Venice, Italy: Day 2

Venice day 2 began with checking out of my hostel and storing my luggage bright and early! After taking care of that chore, I hopped onto the public bus to head into Venice. My goal of getting up early and arriving early was to get on one of the first vaporettos heading to some of the other Venetian islands. The earlier you arrive to island-hop the better as the vaporettos only run at select times and seats are limited. For a 40-minute boat ride, sitting is better than standing I can assure you!

Island 1: Murano

Murano is known for its famous glass-blowing. Boats are still the only mode of transport used and the houses are very similar to what is found in Venice. Unlike Venice, however, there is a more “homey” feeling to Murano. Even though tourists visit for glass-blowing demonstrations, shopping, and classes, Murano felt more authentic from a people standpoint. With arriving early in the morning, I had a lot of the canals and alleyways to myself, which felt so peaceful.

In Murano, I mostly walked around and went into the glass-blowing stores. The craftsmanship and time spent on blowing ornaments, sculptures, and bowls is absolutely incredible! Some stores have glass-blowing demonstrations for free, while others require payment. I stopped in a shop and saw glass-blowing for free, which was very cool!

Be wary of where you purchase Murano glass. Some stores “sell” Murano glass, but really the trinket was manufactured in China. The price, any imperfections that come from glass-blowing, or a certified sticker are all tell-tale signs of authenticity of the piece.

All in all, there is not a whole lot to do and see in Murano. 2-3 hours is plenty of time to hit the highlights of the island. If going to Murano from Venice, I suggest getting off at one of the first vaporetto stops. This way, you can walk around the island in somewhat of a circle to one of the “end” island stops that goes to/from Venice or Burano.

Island 2: Mazzorbo

Now, I did not intentionally mean to visit Mazzorbo. I thought I was getting off at Burano, but silly ole me got off at the wrong stop. However, this little gem of an island was absolutely beautiful! I walked through a well-kept vineyard with art sculptures and was able to cross a bridge to Burano.

Island 3: Burano

Out of the four islands I “hopped” to throughout the day, Burano hands-down was my favorite. This particular island is famous for its colorful buildings, which can be seen by the naked eye when riding the vaporetto. However, the fame of the colors does make this island extremely popular among tourists. Personally, I did not feel overwhelmed by the tourist crowd. I think there were many quiet places for photos if you simply took the time to venture out from the main shopping areas. Like Murano, there seemed to be a more local feel when walking around the island. School children were doing some art outside, laundry was strung up between buildings, and fisherman were bringing their boats in and out of the canals.

I spoke with two different local artisans who had some of the coolest wares. The first artist worked with ceramics making house numbers and initials shaped and colored like the houses found in Burano. I loved hearing about her inspiration behind her work and how she started her ceramics business. The second artisan had lived in Burano his whole life. He also worked with ceramics, but painted the colorful houses onto circles and semi-curved rectangles. I purchased items from both of these artisans and both thanked me for my business. Tourist purchases from locals keep locals in business and therefore preserves the culture. Shop local even abroad!

Island 4: Torcello

After Burano, I headed to Torcello. This island is known for its church tower, which provides a great view of all of the Venetian islands. Simone, my walking guide, had told our group the previous day she recommended stopping off at Torcello. Unlike Murano and Burano, there is no shopping at Torcello. Tourists mainly stop to see the church and then hop back on the vaporetto to head elsewhere. Since it was early afternoon, I basically went to the church and paid to go up to the church tower before hopping back on a vaporetto to go back to Venice. I found the views from the church tower to be very nice. As Simone had said during the tour, seeing Venice from the church tower provides great insight as to how the Venetian islands were actually constructed in the marsh. Torcello is worth an hour of your time in my opinion.

Island 5: Venice

The 40-minute vaporetto ride passed very quickly on my way back to Venice. Like the previous day, I wandered around in and out of buildings taking in the architecture. Before long, I found myself in need of a quick dinner. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my amazing map back at the hostel. Since I had loved the gnocchi from the day previous, I headed back to Baci & Pasta for a quick and delicious dinner of spinach gnocchi with a meat sauce and tiramisu for dessert. I happened to be the only customer in the shop and ended up talking with the owner. Recently, Trip Advisor had change the classification of his restaurant as “quick eats.” This had led to a decrease in his business, which made me sad because the gnocchi and tiramisu is amazing! I hope he is able to keep the restaurant open because local restaurants in Venice are struggling to compete and stay open. Hit up Baci & Pasta if in Venice!

Once I finished my delicious dinner, I headed back to the bus area. From there, I took the bus back to Mestre, went to my hostel and picked up my luggage, and then hopped on a bus headed to the Venice Marco-Polo Airport.

For an hour or so, I waited at the airport for another bus to take me to Ljubljana, Slovenia. While sitting on a bench, an Italian woman came up to me. She began rattling off something and gesturing. I smiled and nodded my head. Our communication lasted for a good 10-15 minutes. We both found ourselves laughing at the fact we could not communicate with one another, but that’s the beauty of traveling. You don’t have to actually know a language to communicate. Sometimes smiling, laughing, and gesturing gets the job done. Pretty soon, my pal left and some other travelers getting on the same bus joined me. I talked with an Englishman for a while. He happened to be getting his PhD in Trieste, Italy. Go figure! Eventually, our bus arrived (late of course) and five hours later, I arrived in Ljubljana at 1:30 am.

Another country, more exploring!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Venice, Italy: Day 1

Oh, Venice.

I expected not to like this tourist hot-spot, but the charming canals captured my heart.

As I discussed briefly in my last blog post, I stayed at Anda Venice Hostel in Mestre. Mestre is a city right outside of Venice. If you are looking to go to Venice and want to save some cash, stay in Mestre. The 15-minute public bus ride is extremely doable!

On day one, I got around for the day and headed to a grocery store. Enri and his friends had suggested buying bread, meat, cheese, and fruit to take into Venice with me due to food being so expensive. I took their advice and purchased my food before hopping onto the public bus to go to Venice.

Before heading out, I had purchased a 48-hour public transport pass online through a website. However, I did not realize I could only redeem the ticket once getting to a specific ticket machine in Venice. As a result, I had to pay 3 euros to ride the bus, which would have been 1.50 euros if I would have bought the bus ticket in advance from the ticket counter (go figure). After the bus dropped everyone off, I made my way to the vaporetto station to pick up my ticket. This turned into a headache of redeeming the ticket. If purchasing a public transport pass, wait to purchase the ticket when in Venice. Do not buy through a website. Your time will be saved along with your sanity! In my personal opinion, a public transport pass is NOT necessary if you do not plan on taking the vaporetto (public transport boat) from stop to stop. However, if you would like to take the vaporetto or island hop, than I HIGHLY recommend purchasing a 24/48/72-hour pass as a one-way vaporetto ticket is 7.50 euros. In other words, the public transport pass pays for itself after a few rides.

Once I finally got my ticket, I decided to wander around and explore before my free walking tour. Everything was beautiful once I walked away from all the tourist hubbub.

Venice, Italy

At 10:30ish am, I made my way to the meeting point for the free walking tour. I booked the Venice Free Walking Tour that covered Venice from the centuries north. If you are visiting Venice and want to learn more about the history and local life, the Venice from the centuries north is the tour for you! However, if you are looking for a tour of Doge’s Palace or St. Mark’s Square (touristy places) this tour is NOT for you!

My guide, Simone, happened to be from Lithuania and married an Italian and now resides in Venice. Throughout the whole 2.5 hour tour, she was engaging and funny. I loved listening to Simone talk about what being a local in Venice is like on a daily basis. For example, I would never have thought, “Oh! The police and ambulance travel by boat.”

If I were to return to Venice, I would book this same walking tour or another walking tour with this company. Venice Free Walking Tours as a company is trying to keep local Venetian restaurants in business. As such, each participant receives a free map of Venice. According to Simone, this exclusive map is the most accurate map of Venice–Google maps does not work always as I found out. Additionally, all of the guides picked out their favorite local restaurants and shops, which offer special discounts to Venice Free Walking Tour participants when they come to eat or shop.

Since the walking tour is free, participants tip their guide at the end. The tip can be however much or little as you like, but the tours are how the guides make money. Personally, I think more thought and time are put into a free tour because the guides know this is how they will receive their paycheck.

After the walking tour concluded, I headed to a shopping mall where Simone told our group you could see the Grand Canal without any people. The view was somewhat okay. I felt awkward taking photos because the window with the view happened to be located in a luxury shoe store. Haha!

Once I snapped some photos, I picked a restaurant out on my handy map: Baci & Pasta. The map advertised gnocchi, which I had been wanting to eat. For 8 euros, my pumpkin gnocchi (freshly made) with a gouda cheese sauce hit the spot. I cannot recommend this place enough!

Homemade pumpkin gnocchi with gouda cheese sauce mmmm!!

After my quick bite to eat, I put my phone away and wandered the streets of Venice. According to Simone, no one has truly visited Venice without getting lost in the streets. So I did just that. I would turn left and then right, walk straight for a while, pop in a shop. For once, I did not feel obligated to go, go, go. Rather, I took in the sights and beauty of Venice.

When my legs tired of going up and down the bridges, I made my way to the vaporetto stop and took it back to the bus station. There, I hopped on the bus to head back to Mestre to go to my hostel. A perfect first day!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy: Day 3

My last day in Cagliari began with packing up my things. Exciting, right? Enri went to school and everyone else went to work, so I went into town to have a wander around through some shops before meeting Enri back at his house around lunch time.

During my wanderings, the craziest thing happened. I was just walking everywhere and anywhere and a man approached me asking if I could help him. I explained that I did not speak Italian. In very broken English, he told me he needed to get to the bus stop near the university. He asked if I would mind standing at the bus stop. What did crazy ole me do? I stood at the bus stop for 10 minutes. After that, I left. I am still not entirely sure what transpired, all I know is the whole experience was bizarre. Enri laughed when I told him this story.

After Marella’s family birthday lunch at home with the whole family, Enri and I took one last walk around Cagliari. The sunny weather was perfect for some gelato and some park sitting, both of which we managed to accomplish.

Me and Enri. I feel lucky to call him my Italian brother

To top off the afternoon, Enri showed me the Roman ruins near his home. Then, we walked briskly back to his house where I grabbed my bag and hopped into the car, so Marella could drive me to the airport.

After a kiss kiss on the check from Marella and an American hug for Enri, I parted ways and headed through security to head to Venice.

One flight, one bus ride, and short walk later, I arrived at Anda Hostel Mestre. Hands down the NICEST hostel I stayed at during my time in Europe. I cannot recommend it enough!

I cannot emphasize enough how thankful I am for the generosity of Enri’s family for hosting me for a few days. Without my family opening their hearts and home to hosting exchange students, I would not have had half of the experiences I had during my semester abroad. Hosting exchange students and being an exchange student yourself is life-changing!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy: Day 2

On Sunday, Enri, Marella, Emilio, and I went to a local pastry shop for a sweet treat and cappuccino before heading on a mini road-trip to Barumini, an archaeological site in Sardinia. During the drive, I saw artichoke fields for the very first time. I found the swaying plants to be mesmerizing and wholly unique.

Now, I the day prior, I had learned about the nuraghi at Cagliari’s archaeological museum. Marella suggested taking the drive to see the nuraghi in person and I of course said yes! Luckily for us, an English guided tour began as soon as we arrived. The guide explained the history of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, how the towers were built, and the daily life of the clans. I could not believe how thick and tall the walls of the towers were and the narrow spaces the people squeezed through on a daily basis. To this day, archaeologists do not know how the ancient people managed to transport the stones to build the towers. Very interesting!

After the tour, we piled back into the car and headed back to Cagliari. Emilio, Marella, Enri, and I went to an Italian restaurant and ate some delicious pasta and dessert before heading back to the house. Enri and I rested for a little bit after our food coma and eventually ventured out to the city to walk around. We went to Enri’s favorite lookouts and a few churches.

While wandering around, Enri and I stumbled across and artist’s shop and studio. He welcomed us both inside after seeing my admiration for his paintings. Enri served as the translator and the gentleman explained that he taught classes in his studio. As a parting gift, he gave me a little shell known as The Eye of Saint Lucia. This particular shell is meant to bring good luck. I was absolutely touched by the thoughtfulness of such a little gift. The shell is now tucked in my passport cover as a good luck charm.

For an hour or so, I wandered around on my own, while Enri went to church. After reuniting, Enri and I walked down near the harbor before heading back to his house. Later on, we walked back to town to grab some Margherita pizza for a snack/dinner.

A laid back Sunday!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy: Day 1

Hi friends! I am back to the blog space and United States. My first two weeks back “home” have been a whirlwind…more on that later. In the meantime, I am going to continue to recap my last trips in Europe.

Where was I? Oh, yes! I had just arrived to see my host brother Enrico in Cagliari, Sardinia.

I woke up on Saturday morning after a restful sleep. By the time I made my way upstairs, Enri, his father, and brother had already left, but I had breakfast and coffee with Marella. Afterwards, I left my laundry with the sweet housekeeper (I cannot even begin to describe how crazy I felt doing so) before heading out to the archaeology museum. Enri unfortunately could not join me as he had school.

As I walked to the museum, I soon learned just how hilly Cagliari. Lots of steps and steep hills, but tremendous views.

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Once I found the archaeology museum (after getting lost), I entered free of charge! I learned about the Nuraghi, which were an ancient civilization in Sardinia while looking at pottery and statues. After I finished walking through all the exhibits, I made my way to National Pinacotheca. This museum contained biblical artworks painted on both canvas and wood. Then, I made my way to Museo d’Arte Siamese, which housed swords, statues, and pottery from Thailand.

By the time I wrapped up my time at the third museum, lunch time had arrived so I walked back to Enri’s home. Altogether, the five of us had a wonderful lasagna lunch cooked by the housekeeper.

After lunch, Enri and I made our way to the beach by bus. The weather all day had been pretty grey and overcast, but we both had our fingers crossed that the sun would peak out. Lucky for Enri and I, our wish came true and I was able to see the Mediterranean and its sparking turquoise blue color which is a moment I never will forget. The whole year Enri lived with my family, he claimed no sharks swam in the Mediterranean. I can vouch that I did not see any and my toes were safe!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once we wrapped up our beach walk, Enri and I reverted to the sidewalk where we ran into Eugenio and one of his friends. The four of us stopped at a seaside restaurant and chatted over coffee. Eventually, Enri and I left to head back to the city center to meet two of Enri’s friends, Rafaele and Chiara, for Spritz. Rafele said I could not leave Italy without having this traditional orange Italian cocktail made of prosecco, aperol, and soda water, so I drank one along with everyone else. To Enri’s dissatisfaction, the drink was too strong which made everyone laugh. Both Rafaele and Chiara had also gone on exchange the previous year when Enri stayed with my family. I loved hearing about their experiences in Australia and Utah. After drinks and nibbles, the four of us headed out to see Cagliari at night. Not long into our walk, Enri and Chiara realized they both desperately needed a restroom. This led us to go on a hunt for a restaurant where Chiara and Enri could convince the working staff they were dumb tourists (Chiara sounds very American when speaking English) or find a sympathetic server. The sympathetic server won out. Soon after, Enri and I parted ways with Chiara and Rafele.

While walking back to Enri’s house, we caught the tail end of the traditional Sardinian parade (all week had been a holiday).

Day 2 in Cagliari, coming up next! Head back to the home page to read my next post!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Vatican City

Hello and happy Monday!

Due to unreliable WiFi, I am once again behind on blogging about my 2.5-week solo adventure! Now, I am back and ready to get caught up!

Sooo…where was I? Oh yes! May 2nd in Rome!

On my second day in Italy, I headed to Vatican City for a guided tour of the Vatican museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Before beginning my tour, however, I stopped by the Trevi Fountain (for a second time) and Spanish Steps to beat the crowds.

Eventually, I arrived at the meeting point for my tour right outside the Vatican Walls.

Now, as we all know, I do not like audio guides for museums and I have never been a part of a guided tour. However, a friend of mine HIGHLY suggested shelling out the money for guided tours for both the Vatican and Colosseum. For her, the guided tours were the highlights of her time in Rome. I booked both of my guided tours (Vatican and Colosseum) through Headout and I thought both seemed reasonably priced and offered cashback if you connected your Facebook account. I am always looking to save some cash! The group altogether was not more than 30 people, which I thought was a great size as it provided intimacy with the guide. Additionally, booking a guided tour allows for skip-the-line tickets. At the both the Vatican and Colosseum, you can wait for HOURS in line to just get a basic admission ticket. Another advantage of shelling out money for a guided tour if you ask me!

Before beginning the tour, I received my headset and radio. Through my headphones, I was able to hear the guide discuss the history of Vatican City (a different “country”), while we passed through the Vatican Walls.

My first stop on my tour was the Vatican Museums. The museums house some of the most beautiful art pieces I have ever laid my eyes on in person. My guide provided history of specific paintings, tapestries, and the building itself. I loved learning about the stories about Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel and other areas of the Vatican Museums. Without a doubt, the Vatican Museums had some of the most beautiful ceilings I have ever seen in my whole entire life!

After hitting the highlights in the Vatican Museums, my group made our way to the Sistine Chapel. Holy crap, friends, the Sistine Chapel is phenomenal! I can safely say I could have sat and stared at the ceiling all day and still would have found something new to see. Unfortunately, my guide had to provide information about the Sistine Chapel outside of the space (quiet area), so I kind of forgot what I was looking for when going into the chapel. Nonetheless, I cannot believe I saw the Sistine Chapel in person. Pictures are not permitted. Boo!

My guide gave my group around 30 minutes in the Sistine Chapel after which we headed to St. Peter’s Basilica for our final stop. Once again, I learned about the history of the building, paintings, statues, etc. I learned that St. Peter’s is the largest church in the entire world! After seeing St. Paul’s Cathedral in London which was built to rival St. Peter’s, I can safely say St. Paul’s does not even compare to St. Peter’s in my opinion.

Once exiting the basilica and turning in my audio guide, I decided to go to St. Peter’s Basilica dome. For 8 euros, visitors ascend 871 steps (one-way) to the dome. If you pay 10 euros, you can take an elevator a portion of the way up and only have to climb 320 steps. Note, all payments have to be in cash!

I felt the view of Rome from the dome was worth the money and the 871 step climb (x 2) was not bad at all! However, brace yourself for claustrophobia once you reach the top. I admired the view for some time, snapped some photos, and headed down again.

Hello, Vatican City and Rome!

I made my way to the exit and said farewell to Pope Francis and Vatican City.

After exiting Vatican City and entering Rome, I made my way to Janiculum Terrace. Along the way, I stumbled into a mosaic shop where artisans were making house numbers and letters. Very neat! With some Google maps trial and error, I finally found myself at the lookout point/park. While in Rome, I went to a few different lookout points and by far this one did not have the most amazing view, in my opinion.

So, I took a few photos and then started walking to a different viewing area called Janiculum Terrace. There were benches, shade, and a water fountain at this spot and I found the view to be 100 times better! I sat for a while on the wall resting my legs and soaking up the sun.

Nearby Janiculum Terrace, was an amazing rose garden free and open to the public. I stopped and walked around for a little bit before continuing onward to look at Roman ruins.

Now, this is where I made the crazy decision to walk an hour to Quatiere Coppede on tired legs. This area of Rome is on the outskirts of the city and has some local stores and food. The architecture was neat in this area. In my opinion, though, I should have done a Google search of the area before walking blindly based off of a recommendation. Otherwise, I probably would have skipped the area entirely. Since I happened to be outside of the city center, I also walked to Ponte Milvio/Collina Fleming where a bridge takes you to some restaurants and a church. I rested on a bench before walking back towards my hostel.

For dinner, I decided on an antipasto platter of sorts from the grocery store as I could not be bothered to eat at a restaurant for 1+ hours. Of course, I HAD to top off my dinner with a gelato from Gelateria La Ramona again. Different flavors and whipped cream this time around! After walking 21.2 miles according to my phone, I earned this gelato!

YUM, YUM, YUM!

That’s all for my second day in Rome! I will be back tomorrow with my last Rome post and will hopefully have a couple more posts about my time in Cagliari!

Thanks for bearing with my inconsistency. Your loyalty, patience, and comments are much appreciated, friends!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Rome, Italy: Day 1

Ciao, friends! That means hello or goodbye in Italian!

Today I am recapping my first day in Rome, Italy!

On day 1, I guess you could say I Rome-d around for the most part. Terrible pun? Did I go too far?

I started my day off with heading to the ATM to withdraw some cash to pay my tourist tax that I had been unable to pay upon check-in. Once I paid my debt, I set off to explore Rome.

Now, my first faux pas of this adventure happened to be my decision of wearing shorts. When in Rome, do as the Romans do and do not wear shorts or tank tops. Dress modestly to not only fit in with the local population, but to also adhere to the dress code set forth by many of the churches.

First stop, S. Maria Della Victoria. This church was absolutely stunning! Even though I wore shorts, this church did not have any dress code restrictions.

Next, I made my way to Park Villa Borghese where I came across a pond/statue combo. At the pond, row boats could be rented for use. How fun! During my time at the park, I learned that parks in Rome are not maintained. The grass grows and grows without being mowed.

As I continued to wander, I stumbled upon Terrazza del Pincio and of Rome. I snapped a few photos and then went down to the square. On ground level, a group of handicapped individuals were being filmed while performing a dance routine to YMCA. All of the dancers were having the time of their life, which brought a smile to my face!

The view from Terrazza del Pincio

I left the square and stopped in a few more churches before heading to the Pantheon! Quite honestly, I still do not know the whole history about this magnificent church. I read the information sheets provided inside to guests, however, I mostly looked and took pictures and tried to get out of the crowd as soon as possible! What I found somewhat funny is a recorded voice would periodically go off in different languages asking everyone to be silent while in the church. When you have guided tours going on and a boatload of tourists, I think that wish is a bit unrealistic.

Crazy Pantheon crowd. Truly a magnificent church!

After escaping the Pantheon crowd, I stopped in a couple more churches taking my chances with wearing my shorts in some churches. Then, I walked through the Jewish Quarter thinking I would find some lunch but I instead continued onwards to Isola Tiberina. This is a small island that is in the River Tiber. There is not much on the island, but I found the church pretty and the river views to be nice. I then crossed the bridge into Trastevere and found some lunch at what seemed to be a family-run Italian restaurant. If you are in Rome, I highly recommend hitting up this area for food! Reasonably priced and authentic Italian where locals typically eat.

Once I finished inhaling my lunch, I started walking towards a museum on the outskirts of Rome. However, I was unaware May 1st happened to be Italy’s Labor Day. As a result, I arrived to the museum only to find it closed. I decided to backtrack and found some cool Roman ruins while walking through the rain towards Trevi Fountain, which I found to be underwhelming. Perhaps all the tourists was a big turn-off for me.

After snapping some photos of Trevi Fountain, I stopped in some shops before making my way to Gelateria de Romana for dinner…err…I mean dessert! This particular gelateria came highly recommended from my host brother and it did not disappoint! The coffee whipped cream was to die for!

Gelato #1!

A great first day in Rome!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo