Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sick Days with the BBC

Today I woke up with a terrible migraine and went back to sleep until two. Of course once I woke up I felt a little better but half the day was already gone so doesn't that mean that legally I'm not allowed to be productive? For the remainder of the day I watched Downton Abbey! This show is like crack to me! I just love the whole dynamic of this show. I especially love the three sisters.

I'd like to think that those are me and my two sisters.

Don't you see the resemblance? Clearly the only difference is we have class and they don't.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Canals, Cannolis, and Carneval: My Weekend in Venice

One of my favorite things about living in London is its proximity to everywhere else in Europe. Where else in the world are there so many different cultures, all with their own unique history, sandwiched into such a small geographical space? I flew here on January 4th with the full intent of seeing as many of the world’s greatest cities as possible, and blowing every last cent in the process. I quickly had booked trips to Italy, Scotland, Paris, Greece, and Ireland. I didn’t except the start of my travels to come so quickly, but sure enough Venice has come and gone.
I packed four days of stuff into a severely tiny Vera Bradley backpack. (After this trip I invested in a “backpacker’s backpack”.) My fellow travelers and I were definitely thrown some curveballs throughout our trip but they only added to our entire experience. Five of our group’s of seven woke up at 3:00 a.m. to catch a 6:30 flight Milan. After landing at Malpensa Airport we took a train to the city’s center. Once we got off the train and stepped out into Milan I was in disbelief. “Oh my gosh, we’re in Italy! I can’t believe we are in Italy!” I repeated over and over again. I’m pretty sure my friends were getting annoyed with my obnoxious excitement.
The next few hours were spent walking about Milan and within the first two hours I was able to cross “eat pizza in Italy” off my bucket list. The restaurant was a huge tourist trap. There was even a boy who looked as if he’d just stepped out of Mary Kate and Ashley’s “When In Rome” standing outside trying to sell the restaurant to us; but the food was out of this world non-the-less. After spending the day exploring the Fashion Capital of the world we headed for the train to Venice, but not without stopping for what would be the first of many gelatos.
Eat pizza in Italy - check!

Upon arrival in Venice I was purely running on adrenaline. My back hurt from carrying my bag all day and I was exhausted from going non-stop since 3:00 a.m.; but none of that mattered because I was in Venice! We bought our transportation passes for the weekend and tried to find the right bus that would take us off the island of Venice and to the restaurant where we planned to meet with the last two girls of our group. Before I continue, let me say that Venice possibly has the most unorganized bus system of anywhere in the world. They don’t tell you where the bus is stopping or what stop is what and they never check for tickets. Hearing from many people that the Italians are some of the friendliest people ever, I asked a local girl if she knew where our stop is. Of course she told us that we were on the wrong bus. We got off at the next stop only to find out we were on the right bus all along. But now we were off of the island in Venice on a fairly dark and uninhabited street at 9:30pm in a foreign country. Did I mention I had the only internationally working phone? We had no way of reaching our friends to let them know we were lost. After two hours of getting on and off three different buses, walking over two miles, and getting pizza from the only open place we could find we were able to get a hold of Maurizio, the landlord of the apartment we rented. Maurizio had met our friends at the restaurant as planned and brought them back to our temporary Italian villa. He was kind enough to make a second trip to find us and drive us back to safety. Once the door opened to the apartment there was a series of running hugs as we were reunited with our friends. Our journey was scary in the moment but I now look back at it as one of those funny travel movies filled with a bunch of obstacles. On day two we rose early to begin our time in Venice. Maurizio kindly offered to give us a lift to the bust stop but made a detour to the main house on his property where he showed us his huge screened in porch, where he likes to host parties with his guests in the summer, and a liter of week old puppies. Us being the girls we are we went crazy over the puppies. Staying in a local’s apartment may not have been the most traditional way of traveling to another country but it added something to our trip that a hotel or hostel would not have been able to. We got to see first-hand what real Italian country life is like and we received the amazing hospitality that Italy is known for.
Emily and my room
Our dining/living room
Our kitchen!
Our kitchen!

The remainder of the day was spent walking around and exploring the city on water. We were so immersed in the island’s beauty that every time we walked over a bridge we all stopped to take pictures. I probably even took multiple photos of the same place without realizing. For breakfast we found an adorable Italian bakery with the most delicious pastries. The weekend we visited coincidentally happened to be Carneval di Venezia. People everywhere were wearing masks and others were dressed in elaborate costumes. Most were elegant gowns and attire from the 16th and 17th centuries, but every now and then I saw a herd of cows or the Simpsons. Of course I had to join the bandwagon and buy a carneval mask.
All of us in our Carneval masks!
One of my many pictures from a bridge.
Our next day was a little more structured. We started our morning at the same bakery as the first day and then we were off on the Vaporetto del Arte, a boat tour up the Grand Canal. The view of Venice’s colorful buildings from the canal was amazing! I have never seen a more vibrant and gorgeous city. After, we went inside the famous Saint Mark’s Basilica. The walls of the basilica were completely covered in the most breathtaking paintings. The next up on our itinerary was a gondola ride. How could I possibly go to Venice and miss out on the gondolas? Our gondolier, Christian, was another quintessential friendly and outgoing Italian. He sang to us a bit but mainly answered our questions about his life in Italy. We learned that he has been a gondolier for 20 years and would love to visit the states. New York is his number one place to visit so he was very excited when my sister and I could tell him all about it.
Christian, our gondolier!
That night we ate our last dinner in Italy and savored every last bite. Before we headed back we stopped for cannolis and wine to take back to the apartment. As soon as we tried to head back to the bus station it began to rain, thunder, and lightening. We were all in a panic because we had no shelter and couldn’t find our way back to the bus. A little elderly man saw us looking lost and in generous Italian fashion he asked us if we needed directions. By the time we reached the bus it was snowing too. I will forever remember Venice as the place that had thunder, lightening, and snow all within the same hour.
Last dinner in Italia! Spaghetti with seafood!
The next morning we only had a few hours before our flight home so we said our goodbyes to our guardian angel and new friend Maurizio and our Italian villa. We decided to spend the last of our time in Venice bidding adieu to the food. Within two hours we had an entire day’s worth of food: Italian pastries, an entire pizza with wine, and gelato. These foods summed up our time in Italy so we felt it was only right to end our trip with them.
Carneval di Venezia!
Before I knew it we were on the plane and heading back to London. I am so grateful to have been able to experience Italy’s culture, people, and food. I hope to make it back there soon but until then, arrivederci Italia!