Entry 3: 6/23/12
When preparing to leave for Venice I couldn’t wait to see how a city built on the water functions. Cars seemed to be my main concern. I was so consumed with the question of whether or not Venice would have any cars or if the only means of transportation was by boats. While on the train headed that way, with all of my luggage, I was increasingly nervous about how I would manage to move my overweight suitcase from land onto a boat. As soon as I stepped out of the train station this fear was brought to life as I had to struggle to get my luggage onto a water taxi and quickly noticed no cars were in sight.
Venice is quite an unusual city in the way that it is built. It is built over numerous islands with canals being dominated by boats from small gondolas to large water taxis. These canals function as the roads of the city. Never in my life have I ever seen a city built in such a way. Because some of the boats are larger than others, bridges built over the canals must be built high. Each bridge I saw had a decent number of steps on either side of it. Aside from the way the city has been constructed, I experienced the most intense heat of my life while being in Venice. Being from the south and knowing an intense summer heat, I couldn’t understand why I was struggling so much to endure the heat of Venice, but it was near unbearable. Everywhere we went we all returned sweatier then the hottest day in the middle of August in North Carolina.
While in Venice we visited St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Cathedral, and the island of Murano. When we arrived to the square some of us were unable to go into the church because our clothes didn’t meet the dress code requirements, but the outside was incredible and we learned that it took 800 years to build! Later in the afternoon we decided to make our way towards Murano. We finally made it to the appropriate water taxi and prepared for about a 20 minute ride. After about an hour we finally asked how much farther and the man said about 20 minutes. We all were so confused why it was taking so long and finally realized we had made an entire circle around Venice. After we approached the stop where we had gotten on the water taxi, the next stop was Murano. We couldn’t figure out why it didn’t take us straight there the first time around but we decided to laugh at our mistake and prepare to explore the island and all of the incredible glass work.
The first night we were in Venice, we came across an interesting situation in one of the restaurants near our hotel. Nearly all of us were here in Venice at once, so the ten of us that were there met for dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants. Eight of us arrived first, and we got a table and sat down to wait for the other two girls who were coming from a stop a little farther down the way. We have learned over the past few weeks that Italy is a laidback, relaxed country where no one is in a rush and when you go to a restaurant for a meal, you are literally renting that table for as long as you’d like to sit there. In Venice however, this was not the case. About ten minutes after we arrived, the waiter started asking if we were ready to order and we replied saying we’d like to wait for the rest of our group. While this satisfied him for maybe another ten minutes, he began getting flustered and wanted to know where the other two girls in our party were. We explained they were coming from a little farther away and that they would be coming. This answer no longer satisfied him as he explained to us that we needed to place our orders and keep moving along or he would have to give the table away. Our first thought was well that’s a little bit rude, then reflecting back on the Italian culture we thought it was unusual. But, we placed our orders anyways and the other two girls arrived later and ate their dinner as we ate dessert. We joked with the waiter when they did finally arriving and said “see, they really do exist” because we were beginning to think he thought we were lying to him.
Aside from the strange restaurant encounter, the insane heat seemed to really cause problems for all of us and made a trip to such a beautiful place almost unbearable. As I thought about how hard it was for us to handle this heat when it seems like our summers are just as hot, I think it all comes down to simply having air conditioning. The hotels we stayed in during this break had no air conditioning, making it almost impossible to cool down after sweating all day and even harder to sleep at night. On top of this, nothing ever gets as cold as at home. Drinks aren’t as cold and ice is rare. This made me truly grateful for these small pleasures that we have at home. Being able to cool off after a hot day really makes a difference in the summer. However, I was able to put this discomfort aside for the few days left I had in this amazing country to allow myself to enjoy my time.
Traveling to Venice on this last travel break had a much different feel to it than the other travel breaks we set out for. While this travel break meant seeing another beautiful place in Italy, it also meant leaving what had come to be our home away from home, Sansepolcro. Packing to leave the palazzo for good was saddening, but at the same time we were all excited to travel somewhere else new. Not only did leaving for Venice mean leaving beautiful Sansepolcro, but it also meant our time here in Italy was quickly coming to an end. We have all come so close to each other here and are sad to return home where we won’t see each other every day as we did during the program. However, there is yet another but, which is that we are all excited to return home to our family and friends! Setting out to experience our last leg of the journey was definitely a bittersweet moment.
Entry 2: 6/9/2012
For our second travel break, nine of us set out to see Rome. Preparing for this trip there was so much I wanted to see so I knew that the three days would be crammed full of excitement. To me, you can’t come to visit Italy without spending some time in Rome. There is so much history there I couldn’t possibly pass up a travel break in this city.
The night we arrived we walked from the train station to our hotel, taking in all of our surroundings. I felt as though Rome was comparable to New York City in the United States. Both are such busy touristy cities with so much to do and see. After we settled into the hotel we went out to find some dinner and to see the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. We stumbled upon the Spanish Steps first. As we approached them I was under the impression the Trevi Fountain was right in front of the steps, and when I saw the fountain that was in front of them I was extremely let down. We discovered this wasn’t in fact the Trevi Fountain though, and I felt relief. How could the first thing I saw in Rome be a letdown? When we finally came across the real Trevi Fountain, I was amazed. It was so impressive! We stood and looked at it for a while snapping tons of pictures before returning to our hotel for the night.
The next day we were starting out at the Colosseum, which was the thing I wanted to see the most while we were in Rome. I have never been able to figure out why people found it entertaining to watch people fight and kill each other, but the actual Colosseum itself, from what I have seen in pictures, is amazing. It has been around for thousands of years, and held up through earthquakes and fires. Seeing it in person was just as impressive as I had anticipated. I could have stood inside looking around much longer than we had time for.
Later we visited the Forum and Palatine hill. The smaller group of us had no way of knowing what was going on around us. We didn’t have any sort of tour guide and none of our Rick Steves audio tours had downloaded fully before we left the hotel. While these two things were incredible to see I wasn’t quite sure of what everything was, which was a little frustrating. The pantheon was next on our list for this afternoon; however we never ended up finding it. We hopped on a bus that we thought was going to the pantheon. We didn’t have much knowledge of what to look for or when to get off but the fact that it has a dome, like many other things in Italy. So, the first dome we saw, we got off the bus. Turns out that dome belonged to St. Peters Basilica and we were actually in Vatican City. So we turned around, got back on the bus and called it a day!
The next day we returned back to Vatican City and started out the morning with a blessing from the Pope. We must have picked the hottest morning of the trip to sit out in the sun, but it was well worth it. Following the blessing we walked through St. Peters, the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. St. Peters was absolutely beautiful to me. I can’t imagine how much time and effort went into the creation of this amazing church. However, when walking into the Sistine Chapel, I was not impressed. We walked inside and almost immediately I felt myself think “this is it?” Though I wasn’t as amazed as I was seeing the other sites throughout Rome, I was glad this made it to my list of things I visited.
I’m not sure I would say Rome was one of my favorite places I’ve seen while here in Italy. All of the history there is so impressive and unreal, but the atmosphere around the area and the hustle and bustle was not my favorite at all. It didn’t feel as though I was experiencing the true Italian culture I had gotten used to while being in Sansepolcro. Throughout the travel break we found ourselves frustrated at times because of how confused we were about how to get where we wanted to go. This made the trip slightly stressful for me and I experienced my first and only small amount of homesickness while being there. By the time the last morning came around, I was ready to head to the train station and get back to Sansepolcro. Being able to come back to this small, welcoming town is really one of my favorite things about being here and really shows you the real every day Italian lifestyle. But although I was ready to get back to the palazzo, I am glad that I experienced Rome and got to see all of the amazing history for myself!
Entry 1: 6/2/12
Sorrento and Capri Travel Journal
For the first travel break while in Italy, a large group of us decided to go south to the coast. We decided to stay in the small town of Sorrento, which is on the coast located in Campania. Though the town was small, it didn’t lack scenery. Every inch of the town was picture worthy. On another day, we decided to take a boat over to the island of Capri. Capri is full of hills and cliffs throughout the entire island; however the center of the island is its lowest point.
Originally, our idea was to go to Rome for the first travel break, but after checking the weather and seeing how nice it was going to be during the break, we just couldn’t resist a little time to soak up some Italian sun! We booked a hostel for the eight of us to all stay together in one room, and I was a little nervous about the idea of a hostel, but it ended up surprisingly nice! Everyone we ran into throughout the hostel was so pleasant and there were so many things going on inside for us to take part in and meet other people traveling!
When traveling there we had quite the experience waiting on the circumvesuviana in Naples. I had heard about Naples and how it wasn’t such a nice area, but I wasn’t so worried about it. I felt that we had been well prepared on pick pocketing techniques and what to watch for and would be able to handle ourselves. Arriving to the train station in Naples we could already see the differences in the area. There seemed to be more homeless people hanging around and even stray dogs sleeping against the walls. Approaching the entrance to go underground into the circumvesuviana the surroundings seemed even worse. As we approached the desk to buy our tickets, the man asked where we were keeping our money and told us to put it in our pockets instead. Not sure if this man was being helpful are not, we followed his instructions. Underground, there were younger teenage guys doing tricks and flips and even jumping down into the tracks. Immediately we thought this was a trick and turned away from it. We all huddled into a circle with our bright colored bags in the middle, wearing our colorful ran jackets, basically screaming “we’re American!” Once we got on the circumvesuviana everything seemed better, though, and we were thrilled when we arrived at the hostel!
The first day in Sorrento, we decided we would set out to experience an Italian beach. Knowing that North Carolina has some of the nicest beaches, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Sure there would be more cliffs in the area, but I wasn’t sure what else I would see. It took us awhile, but we finally arrived and were surprised by how much smaller it was then our beaches. Were used to sand and water stretching as far as you can see and here we walked into a small area of sand and a lot of rocks, with a much smaller area of water to swim in. Though the area was small, I thought it was absolutely beautiful. The way all of the cliffs surrounded the area and came straight up out of the water was so amazing to me. Not only was the area so pretty, but it was really nice to sit and relax for a while after all of that traveling.
Our second day was our last day there, and we all wanted to take a boat tour to Capri. We booked the tour and were downstairs waiting for the shuttle to pick us up ten minutes earlier then the schedule said to be ready. After waiting 15 minutes past the time the shuttle should have arrived, we began to worry. We asked the man at the front desk how much longer continuously and he insisted it would be five more minutes (even after it had been another 30.) The shuttle finally arrived, but was full. The man told us all to pile in on an ironing board he set up across the back of the van, and then within two minutes ordered us to get out. We were all extremely confused and frustrated that we were now so far behind schedule as punctuality is important at home. Shortly someone else arrived and led us to the dock, walking. By the time we finally got on the boat it was an hour behind schedule.
Though all of this confusion was stressful to us, the boat tour was incredible and I loved every minute of it. Seeing the island of Capri from the boat as we approached it was a really cool experience. Not only did we get to have a tour of the coast of Capri and Sorrento, but we got to jump out of the boat into the blue and green grottos, near a waterfall, and through a cave into a natural swimming pool that once belonged to the last queen of Sorrento.
Thinking back on our trip, the situation with the boat tour schedule starting late was really a big problem for all of us. As Americans, we were all in the lobby waiting and ready to go ten minutes before we had to be there. While the shuttle became later and later all of us grew more and more impatient. Not only were we all frustrated, but the man working the desk was frustrated as well, only he was frustrated at us for worrying him. The more times we asked him where the shuttle was, the angrier his tone sounded towards us. Each time he responded so angrily I thought to myself, well he really doesn’t have to be so rude. As we have gathered while being here in Italy, the Italians are never in any rush. They are in the mindset that they’ll get there when they get there and that’s how it will be. They were probably thinking, there’s all day for this boat tour to go on, why rush to pick them up? While we are always rushing and focusing on being on time in America, we were becoming irritated that we were paying for a service that wasn’t there on schedule. This was definitely an issue where our cultures were clashing and causing frustration for everyone involved.
Most of what we did while in Sorrento were relaxing things rather than site seeing, but I felt like this was the perfect way to understand the Italian culture and experience it firsthand. As we laid on the beach all day, we took in the surroundings and experienced how the Italians go about vacations or day trips to the beach. It was apparent to me how in this environment, people would be very relaxed and in no rush. Everything around us there was so amazing that it literally made me want to stop and slow down to take it all in just as the Italians do.
The area of the beach was smaller than what we are used to, but no less beautiful. Relaxing here on the Italian beach not only let us observe and people watch to take in the culture, but it also let us feel at home. During a time when we were all feeling a little irritation from the culture shock, we were able to take a break and be in a place that reminded us of home, or at least a familiar place.