Mount student Jillian Torre is currently studying abroad in London, England for the spring 2013 semester.
One of my favorite things about living in London is its proximity to everywhere else in Europe. Where else in the world are there so many different cultures, all with their own unique history, sandwiched into such a small geographical space? I came here fully intent on seeing as many of the world’s greatest cities as possible, and blowing every last cent in the process. I quickly booked trips to Italy, Scotland, Paris, Greece, and Ireland. I didn’t expect the start of my travels to come so quickly, but sure enough, Venice has come and gone.
My fellow travelers and I were definitely thrown some curveballs throughout our trip, but those only added to our entire experience. I packed four days of stuff into a severely tiny Vera Bradley backpack. (After this trip, I invested in a “backpacker’s backpack.”) I woke up at 3 am to catch a 6:30 flight Milan. After landing at Malpensa Airport, my group took a train to the city’s center. Once we got off the train and stepped out into Milan, I was in disbelief. “Oh my gosh, we’re in Italy! I can’t believe we are in Italy!” I repeated over and over again. I’m pretty sure my friends were getting annoyed by my obnoxious excitement.
The next few hours were spent walking about Milan. Within the first two hours, I was able to cross “eat pizza in Italy” off my bucket list. The restaurant was a huge tourist trap. There was even a boy who looked as if he’d just stepped out of Mary-Kate and Ashley’s “When in Rome” standing outside trying to sell the restaurant to us; but the food was out of this world none-the-less. After spending the day exploring the fashion capital of the world, we headed for the train to Venice, but not without stopping for what would be the first of many gelatos.
Upon arrival in Venice, I was running purely on adrenaline. My back hurt from carrying my bag all day and I was exhausted from going non-stop since 3 am, but none of that mattered because I was in Venice! We bought our transportation passes for the weekend and tried to find the right bus that would take us off the island of Venice and to the restaurant where we planned to meet two girls from our group. Before I continue, let me say that Venice possibly has the most unorganized bus system of anywhere in the world. It doesn’t tell you where the bus is stopping or what stop is what, and they never check for tickets. Hearing from many people that Italians are some of the friendliest people ever, I asked a local girl if she knew where our stop was. Of course, she told us that we were on the wrong bus. We got off at the next stop only to find out that we were on the right bus all along. But now we were off of the island, in Venice, on a fairly dark and uninhabited street at 9:30 pm in a foreign country. Did I mention I had the only internationally working phone? We had no way of reaching our friends to let them know we were lost.
After two hours of getting on and off three different buses, walking over two miles, and getting pizza from the only open place we could find, we were able to get a hold of Maurizio, the landlord of the apartment we were renting. Maurizio had met our friends at the restaurant as planned and brought them back to our temporary Italian villa. He was kind enough to make a second trip to find us and drive us back to safety. Once the door opened to the apartment, there was a series of running hugs as we were reunited with our friends. Our journey was scary in the moment, but I now look back at it as one of those funny travel memories filled with a bunch of obstacles.
On day two, we rose early to begin our time in Venice. Maurizio kindly offered to give us a lift to the bust stop, but made a detour to the main house on his property where he showed us his huge screened-in porch, where he likes to host parties for his guests in the summer, and a liter of week old puppies. Us being girls, we went crazy over the puppies. Staying in a local’s apartment may not have been the most traditional way of traveling to another country, but it added something to our trip that a hotel or hostel would not have been able to. We got to see first-hand what real Italian country life is like and we received the amazing hospitality that Italy is known for.
The remainder of the day was spent walking around and exploring the city. We were so immersed in the island’s beauty that every time we walked over a bridge, we all stopped to take pictures. I probably took multiple photos of the same place without realizing it. For breakfast, we found an adorable Italian bakery with the most delicious pastries.
The weekend we visited also happened to be Carnevale di Venezia. People everywhere were wearing masks and others were dressed in elaborate costumes. Most wore elegant gowns and attire from the 16th and 17thcenturies, but every now and then I saw a herd of cows or the Simpsons. Of course, I had to jump on the bandwagon and buy a carnevale mask.
Our next day was a little more structured. We started our morning at the same bakery as the first day and then we were off on the Vaporetto dell’ Arte, a boat tour up the Grand Canal. The view of Venice’s colorful buildings from the canal was amazing! I have never seen a more vibrant and gorgeous city. Afterwards, we went inside the famous Saint Mark’s Basilica. The walls of the basilica were completely covered in the most breathtaking paintings.
Next up on our itinerary was a gondola ride. How could I possibly go to Venice and miss out on the gondolas? Our gondolier, Christian, was another quintessential friendly and outgoing Italian. He sang to us a bit, but mainly answered our questions about his life in Italy. We learned that he has been a gondolier for 20 years and would love to visit the states. New York is the number one place he’d like to visit, so he was very excited when my sister and I told him all about it.
That night, we ate our last dinner in Italy and savored every bite. Before we headed back, we stopped for cannolis and wine to take back to the apartment. As soon as we tried to head back to the bus station it began to rain, thunder, and lightening. We were all in a panic because we had no shelter and couldn’t find our way back to the bus. A little elderly man saw us looking lost and, in generous Italian fashion, asked us if we needed directions. By the time we reached the bus it was snowing, too. I will forever remember Venice as the place that had thunder, lightening, and snow all within the same hour.
The next morning, we only had a few hours before our flight home so we said our goodbyes to our guardian angel and new friend, Maurizio, and our Italian villa. We decided to spend the last of our time in Venice bidding adieu to the food. Within two hours, we had an entire day’s worth of food: Italian pastries, an entire pizza with wine, and gelato. These foods summed up our time in Italy so we felt it was only right to end our trip with them.
Before I knew it, we were on the plane and heading back to London. I am so grateful to have been able to experience Italy’s culture, people, and food. I hope to make it back there soon but, until then, arrivederci Italia!
Jillian Torre, class of 2014, is a public relations and journalism major from Bohemia, NY. Jillian is the photo editor for the student newspaper, Mount Messenger.