Each city we go to is more beautiful than the last.
We arrived to 60-degree, turquoise-colored sky weather in Venice, and the first thing I noticed about the city was that it was significantly quieter than Florence. I do not know what I had been expecting, but the image of Venice I had in my head did was not accompanied by the shocking serenity of the city that I experienced upon my arrival. We stood along the canal for a few minutes marveling at how the color of the sky reflected that of the water almost perfectly. These were some of the brightest colors I have seen since I have been in Italy, and what better place to experience something like that than Venice.
We walked along the canal to our hostel, which was literally a hole in the wall. The streets of Venice are tiny to begin with, but this was an exception. Before we left, Rosanna (our director) had warned us that since we were staying in the center of Venice, we were going to be roughing it a bit in comparison to our four-star hotel in Florence. I shared a room with my two roommates from Florence (Sinead and Renee), and my friend Carly also joined us. Quarters were tight—one person at a time could hardly maneuver between the beds. There was a big double bed and then a set of bunk beds in the room. These “bunk-beds,” if you could even call them that, basically consisted of a couple of pieces of thin wood held together by a few springs and nails. The bottom bunk, where I was to reside for the two-day trip, was more or less a crib with a crunchy thing for a mattress: I literally had to climb into bed, not just sit on it, and I dared not move. It is a good thing that Carly, who was sleeping above me, is not fat.
Our professors started our tours of Venice almost instantly after our arrival. We found Franz, the one who took us through the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Uffizi, and latched ourselves onto him for the duration of the trip. We ventured out into the small alleyways and bridges that make up the roads of Venice. I honestly do not know how anyone navigates the streets of that city. I felt like I needed to leave a trail of breadcrumbs in order to find my way back home. Not that that would have been extremely efficient, considering there are probably more pigeons than people in Venice.
We stayed on one side of the main canal, weaving in and out of the teeny alleyways filled with boutiques and cafes alike, ending up in front of a church, but I have since forgotten the name. It has since turned into a museum, and I do not think it still serves the purpose of a church (although I could be wrong). Most of the wall frescoes are by Tintoretto, with a few paintings by Titian in between. They had huge mirrors in each corner of the room we were in so you could look at the paintings on the ceiling without breaking your neck, which I thought was rather innovative.
We left this church/museum and headed to another enormous church right across the street, called Santa Maria della Visitazione. It is quite amazing that cathedral-sized churches are found among such narrow streets. It is also amazing how incredibly freezing the churches are because of the marble. Here, we saw Canova’s tomb (a famous Italian sculptor), someone else’s tomb, and we saw what Franz thinks is Titian’s most beautiful painting.
The rest of the afternoon was ours to walk around and discover Venice on our own. We just wandered around a bit and ended up getting completely lost. Later that night, we all trekked over to the other side of the canal to see Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) to see the splendor of the most famous square in Venice, and it truly lives up to all of the pictures and movie scenes in which it is the background. Also, everything is more peaceful at night and therefore more beautiful, at least for me. The square is even bigger than perceived in movies: it seemed to take an eternity to walk from where we entered the square all the way up to the church. We sat on some benches by the canal for a while just talking and laughing and such before heading home for the night.
The next day, we rose rather early and trudged through bitter cold winds to get to the Doges Palace and St. Mark’s. The Doges, or Duke, was the leader of the republic of Venice for over a thousand years, and resided in this gorgeous palace located between St. Mark’s square and the Venetian Lagoon. It took us about three hours to go through the entire palace, and we were thoroughly exhausted after the tour. The rooms were spectacularly frescoed and they were enormous. There is a beautiful Titian painting hidden in a stairwell that I would never have noticed if I had not been with a guide.
After that tour, we headed into St. Mark’s, the third largest Catholic Church in the world, following St. Peter’s in Rome and Notre Dame in Paris. Every single church we walk into has a different story, a different effect, a different feel, and the decoration, the architecture, and the history never ceases to amaze me. When we walked into St. Mark’s, it was literally glittering, which had a nearly blinding effect. Luckily, we caught the last ten minutes of the lights switched on (they are only on from about 9:30am until noon every day, I am not sure why). What we did not immediately recognize was that the ceiling and dome decorations were all mosaic.
Following St. Mark’s, we had the remainder of the day to get lost in Venice. We were going to take the ferry over to Murano to see some glass blowing, but we discovered that the ferries that were running were expensive and did not run that often. We parked ourselves on a bench by the Ponte Rialto (Venice’s version of the Ponte Vecchio, although it is nothing like it), and decided what do to. We decided that in lieu of a gondola ride (which was 80 Euro for thirty minutes—what a rip off), we were going to hop on one of the waterbuses and tour Venice that way. These waterbuses run in Venice like the bus system does in Rome, and is relatively extensive for a town with canals for streets. So we hopped on one of them and explored the Grand Canal and the greater Venice area for a while, and ended up back close to St. Mark’s square.
After descending from the waterbus, we did a bit of Murano glass shopping. And by a bit I mean I think we went into every single store in the city that had something made of glass (mind you, virtually every street is lined with shops, and virtually every shop has something made of Murano glass). Although the repetition of a zillion items made of colored glass could have become old after a while, there was always a new trinket to discover with different colored glass that expanded beyond the color wheel. In one shop we went into, the presumable owner of the store was making glass butterflies. He had about twenty of them lined up on a cooling rack on his desk, and completed about six more in the twenty minutes we spent in his shop. After a while, the cold started to go right through out peat coats and Uggs, so we returned to the hostel to warm up.
We effectively experienced both spring and winter during our stay in Venice: we woke up to snow on Sunday morning! We threw ourselves out of bed, bundled up, and walked around the corner to the Guggenheim Museum. I was not remotely interested in modern art, but we were with Franz again and he taught us a lot about the artists like Picasso and Pollack. By the way, Peggy Guggenheim was psychotic (I guess you must be a little crazy to love modern art): she is buried in the courtyard of the museum with her twelve dogs. She also pretended to be shocked and awed at her daughter’s suicide after she slept with her husband. Some family.
It was a whirlwind of a weekend, and we were all relieved to return to Florence, only to begin packing for our departure to Rome on Thursday!!
There was one thing I had to do before I left Florence, and that was to visit the host family I stayed with when I came to Italy two and a half years ago. Carla and Maurizio Stanghellini, my host parents, had welcomed me with open arms into their cozy Florentine apartment when I did not speak a lick of Italian. In the two months I spent with them they really did become my parents, and I became close with their daughter, Claudia, and their grandson, Gabrielle. After school on Tuesday I picked up a bunch of Gerber daises and headed north to pay them a visit. My friend Brenna heard me talking about them time and time again and wanted to come with me (which was good—she calmed me down on the walk up to their apartment).
I rang the doorbell and was let in by Gabrielle. I was so excited to see him, but I had trouble trying to formulate a coherent sentence in Italian to ask if his grandparents were home. He did not recognize me right away, but scampered down the stairs just as well to get Carla. Carla did not recognize me immediately, but Claudia knew who I was and told her mom that I stayed with them during Halloween—they remembered that I brought them candy corn and some candles with ghosts and black cats on them. Carla eventually came around, and recalled that I brought her a giant bulb from Amsterdam, which has since bloomed into a big white flower with a pink middle. As soon as Maurizio saw me he knew who I was (although he still cannot say my name…the letter “k” does not exist in the Italian alphabet), and greeted me with kisses and asked me how Obama and the Big Apple were. Maurizio’s brother, Tommy, was there as well, and we all sat down and ate some delicious Carnevale snack that Carla made. Brenna sat bewildered as we began speaking in rapid Italian (she literally just started learning the language when we arrived in Florence): quite the contrast from the last time I was here. Carla and Maurizio used to correct me when I made a grammatical error, which they continued to do when I used the wrong auxiliary verb or something like that. Brenna was able to form a few simple sentences and practice her Italian a bit, for which the Stanghellinis praised her.
We left after about an hour, and they invited us back that night for dinner. I was a bit too jittery so I did not realize that they had invited both of us for dinner that night, so I returned a few hours later alone. The dinner was just like the ones I ate with them when I was living there: we sat around the table eating, drinking, talking about politics, and watching a game show that is something like “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” Just like old times, Carla fed me more than my stomach could hold. We ate penne with tomato sauce, chicken, potatoes, bread, salad, tomatoes, and pannetone (sweet cake with raisins in it) for dessert. During dinner, Carla told me that a Japanese guy who stayed with them ten years ago recently came back to visit with his girlfriend! They have been hosting students from all over the world for years, and I am thoroughly impressed that they remember the bulk of them. Unfortunately, my visit was short-lived because I had my Italian final the next day. Before I left, Carla told me to call her any time I was in Florence because she always had a bed for me to sleep in if need be. We exchanged cell phone numbers and I went on my way. I am glad I was able to see them before I left for Rome: I would have regretted it if I had not made the trip up there ☺.