Monday, October 15, 2012

La Citta che Abita sull'Acqua (The City that Lives on Water)

My second day began by taking a train out to Venezia, which is Italian for Venice. We had around an hour before our guided tour of the city started, so Jacob, Vinny, Austin, Bobby, and I went exploring a bit.

To our delight, we found a wonderful little pasticcheria (pastry shop) where we could get some yummy treats and some coffee.

Delicious Pastries
Quick tangent: my neuroscience professor regularly talks to us about Italian culture and Italian things we should do, as well as Italian foods that we simply have to eat. He does this everyday for about 15 minutes before starting lecture. He told us that we have to get real Italian Canoli, so naturally that was my selection on this fine day!

Across the street from the pasticcheria, there was a gelateria with the strangest flavor of gelato that I have ever seen. Look for yourself!

Smurf flavored gelato... yum?
So the five of us explored some of the shops of Venice, which have a couple primary souvenirs for sale.
1) Anything made of Murano Glass. This is because Murano is an island very near Venice that is fabled for its legendary glassblowers who's crafts used to be so secret that if a glassblower left the island, it was considered treason and an assassination was put out for that person.
2) Masks in the true Venetian style. This comes from the very famous Italian holiday of Carnevale, which is the equivalent of New Orleans Mardi Gras, but with less boobs, and cooler masks.

Here is a standard shop selling masks.

Carnevale Masks and other creepy dolls
As you can see, the sun and the moon are very big symbols for Italians, but they have a variety of other asks as well, including this awesome one!

Coolest mask ever
Soon enough, our guided tour began, and this tour guide was the best that I've had. She knew what things were interesting to people of our age, she was fun to talk to, and she was smart enough to keep the microphone away from her mouth when she wasn't telling us about something. Very nice lady!

She took us around many beautiful canals. Views like this are the standard in Venice.

Also, she told us of the craft of the gondolieri (the guys that drive the gondolas). Apparently, it is very rare for anyone to fall into the canals, but it happened once last year to a Russian guy who was wasted off of vodka and was being an idiot.

Additionally, there is something very important to Venetian culture, a movement to bring quality music to the people by performing in the streets, instead of forcing people to buy tickets to a concert to be able to enjoy good music. Therefore, all over the city there are a number of exceptional groups of musicians who simply sit down and ply their craft. Here is a video of a group of string players rocking out some Vivaldi.

Sadly, we were forced to keep moving and couldn't continue to just watch these guys play all day. On the plus side, we moved to a really awesome photo spot where I got a couple great shots!

Just me, chillin in Venice :)
Jacob and I
Our tour group kept going, winding through the tiny streets filled with shops of many a wondrous item, suddenly popping out at the Rialto Bridge above the Grand Canal. Here is a couple more awesome photos!

The Grand Canal
Me in front of the Grand Canal
Our tour guide walked us along the side of the grand canal, then we took a turn down several side streets that got progressively smaller and smaller until we appeared at a tower that looks very familiar, however it is supposed to be in a different spot.

The Leaning Tower of... Venice?
This tower is supposedly one of many that look very similar to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It turns out that this one was in fact built merely for looks and display of wealth and power. Those stairs that go all the way up have hardly ever been used.

Do you remember that griffin from before? The one holding the book that symbolizes peace of the Venetian Republic? Yea, he took me under his wing!

Intimidating, aren't we?
Another interesting fact about Venice is that it only has one Piazza. Every other place that in other cities would be considered piazzas are referred to as campo. This is for two reasons:
1) The world campo in Italian translates to field, and all of those locations were originally fields that they replaced with these squares
2) The one true piazza in Venice is the most epic place, made even more epic by the fact that it is the ONLY piazza in Venice. 

Here's a photo of the Piazza San Marco in Venice.

Piazza San Marco
At the end of this Piazza is the most amazing church I have ever seen, Basilica di San Marco. It is truly a tragedy that I wasn't allowed to take photos inside of this church because it is stunning beautiful. The church itself was completed in the year 1071, but it took approximately 600 years to decorate it. The reason for this is because the entire inside is covered in 24k gold mosaics depicting various religious events. As I stared up at the ceiling of the church, depicting the son of God primarily in gold with various other stones to add other colors, I whispered "Jesus Christ" in complete and utter awe. Truer words were never spoken.

I have visited the St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and this church is by far more excellent, artistically speaking. I know it may be heresy for me to say that, but it's the truth!

Basilica di San Marco
That griffin keeps popping up everywhere, even at the top of the Basilica di San Marco. Of course, in all gold here though.

After the tour ended, we were starving and ready for a Venetian meal. The primary fare of the locals is seafood, so seafood we got!

Hello, my name is Mr. Lobster. I dare you to eat me!
The seafood was great, but also was the Spritz, a very popular drink of Italians and particularly Venetians. It is made up of Prosecco (Champagne), a dash of a bitter liqueur  and some carbonated water. It has a distinctly orange color.

Orange Delicious
After lunch, we explored Venice and got ourselves significantly lost. However, the Assassin's Creed players of our exploratory group loved this side street:

Translation: Land of the Assassins
So, in the mindset of Assassin's Creed, we decided to start climbing some walls!

We went higher, but for the sake of the photo had to stagger our heights to fit everyone in.

The day went by altogether far too quickly, but before I left I got a little bit artsy and took a couple photos of this canal. Let me know which you think is better!

Dark Canal
Light Canal
Unfortunately, we were eventually forced to leave this beautiful city. However, the story does not end here!

After dinner, Bobby, Jacob, Austin and I were looking to find somewhere that we could procure a bottle of wine to drink in that Piazza Prato della Vitale (we were back in Padua) and hang out for the evening. Upon walking around a bit, we found that most places were closed despite it being only 8:45pm on a Saturday night. Dumbfounded, we continued exploring, eventually coming across a wonderful enoteca. An enoteca is essentially a wine bar where they have a wide selection of wines available and you can buy them by the glass or by the bottle and just hang out.

The employees at the enoteca were lovely, showing us their fine selection of wines, and helping us choose good ones at amazing prices. So, Bobby, Jacob, and I got ourselves a glass of wine.

The coolest part was how relaxed the setting of this enoteca was. You could just take your glass of wine and go hang out outside before you'd even paid for it yet.

Chilling on the stoop with our wine
Planning on spending our night drinking the various wines from this Enoteca, we were sadly disappointed when they informed us that at 9:30pm they closed and would no longer serve us wine. In desperation for some wine, I bought a nice 15 euro bottle of Chianti and Bobby bought his favorite wine in the world, Brunello di Montalcino, for around 35 euro. I got the Enoteca to open my wine for me and was very pleased with my choice of wine, it was great!

Soon, a group of other Americans from John Cabot appeared and were hanging out with us in front of this Enoteca. Preparing to leave for the Piazza Prato della Vitale, suddenly a group of Italians came out and introduced themselves and started a conversation with us. One of them was particularly interested in the ladies, and I began talking to the other 4 in Italian. They were impressed with my abilities, and so we became engrossed in conversation. 

They informed me that they were in fact leaving soon to go to the "best pizzeria in the world." Excited by the prospect of hanging out with some locals and getting some amazing pizza, I really wanted to go, but only Bobby out of the rest of the Americans even spoke Italian and for that reason, as well as the fact that we'd just eaten dinner, no one else wanted to go. At first I wasn't going to join them, but eventually I decided to throw caution to the wind and hop into a car with 4 strange Italians, Marco, Laura, Francesco, and Francesca, and go on an Italian adventure.

They informed me that we were going to pick up some wine before we hit the pizzeria, and so I passed my bottle of Chianti around the car on our way over to their underground garage where they had a bunch of wine bottles stored for occasions just like this one. After that, we made our way over to the pizzeria. It turns out that the greatest pizza in the world took some time to make, and so we had about a half hour to kill. Naturally, we hung out and destroyed some wine, passing around bottles of great wine.

Additionally, it was cool because the other group of Americans plus their one Italian friend showed up at the same pizzeria to hang out. So for a half hour, there was a great intermingling of American and Italian culture outside of this pizzeria.

Before too long, the pizza came out, and it did not disappoint!

Ricotta Cheese and Sausage
It doesn't look much different than normal pizza, but it was truly exceptional!

After enjoying our pizza, the Italians informed me that they were going to meet up with some old friends who they hadn't seen in 6 months at a wine bar and invited me to join them. Of course I wanted to go, so I told them yes! However, the other Americans were leaving and were unsure if I would be okay by myself.

My good friend Bobby, who also speaks Italian ended up joining me on my Italian adventure, hopping in the car with me, Marco, Laura, Francesco, and Francesca. It was really great to have another American along so that it wasn't so difficult when I couldn't figure out how to say something in Italian. We could sort of work together to figure out how to get a point across. There was even one point when were surrounded a wine bottle with wine glasses on all sides to explain the word "surrounds."

Upon arriving at the wine bar, we were informed by the Italians that a very strange man worked there, and they weren't lying! Upon entry, a weird-looking fellow, with  a pink cowboy hat that says "Argentina" on it, made some strange noises at me and nodded to me. 

...Anyways..... we went out to the backyard of the wine bar and had the greatest Italian cultural experience of our young lives. We spent the night exchanging cultural differences, singing American songs (we even sung Hakuna Matata), speaking Italian, and drinking some amazing wine.

Bobby even shared his wonderful Brunello di Montepulciano with us, and it was worth every penny! The Italians bought several bottles of great wines as well, including the Litrozzo, and shared them with us freely. This wine comes in liters, as the name indicates, but it also has a cool side story. If you take a look at the photo, you can see that the clothes the people in the picture are wearing are red. It turns out that depending on the type of wine, their clothes colors change. For red wine, they wear red, for white wine, they wear yellow, and for rose (pink wine) they wear pink. No matter the color of their clothes, the wine was delicious, and it flowed strong all night long!

It was really fun singing American songs that the Italians knew, because it was like we were able to share some of the same culture despite coming from two worlds apart. Additionally, they liked that we didn't have accents preventing us from pronouncing the words to the songs properly. My favorite of the night was Hakuna Matata, but we sang a bunch of different Americans classics as well as 90's rock songs.

Here's a shot of Bobby and the girls.

From left to right: Laura, Bobby, Francesca
And here's a photo of Marco and I. Don't judge me on how drunk I looked :P I was having a great time and definitely didn't feel as completely hammered as I look in this picture hahahah.

Marco and I
I really wish I could describe how amazing the night was, but it's hard to tell a story about just hanging out with people. One key thing that was really cool was the fact that we were speaking Italian the entire night. There is a huge difference between speaking Italian in a formal setting, such as at dinner or at a shop, and speaking Italian in a social setting where you are just hanging out and making friends. This was a great experience for me to build confidence speaking Italian and practice listening as well.

These Italians were amazingly friendly and welcoming to us Americans and I truly appreciate the opportunity that they gave us to spend this night hanging out with them. This is the kind of experience that I came to Italy to have, and they gave it to me, and to Bobby as well. Thank you Marco, Laura, Francesco, and Francesca! You guys are awesome!!!!

Left to Right: Friend of their's, Marco, Me, Laura, Bobby, Francesca, Francesco
This was the greatest day ever! I got to see Venice during the day, and chill with locals at night. I was loving life at the end of Saturday!

On Sunday, I didn't really enjoy Verona anywhere near as much as Venice. There are several reasons for this:
1) I was still hungover from all the wine the night before
2) Nothing could have possibly been as awesome as my experience from the night before
3) Venice was beautiful, and although Verona is pretty, it is no Venice

However, Verona does have a couple cool things that are definitely worth mentioning. First off, there is Juliet's balcony from Romeo and Juliet. Although they do not believe that Juliet actually existed, this is the balcony of the her family, which did in fact exist. Up on top is the most beautiful Juliet in the world...

... NOT. It was really annoying that they allowed people to go up and stand on the balcony because it totally ruined the beautiful idea of one's imaginary Juliet being up on the balcony. Instead I had to look at some middle-aged woman.

However, there were other cool aspects to this area. On the walk in there was a wall of love where thousands of people declared their love by scribbling it on the wall.

Wall of Love
Also, if you've ever seen Letters to Juliet (which we watched on the drive over to Verona) then you know that there are people that actually respond to letters written to Juliet. Here is where you can place them.

Juliet's Personal Mailbox
As I was standing next to this mailbox, the lady inside the shop to the right asked me my name and where I am from. After telling her that, she made this for me on the spot within 15 seconds, then proceeded to tell me that she could do it on any item in the shop. I pointed to the wine bottle on the wall and sadly was denied. :(

My new bookmark
Another cool part of Verona is the street performers with very, very strange acts. This first one is a grown man pretending to be a baby who would cry and whine and whine and point and scream until he got what he wanted. 

Crazy baby
He even convinced my friend Erin to give him a kiss on the cheek. Instead, he turned and give her a big smacker right on the lips as she leaned in, right in front of a massive crowd of people!

True Love
Another interesting act were Indians who managed to float. It was pretty easy to figure out how they did it, but cool despite that fact.

Central in Verona was this pretty sweet open-air marketplace where they sold a wide variety of souvenirs.

And all around the market were restaurants. One in particular had the biggest spritz I'd ever seen!

The Spritz 3000
Right next to the marketplace gelateria known as L'arte di Gelato (The Art of Gelato) where they made the BEST GELATO that I have ever had. They had a variety of gourmet flavors and normal flavors, but every flavor was amazing. On the wall it even said all the cool locations that they got their ingredients. It was really sweet to know that the vanilla came from Madagascar, the lemons from Sorrento, etc etc etc..

Finally, here is a shot of the river by Verona as well as the hill across the way. I saw this written on the lamppost and had to get another artsy photo. I love you babes! 

Amore Ti Amo
This was a wonderful trip at a great cost. Thank you John Cabot University!


  1. I totally agree with you about they shouldn't let ppl on the balcony. Americans can get fined you know for climbing on national monuments....