Over the last two months, I’ve adapted my lifestyle to living in France where reliance on public transportation trumps cruising down the highway in your own car. I’ve been in more planes, trains, busses, Ubers and taxi-cabs than I ever have over the course of such a small period of time. Having Paris at my disposal and being so centrally located in Europe has also influenced how I spend my time on the weekends. While I do miss going to the Greenbelt for a hike in Austin, walking down South Congress with some friends for a Sunday brunch, and studying on the lake at Mozart’s, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give up to have the mind-opening adventures I experience when I travel to a new country.
I wrote to you about (almost) losing my passport in Munich, but since then, I’ve visited Milan and Prague. I’ve been trying something new by capturing some of the moments of my trip on film, so here are a select few of my favorites.
Buonasera! How wonderful it is to be back in the states and in a land where all the signs are in English and I don’t have to rely on my limited French/Italian and public transportation to get me around. And how absolutely grateful I am to be typing this from my MacBook Pro, fully equipped with a USA standard QWERTY keyboard, no longer the European standard keyboard with foreign accents and different functions per keystroke. As you may have noticed, I didn’t blog my last day in Venice and my day in Milan. Well, I’m here to give you a quick summary of the flurry that was those last two days in Italy. The last day in Venice was spent walking (no water bus this time!) from our hotel across the city to Piazza San Marco. To our destination of Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge to cross the Grand Canal in Venice, it was a brisk 45 minute walk. Along the way we stopped at several authentic Venetian mask stores, where my friend Anthony set his eyes on the mask of his dreams, with a whopping price tag of €180 Euros. At one of the mask making shops, the friendly store owner and mask designer showed off his latest mask designs and preview for Carnevale with both me and my sister as his models. Once we reached Rialto Bridge, we stopped for photos and a casual chat with a store owner, where we learned that during Carnevale, it takes an average of forty minutes to cross the bridge, due to high traffic in numbers of pedestrians.
Being in Venice, one of the must do activities is going for a gondola ride around the canals. Though it was a bit chilly, it truly was such a genuine experience to be able to see how the locals get around in Venice. Though gondolas are now reserved for tourists, locals navigate the waters by water taxi, water bus, or their own private speedboat. Our gondola driver told us that his profession comes from a long line of tradition in his family. He said that his father was once a gondolier, and when it came his turn to learn, he had to go through five years of school to learn English, French, history, math, and science. Then he had to go through training, multiple exams, and finally a safety swimming test. He explained to us that should he or a passenger fall in the water, he is the lifeguard and will jump in after the passenger to save them. Fortunately for him, and for all passengers, he hasn’t had an experience like that yet. With many years of practice comes learned talent, so rock the boat as much as you want, the gondolier will not fall in the water!
Later that day we went to the beautiful island of Murano, the famous glass making island of Venice. We spent 5 hours on the island going from shop to shop, looking at the different trays, plates, cups, statues, chandeliers, and figurines handmade out of Murano glass. On the island, Anthony purchased a glass tray and I purchased a gold and turquoise glass pendant for my necklace, and we returned back to our hotel, then dinner. I enjoyed simple olive oil and garlic pasta while Anthony indulged in an entirely Venetian dinner. He started with a primi of Venetian style Sardines, followed by a secondi of cuttlefish cooked in it’s own ink, and finally a chocolate-rum mousse Venetian cake. To say he was feeling adventurous was a bit of an understatement! We all watched him and made jokes as he experienced the culture shock of a traditional Venetian meal. The next morning we spent in Milan. Though I only spent a few hours in the city, I managed to knock out a few very important, maybe touristy, things. First I saw the Duomo, followed by a walk through in a Van Gogh exhibit at the museum right next to the Duomo. Shortly after we went to Coppola’s for delicious Italian gelato. Right next door there happened to be a long line of fans waiting in line to meet a famous Italian singer. Though I can’t remember the name of the artist, it attracted many. Interestingly enough, we arrived in Milan on the last day of Milan Fashion Week, and coincidentally, the lead actor of The Fault in Our Stars, Ansel Elgort, was in front of the Duomo around the same time that I was. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this out until later that evening, so I missed the chance to meet him. Later, I went shopping around the Galeria and literally drooled at the beautiful clothes, admiring the European fashions of stores such as Mango, Zara, and Pull&Bear. For dinner that evening we went to a family owned, authentic Sicilian restaurant, which greatly reminded me of one included in the Godfather series. The next morning was my flight to Houston, aka time-to-spend-24-plus-hours-awake-and-uncomfortable-on-airplanes. My journey took all day, as I went through three plane changes in Milan, then Frankfurt, and finally in Newark. Now I’m sat in my living room, typing the conclusion of my Euro Trip blog posts, reflecting on the incredible past two weeks I spent abroad. In the near future I plan on recording my second video blog, detailing the lessons I learned while overseas. During this trip I learned and realized many things, and found a passion for learning and exploring even more. Be on the look out for my vlog, and I thank you for taking this journey with me and reading all that I have to say.
Today I spent the day all around Venice and Piazza San Marco. There, I fed pigeons pretzel sticks, froze all of my limbs, and strolled next to the gondolas. I also learned that in Venice, they take water taxi’s and water busses everywhere. And at night, once the sun sets, they are absolutely freezing!
This evening I went to a Vivaldi Four Season’s tribute concert which was absolutely beautiful. Before the concert, we went to Harry’s Bar, which is where they invented the peach Bellini. After the concert, I spent the next 50 minutes freezing in uncomfortable positions on the water bus back to our hotel.
Ciao from Venezia! I was unable to make an entry last night due to the fact that I spent the day out and about roaming in Rome and the evening wandering the streets of Trestavere.
I wanted to spend my last day in Rome farther away from the tourist attractions and closer to the authentic, Roman Italy. I walked down the street from where my hotel was and found the beautiful Piazza Navona. There, I was the target for more selfie-stick vendors and stopped for lunch at a beautiful outdoor restaurant. As if Rome knew it was my last day there, the weather was absolutely splendid and picturesque.
The hotel bartender, Mario, which my friend and I enjoyed several conversations with, shared with us the attraction that is Trestavere. At night, Trestavere is transformed into a open-door, open-bottle policy bar district. Just after two minutes in the district I managed to spot the single bar that was absolutely packed with study abroad students. After wandering the streets some more, I had the revalation that I certainly do wish to study abroad at some point in my college career. If not in Rome, than in the beautiful city of Barcelona. I had a late night and conclusively an extremely early morning as I had to catch a train to Florence at 8am today.
Today I travelled to the beautiful city of Florence, saw the perfectly sculpted David, strolled through the Firenze streets, and finally boarded a train for Venice. I’m now in the water driven city of Venice and am typing this blog post from the hotel computer on Internet Explorer (with only Italian spell-check, an Italian keyboard, and curious onlookers in the lobby).
For the remaining days that I will be in Italy, I have decided that Im going to minimize my blogging to photo-blogging for the sole purpose of maximizing the time that I have here. But I won’t let you down, I plan on uploading as many photos as the Venetian WiFi allows me.
Another night in Italy requires another blog post detailing all that I’ve done today. That includes waking up at 6 am and boarding a charter bus for Napoli and finally Pompeii. Within an hour we arrived in Naples where we took a guided tour around the city. I was able to see the financial district, under-restoration Opera house, local homes, the very busy commercial loading port, and even local food stands selling fresh peppers and lemons alongside the main road. Though I only spent one hour in Naples, the charm of the city easily attached itself to my heart and I anticipate returning here again in the future.
Another hour in the coach, we arrived in the very large city of Pompeii. Mount Vesuvius hasn’t erupted since 1944 and expert seismologists predict it will erupt within the next 10-15 years. Though this horrifying fact doesn’t scare locals, the land around Pompeii is one of the most fertile farmlands in all of Italy. We stopped for lunch at a delightful little local restaurant and began our adventure towards the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii.
Much like the overwhelming sensation I felt in Versailles and the Colosseum, Pompeii depicted all that I had read in ancient stories, learned about in my Ancient, Civil, and Classical history class, and watched in Discovery Channel documentaries. The fascination I have with Pompeii is rooted at the fact that this ancient and mysterious civilization which once thrived, was easily and so suddenly destroyed by a natural occurence. Instead of trying to explain to you what I saw, I’d like to show you a series of pictures of the ruins.
I’m still in awe that I’ve finally seen something which I’ve been fascinated with for so long. The respect I have for ancient civilizations grew from when I first visited Persepolis in Iran, home of the ancient and grand Persian Empire. I only hope to travel to other parts of the world and visit other ruins of ancient civilizations.
This morning we took on the adventure that is Vatican City. The region is a walled enclave within Rome and has a population of about 800. The city-state produces it’s own coin and is home to several Catholic landmarks, including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel. Of course, we had to venture out to all of the highlights, stopping for a quick l’insalata break inbetween.
St. Peter’s Basilica was beautiful, full of ornate decorations and cieling murals. St. Peter’s Square itself had me and my sister extremely excited, as we recognized it from the Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons.
Next, we saw the Vatican Museum which was housing an Ancient Egypt exhibit, in addition to tapestries and ancient artifacts. The museum lead to the Sistine Chapel which houses Michelangelo’s famous cieling painting depicting narrative scenes from Creation to stories of prophets. I sat alongside the chapel for minutes, just plainly admiring the magnificient painting. In the center of the cieling, there’s the famous image of God touching Adam’s finger, giving him life. The beauty of this painting was overwhelming so I could’t resist but take a picture.
Today we made it light because at 7 am tomorrow, we will be on the road to the mystic city of Pompeii, stopping along the road in Naples for pizza!
Buonasera! I woke up this morning at 9 am after pressing snooze on my 8.45 am alarm, certainly feeling a bit exhausted having spent the past week constantly sightseeing and walking from monument to monument. I fought the morning blues then quickly got dressed and headed down to enjoy a delightful Italian breakfast in the hotel.
Our hotel is located in the heart of Rome, walking distance from the Trevi Fountain. With complete excitement, I made my way to the Fontana di Trevi, expecting nothing less than what Lizzie McGuire experienced after throwing a Euro into the fountain (cue: meeting my very own Paolo, international superstar).
Though to my dismay, instead of finding clear water and a beautiful Italian boy, I found scaffolding encasing the beautifully sculpted marble. Could you believe it!? I traveled all the way to Italy to find out the Trevi Fountain is closed. General disclaimer to all prospective tourists traveling to Italy: The Trevi Fountain is and will be under construction until September 2015.
Following the fountain, we went to the Spanish Steps where I was flocked by an excessive number of street vendors trying to sell me selfie sticks. After denying the first five that came to me, I reconsidered the option of buying one… and so I did. I haggled the price down from 25 Euros to 16 Euros and walked away with a selfie stick and bluetooth remote. Only in Rome. But don’t be alarmed! It’s actually completely normal to carry around a selfie stick and awkwardly prop out a metal stick four feet in front of your face.
Afterwards, we went to the Colosseum and I was completely blown away by the architecture of the building. I imagined the sword fights, gladiators, and lions running around the maze within the concrete and stone. Most of the walls were visibly charred, burned from the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. I climbed the steps to the second floor and spent the next hour in complete awe, admiring the engineering of the structure and taking selfies with my sister on our new selfie stick. When I ran my fingers over the stone, it emitted the energy of all that was when the Colosseum was actively used. All in all, I’m so grateful for the experience of visiting such a monumental piece of Roman history which I’ve read so much about in my history textbooks.
We walked around the Roman Forum for a bit and headed home on the busy, busy, busy Italian Metro. What I learned today is that the Italian subway is significantly dirtier, less efficient, and more crowded than the French subway system. Oh, and that selfie sticks, though absolutely ridiculous looking, are certainly a blessing. It’s now 10.30 pm and I’m sat in the media room in our hotel, Italian football flickering on the T.V. behind me, and have been typing this blog post for the past hour while enjoying the company of my fellow travelers.