany, Florence lies on the River Arno and is the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and today is still flourishing as a cultural center, capitalizing on the ancient architecture and creative arts that fuse past and present. Speaking simply as a guy lucky enough to be born gay, I can only say that Florence is one of the most visually spectacular places I have ever laid eyes on! I love that over stimulation! On my first visit to both cities, (years apart) my knees buckled on several occasions. (It happened twice in Paris too) But, I digress! Florence is best experienced on foot. The narrow streets and welcoming piazzas are everywhere along with the grand halls and wonders like the Uffizi Gallery with its unbelievable treasures. Wander to the Accademia with its naked masterpiece, David. (The one with the huge hands and small dick) I must tell you that the experience of being near enough to touch Michelangelo’s most famous sculptural work is worth the trip alone. The marble flesh seems so warm, real and ethereal. Is this another symptom of sensory overload syndrome? I have no problem either way but one can only define it if he experiences The David up close and personal.

There are plenty of Gay men and women in the crowds of tourists and locals all over town. While there is no geographical Gayborhood or major Gay nightlife, Perhaps it is because Florence is so special that nothing more is necessary. In other words, they are both my kind of towns and Gay is perfectly acceptable. Perhaps Gay Florence or Venice is redundant. No reason for separation necessary. Everyone is there for the art and breathtaking beauty. The cafes, restaurants and piazzas are simply full of every type. I met Paulo having an espresso at the Piazza del Duomo and Scott on the Ponte Vecchio. Everyone seemed very open, genuine and I saw plenty of handholding and sincere kisses everywhere. I certainly had no problem meeting playmates and I can be a bit of a dunce sometimes. Is it sensory overload yet again or simply the magic of Florence and Venice?

My main degree is in Art so I am familiar with many pieces that I see in museums all over the world. I really enjoyed roaming the halls of the many galleries (painted masterpieces themselves) in some of the palatial housing that reorganized itself to show the finest art anywhere. I loved taking people with me and watching them as they saw original works that they recognized without knowing the artist, title or the fact that it has hung in the Uffizi and others for hundreds of years! On more than one occasion someone might say “Good Lord! This place is fucking amazing”! Or “This place makes me dizzy”! I really enjoy that.

A couple of days in Florence pairs beautifully with a few more in Venice. Two nights in either town should do it unless you are going to look at more in the area. Florence is close to Sienna which is just an exquisite “brown-town” and Pisa with its leaning tower. There is an old saying that “There is more to Pisa than a leaning tower but not much more”. There is a great hotel in Florence that I just love, “The Grand Hotel Baglioni”. Very near the train station and four stars. Very well priced and very warm, old-world and very comfortable, the view from the glass enclosed or open air roof restaurant is just stunning. People come from all around to have a drink and to succumb to the view. One summer I remember having drinks out on the restaurant terrace and it had to be one of the most romantic and beautiful evenings of my life! The moon was full and I had that arousal thing going on. It had nothing to do with architecture and art this time.

A two hour train ride from Florence to Venice is like something from a great foreign film (or “summertime” with Katherine Hepburn). One cannot reach the heart of Venice by train, only by boat. Water taxi or Gondola would be your choices to make an entrance worthy of Greta Garbo or James Bond. Venice is actually built on a series of islands (117 to be exact) in an enormous lagoon. Most people associate Venice with its legendary “Drawing Room of Europe” reputation when courtesans and masked noblemen romped over the many bridges and through the palazzos. Piazza San Marco, or Saint Mark’s Square, the heart of Venice, is interesting in that while The Leaning Tower is probably “the” Icon of Italy, more films, paintings, advertisements and legends are created around this mystical neighborhood. Right across the alley from the famous old Hemingway haunt, “Harry’s Bar” is a hotel I would recommend The Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal. Originally built as a palace back in the time when guys like Casanova cavorted there, the hotel’s location is superb and the main restaurant, overlooking the world’s most famous water-way is a favorite of visitors as well as local residents. The food, view and wines will have you pinching yourself more than once. A very brief stroll will find you in St. Mark’s Square which is perfect for a “night cap” or late night espresso. Completely inaccessable by car, on a summer day, the square is alive with pigeons, tourists and all of the “hub-bub” you would expect from one of the most famous squares in the world. By night, several orchestras, quartets and other musicians outline the area with cafes and make-shift cocktail lounges in front of each. You are tempted by each to have a seat and a drink under the stars with some of the most glorious music and scenery heaven can allow! Warning! After one of the most fabulous Italian dinners ever and your third martini not to mention your share of a bottle of Chianti Classico, should you walk into Piazza San Marco and suddenly are overtaken by the strains of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” you will know what it feels like to really be alive! Also how embarrassing it is to be a grown man crying in public. Happily, Italian guys do it all the time. The square generally floods a foot or so in the early part of the day in late autumn and is really a lot of fun. Nothing stops the Venetians!

Surprisingly, Venice does not have a hopping late night scene. There certainly are a few well situated Gay bars, clubs, discos and saunas catering to women and men exclusively and individually, but this is more for the locals. Most of the revenue for Venice comes from day-trippers and cruise ship tours. You will find few places of note still open after midnight. While the Gay clubs and taverns can be lively, Venice is more about beauty and romance. I remember once arriving after 10 pm and not finding many kitchens open, so I drank my dinner. If you are going to see double what city could be better? I have been there alone and with a companion and I can tell you that both experiences are really something. Both were memorable. That’s why I am a true “versatile” I suppose.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Like most really special, one of a kind places; Venice and Florence have a “gay element” right from the get-go. That’s simply the way it is. To ask if the destinations are appealing to Gay men and women is an understatement. We are as acceptable and catered to as everyone else who lives there or visits. To ask if there is a gay presence (in spite of the fact that there are not many Gay bars and clubs) is like asking if a fashion convention will be attended by any gays. These two standout spots are, to me, essential to visit at least once. As an artist, a foodie, a gay man, a spiritual guy, someone who really appreciates the unique version of perfection in its imperfection, they are hard to beat. For us lucky gay men and women I believe that we will see and feel things in Florence and Venice that other more conservative, less sensitive people will not. Just one benefit of being Gay. The others simply don’t know what they don’t know.

Read Related Posts...