Bella Venezia!

3 Feb

Buon giorno a voi tutti!! When I last left off I was telling you all of my beginner’s luck with traveling and my words of wisdom of keeping your cool while traveling and studying abroad. Now to recounting my days spent in Venice! Since I spent about 3 days in Venice and could talk about it for 3 weeks straight, I have decided to give the condensed bullet point version of my time in Venice. Here are some interesting tidbits I learned in Venice:

Patience is a virtue!: Our first breath in Venice was more of a sigh because of two things: we had no idea where to go and Venice looked like every other airport I’ve ever been to. Where was the canal? How come we couldn’t hear the gondola drivers singing “O Sole Mio”? Where were the street vendors and the beautiful cathedrals? I should have listened to my Study Abroad advice from before to be patient! There is mainland Venice ,where the airport, and then the island of Venice. It is only 3 euros and a 15 minute bus ride to reach the city of canals and gondolas! *Quick tip: Buy your bus ticket from the machines, not the bus drivers. The drivers like to charge whatever price they feel like at the moment for tickets.

The Venetians have an El? The walk from the bus depot to our hotel would have only been a few minutes, so if you aren’t lugging around all your clothes for the next three months I would recommend you to save 6 euro and walk. If you are like us, jet lag and unwilling to wheel our bags over cobblestone, then take the vaporetto! If you are familiar with Chicago and the El, then the vaporetto is the el on water and the only public transportation in Venice since the city was built along canals. It is incredibly easy to use as long as you pay attention to what stops you need and the direction you need to head in! Also, you can buy a 12, 24, or 36 hour instead of paying 6 euro for each time you use it.

A Standard Double is Not Standard: Our hotel room was a standard double with a private bathroom, usually called an en suite. Now usually in the States if you book at any hotel, no matter its star rating, you will get two double beds, lots of space, and a bathroom. In Europe, you probably have to pay extra to have the bathroom in your own room. Cheaper options are to share your bathroom with the room next to yours or having one communal bathroom on the floor and maybe a sink in your room. Our standard double in Venice was two single beds that took up 80% of our tiny room pushed together. The bathroom had a shower with enough room for washing each limb at a time and a shower head that you will smack into unless you are under five feet tall. None of these things were a drawback to the hotel at all! I loved our hotel and would go back in a heartbeat! I just found them funny to compare what we usually assume about a double room and what it actually is in Europe.

There is no right or wrong way to handle jet lag: Everyone will give conflicting advice on how to handle jet lag upon arrival. We were told not to go to bed and we were told to just go to sleep and wait for your body to adjust. Steph and I decided to try to stay awake until at least 9 PM. Easy enough? The adrenaline was pumping and sleep felt like a waste of time when you finally arrive in Italy after months of tedious planning and dreaming about it!

We walked around taking in the noises of Italy, the smells of Italy, and the busy hustle of our first Italian city. We wandered with the flow of the crowds, winding through cobblestone streets that narrowed, then expanded, narrowed then expanded. We excitedly pointed to pizzas, gelato, and sandwiches in storefront windows and all the speciality shops. Then a strange metamorphosis came about. Steph and I became zombies following the winding streets wherever they turned. We did not even notice that we weren’t even talking to each other. I remember mentioning how it must have been close to nine by now, so we could probably go back and sleep. We made the tortuously long journey back to the hotel and collapsed on our twin double bed. “What time is it?” I asked Steph, hearing the click of her cell phone sliding open. She laughed out loud, “It’s only 6:30!”

We discussed going to get coffee or walking around more. We could both shower and waste time planning what we would do tomorrow. However any option besides sleep, sounded like too much effort. So for the first time most likely ever, I went to bed at 7 o’clock at night. We rationalized that we would awake at 7 AM. Twelve hours was not too long because sometimes you sleep that much at home. Also, we only slept about 4 hours on the plane. So it all evened out. When I awoke I was well rested, energized, and ready to walk every inch of the city! Too bad it was only 9:30 PM! I awoke almost every hour after that until at about 8 AM we both decided to get up. We probably didn’t handle jet lag as well as we should have. I would say forcing yourself to stay awake until a decent hour to fall asleep is the best option. However, the rest of the trip I fell asleep at a decent hour the next few nights and was not dragging during the day. So the jet lag debate rages on.

Just use their appliances!: My mom bought me a great converter set from Brookstone that has converters for every area in Europe and even a heavy-duty high wattage one for hair dryers and powerful appliances. Steph and I could have let our hair air dry a few more days, but we wanted cute pictures to upload to Facebook! Duh! So I gave Steph my heavy-duty converter for her straightener she brought from home. Now as you saw from our rationalization of jet lag, we have an awful talent at thinking things will even others out. My converter could handle more watts than her straightener actually used, so it should have been fine to use. A few seconds into the straightener heating up we heard, “Pop!” and a horrible smell of smoke and burning plastic filled the room. We both stared at each other, our eyes bugging out of their sockets. We had just blown our first European fuse!

We should have learned our lesson, but a day later we were having trouble adjusting to the hotel’s hairdryer. See this intimidating piece of equipment looked more like a vacuum with a hose attachment than a hairdryer. It also had a nasty habit of going from warm air to scalding hot air after a few seconds of use. I had the bright idea to let Steph borrow my travel hairdryer! She had a converter and it was a tiny hairdryer that didn’t use much voltage. All was well as I sat on our bed writing in my travel journal when all of a sudden I couldn’t see what I had just written. The room was pitch black in the middle of the afternoon. After several minutes of thinking we had just caused the demise of the entire electrical system of Hotel Hesperia, we decided to fess up to our crimes. We pantomimed the action of a fuse blowing (“We blew a fuse” does not translate) and our sweet hotel hostess flipped a switch and power was regained! Moral of the story: Unless you are staying in a newer building in Italy, just use what they give you or buy their appliances! We had to go through two converters and a straightener to learn our lesson!

Venetian Children and Dogs: This is a random thing I noticed in my few days in Venice: there is not one ugly child or dog. Every single dog and child we saw in Venice was adorable and instantly made you spurt out, “Aw!” They were all so well-behaved, too! Every dog walked around freely without a leash. The dogs would wander around a bit without their owner, but once they noticed their owner was moving on the dog followed. I never saw one child throw a tantrum, hit their sibling, or act anything but perfect. What’s their child rearing and dog breeding secrets?

Venice is a beautiful tourist trap: Now this heading is not to deter you from the city by any means! I fell in love with Venice! I am no photographer, yet every one of my pictures of the scenery in Venice turned out looking like some surreal landscape. However, at this time in the year most people are on Winter holiday. It seems like the city shuts down a bit without its usual flood of tourists. This made finding alternatives for food and attractions difficult.

Since it is a pretty big tourist destination, expect to pay. There were huge signs in the Basilica San Marco that hyped up the treasure of the basilica or a beautiful part of the Basilica. After a few twists and turns (or up a steep staircase for one of them that only had enough space on each step for half of a foot) there would be an information desk with cashiers demanding 6 euro. This is a trend all throughout the city, especially in Piazza San Marco. You have to pay for almost everything.

However, the more you wander away from Piazza San Marco and the area around the train station known as Piazzale Roma, you will find the more authentic (and the cheaper!) side of Venice. If you buy the Museum pass, you can pay 12 euro to see a bunch of sights in Piazza San Marco. It is a great deal when you look at the price of the entry into most sights there being about 6 euro apiece. Also, you have to take a ride in a gondola! It’s touristy and cliché, but it shows you the hidden crevices of the cities you never would see walking around the streets. If you pay extra or if you get your gondola driver to like you, you can even be serenaded! Keep in mind: The further you go away from Piazza San Marco, the cheaper the ride!

The man I sat next to on my flight from Zurich to Venice raved about Venice in the Summer. In the warmer months, there are more vendors and carts around the city. There are tables set out in Piazza San Marco for evening drinks and food. Children chase after the pigeons in the square and teenagers kicking a soccer ball around. There is music and dancing and lively chatter over drinks. The city was vibrant and bustling in the cold winter months, so I could only imagine the vivacious energy pulsing through this city in the Summer. And while it is probably touristy and expensive in the Summer months as well, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the idea of Venice in the Summer.

Now I don’t want to sign off leaving a bad impression of Venice or making you think it was just a huge tourist attraction. Venice was a charming city filled with very friendly people and a great energy! The buildings built along the canal couldn’t have been more picturesque and each had its own unique accent or architectural fixture! I could have walked along those winding cobble stone streets feeding off of the energy of the crowds of people and window-shopping at every specialty store all day. I loved sitting next to the sea watching all the boats and gondolas come in and out of their respective docks for hours. I loved getting lost and finding tiny courtyards hidden from the main streets of the city and seeing clothes lines with five pairs of red underwear and a red sheet hanging outside someone’s window. I loved my first sight of Venice when I unlatched the shutters of the hotel windows, threw them open with such force that they smacked the sides of the building, and stared out on our tiny street, listening to the vaporetto churning up water as it backed up to the Guglie stop across the canal from us. I loved lying in bed and at any hour hearing the clicking of heels against cobblestone and Italian chatter. I loved that my alarm clock was the bells, from what I assume was Basilica San Marco, echoing over the entire city at 7AM. I can see why a lot of people I talked to in Venice told me they came here once and never left!

Oh and the gondola drivers are incredibly talented individuals! Every turn of the gondola was inches away from smacking into the sides of the buildings, but the driver always smoothly and with seemingly no effort navigated the gondola into the next winding canal. An interesting trade to have!

Can’t wait to start telling you about my new hometown, Paderno del Grappa, and my program, but I do still have classes here, so its ciao for now!

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2 Responses to “Bella Venezia!”

  1. Meg February 3, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Ciao Colleen! Did you get my messages? So glad you’re enjoying Italy. Do all the vendors still claim ” no cambio’ when you hand them too large a denomination of lira. How many labor strikes have you encountered? Don’t you love how the natives gather after dinner in the town square to socialize [ or is it too cold for that]. Spring should come sooner there and if you get a chance go see cinqo terra orthe amalfi and the blue lagoon . Love, Aunt Meg

  2. Mary Kate February 9, 2010 at 11:04 pm #

    Ciao Bella!

    I loved reading about your trip to Venezia. I often dream about riding on a gondola through the narrow canals, under the eternal bridge, while sipping on bellini.

    But, like you said, you learn quickly while abroad. In fact the four things I learned about that town were: 1. the pigeon situation is a SERIOUS problem; 2. I found out after I returned home, you don’t have to bring back a bottle of bellini as they sell the SAME brand at Cost Plus; 3. No matter how gross and sweaty you feel (it was 100+ degrees when we were there), Italian men will still hit on you…PREGO!; and 4. I will never know how bus drivers don’t get a fine for jam-packing everyone on the last bus to the main land?!?

    Couldn’t be happier my little cousin is studying PR in Italy (best subject in the best country, I say!)

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