The Tourist of Venice

I just had to see Venice. There was no way I was going to leave Italy and start my new job in Poland without seeing Venice first. Besides, in an earlier post I mentioned that Venice is one of the top 5 cities of the world I had to see. Now it’s checked off my list.

First impressions? Very beautiful. It’s definitely a photographer’s playground. All I really wanted to do on my first day was sit on the back of the water bus and take pictures of the city. (And that’s exactly what I did!) There wasn’t just one place or one site in particular I wanted to see. I just wanted a time to relax and explore. My plane for Venice was to walk around until I came across something that looked interesting.

Over the course of three days, I came across three different museums. The first was a museum of music. In an old church there were violins, violas, cellos, basses, guitars, and other antique instruments that were made in the 17th and 18th century. Just staring at them made me wish I was gifted musically. The other museum I came across was on the waterfront and it contained artifacts from ships from the 16th century to the 20th. The building was filled with old cannons, swords, guns, and navigational tools from the different eras. There was even a room filled with old navy uniforms. I would have to say that this museum was probably my favorite. For my third and final museum I decided to see a modern art museum that had an exhibit for the photographer, Irving Penn. It was alright. I think I wanted to see this museum because I wanted a change from Renaissance art.

What really made my trip to Venice was the people I met in the hostel I stayed in and the restaurants I ate at. There was a couple from the south of England who invited me to eat with them. They were on a romantic getaway while their two girls were with their grandmother. During another meal, I met an older woman from Australia who was also traveling alone. She works as a private detective and she hopes to take them time off in Venice and work on her novel. (Ah! A woman after my own heart!) For the three nights I stayed in the hostel, I had to share a room with all men. I don’t understand how they assign rooms, but I was the only woman. Thankfully they were nice and respectful. I hung out with them and listened to their stories and was amused by the Canadian who thinks Belgium women are the hottest on the planet. The Belgium guy who was in the room found this very amusing and told him that Danish women were hotter. I just teased them. In that hostel alone, I met guys who represented different countries: Canada, Belgium, South Africa, Japan, England, and France. They all had interesting stories and backgrounds which made my trip to Venice worthwhile.

My Venice trip concludes my tour of Italy – for now. I plan to come back someday. Now I have a new adventure that awaits me – Poland.

The Perks of Traveling Alone

For two weeks now, I have been touring Italy by myself. Actually, when thinking about it on the larger scale, I left America alone and traveled to Florence alone, but at least I knew I would make friends at my school. Now that my new friends have gone their separate ways, I really am a lone traveler. To be perfectly honest, it has its ups and downs. Over all, I find that traveling alone has several perks that families, friends, and couples who travel together tend to miss out on.

1. You plan your own itinerary.  I go where I want to go. If I want to go to a history museum, the only thing that would stop me would be time and money. Because I am the lone traveler, I take charge of that. When traveling in a group, you tend to do things you do not want to do. If you don’t want to see another Renaissance art museum – you don’t have to.

2. In general, it’s easier to travel alone. There are many ways to get from point A to point B. When traveling alone, you get to choose the best option for you. I find that taking slow trains work best for me. I only pay one ticket for myself and hop on. When traveling with a group, there are other factors you might want to take into consideration. When a group takes a train together, there is a chance that they will have to sit separately. Then everyone needs to know exactly what stop they need to get off at. Trains, metros, buses, and planes can get crowded, hectic and it is easy to lose track of the others. When you are traveling alone, only you need to know where to go. On the flip side, it is nice to be with someone who does know where he or she is going. When you are lost, it can be nerve-racking. This leads to point number three.

3. Your sense of direction improves. I will admit that I never have been good at directions. I have always been dependent on other people and technology for telling me where to go. Traveling alone forces me to quickly understand the train and metro system. When I first tried to find Florence about 6 weeks ago, I had to learn fast before I missed the next train. You also have to understand the layout of the city you are in quickly. Some people naturally have the gift of direction. I never did. Now I feel more confident about my navigational skills – at least more confident.

4. You control the budget. This is both a perk and not a perk. Managing a budget of any kind is difficult. Traveling alone in Europe and maintaining a limited budget is not an easy task. However, it is a valuable learning experience, which makes it a perk in the long run. When you are traveling alone, you are the only one you can blame for the money you lost or congratulate for the money you save. I don’t have a friend or significant other to blame instead, which can save heartache. Besides, it feels good to blame the government, high exchange rates, and vendors for emptying your pockets instead. They are not your loved ones. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have someone plan the budget for you, but when giving that power over to someone else then you have to follow their limitations and not yours. When you are sharing equal control over the budget, then there will inevitably be bickering and disputes. I am my own woman. I am financing my own journey.

5. You can relax and take it easy when you want to. I know this is related to point number one, but I really want to emphasize this. Many of us who traveled in groups or even pairs have been in situations where one person just wants to take it easy while the other wants to go sightseeing. When traveling alone, I can go back to my room and take a nap whenever I want to.

6. You meet new people more when traveling alone. This is the biggest perk. During the two weeks of traveling alone, I have met so many different people from different parts of the world. Most of them were in hostels since four or five of us have to share a room. When visiting sites, I am open to talking to other visitors and asking them about their travels. Sometimes I will join some of my newly formed friends to see various places or have lunch together. When traveling alone, you eventually want someone to talk to. This encourages me to put on a friendly face and actually meet new people.

There are also many cautions one must take when traveling alone, especially a young woman such as myself. For instance, I give myself a curfew and do not go out alone at night past eleven. When I do walk around in the dark, I make sure it is in a well lit area with a lot of activity. I also travel with a lock on my suitcase and carry a satchel bag with actual buckles. During the day, I carry a small backpack in the front instead of the back. Unfortunately it brands me as a tourist, but I rather look like a dorky tourist instead having someone pickpocket me. And then there are the accommodations to worry about, but I will write a separate blog about staying in hostels. I will just say that if you decide to stay in a hostel – be smart and keep your belongings locked up.

I will admit that as I visited places like the Rome, Pompeii, and Venice I wished I had my family or my best friends with me to enjoy these amazing places. Still, I enjoyed these places by myself. It has given me a chance to learn more about myself, discover new abilities, and meet new people along the way. I believe that everyone should take a solo trip at some point. There is always something new to see, do, and learn when traveling alone.

Naples & Pompeii

Before setting out for Naples, I have been told by many people that it was the ugliest city in Italy and a place not worth staying for too long. The only thing I needed to do in Naples was to eat pizza, visit Pompeii, and then move on. Though I will say that Naples is not as picturesque as other Italian cities, it still has its charms. In fact, I liked Naples more than I thought I would.

I spent a total of four nights in a hostel in Naples. It was located right in the center and it was fairly easy to reach all the places I wanted to see in the city. On my first full day, I went to see Castel Nuovo which was located right next to the harbor. I did not learn about the castle until I was on the train to Naples and then again from one of the girls who stayed in the hostel with me. I figured if two people told me to see it, then I must. I was not disappointed.

At first I just saw the Renaissance artwork which was alright. After seeing several paintings of Jesus’ crucifixion, baptism, the Last Supper, and Mary with Baby Jesus, I was ready to see something different and exciting. I was about to leave when I saw another section of the castle that tourists could explore. In basement of the castle was an excavation site that was covered in glass for us to walk on top of. I could see multiple skeletons preserved in the ground. It was grotesque and epic. Then there was another room of old jewelry, gold, jewels, and an old crown that was found in the castle. Plus there was an old iron door with a cannonball stuck inside of it.

On my second full day in Naples, I went to Pompeii. Two girls from the hostel were planning on visiting the site on the same day and they told me to go with them. The girls were friends who met at an international summer camp. One girl was Italian and lived in Rome. The other was Israeli. Together the three of us explored the ruins of Pompeii. The Italian girl explained what she knew of Pompeii since she learned a lot about it in school. The site was huge and there was a lot to see.

We saw temples, the amphitheater, old market places, and houses where people used to live. We also saw bodies of the people who were preserved by the lava. I saw a pregnant woman in the site and you could see her swollen stomach that was preserved. I also saw the bodies of children and animals that was a sad site to see.

In Pompeii, I also discovered that the ancient city was one very colorful with artwork. When we think of ancient, classical cities, we tend to think about white marble but really there was a lot of art and color. It is evident from the ruins that color and mosaic art was important to the city. Over all, I really liked Pompeii. There was a lot to see in the ruins and I left in awe knowing that I walked through the site of an important part of our history.

During my last full day in Naples, I took it easy and relaxed. I did take two hours to see the underground city that was located in the heart of Naples. It was another archeological site where I saw sites of an old bakery, laundry, and so forth. walking through the underground city was like walking through a maze and a labyrinth. Don’t worry, I didn’t see any skeletons this time! The site was not very big so I walked through it twice because it was that awesome.

Now I am currently on a train to Bologna, but I am not going to stay there for one night. My destination is Venice, which is another city that is on my “Must See” list in Italy – and the world for that matter! Stay tuned for more very soon!

All Roads Lead to Rome

I did it! I went to Rome and spent five nights there, but there are still a lot left to see. After spending my first month in Florence, I found Rome to be huge. While I could walk everywhere in Florence and get to my location in under an hour, I had to take the metro to save time and my feet. Still this did not stop me from seeing the Colosseum first thing. Laura from Via Lingua took me to the Colosseum and we spent her last night in Europe just staring up at the history.

The very next day, I took a tour. Since all the English tours were sold out, I paid for an audio tour as I walked around the inside of the Colosseum. It was epic! I took a lot of photos but I believe the fanciest cameras could not capture the essence of the Colosseum. As I stared down from the top, I imagined what it would be like to watch gladiators fight to the death and slay vicious animals that were intentionally starved to make the games more brutal. I saw the remains of the marble seats that the senators would sit on as they watched the games. Thinking about what took place made me thankful that modern forms of entertainment are not nearly as brutal. Sure, football players can get seriously injured, but that’s nothing compared to fights to the death.

What I did not know before was how the Colosseum was used after Rome became Christianized. For many years after the brutal games ended, the Colosseum became a stage for actors to reenact the crucifixion of Christ. There even is a cross erected in the Colosseum as a remembrance to not only Christ’s sacrifice but to honor the deaths of the Christians who were persecuted before the Christianization of Rome. As a Christian myself, I found this very symbolic. Somehow the Colosseum seems like a fitting place to hold passion plays.

The Colosseum was definitely my favorite site to see, but the remains of the Roman forum was a very close second. I saw the ruins of the homes where past senators and emperors lived. I saw the remains of pillars that were once erected. I saw old fountains and baths. As I walked through the ruins, I tried to imagine what it looked like 2000 or more years ago.

On another day in Rome, I visited Vatican City. I paid for a tour guide, but I wished I hadn’t. For one, the agency wanted to milk as much money out of tourists by having large groups. I was one of 20 or more in the group. We had to wear headsets so that we could hear her. Not only that, the group was in both French and English so it look twice as long to get to all the places . I don’t see why they do not have two separate smaller groups. It was also hard to keep up because not only were there 20 of us but several other groups of 20+ pushing and shoving just to see a bronze statute of Hercules or get into the Sistine Chapel.

Despite the sweaty bodies and fear of someone pick-pocketing my belongings, I did get to see Michelangelo’s paintings in the chapel. I saw the painting of God creating Adam with their hands reaching out towards each other. I did not take a picture since there was a strict rule against taking pictures. Because it was a church, tourists were asked to have their shoulders, knees covered and refrain from taking photographs. This did not bother me, but allowing the chapel to be packed with tourists took away from the sacredness. Still, the chapel was beautiful and the paints were incredible. Fun fact: Michelangelo refused to drink anything while he was working because he did not want to go outside of the chapel to go the bathroom. Because of this, he only drank liquids in the evening but this resulted in kidney stones. Also Michelangelo painted the devil with the face of one of the cardinals who he personally knew at the time of the painting. This greatly amused me.

Honestly, I was not completely thrilled with Vatican City. I went there because I felt that it was a must see. On the day I went to Vatican City, it happened to be on a day when the Pope made an appearance before the crowd. He stood inside a white car and held out his hand to bless the people as he drove on by. Curiosity got the best of me so I stood in the crowd and saw the Pope drive right in front of me. Afterwards I left and did not care to listen to his speech. I know this is an odd thought but I could not help but think about how I have never seen any of the presidents in real life. I much rather trade seeing the Pope for seeing the president. Still, it is something I can brag about now even though I am not Catholic.

This sums up my trip to Rome. After five nights of Rome, I am ready to move onto another city in Italy. Currently I am on a train to Naples. I’ve heard some good things and not so good things about this city, but it is still on my list of places I want to see in Italy. Plus I have to see Pompeii at some point. Stay tuned for more!

JOB HUNT UPDATE: I had three Skype interviews this week, two job offers, and two more emails asking for interviews. God has shown me that something will work out for me in Europe. I am just not sure where right now. Again, I will not say which school, city or country until I officially accept a position. Please keep me in your prayers as I make important decisions.