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 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.
|The Grand Canal at sunset.|
|Only the most delicious crepe in the world.|
|The crowds at St. Marks.|
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!