Sunday, April 1, 2012

I've been putting this off for weeks(and weeks . . . and weeks) because the more things that piled up to write about, the harder it was to sit down and get it done, much like cleaning my room . . . or doing reading for class . . . or finishing papers on time . . . or really anything having to do with time management. Can it really have been over a month since I last posted? So much has gone on since then, where to begin . . .?

First, Venice for Carnevale from the 17th to the 19th of Italy. In the never-ending learning experience that is traveling, we foolishly waited until the last minute to buy bus tickets to Venice (only the biggest party in Venice? Sure there'll be tickets left!) and had a few hours of panic before we managed to find cheap train tickets that turned out to be even more convenient than the bus. So, at the crack of dawn that Friday morning (about 8 a.m. for those of us still in college), Hannah, her friend Romain, Ari, Kyle, Rachel, and I began our six hour trip north. After arriving in Mestre, the mainland of Venice where we had booked a vaguely shady hostel from a vaguely shady website, we had a brief moment of confusion when we realized we weren't EXACTLY sure where this place was supposed to be. Rachel took one for everybody and called the pensione, and after what sounded like a confusing conversation, we finally found it and settled in. It was exactly what you would expect a one-star hotel to be but it was clean enough, dirt cheap, and only twenty minutes by bus to the heart of the city. The afternoon that we first arrived could not have been more beautiful, and we were thrilled to discover that our room had an odd, garage-like door out onto a balcony, from which we enjoyed the late afternoon sun until realizing that the weather could be much better enjoyed from St. Mark's. 

We had high hopes of being able to climb the bell-tower in time to watch the sun set over the city, and thought ourselves in plenty of time. Unfortunately, we failed to account for the fact that Venice is absolutely the most maze-like city on the face of this earth. We followed signs (some real, some scribbled on the walls like graffiti) that seemed to be leading us in the most roundabout way possible, but eventually we made it, enjoying views from the Rialto Bridge and quaint canals along the way. By then it was just around six p.m. so things hadn't really gotten started in St. Mark's yet, but that didn't make the atmosphere feel any less electrifying. We wandered around the square for a bit, admiring the sometimes weird, always fantastic costumes and the giant stand of fried Carnevale treats, hot chocolate, roasted nuts, and candy. After watching the dancers accompanying the blasting music coming from the enormous stage that had taken over one end of the piazza for a while, we decided to come back when it was more lively and search for food in the meantime. Not having any restaurant in mind inevitably led to wandering aimlessly but the delicious discovery of mulled wine on just about every small piazza held us over (that stuff was seriously tasty; props to the Germans). We finally settled on a place, and after seafood pasta and lots of wine, everybody was feeling too sleepy and contented to do much else besides stop for nutella crepes on our way back to the hostel. 
The Grand Canal at sunset.
The next morning promised a day even more beautiful that the last, and after a quick breakfast at a cafe, we headed over to the island to take a ferry to Murano for the day. To say that it was exactly how a day-in-the-life of a study abroad student should be would be an understatement, topped by none so far except possibly our weekend in Bologna . . . but we'll get to that. We got off the ferry and were immediately shepherded to a large glass factory where we were able to see a master blow a vase and a horse, both in under two minutes. Needless to say, in was incredible getting to see the ease with which he could create such beautiful pieces. After the demonstration, we wandered around the gift shop, naturally the reason for the free price of the show. The pieces were absolutely stunning, but a room filled with such gorgeous (and expensive) glass made my accident-prone self extremely nervous. After that we wandered for a while, stopping to admire at shop windows and just generally enjoying the sunshine playing off of the canals and colored buildings. Lunch was enjoyed outside and leisurely, with pasta, pizza, and (this time) white wine, fearful of being judged for ordering red with seafood. We thought about trying to explore the glass museum, but decided instead to visit the church that housed alleged dragon bones. Alas, no mythical creatures were to be found, but we did get to see the inside of a beautiful chapel with a class baptismal font and crucifix. 

Back to Venice in the late afternoon to climb the bell-tower at sunset, which we had missed the day before due to our lack of direction. We fought through crowds of people, found the wine-fountain that we'd be searching for, and got in line to go to the top of the tower. Half an hour later, we were finally getting close to the entrance, only to have a rope drawn across our path by an official-looking Italian man, who told us that the tower was closing, and we had just missed the cut. Standing there looking crestfallen did nothing to melt his frosty manner, so we decided to drown our sorrows in wine before dinner. The rest of the night was spent aimlessly traversing the streets of Venice, making friends with Italians and Americans alike, watching bizarre parades of strangely dressed people, finding the crepe stand that we had so desperately been looking for, and dancing in St. Mark's Square until they stopped the music at midnight. 
Only the most delicious crepe in the world.
The crowds at St. Marks.
The next morning was a little foggy and overcast, but we decided to head into Venice anyway and see if the weather cleared up enough to see the bell tower before we left for Padua. We got there early enough to avoid the worst of the lines, took the elevator all the way up, and were rewarded with the massive bells chiming directly above our heads and reverberating throughout our entire bodies. That alone made the tower worth the wait, but we were pleased to discover that the cloudy day hadn't impeded the stunning views of Venice. Being able to see the entire city, and St. Mark's from above, on one side, and the ocean and surrounding islands on the other was just breathtaking. When it was time to go, Rachel and I decided that we would rather stick around Venice and see part of the inside of the Cathedral before heading to Padua and parted ways with the others. It turned out that only the museum portion of St. Mark's was open, but we got to see the four famous bronze horses (the originals, housed in the basilica since the 13th century but likely sculpted sometime in B.C.) as well as many of the original frescoes from the church. Mass was being said as we were exploring and it was pretty cool to hear the ritual in Latin. My favorite part was the amazing ceiling of the basilica, incredibly ornate and gilded with gold. 

We wanted to get to Padua in time to see a little of the town before we trained back to Siena, so we said goodbye to Venice, went back to the hostel for our things, and were on our way. We got to Padua and realized that we hadn't the foggiest idea of where to go, and didn't have a map. We got into a taxi, asked to be taken to the botanical gardens, and were efficiently deposited in front of gates that were very obviously closed. Silly tourists! The gardens aren't open on Sundays! We wandered over to a nearby piazza to check out St. Anthony's cathedral (the patron saint of Padua), saw his tomb, and taxied back to the train station. Next up, Bologna!