Update: I Love Spring Break

Hi everyone! I’m enjoying Spring break at the moment!Today I visited Vinci, a small town in the Italian countryside between Pisa and Florence, and the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci (da Vinci means “of Vinci”). I walked a lot and got pretty tired!

I’ve been wildly busy and have been doing my best to catch up on all my blog posts!

Check out my four Venice posts:

1. Venice (the City Built on Water): First Night

2. Venice (the Sinking City): Day Two

3. Venice (the City of Zombies): Day Two Evening


4. Venice (the City of Masks): The Last Morning

Check out my post about the Italian cooking class I took! I learned how to make ravioli and panna cotta in my Italian Cooking Class.

And I also went to Viareggio’s carnevale!! I have pictures of the huge parade floats in my post Carnevale di Viareggio.

I found an organic health food store!!! Sugar Blues is across the river from where I live (near Santo Spirito) —  they sell gluten free and organic food. Here’s my post: Organic Grocery Store: Sugar Blues.
What’s up and what I still need to blog about:
  • Rome– I went to Rome for a weekend with my AIFS program! (posts are still in the works for Rome!).
  • Interlaken, Switzerland — I spend this last weekend (my first few days of Spring break!) in Interlaken, Switzerland, which was gorgeous! I saw the snowy mountains, lakes and the city of Bern.
  • Bologna — just visited yesterday.
  • Empoli and Vinci — today!!!

Posts of all of these will appear, I set the date as the day I actually went, so it may be easiest to ‘follow’ my blog and receive email updates when I post all of these things.

This coming weekend: in less than 24 hours I will be on the bus to visit Prague in the Czech Republic.

Stay well and keep up with my posts!



Venice (the City of Masks): The Last Morning.


Me (again, I keep getting spoiled with having people take photos of me 🙂
Elizabeth V. and I got up in the morning to take pictures on the bridge by our hotel.)
vaporetto/ water bus.
I decided to take a walk and left the hotel on my own around 9 am.
I just wandered along the Grand Canal and into little streets.
 A bridge. To the left of it is the Grand Canal.

Some funny grouping of shack-things.

Venice does have gardens, although most are private and hidden behind walls. Part of a garden is visible from this back alley.
I found some patches of graffiti. Once I had walked until I reached a blocked-off area, I turned around and walked in the opposite direction.
 I came across all of these boats and people getting ready for a parade.
The figure on the left is dressed in the “Medico della Peste,” outfit of the plague doctor. Doctors treating victims of the black death/plague supposedly wore masks with a long, hollow beak that were filled with sponges soaked in vinegar. The circular eye holes were covered with clear disks, and the long, black cloaks were coated in wax in an attempt to insulate against the sickness.
Santa Maria della Salute, which is right where I was standing.


This is inside — I think it was alright to take pictures because I didn’t see a sign prohibiting it, and everyone else was too. The space inside this Church is pretty cool, it’s very large.


Standing on the steps of the basilica.
 Cute little bridges and a Basenji. I started walking back to my hotel.

Santa does some gondoliering on the side to bring in extra money.
I returned to the hotel at noon after walking for 3 hours, and took a vaporetto to the train station in Venice with a few classmates. I had lunch here, and it was actually pretty good. The front part of this place is a store, but as you walk through to the back it’s sort of like a (nice) cafeteria. (If you’re facing the train station, turn to your right and follow that street until you see this on the left. It’s pretty close by)
A chocolate. Wandering around on my own again, my classmates had to go back to the hotel to grab their luggage. I had all my things with me in my backpack.
These guys are everywhere, in every city. They try to sell fakes and weird toys.
A lot of these kind of random sandwich displays. I heard these things were pretty good from other people.
Maschere = masked performers. These are made of chocolate.
And again, these seller-guys on the the bridge.
While I was stuck by the train station, I wandered into the church of Santa Lucia in Venice. I saw some sort of tomb-thing with clear panels and what I assumed was the fake body of St. Lucia. Over a week later, in my Italian Life and Culture lecture, that particular church and body were brought up, and apparently the body is a real body. I was so horrified. All I remember is the feet were super creepy.
A view down off the bridge into a garden. You can see how it’s walled off from the sidewalk side.
Two people dressed up. The man’s mask has a strangely pointed chin; this mask was once using during political meetings so that votes could be caste anonymously. The protruding part allows for eating without removal of the mask.
A really cute, desperately eager dog.
After this I met up with everyone at the train station, and we took the train back to Florence.
Advice for Venice:
  • Bring water proof things.
  • Bring rain boots.
  • Bring a lot of layers, it get’s pretty cold.
  • Wear good walking shoes.
  • Go island-hopping!!!! Go see Murano and Burano and whichever islands you can.
  • Don’t be late for the train ride home — you’ll get left behind, which happened on my trip.
  • If you’re going to buy a mask, walk around for at least a day before you choose one. By then, you should be able to recognise the mass-produced ones and buy something unique.
  • Try some cicheti
  • There’s no night life in Venice, so don’t wait until evening to go have fun.
  • From my experience and what I heard from other people, a lot of the restaurants serve bad food, so look up where you’d like to go or ask for a recommendation. My tour guide Rita recommended Cantina Dos Spade and Cantina Dos
  • If you have time, take a few hours and just sit on the vaporetto and enjoy views of the city from the meandering city water busses.
  • Don’t wear a backpack on the day you plan to visit the San Marco church.
  • Bring sunglasses — it can get blindingly sunny.

(I may edit this list of advice if I think to add anything.)

My personal summary of Venice:

I can’t explain why, but I didn’t feel very comfortable in Venice — I really expected to love it. I’ve always been drawn to water and the ocean, so it makes sense that I’d feel at home in the city built on water. At home on the West Coast I always end up in the water when I visit the beach, and often I’m the only one playing in the water with all my clothes on. The water in Venice’s canals are very chemicalized, partly because of loose regulations in the past which resulted in a lot of pollution. I suppose that beginning to feel sick that weekend didn’t help my impressions of the city. I didn’t like the food much overall in Venice (I think Tuscan food is way better, aka. the food in Florence). The city was very small, and a little less lively than I expected.

On the upside: I loved the water buses! I rode on them about 5 times. I already noted this, but I recommend just sitting on the water bus and using it to sight-see. Also, try some cicheti. The fact that Venice’s streets are mostly canals is fascinating, and the city does have some cute corners. It’s a little hilarious how often the city floods (probably not so funny if you live there). I liked seeing all the boats as well, and I like the way that the bridges connect everything. There are bridges that connect to the front door of a single house!

My impressions may not be accurate though, if you’ve been to Venice and had different impressions please comment! 🙂

Venice (the City of Zombies) — Day Two Evening

Hi! Me and a canal.
I found an herbal shop.
Venetian food: each region of Italy has a distinct cuisine. They are so different, in fact, that there truly is no such thing as “Italian” food. Not surprisingly, seafood is a large part of a typical Venetian diet.
  • Cicheti is an interesting, unique component of Venetian cuisine. It’s a kind of “finger food”, which ranges form veggies to seafood. I had some eggplant and potatoes which were pretty good. It’s basically little pieces of food that can be ordered at the counter like this one and eaten standing at the bar, or taken to go.
  • They also serve spritz, a wine-based cocktail composed of prosecco wine or champagne, bitter liqueur, and sparkling mineral water.
  • The typical wines include of that region are Merlot, Cabernet, Prosecco, and Pinot, with an emphasis on Manzoni and Raboso wines.
Our tour guide Rita recommended Cantina Do Mori and Cantina Do Spade. They’re sort of like pubs; it’s hard to explain. You can order food to be eated while standing at the bar. It’s an interesting experience.
After the walking tour, my roommate Elizabeth V. and I  headed back to the hotel, tired out and with sore feet.
We suddenly came upon an unexpected sight… There were a bunch of people that appeared to be armed milling around, along with a bunch of police officers and security. We kept walking toward the bridge we needed to cross to reach out hotel when suddenly….
We get totally swarmed by a huge crowd of people dressed like zombies. I accidentally ran into a trashcan trying to get away (I tried to speed walk away in the opposite direction from the on-coming mass of costumed pretend-zombies). I lost Elizabeth and kind of got trapped in the middle of the procession. I watched the fake-armed people pretend-kill the zombies. Venice has some sort of annual zombie parade, which I guess is great for people who enjoy that kind of thing.
May as well walk the dog while wandering the streets as an undead citizen of Venice.

Venice (the Sinking City) — Day Two

Welcome to Venice!
I learned how to identify gondolas (there are also black, banana shaped lagoon boats in Venice). As depicted in this little street sign, gondola’s have a metal piece in the front with six prongs. Each prong represents one of the 6 districts of Venice.
I’ll just being with the beginning of my Saturday. I got up early to take some pictures right out side the hotel, before returning to meet up with everyone at the breakfast.
There’s a water bus/vaporetto station right there; Accademia was our stop. We got 48 hour bus passes for this AIFS weekend trip, so I basically got unlimited access to using the water buses!
A vaporetto on the canal beneath the bridge right by my hotel. The deeper canals (such as this one, are only about 10 feet deep.
I’m just wandering around alone. The architecture here is so different than Florence. Imagine having your own bridge to get home.
Some random food place I passed. I personally didn’t find the food in Venice very good, but this is just based on the places I wandered into.
A store.
At this point I returned to the hotel where we began our three hour tour of Venice with our Venetian tour guide Rita.
We learned a great deal, like the fact that the city of Venice is indeed sinking. This is due to fact that the city was built on wooden pilings — the foundations of the city are long, wooden tree trunks driven into the marshy ground, which have since petrified due to lack of oxygen. These foundations are slowly sinking. In addition to this, the water levels in Venice are rising.
A super cute golden retriever! Apparently, Venetians love their dogs. Tourguide Rita told us she scolds any owners don’t pick up after the dogs.
In Venice the water ways look like little streets made of water! These small canals are only about 3 feet deep.
Some boats. The water really is this colour, too.
Venice floods often. On days that street cleaners anticipate heavy flooding, they abandon their usual posts of collecting garbage bags and begin setting up these cat walks. In this way, the Venetians can walk along the streets above the water. Rita told us that it is very difficult to move alone the cat walk with other people on it as well.
Another dog! You can see the fashionable dark-coat-with-white-scarf combination worn by many of the Italians.
Venice once collected all of its water from rainfall. Their street drains and roofs were designed to catch rain water. Water that seeped into the street drains fell into a large, ceramic holding container built directly beneath the well (seen here), which separated it from the surrounding salt water. The clean water was accessible to the civilians via wells like this one, which are spread around the city. Guards were once posted by these wells to prevent any water contamination. The water was filtered by a system of sand filtration. Today, fresh water is pumped in from the main land.
The water level has risen about 2 feet from when the city was built — gondoliers like this one need to compensate for the smaller passages.
Interestingly, gondolas are not mass produced. Each gondola’s length and width is customised to the gondoliers height and weight. It has to be specific so that the gondolier can handle manoeuvring the boat all on his own.
Side note: bicycle riding is tolerated only by children in Venice. Otherwise, it is forbidden.
The Piazza San Marco in Venice! The pool of water visible there is not rain water– it is actually salt water that has bubbled up through the storm drains. This happens frequently due to the sea level, which (as I already mentioned) is about 2 feet higher than it was when Venice was first built.
Salt water ruins leather, so don’t let any of this touch your boots!
This interesting clock depicts the zodiac. It was also made when it was believed that the Sun circled the Earth. You can see the Earth and moon in the centre of the clock.
The San Marco church does not allow backpacks inside. Luckily, I hadn’t brought my backpack. I’m not sure there was really a solution to this issue (no coat-check area) other than simply not bringing a backpack. Here the flooding (that reaches into the church) is visible. There is the cat walk in use.
First interior shot; the golden ceilings here are famous. Photography is not allowed within the church. Also, the flooding is visible here.
The Bridge of Sighs (the raised, enclosed passageway in the rear) is often perceived as romantic location and tourist destination. Couples take pictures kissing under it. It is the passageway that prisoners took before their imprisonment, and their last glimpse of the freedom they had lost. It is said that they breathed a sigh of loss at their last moment seeing the beauty of Venice; thus the bridge has been named “the Bridge of Sighs.”
A stand with some veggies.
More narrow canals. It is impossible to walk along the water line/along the main canals, as there simply is not sidewalk or long stretch of flat area. So our tour meandered through pieces of all the 6 districts of Florence via the back ways and little bridges.
We ended our 3 hour tour in the Jewish Ghetto. To Italians, the ghetto was the districts that the jewish banking families were allowed to rent apartments, as they were not permitted to buy/own Venetian land.The building on the right is a synagogue (the jews were supposed to be discrete with displaying their places of worship. There are actually 5 synagogues in this square, and a well is visible on the left. Synagogues are easily identified by the 5, round-arched windows which represent the 5 books of the Torah. Afterward, Elizabeth V. and I wandered off as everyone else dispersed to eat lunch.
Again, notice that there is no water front. There are occasional strips of side walk, but they do not run along all the canals.
The rising water level is slowly obscuring the many steps that now recede into the green depths of the canals.
View on the vaporetto 🙂
One of the vaporettos ahead of ours. I was surprised that the water buses meander from one side of the waterway to the next to load and unload passengers. I had assumed there was a system of keeping to one side of the canal, but this doesn’t seem to be so.
A lab waiting to board the vaporetto. Service dog laws aren’t as developed in Europe as a whole as they are in the U.S., but average pet dogs have more public access than U.S. pet dogs.
A view of a gondola and restaurant from the vaporetto.
The Rialto bridge. In Venice, whenever you cross a bridge (large like the Rialto or any smaller size) you have technically crossed onto another island. Elizabeth V. (my roommate) and I walked around for a bit after our tour.
Interestingly, there is no night life in Venice. For this reason many young Venetians move away; Venice is slowly losing its young people. This made me a bit sad. Venice was once the hollywood of Europe, and in comparison today’s Venice is in decline. It is now a quiet city that isn’t being funded for repairs — essentially, it is sinking and thus far nothing seems to be being done to prevent it vanishing into the green waters.
Venice also has a very low crime rate.
Honestly, my photography is not an accurate representation of Venice. I’m drawn to photograph what I find appealing, so my photos are of the prettiest corners of Venice that I saw. To me, however, these pockets of charm simply dotted unexpected stretches of quiet bleakness. I know that many of my classmates adored Venice; I suppose I simply expected Venice to be a bit “more.” Thus far, one of my favourite things was riding the vaporetto.
Tips for Venice:
  • Look up some places to eat beforehand. A lot of food here is yucky, other students had bad experiences with food.
  • Wear rain boots.
  • Don’t take a backpack on the walking tour.
  • For fun: ride the vaporetto/water bus around just for sights of the city! Venice is a lot smaller than it seems, and it is enjoyable to see the city from the water.
  • Go island hoping!! Visit the other little islands like Murano (famous for its glass) and Burano. They are apparently unique and adorable, and not visiting them is the greatest regret of my Venice trip.
  • I got lucky because it didn’t rain the entire weekend I was in Venice. However, bring waterproof things and a warm coat and gloves.
  • There is no night life in Venice, so don’t wait until late in the evening to go have fun.

Venice (the City Built on Water) — First Night

I signed up for AIFS’s (American Institute for Foreign Study) Venice weekend trip.We departed on Friday morning by charter bus, stopped in Verona, and then arrived in Venice. The trip includes two nights in a hotel, and a return by train on Sunday. It’s like a road made of water. We took a boat to our hotel.

I got a window seat and poked my camera out the window — first view of the city.
My adorably unexpected room in the Hotel Belle Arti. (Those are two beds. I roomed with Elizabeth V., my regular roommate in Florence). This room made me so happy. Honestly, if I had redecorated my room immediately after our Venice weekend it may have ended up something like this one (which may or may not be a good thing haha).
Also, cool room key!
There are bridges everywhere! Small canals here function like little streets. Bridges arch over them around the entire city. Each time you cross a bridge, you cross onto another tiny island. Venice was built upon a bog — long wooden stakes were driven into the ground, and this petrified wood serves as the foundations for the city on water, Venice. (All learned from the tour given by a Venetian guide the following morning).
Murano, a bunch of islands included in the Venetian Lagoon, is famous for its glasswork. I regret not visiting colourful Murano while in Venice, it’s very close by and reachable by the vaporetto, the water bus. Some of the other students went though. Kat L., my other Florence roommate bought a pretty Murano glass ring.
 A store.
Elizabeth and I just followed the blue lights. I was so excited to see some of the city, what I thought was a small portion of Venice. More on this later.
Very cute squid Pope. Maybe I should make a street art page on this blog. Some of my classmates were disappointed by the amount of graffiti in Venice.
The buildings look like they’re floating on water.
Me, picture by roomie Elizabeth V. 

The view down off of one of the large bridges near the hotel.
A vaporetto is a water bus. Visible here are a vaporetto and station. We received 48 hour vaporetto passes. You board the floating station after validating your ticket, then wait for a bus to show up/check the bus schedule. Instead of keeping to right or left sides of the river, the vaporettos chug along drunkenly from one side of the canal to the other to make stops. They seem slow, but can be a surprisingly quick way to get around, and a fast way of getting home.
Tips for Venice:
  • Validate your ticket every single time you use the water bus/vaporetto. You can get a fine of at least 52 euros if you’re found without one.
  • Plan on seeing Murano!