Last Sunday I decided to travel to Venice by myself. Although I had two finals the next day, I figured exploring Venice was a better learning opportunity. But since I wanted to do well on my finals as well, I had to cut the trip short.
The moment I walked out of the train station in Venice, I was in awe. I feel like people always downplay Venice with “it’s dirty” or “you only need one day in it.” Maybe you only need one day to see San Marco’s Square, the major attraction, but I don’t understand why you would only WANT to stay there for just one day. It’s so beautiful, and there are so many side streets to explore!
My first impression of Venice is that it looks exactly like intro scene to a movie that I saw in my Renaissance Theory of Love class, Dangerous Beauty. The introduction scene includes courtesans elaborately dressed, floating in gondolas down the canal, brightly colored buildings along either side of the water. I thought the beauty was an exaggeration, but it wasn’t.
I took the waterbus to San Marco’s square. I explored the shops around the square filled with the beautiful Venetian masks used for Carnevale. The streets were narrow and winding, sometimes you would have to cross a small bridge to get to the next shop. I didn’t go far though, I didn’t want to get lost by myself.
Of course I went in the San Marco church. Naturally, it was gorgeous. There were a lot of mosaic and gold paint decorating the interior; I felt like it went perfectly with the Venetian appreciation of elaborate adornments.
Outside the church are two bronze horses, which are actually replicas. The real ones are inside, and they are perfectly grand. They are believed to be from the Ancient Roman circus that was once set in today’s Istanbul.
I then took the lift up the bell tower adjacent to the church. It was eight euros, a little pricey, but I’m glad I did it. From this point of view, I was able to get a better idea of the size of Venice, the little islands surrounding it, and how the canals work throughout the city.
After, I took the water bus to Murano. I don’t know if I got off at the right Murano stop, but I followed a family of Italian tourists. We (yes, we- I temporarily pretended I had friends) went to a glass-blowing demonstration. I had to listen to the demonstration in Italian because I was the only American and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself when he asked if anyone spoke English. My Italian has gotten better, but my vocabulary doesn’t really extend to glass making.
Anyway, it was amazing to see the skill of the “maestro” and how he was able to craft the glass into an elegant horse. I loved browsing the shop, appreciating the fine art of Murano glass.
By the time I got back to the train station, the sun was setting. There was a very romantic feel, with the pink sky, rose toned buildings, and the glistening, drifting water of the canals.
Venice has a very magical feel, full of culture and art. In a lot of the travelogues that I read this semester, Venice was often described as dead. I have to disagree. I found it very alive with its celebration of their past and present.
For my last weekend trip, my friend and I went to Prague with Bus2Alps and stayed at the CzechInn.
I did not know what to expect with Prague, but throughout the semester I had heard from various students that it was their favorite city. I now understand why.
After a 13 hour bus ride from Florence, the first thing we did when we arrived at the hostel was bundle up in scarves, sweaters and gloves. It was a good 20 degrees colder in Prague than in Florence.
We then went on the tram and metro to meet our guide for our walking tour. He took us around the city, including Old Town Square and the Old New Synagogue. We had such a large crowd that it was difficult to understand what he was saying to us, but we were able to take in many beautiful sights and its history.
Throughout the years, Prague has been subject to many foreign invasions and political unrest. In the city, we were able to see the German and Russian influence from the second World War. There are many government buildings that were built when they became the Czech Republic in order to reaffirm their position.
One of my favorite results of the political unrest within the city is the Lennon Wall. The Wall was built as a dedication for the famous Beatle, John Lennon. In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime of Gustáv Husák. It acted as a civil protest by the students in Prague, calling their movement Lennonism. Students would write on the wall ideas of peace, quoting Lennon and his ideals. The government would return everyday, painting over the graffiti, and the students would continue to come back.
This piece of art continues to live on today. People still come by and paint over the wall (as tradition), which encourages people to continue to contribute to the wall. The ideals on the wall are still characteristic of young people; ideas of love, peace, and togetherness. My friend and I wrote on the wall some of our favorite quotes, in English and Italian (ti voglio bene), and Beatles lyrics. It was nice contributing to this living history; we’re part of the peace, we are a part of a layer of this history. There must have been thousands of people that wrote on it before use, and there will be thousands after us, but we all have the same ideals. We all shine on.
The wall is located off of Charles Bridge, the oldest bridge in Prague (and at one time, the only). Its construction started in 1357 under King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century. It’s a wide bridge that, during the day, is filled with vendors selling jewelry and artwork; there are beautiful pictures of the Wall and paintings of the bridge. The bridge is packed with tourists, but it is definitely a must-see. There are religious pieces along the edge of the bridges, probably a result from the Renaissance.
The Christmas market in Old Town Square had just opened the weekend we were there. There were lines of shops selling Prague souvenirs, as well as Christmas ornaments and decorations. There were also food vendors, where they were selling this cinnamon fried dough. It looked like a hollow cylinder. Mine had Nutella in it. Of course it was amazing. We also got potatoes melted with cheese and ham. I also ordered a chicken skewer on a baguette. Now picture it, and try to appreciate how I attempted to eat it, because it was very difficult and impractical.
There was also a huge Christmas tree and stage, decorated with the lights. The entire square was lit up by the white Christmas lights.
Prague was one of those unexpected beauties. The buildings and squares all had a unique feel to them; although I was in a big city, I felt like I was in a small town.
As Bus2Alps says, “Prague has shed it’s not-so-distant oppressive past to re-emerge as a culturally rich wonder and a mainstay of every traveler’s bucket list.”
That it has.
Oh. And fun fact- Prague is where most of Eurotrip was filmed.