It’s summer time and I know everyone just wants to be traveling and taking vacations right now. I know I do, which is why I’m heading out on my own vacation soon. My friend Alex recently got engaged and, as his maid of honor, I’m absolutely pumped to be going to see him and celebrate his engagement and get some much-needed vitamin D (I’m severely deficient, you see). When I think of Alex and traveling, I think of the time in between my sophomore and junior year when we went with our college to Venice, Italy. This was my ultimate travel experience. It’s the farthest I’ve traveled, especially without my family, and was certainly an experience to remember.
Unfortunately, even though I loved the experience and I love Venice, I am not happy with how I spent my trip. The trip was something like a 9 credit immersive language experience that I was accepted into in order to finish my college language requirement (yay liberal arts).
At Istituto di Venezia, we took language courses with other adults and students from all over the world. We only spoke Italian, because it was the only common language. Other students spoke German, Japanese, Spanish, etc. It was hard, especially since I hadn’t taken an Italian class in over a year. From something like 9 to 11am and then 12pm to 2pm, every Monday through Friday, we sat in class. Then on most days, we would stay for an extra hour or two for a culture class or conversation class with our Drew University professor for another hour or two. Then on some nights we had walking tours for our history course. And then we would get back to our flats at 6 or 7pm and have to do homework. A visually stunning, but physically exhausting “vacation” to be sure.
Here’s how Venice should really be done. Some of these tips I followed, and some of them I didn’t. So let’s do as I say, and not as I did.
- Go to class (most of the time). If you’re like me, and you are going on a college study abroad experience, go to class. You’re paying for the credits. Do what you came to do.
- But don’t waste time studying or doing your homework (sorry mom and dad). Pay enough attention in class to be able to survive without hardcore studying like you would do during a regular semester. And do your homework during your lunch break. Or it’s ok to skip your morning class and take your time strolling and looking for breakfast pastries and good coffee, and then do your homework from the night before, or for the next night (sorry mom and dad, again). This will give you ample time after classes to…
- Get lost. Venice is a labyrinth. As a foreigner, you will, and should, get lost in the alleys and corridors. You will get lost if you let yourself. It’s very easy to do so. Plan an entire day. You will find authentic places to eat, small shops, and gorgeous architecture. I never had the time to properly get lost, but I knew how to follow the same route, every day, to the vaporetto, like a boss. Pathetic.
- Don’t Go To Hard Rock Café. AKA “The Embassy.” It was just what we needed in our first homesick week. Burgers and fries, American style over-priced cocktails, the nicest bartenders you will every meet, and a collectible guitar pin with pigeons on it for my dad. After that, we should have stopped. We were not experiencing any culture. Go to Harry’s. Go to Campo Santa Margherita and get a spritz at DuChamp or any other bar with all of the other young locals. Follow the crowds, and if the vaporetto doesn’t run as late as you want to stay out, who cares. Find a bridge and cross it and just go for it. See “Get Lost”, but just make sure you aren’t alone if it’s at a late hour. Make sure you find Frulalà and get wasted on fruit smoothies in the middle of the day. It’s on a random corner, but the crowds are there and fruit is fresh.
- Eat Authentic. This is hard to do, because it’s either expensive or hard to find amidst the pizza and pasta joints that are right out in the open, and slowly taking over Venezia. If you’re eating pizza, make sure it’s at a real restaurant and you’re using a knife and fork. If you’re having trouble with this step, go to the all of the local fruit and vegetable stands or go to the Rialto Mercato and buy fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, etc. and cook something up, if you can.
- Don’t Feed The Pigeons. For the love of all things good, stop. They are filthy. They are not kittens. Not rabbits. Please heed the signs all over San Marco that say don’t feed the pigeons. I didn’t touch any pigeons, because I knew better, but I saw too many parents letting their children pretend to be pigeon perches. That’s vile.
- Take a Tour. I did do this a bit, because I was lucky enough to have tours built into my schooling. But I’m sure there are plenty of ways to sign up for walking tours. We took a nighttime walking tour, a tour that consisted of many churches, and even a day in Ghetto (vecchio/nuove), where we got to see the synagogues. Do at least one tour, when you first get there, so you can see the art and architecture. It will also give you a little sense of direction for when you “get lost” later on.
- Go to the Museums. There are a lot, and you might not realize it. But if you are into art, architecture, and history, try to hit a bunch of them. I still wish I had gotten the chance to make it to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. There’s also apparently a shoe museum somewhere, which is totally up my alley. I would have gone to that!
- Order a Bellini. Then order a spritz. I did have lots of Bellini. And if you order it at a real bar, they make it fresh, with real macerated peaches and prosecco. You can get the pre-bottled Bellini (which is actually the same that they sell in stores here in the US), but it’s not the same. Make sure you also order the famous drink of Venice, the spritz. I never did and I regret it. But I guess I was too busy trying to stay hydrated by buying massive bottles of water… and glasses of Bellini.
- Go to Murano. Buy some glass. I went to Murano, and we saw a glass making demonstration. But the weather was poor and we couldn’t stay. I did not get to explore the island or buy any glass straight from there. I should have gone back.
- Go to Burano. Think of your Nonna. I didn’t see Burano. I have no pictures of the colorful houses. I did not go to the Lace Museum. I did not buy any expensive, handmade lace. And yes, you have to buy the expensive lace to make sure that it’s as authentic as if Nonna made it while shouting at you to get married and make great-grandbabies for her.
- Take Touristy Pictures. I like to say that I was “living in” Venice. I had a flat with its own kitchen, looking out onto a canal. I went to school. I cooked and cleaned and followed the same route almost every day. I was all “I live here, I ain’t takin’ any touristy pictures!” I used poor grammar here to illustrate just how dumb I was being about this. I have a few pictures of the canals and the buildings, but not enough. I don’t think I took any pictures at Rialto. I didn’t take artsy shots of the various bridges – they’re all different – or the food. I took a bunch of photos at the top of Campanile di San Marco on my last day, but that’s the extent of my touristy photos. It also didn’t help that my Nikon SLR got absolutely destroyed early on in the trip, which kind of killed my photography buzz. Thanks, humidity, for breaking my camera.
- Go during Carnevale. I’m sure it’s crazy, and expensive, and hard to book, but do it. I want to so badly, and I vow that I will go one year. The masks, the costumes, the celebration. It’s a sight to behold in pictures, and I want to see it in person.
- Or, go during La Biennale. I did go during this. We happened to be there during a La Biennale year. Every two years, on an odd year, it’s a massive contemporary art exhibition, with artists from all over the world. Every two even years, it’s an architecture exhibition. We were there during an odd year, so we saw the contemporary art. I sometimes hate modern art; I don’t usually get it. However, La Biennale was breathtaking. And you have to do it all. You have to go to the large exhibit at both Arsenale and the various world pavilions at Giardini. Also, do your research and find out about the Venice Film Festival and International Festival of Contemporary Dance, which we did not see, and find out the other locations scattered across Venice where you can spot art not housed in the larger exhibits.
- And take pictures at the exhibits. You can, and you should. Take pictures of every section. Except the American pavilion, where they stopped us from photographing the art, for whatever reason. I guess because… America, that’s why. Anyway… Pick up information about the piece, or the artist, or take a picture of the information so you have it for reference. Some of my favorite pictures are from La Biennale. I was foolish enough to not bring my camera for the Arsenale, but wised up when I realized we would be going to Giardini. But my battery died at the very end of our trip through Giardini, so, bring backup.
- Go to Lido. I only went to Lido twice, but I should have gone to the beach a lot more. When you tell Italian natives you went to the beach at Lido, they’ll remark that it’s the “dirty” and “ugly” beach of Italy. Well, listen up, I come from Jersey and, while I am Jersey Strong and I love going DTS to LBI and everywhere else during the summer, Lido is way prettier than any beach I’ve ever seen. I can’t even imagine what the pretty beaches look like. And if you are studying, just bring your books with you. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.
I want to go back to Venice and enjoy all of the sights and eat all of the food. I just wish I could remember any Italian at all so that I could communicate with people. I’m sure if I went, it would come back to me, but… mmmm yeah, not so sure about that. Oops. Well, despite that, and despite my lack of fun experiences, I’m at least proud to say that I passed the summer semester with all A’s! So there’s that. All I can remember how to say at the very moment, though, is mi piace la birra! And I don’t even like beer… Oops, again.