Boquete, Panama: Day 1

At 2:00 am on Wednesday, I bordered a charter bus with the other Sol students to head to Boquete, Panama.

Now, you maybe wondering. Why exactly Boquete? Why go to Panama for three days?

Well, in Costa Rica myself and the other Sol students are on tourist visas and not student visas. After 90 days, the tourist visas expire. Because our program surpasses the time frame of the tourist visa, Sol takes all of the students to Panama for a couple of days so we can receive a new tourist visa. Up until a few years ago, Sol took students to Nicaragua because the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border was much closer to Heredia. However, Nicaragua is currently in the midst of a civil war with a level 4 travel warning. As a result, Sol taking students to Panama is pretty recent.

I had really low expectations traveling to Panama and I have to say they were easily surpassed!

Around mid to late morning, our bus arrived at the Costa Rica-Panama border. Everyone had to disembark the bus and line up to receive their exit stamps. The border buildings were a real eye-opener for me. I kept thinking back to my time in Switzerland with my host sister Estelle and when we had drove to France to ski for the day (click here to read about that adventure). The ease of which people, goods, and services moved across borders in Europe is easy as a result of the European Union. Central America, however, is a whole different ball game.

In true Central American fashion, everything is beautiful chaos. There are street vendors trying to sell you fresh coconut juice while waiting in line. Random store fronts are along the road advertising that you can make copies there for a small fee. Bags are being unloaded from buses and searched by hand in a gated section of the complex. There is a lot going on in one place.

While waiting in line to receive my stamp, I could not stop thinking about the thousands of people who had made up the migrant caravan which dominated headlines last fall in the United States. I think what sparked this thought of mine happened to be a huge group of individuals who the Costa Rican officials had pulled aside on the opposite side of the baggage search area. From my spot in line, I could only see officials spouting off directions. Costa Rica by Central and South American standards is viewed as very advanced. With Nicaragua in the midst of a civil war and other countries in the region having stability issues with their economy or government, Costa Rica is viewed as a desirable country.

Our whole group luckily got through fairly quickly despite the line being long. A week prior, we had to turn in our exit tax money ($20 USD) along with other documentation. Since our program directors had processed some of the paperwork already, we only really needed our exit stamp from the Costa Rican border officials.

Everyone hopped onto the bus again. Before moving, we all made sure our passport stamps had the correct date on them. Then, our bus driver drove everyone to the Panama border control. There, everyone took all of their items off the bus.

I was surprised to find in this “free area” of sorts a bustling town with restaurants, stores, and taxis galore. Once again, beautiful chaos.

We each got our passport stamps and put our bags through a scanner. Then, the whole group bordered the bus. We were officially admitted to Panama! Our bus had to stop for a second time and a gentleman from the Panamanian military got on to check our passports once again. After he disembarked, we set off for a nearby gas station/rest stop. There, I was flabbergasted to see signs for a liter of gas for less than $1 USD (U.S. dollars are the official currency of Panama).

After our rest stop, we continued driving on ward until reaching the quaint town of Boquete. At the tourist information area, everyone took pictures with the sign, grabbed a snack at the cafe, and shopped for souvenirs.

Welcome to Boquete, Panama!

Our bus then continued to our hotel, which was located outside of the city of Boquete. We were greeted with some beautiful views.

Welcome to our hotel!

Once getting settled in, myself and some other students decided to take a couple of taxis into town to explore and grab some dinner. Split among 4 people, our cab ride only cost a $1 USD a person.

In town, we wandered in and out of souvenir shops and little markets. At a little market, myself and some of the other students talked a while with a gentleman named Fabio in Spanish. NOTHING is better than having someone tell you your Spanish is great and accent fabulous. Talk about a confidence booster! He explained that he makes everything in his shop by hand, so of course, I purchased a little Panamanian moccasin key chain from him to use as my ornament.

Then, we made our way to a local eatery for some dinner. We had asked the lovely employees at our hotel where we could find authentic food and also our cab driver. All three people recommended the restaurant we went to called El Sabrosón.

The restaurant was cafeteria-style. Basically, you selected your meat and then your sides. None of us knew the translations for anything on the board, so we all selected everything at random. Because the restaurant is cafeteria-style, some items were out for the day. I asked for a couple of different things and they didn’t have them. However, I ended up with a great meal of salad, rice, a beef and potato mixture, beans, candied plantains, and tres leches cake (separate of my main course). For everything you see (which is a LOT of food), I spend $5.50 USD. ALWAYS eat where the locals eat because the food is cheap and delicious! You also have the opportunity to mingle with locals or people watch, which is fun in my opinion. I loved sitting at the picnic tables with friends and chatting.

Panama meal #1

Once we had full bellies, we decided we were ready to head back to the hotel. Two people went in search of WiFi to contact the cab driver. Since there were 6 of us, we figured we needed to get two cabs. Much to our surprise, however, our cap driver said “hop on in!” So, 6 girls and a cab driver headed down the winding roads to our hotel jamming to some Spanish music.

A wonderful first day in Panama!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

I am hiking the tallest peak in Costa Rica!

Well friends, I am off to hike the tallest peak in Costa Rica: Cerro Chirripó.

A few weeks ago, I talked to Hannah D. about photos I had seen of Cerro Chirripó and how cool it would be to hike the tallest peak in Costa Rica. Truly, I thought the possibility of hiking Cerro Chirripó was a pipe dream. Hannah enthusiastically responded with “I want to climb a mountain. Let’s do it!”

After an afternoon of research, she and I figured out what climbing the peak would entail: permits, accommodation, a rough timeline, etc. Then, we invited Audrey to join in on the experience as she is an avid hiker. Immediately, the three of us booked our permits and accommodation.

Cerro Chirripó is the 37th most prominent peak in the world with a height of 3,821 meters (12,536 feet). To the summit is a 19.5 kilometer (12.1 mile) hike.

On Saturday morning, we will hike the first 8 miles to the base camp where we will stay the night. At 2:00 am on Sunday morning, we will wake up and hike to the summit to watch sunrise. From there, Audrey, Hannah, and I will make our way down and take the bus back to San Jose.

Wish us luck! See you back here on Monday!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Uvita, Costa Rica: Day 4

Once again, I found myself awake early. This time, though, I was not rushing around. I went outside and sat in a porch chair and watched the rain fall and chatted with Hannah D. While relaxing, Rosita brought over fresh coconuts to Hannah D. and I that Benito had chopped from the tree. I savored my fresh coconut juice while I rocked in the rocking chair.

Eventually, our group of 7 made their way out. Everyone packed a peanut butter sandwich for the bus ride and loaded up their backpacks. We said goodbye and thank you to both Benito and Rosita who were so kind during our stay.

Since our bus was supposed to leave at 10:40 am and we had purchased tickets the day before, we took our time getting to the bus station. We arrived around 10:15 am and noticed a bus already in the parking lot. However, we assumed it was another bus. Much to our surprised, though, this bus was going to San Jose and the bus driver said we could hop aboard. I still to this day not 100% certain if this was our assigned bus or not. Regardless, the bus was very empty which meant we did not have to sit in our assigned seats. Additionally, the bus left 10-15 minutes early, which is very uncommon in Costa Rica.

A short 4 hours later, we arrived to San Jose. From there, our huge group walked to the Heredia buses and took the public bus back to our host city.

A wonderful first long weekend!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

10 things I had to adjust to since being in Costa Rica

To offer a bit more perspective on what my life is like here in Costa Rica, I thought I would write about 10 different things I had to adjust to while in Costa Rica. By no means are these 10 items “bad,” merely, they are different things I have had to adjust and adapt to, which is a part of studying abroad and acclimating to a new culture.

  1. Throwing toilet paper in the trashcan and not the toilet.
    • Prior to coming to Costa Rica, I knew throwing the toilet paper into the toilet was not an option here in Costa Rica due to the plumbing not having the capacity or pressure to get the toilet paper where it needs to go. Many a time when first arriving here, I had to dig my toilet paper out of the toilet because I would forget to put it into the trashcan. Whoops! I know for certain this will be a hard habit to break once I return to the United States.
  2. Having no mirror in the bathroom
    • I am not sure if this is cultural thing, but Sheri and I do not have a mirror in our bathroom. Rather, we have a mirror outside of our bathroom. However, the bathroom mirror downstairs has a mirror above the sink. From what I can deduce, the main bathroom in the house has a mirror while others do not.
  3. Not having hot water to wash hands or dishes
    • When I turn on the faucet in the bathroom or kitchen, only cold water comes out. I wash my hands with soap and the dishes with soap, don’t worry. However, I cannot guarantee that all of the germs have been vanquished, but I do my best!
  4. Bugs are everywhere and anywhere
    • As a result of the climate and windows not having screens, bugs creep into all corners of the house. A normal day consists of me saying “farewell” to at least 5 ants in my rooms. Occasionally, a little lizard will wander in through the window and scurry along the walls and sometimes into my bedroom.
  5. Catcalling happens on the daily
    • As a result of the machismo culture in Latin and South America, catcalling happens on the daily. For someone who does not look like they are from Central or South America, I already attract a lot of stares and attention. Nearly every day while walking to or from school, someone will deliberately honk at me or yell at me. All I can do is ignore the unwanted attention.
  6. Walking by after 6:00 pm alone is not a great idea
    • Unfortunately, after 6:00 pm, I have to take a taxi or Uber to get where I need to be. I am a firm believer bad things can happen ANYWHERE. By no means am I implying Costa Rica is unsafe. When traveling alone, having common sense and being aware of your surroundings are of the upmost importance. Not walking around at 6:00 pm at night is a safety precaution more than anything.
  7. Rice and beans daily for meals
    • Funnily enough, my mama tica does not like to eat rice and beans all the time herself. Additionally, with having lots of experience of hosting students from the United States, I think my mama tica recognizes rice and beans for every meal are not a part of our daily diet. As a result, I do not eat rice and beans for every meal. Rather, I have rice and beans for 1-2 meals per day and most of the time I have the ability to choose how much rice and beans I want to eat.
  8. Bus routes and bus time tables are extremely complicated to understand
    • After studying in Europe where the train and bus schedules are easily accessible via a Google search, trying to plan a trip to another city or area of Costa Rica can be extremely complicated and frustrating. As I have learned, talking with my mama tica or consulting multiple blogs helps find answers and provide some direction.
  9. Unplugging from technology
    • This point is more of a personal choice. I do not have a sim card while in Costa Rica, which has forced me to unplug when I do not have WiFi access or if the WiFi is not working. When traveling in Costa Rica, it is pretty easy to find a place with free WiFi. However, the internet source may not be reliable. Additionally, during afternoon rain storms, sometimes the WiFi at my home or school stops working for hours at a time, which forces me to unplug.
  10. Embracing the relaxing pace and culture that equates to the idea of Pura Vida
    • As someone who is always go, go, go, slowing down and embracing ‘Pura Vida’ has been slightly tough. Ticos do not take life too seriously and stop to smell the roses more often and not. I hope to embody this aspect of Costa Rica culture by being fully present and embracing life during the next two months of my exchange. Pura Vida!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Volcán Irazú and Cartago

On Saturday, I embarked on a Saturday day trip to Volcán Irazú (Irazú Volcano) and the nearby city of Cartago with other Sol students.

The day began with taking the public bus to San Jose early in the morning to catch the only bus from San Jose to Volcán Irazú. After frantically searching a street for the bus stop, our group finally discovered where we needed to be and got onto the bus successfully.

After a lengthy and beautiful 1.5 hour bus ride, we arrived to Volcán Irazú. Luckily for us students, the ticket collector awarded us the Costa Rican citizen price for having our student IDs. Instead of tickets costing $15 they were around $2. Receiving a “student discount” in Costa Rica is a hit or miss as I have learned when going to popular attractions.

Immediately after getting off of the bus, Sheri (my roommate) and I set of to see the famous crater and lake without the rest of the group who were taking a pit stop at the bathroom. She and I walked the short distance to the fence that ran along the edge of the crater and were met with a spectacular view. With being short, I stood on the fence to snap some photos. Sheri and I both saw tourists hopping the fence to get individual photos, so we decided to do the same.

Volcán Irazú

After grabbing our photos, we decided to walk along the length of the fence. Once again, I hopped the fence to grab some photos not thinking too much about it because the fence was super far back from the edge. I told Sheri to come over to where I was standing so I could snap her photo because in my opinion, the view was much better.

A much better location than stop one, right?

All of the sudden, a truck pulls up and a park ranger jumps up and shouts at Sheri, myself, and another man (who had also followed us over the fence) in English “GET OUT OF THE PARK. THE SIGNS ARE EXPLICITLY CLEAR DO NOT CLIMB THE FENCE.” Sheri and I, both terrified, quickly got back over the fence. Sheri uttered a “Lo siento” (I’m sorry) and we walked quickly back the way we came.

On our way back, Sheri and I met the rest of our group and informed them all to not jump the fence as we had gotten kicked out of the park. To which they all responded with “WHAT?!”

So, for the next 30 minutes, Sheri and I sat at the gift shop laughing at the situation and debating on whether or not we should try to go back into the park by swapping our clothes. However, due to Sheri having a bright yellow coat on and being born with beautiful red hair that is clearly noticeable in Costa Rica, we decided to remain seated. Besides, both of us had amazing photos.

For me, the ironic part of the whole situation was that I am typically a rule-follower and hardly ever get in trouble. Yet 15 minutes into being at a National Park in another country, I get kicked out. Thank goodness I only paid $2!

A while later, the rest of our group came back and were headed for a short hike they had seen some other tourists take. At the top of the hill, we were met with crazy clouds.

Our group quickly made our way back to the public bus for the journey back to San Jose.

Instead of riding the bus all the way back to the Costa Rican capital, myself and three other girls got of the bus in Cartago to explore for the rest of the afternoon.

Our first stop: a small market in San Rafael. In this quaint town, the four of us girls went to a panaderia (bakery) to grab some lunch/snack.

San Rafael, Costa Rica

After exploring the food market, we began the short walk to Cartago. There, we stopped at the famous church Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles or Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. Our objective was to go inside the church, but a wedding ceremony was wrapping up.

In the meantime, we went in search of the Santiago Apóstol Parish Ruins. Of course, our group got slightly lost and had to ask for directions. Eventually, we found the ruins and were able to see the beautiful gardens.

At this time, the weather took a turn for the worse and it began to pour. Collectively, our group decided to look for a cafe with WiFi so we could figure out where the bus station to San Jose was located. Audrey, one of the four gals, went into a corner cafe and asked the owner if they had WiFi and promised to purchase food if we could use the internet. At first, he hesitated but then decided to pass along the password to us. He and his wife treated the four of us with the most kind hospitality with water and a delicious dessert sample of what I believe to be was Torta Chilena.

After our snack and having directions, our group made our way back to the church. I snapped some pictures of the inside and then explored the area a bit more while the rest of the group took more time inside the church.

Our group reconvened at 4:00 pm and made the long trek to the bus station. Even though we had gotten directions earlier at the cafe, we still had to stop and ask for directions multiple times. Eventually, our little group found the bus station and made it back to San Jose. From there, we took the bus back to Heredia.

Overall, the day trip was really fun and successful. My one piece of advice: DON’T CLIMB THE FENCE! I cannot say I left a positive impression on the park ranger, but the lesson I learned of breaking the rules left a positive impression on me.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

The Exhaustion of Learning a New Language

Since arriving to Costa Rica three weeks ago, I can safely say that each night I am in bed AND asleep by 9:00 pm.

If you know me personally, I am an early sleeper by nature and an early riser, so going to bed this early would make sense.

However, since arriving to Costa Rica, I have a different form of exhaustion: mental exhaustion. Unless you have learned a second language through the immersive experience of studying abroad, I am not sure if you would be able to understand the exhaustion I am describing because I myself am new to this type of “tired” even though I have studied abroad two other times.

From the moment I eat breakfast at 7:15 am, my brain has to concentrate REALLY hard. I intently listen to my host mother talk while I eat my breakfast and respond when necessary. Three weeks into being in Costa Rica, I still have to mentally translate what is being said to me in English and then translate my response from English to Spanish in my head. The amount of concentration and thought this requires is absolutely crazy!

After breakfast, I then head to school to attend my class. For the next three hours, I am speaking in Spanish, trying to understand my Spanish professor, and participate in the activities. To be honest, most of the time I say “estoy confundida” or “I am confused” because I have a tough time understanding his accent.

By the time class concludes at 11:00 am, my brain is fried. Some days more so than others. Depending on the day, I either have a cultural activity in the afternoon, a second class at 2:00 pm, intercambio in the evening, or head home for the day. On the days where I have a cultural activity, my concentration continues throughout the afternoon as I intently listen to instructions/information.

When dinner time roles around at 7:00 pm, I eat with my host family and get around for bed soon afterwards. As the clock strikes 8:30 pm, my eyelids are ready to go to bed.

Being in Costa Rica and improving my Spanish skills truly has been an eye-opener for me. It sheds light on what international students at my university go through when they first arrive to the states. It sheds light on what immigrants and refugees go through as they learn to acclimate to a new culture and language without preparation. It sheds light on what my younger brother and younger sister both went through when they studied abroad in Sweden and Peru respectively.

I truly have a newfound perspective on those who learn new language whether through choice or as a means of survival. You are unbelievably brave in my eyes.

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The next time you happen to hear an accent or someone struggling to convey what they are wanting/needing/saying, I hope you decide to help that person out. We all have to start somewhere when learning a new language or culture. Maybe you will end up with a new friend or walk away with something you never knew before. Just know that the accented ones are tired and trying their best even if they have a gringa accent when speaking Spanish.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica: Day 2

Did you read all about my first day at Manuel Antonio National Park? If not, click here to read that post before continuing this one.

Day 2 of my short trip began with a bright and early 8:00 am check out. Once all students were accounted for and on the bus, we took a short bus ride to Manuel Antonio National Park.

With Angie leading the way, our whole group walked through the national park to head to the beach. The weather happened to be pretty dreary during the walk, but I was excited to relax on the beach and observe wildlife nonetheless!

An idyllic Manuel Antonio beach

Before sitting down on the beach, our group saw a whole bunch of tourists and their guides sprint up a path.

Side note: Tourists typically hire experienced guides to take them through the national parks. The guides not only provide historical context of the area, but also are experts in finding wildlife and providing information about the creatures. For example, I though I would be able to see a sloth with my naked eye, this is not the case. Sloths perch themselves at the very top of trees, so a telescope (yes telescope) must be used. Additionally, Costa Rica prides itself on ecotourism, so some of the National Parks are only accessible by using a guide to preserve the biodiversity.

Okay…back to my story!

Our group started to follow everyone running because we wanted to know what the buzz was about. Much to my surprise, a boa constrictor had killed a raccoon and could be seen holding its meal. Absolutely crazy! Once taking photos, a guide told everyone to back up and give the snake space. Even with a fence in between us and 5-10 feet of space, the snake could sense everyone which causes stress. Who knew!

A boa and a raccoon…wouldn’t be my first choice of food!

For the rest of the day at Manuel Antonio, I read my book and chatted with the other Sol students. Much to my delight, some Capuchin monkeys decided to pay our claimed area a visit. They began terrorizing other tourists by stealing their food or stuff. I literally saw a monkey grab a woman’s phone and try to rip it out of her hand. Much to my dismay, I also saw tourists trying to feed the monkeys when there were signs everywhere to not feed the wildlife. For the love of all things, if you go anywhere I implore you to NOT feed the wildlife.

Around 12:00 pm, the group of students I was with wrapped up our time at the National Park to have some lunch and prepare for the bus ride home.

A fabulous short trip. I cannot wait until my next Costa Rican national park visit!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Culture Class: Weaving!

Last Wednesday, group B boarded the public bus to go to San Jose for the afternoon to spend some time at a fair trade artisan shop to learn how to weave pot holders.

This happened to by my first time in San Jose, so I was excited to see what the city had to offer. From Heredia by public bus, the ride is anywhere from 20-30 minutes. There is a train that also takes you into the city that is not only cheaper, but quicker. Compared to Heredia, San Jose is more modern and obviously larger population-wise since its the city’s capital. With more people, there is more trash, interesting smells, and more visible homelessness/poverty.

After a 20-minute walk, our group arrived at Chietón Morén Museo y Mercadito de Artesanías. Based on an informational card I grabbed before leaving, this particular shop “is an initiative of 200 craftsmen and craftswomen of Costa Rican indigenous territories. Here they show and sell their crafts and they tell you how they produce them.”

For the size of the shop which is decently sized, there is a lot of handicrafts to choose from if a tourist is in search of a particular and authentic souvenir. I thought the prices seemed fair and not at all overpriced. If you ever find yourself in San Jose, I would definitely check them out. Their website can be found here.

Group B headed to the back of the shop where some tables were set up. For the next couple of hours, we peacefully wove our potholders using a cross method. Our instructor discussed how the plant leaves that serve as the material are harvested and died. To be honest, I cannot provide a lot of insight as my brain was fried from class earlier in the day. I will say, I found this craft to be extremely therapeutic and fun. Besides the very center of the potholder, I wove everything else. Each person was given the center portion to start off.

My finished potholder!

After weaving, everyone was served a traditional meal of pork, cheesy potatoes, and leaves to put in a corn tortillas. Delicious!

Once everyone finished eating and weaving, the afternoon ended in free time. I went with a group that rode the train back to Heredia.

To finish off my evening, I went to intercambio. Intercambio is a weekly optional get-together of Tico students and exchange students at my university. Thus far, the program has been running for two weeks and I have gone both times. Basically, we play games and speak in Spanish/English to help one another out on our language skills. It just so happens that after intercambio finished, there was a dance class. I went to said dance class for an hour and had fun, but spent most of the evening not knowing what I was doing. That’s what happens when you switch from the “girl” part to the “boy” part. You have no idea what your feet or hands should be doing!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

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