This week is our first school break and in typical European fashion, a few friends and I made the decision to spend it in Italy!
Italy has been on my “travel bucket-list” since I was a kid and I’m so glad that I’m finally getting to experience it with some great friends by my side. I am traveling with fellow Teaching Fellow Rachel, and two friends that I met at St. Clare’s – Morgan, who is from Chicago, and Leonora, who is from Sweden. We are taking Italy on in true backpacker fashion with no set itinerary and only our feet, phones, carry-on baggage and friends’ advice to guide us.
We took off EARLY (and I mean early) on Friday morning to hit our first stop, Venice. After a 3:30am wakeup (yikes), 4:40 bus ride to Heathrow (double yikes), and brief layover in Frankfurt (not so bad), we made it to the Marco Polo airport in ITALY! I still cannot believe that I’m here. The four of us sleepwalked through the airport, navigated ourselves into a cab, and into our Airbnb located right outside of centre city Venice.
Sleep deprived and starving for a good ol’ carb-filled Italian meal, the adventures began. Before we get started, let me give you some quick and dirty advice on taking on Italy:
1 – Get some Euros before you arrive to avoid the hefty airport fee and any awkward situations (more on this later).
2 – Be cautious at grocery stores especially when in the fresh produce section (you probably need to weigh your own produce and some stores are picky about touching various things).
3 – Be prepared for a language barrier, even in touristy areas. (Italians are amazing hosts and lovely people but this barrier can be frustrating to both parties involved.)
4 – Book train tickets online in advance (much cheaper).
5 – When traveling, expect nothing to go exactly as planned
6 – We had no problem staying a bit outside the city but be aware that the busses into the city will be PACKED! Keep your eyes on your pockets!
We chose Venice as a starting point for our Italian adventure because flights in from England are cheap and we figured it would be lovely to chase the warmer weather downwards with the train.
Friday – First night:
Let me repeat – expect nothing to go exactly as you have planned. After we checked into our Airbnb, we decided to take the bus into Venice to grab lunch and explore a bit before calling it a night. Exhausted but excited to see the city, we grabbed our bags and headed out. There was only one problem: we couldn’t get the door open. I am not kidding you folks. We tried EVERYTHING. We turned the handle every direction possible, tried various pressures of pulling, and took turns giving it a go. At one point half of the door even came off the hinges (whoops) and it STILL would not open. Morgan even crawled out a window to see if she could get it open from the front side. We eventually had to call our host and tell her that she was going to have to return. Thankfully, we finally got it open right after we had placed the call and our mission for food continued. We got our bus passes, signed up for a tour for the next day, and headed to Venice!
Italian pizza fulfilled every expectation I’ve ever had and seeing Venice for the first time was a dream come true. The city is crowded with tourists even in February but we did our best throughout the weekend to get lost and find some hole in the wall places. We didn’t stay in Venice long before heading back to get some much-needed rest! I slept from 7pm-9am and have absolutely no regrets about it.
Saturday – Full day:
Since we only had one full day to explore Venice, we decided that signing up for a “hop on hop off” boat tour would allow us to see and do the most! Finding the tour’s starting point was a bit stressful, but we managed and eventually began the journey around 11:15. By traveling this way, I really feel that we got to see some of the areas not often “seen” in Venice. During the boat rides, an audio guide plays aloud and tells the stories of the sites you are passing!
Our first stop was the popular San Pedro and this was definitely the most crowded area that we were in. We spent some time getting lost down windy maze-like alleys, peeping in gorgeous churches, and walking along the water. For lunch, we stopped at another hole in the wall place that again, did not disappoint. I truly believe that you can really not go wrong when it comes to Italians and their Italian food. The ingredients are fresh, delicious, and our meals so far have been very well priced! We had about an hour after lunch to continue our exploration.
Next, we hopped back on the boat for 30 minutes up to the famous glass making island of Murano. It was strangely deserted and at first, we felt quite peaceful here. We bopped in and out of some glass making shops, bought some souvenirs and gifts for family and friends, and quickly found that we had explored most of the island. We ended up with a bit too much extra time and decided to escape the cold by finding a little coffee shop. After one strike out at a small place that didn’t accept credit cards, we found an upscale café at a local hotel to snack at.
Morgan used her card to order at the bar, but the rest of us were directed to sit and be served at a table. We sat, talked, and enjoyed our coffees for a bit. After about 40 minutes, we realized that time was passing quickly and we needed to get our check. We got up to pay and discovered that the girls who had served us originally were gone and only an older Italian man (with 0 bilingual skills) remained to help us pay our tab.
He began demanding that we pay cash, and still had Morgan’s drink (which she had paid for previously) on our tab. Another problem: we did not have enough Euro’s to pay the bill. We panicked and kept trying to hand him credit cards. He continued to insist that their card machine was broken even though Morgan had just used hers to pay for her drink. He insisted that we pay in cash and gave us vague instructions to an ATM on the island. Rachel, Leonora, and I took off running desperately towards the area he described. After some struggles, we found the bank but it seemed to be closed. We ran next door and begged a restaurant employee to help us. Thankfully, he was quick to help us and showed us how to insert our credit card in the door as a “key” to get it to open.
We grabbed our cash, sprinted back towards the café, and then had to loop back the opposite direction of our boat to cross the bridge and take off full speed. This is by far the closest I’ve ever come to dining and dashing and the biggest scene I have ever caused. People were staring and pointing as we huffed and puffed our way across that little island. Our luck finally kicked in and we made it to the dock just as the boat was pulling up. All was well as we did not commit a crime and avoided having to stay on that island another two hours.
After our hour return boat, we decided to treat ourselves to a fine Italian dinner as a small reward for the crazy adventures of the day. This place was exactly what we needed. I ordered seafood risotto and we shared a wonderful bottle of Chardonnay. I got to do my first ever “taste test” to approve our choice!
Overall, the day was entirely successful and we were able to look back on both the struggles and high points as learning experiences. We got to walk through the city just as the sun set and all the lights switched on and it was a moment to remember forever.
Sunday – Lazy morning/travel day:
This morning, we slept in a bit, had our grocery store breakfast, and got all checked out of our Airbnb before our final trip to the city!
The day was absolutely beautiful and we took the opportunity to eat our brunch outside and soak up the sun. I ordered an omelet with cheese and prosciutto and a cappuccino. As we ate and shared stories about our lives, children and puppies ran around the courtyard laughing and playing. It was the absolute perfect way to end our time in Venice.
We are currently on the train heading towards Florence where we will spend three nights right in centre city! Our Italian adventure has only just begun!