When I was eleven years old I read a book called The Thief Lord. This book was set in Venice and I knew from that moment on that my dream was to visit this place that captured my heart because of this book that I read. Out of all of the trips that I have taken through Italy, Venice was my top destination. It did not disappoint. When I first got to Venice and took the water taxi to Piazza San Marco I leaned my head out of the window of the boat and felt the sun and sea breeze on my face. As we disembarked and started walking the streets of the city it was overpopulated with tourists like I expected it to be. It did not deter me though from seeing the sights of the city built on water. Coming from Siena and spending time in the Piazza Del Campo where people have the opportunity to sit and talk the vast and emptiness of the Piazza San Marco disappointed me at first. I realized after though that with the narrow streets, hundreds of bridges, and canals throughout the city this gives people an open space to breathe. After walking through the shops we took the water taxi to the island of Murano where the famous and well-known glass of Murano is made. I was excited to see the glass blowing process. Unfortunately though, we went on Liberation day which is a public holiday in Italy and many people were off for work. Liberation day was great as people in Venice celebrated with champagne and flowers but I was slightly disappointed that I wasn’t able to see the glass blowing.
After traveling to Murano we were trying to decide whether or not we wanted to take a Gondola ride. One of the gondoliers came up to us and could see our hesitation and only charged us 25 euros for a gondola ride. In Venice that is a very good deal so we took him up on his offer. I can without a doubt say that was my favorite part of the trip. The gondolier’s name was Massimo and he was a fourth generation gondolier. He took us around the city and pointed out many historical buildings such as Marco Polo’s house. He re-created history for us in his stories and took us around his beloved city. Being in the gondola I realized that the true Venice was mean to be seen in the water. After the gondola ride was over, we had dinner and then decided to take the water taxi around to the various parts of the island and see Venice from the water. As the city lit up at night and the glow reflected in the water the breath taking beauty of the city took my breath away. Venice is a city of romance and for the weekend it was the object of my affection.
As the semester is starting to wind down the Siena School takes all of the students on a weekend trip through Tuscany. We started the trip out bright and early Friday morning and traveled to San Galgano an Abbey near Siena. It is now abandoned and we were able to explore the inside of it as Roberto, one of the teachers at the school, re-created with his vast amount of knowledge what life was like when the Abbey was active. After San Galgano we hiked up to Spannochia, an agriturismo that focuses on organic agriculture. Once we finally made it to the top the estate was absolutely beautiful. It stayed true to its Tuscan heritage as the views from the hillside portrayed the green luscious rolling hills of Tuscany. We had lunch outside and then toured the grounds. After, we took a hike to a nearby abandoned castle. The castle was 8 kilometers away and was in the middle of nowhere. Roberto joked and said that it was the “Castle that only God and the saints know about.” After seeing its remote destination I could understand why he said this. The castle was amazing because the structure was still intact and most of the stairs were still in good condition for how old it was. It was a hidden treasure that we were lucky to see.
After coming back from the castle there was an impromptu photo shoot that happened with myself and some of the girls as we couldn’t afford to pass up the beautiful scenery around us. After many pictures, giggles, and hurting cheeks we went inside for the Aperitivio tasting wine from the Tuscan area. Dinner was served after and was made with organic food from the farm.
The next day we went to Scorgiano where we had a wine tasting that was made on the estate. It was a beautiful place where many weddings are held and we toured the estate and surrounding village. Like so many places, it has rich history and is still in the family after many years. After Scorgiano, our last destination was Monteriggioni a quaint little town that has developed from its origins of being a castle community. The castle walls are still intact and people can climb the walls and see how the village was protected from outsiders.
Since I have been traveling so much lately I have unfortunately forgotten how beautiful and rare a place like Tuscany. In my opinion, it truly is the best region in Italy. After weekends like that when we could see the picture perfect view of the rolling hills, taste the wine and the produce, and smell the flowers growing all around in the spring time it makes me not want leave Italy ever. It was a beautiful weekend with the people as well as different classmates were able to bond and spend time with people that we normally don’t have the opportunity to.
La Sagrada Familiga
Work still being completed today by the artist Gaudi
Steps of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella
Normally for Spring Break I do not have any sort of travel plans. It is a time to go home, relax, and be with my family. However, since I am studying abroad I figured I would take the opportunity to travel and the destination was Barcelona, Spain. I wasn’t sure what to expect when traveling to this big city I just knew I wanted some sand and sun. What I got from the experience was so much more. Before going to Barcelona I never paused to give much thought to the incredible history there. I know I sound like a broken record, I mean all of Europe has history but Barcelona has a special vibe and connection that I never thought I would find. The first day we were exploring the city we found ourselves on the steps where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella met Christopher Columbus in the 1400’s. I was taken aback as these were events that I read in history books! All around the city there are reminders of the deep cultural and artistic ties that surround it. Graffiti that was turned into art, the architecture of Gaudi, and the Picasso Museum, are just some of the many telltales around the city that shows how true it is to their artistic culture.
The nightlife in Barcelona is famous all over Europe and it did not disappoint. Every night that we went out to experience different types of nightclubs we were blown away by the amount of people that were there on a weeknight and how much fun it was. For locals living in Barcelona, it is not uncommon to work all day, get ready to go out with friends, and dance until the wee hours of the morning. I personally couldn’t live this lifestyle for more than a week but the energy and friendliness of everyone we met was infectious. The Spaniards also love their Sangria, a popular drink choice and after tasting it for myself I could see why.
Besides exploring the city and experiencing the nightlife the beaches of Barcelona had something to offer. Towards the end of our trip it was sunny and warm enough to venture to the beach. Along the coast line there were numerous surfers who were evidently skilled as they rode the waves with ease. As we walked the beach there were numerous sand sculptures made by local artists as well as many sculpture and art installations. We soaked in the suns rays and over the ocean waves crashing we could hear a local band playing their music and people to dancing with it as all the Spaniards love to do.
With the lively city, beautiful beaches, rich history, and beautiful art it was hard to end the trip and leave such a beautiful place. I am constantly reminded how fortunate I am to be here especially when Barcelona is only a short hour and a half plane ride away from where I live in Italy. So far, it is my favorite city in Europe that I have been to. The thing about Barcelona that is so special about this city in particular is that you don’t just visit it. If you see the Barcelona the way that I did it leaves an imprint on your memory forever.