At long last, it is time to finish up my writing about my semester abroad, so I can get on with writing about the rest of my life. Here goes!
Exams finished on May 2nd, then I had a day and a half to pack up and move out. Fortunately, my friend Sam was going to start his summer abroad (in Berlin) shortly after my semester ended. So we made an awesome plan to meet up in Venice, where neither of us had ever been before.
I got up early on Saturday, May 5th, and took the bus from my apartment to the Metz train station for the last time. It was very surreal leaving Metz… every turn the bus took might be the last time I would ever see that view. I may have fallen in love with Metz more than ever as I was leaving it for good.
That day I had twelve hours of trains to get to Florence (Sam wasn’t arriving until Sunday so I was going to stay at Katie’s apartment for one night and meet Sam in Venice the next morning)—through Strasbourg, Basel, Bern, Domodossola, and Milan. It was a long day of traveling, but with the weight of schoolwork off my shoulders and a huge awesome trip in front of me, it was easy to relax and enjoy the views. Riding through the Swiss Alps was as mind-blowingly beautiful as ever. Around Interlaken all the cows were roaming the mountains.
Sunday morning I got up early and took the high-speed train to Venice. Sam wasn’t getting in until mid-afternoon, but I thought the train might be late (as Italian trains often are) and I didn’t want to leave a jet-lagged, phone-less Sam stranded on his first day in Europe. The train wasn’t late. The Venice train station didn’t have wifi. I had a lot of time to kill. The tricky thing was that since Sam didn’t have a phone and we didn’t know exactly how slow his bus was supposed to be, I had to just sit around at the train station and hope he would make it. While I was waiting, an Italian girl sat down next to me and asked if I had a bottle opener for her beer. I let her borrow mine, and while she was using it she got a phone call. She quickly handed me the opener and answered her phone, then got extremely angry, screamed loudly into the phone for a minute, and finally chucked the phone directly at the sidewalk so that it shattered. I stared, shocked, as she drank the beer she had just opened, and then I quickly walked away before I somehow became involved. Very entertaining!
Sam’s bus finally came (later than expected), and Sam was on it! We excitedly hugged, high-fived, exclaimed, etc.; then went on our way to the hostel. We didn’t realize we could take a shortcut under the train station, so we ended up taking a super long walk through a construction zone instead. Oops. We checked in, then Sam power-napped for an hour or so, and then we decided to head into Venice (the actual city on the island) for an evening stroll and dinner. Sadly it started sprinkling right when we got off the train, so we found dinner real fast at a pretty cheap pasta place right when it started pouring. We headed home to get a good night’s sleep right after dinner, in preparation for our full Venice tour the next day.
On Monday, we got up mid-morning and took the train into Venice again. It was supposed to rain the whole time we were there, but though it was cloudy the rain was mostly holding off. We had both been told that the best thing to do in Venice is to just get lost in the alleys, so that’s what we did. The attractions we wanted to see were on the opposite side of the island in comparison to the train station, so, armed with the TripAdvisor map of Venice on my phone, we just started wandering. Winding through the alleys was really cool; it felt almost like we were spying on the everyday life of local Venetians as we walked past apartments, schools, churches, and (of course) canals. We grabbed some pastries for breakfast as we walked, and took an hour or two to get to St. Mark’s Square.
The main attraction we wanted to tour that day was the Doge’s Palace. Upon seeing the outside of St. Mark’s Basilica, we assumed this was the Doge’s Palace and went inside. The outside decorations were very colorful and unique, and the inside was beautiful, but we were a bit confused until we figured out we weren’t actually in the palace. After leaving the basilica it started to rain, so we quickly found the palace and spent several hours touring it. It was really neat to learn about the history of Venice, which I knew almost nothing about before. We toured the rooms of the all-powerful Senate, the Council of Ten, and Napoleon’s role in the downfall of the Republic of Venice, including the fact that he took most of the republic’s greatest art, which is in the Louvre to this day. We also toured the palace’s prisons, including the Bridge of Sighs, which is named that way after the sighs prisoners would emit upon seeing their last ever view of Venice before spending the rest of their life in a dark prison cell.
After finishing up with the palace, we took to more getting lost in the alleys of Venice to search for a nice dinner. Just as the sun was setting, we found the Osteria Mocenigo, which was rated pretty well on TripAdvisor and had a delicious-sounding house lasagna on the menu. The lasagna was as delicious as it sounded and the house wine did not disappoint, either. This small, local-style restaurant was a great find. After taking our time enjoying dinner, we headed back to the train station area in the dark. I—having wandered Europe for a whole semester and having spent several nights in train stations, parking garages, and bars at this point—was pretty relaxed about slowly wandering back through the alleys in the dark. But Sam was not as into this prospect as me, and was starting to get pretty nervous by the time we finally figured out where we were. Without maps or the internet, he had to deal, and it all worked out. We capped off the night by enjoying a bottle of limoncello on the Ponte degli Scalzi.
Tuesday was a super relaxing day. Sam’s jet lag was really starting to catch up with him, and I was heading back to Florence (via Bologna) that afternoon. We slept in a decent amount, then went into the city one last time. It was supposed to be the rainiest day yet, but instead it was completely sunny and warm. We walked around an area of the city we hadn’t wandered yet, got some gelato, and straight chilled in the sun. It was such a pleasant way to end our Venice meet-up. We headed off the island in time for me to catch my train at 2pm. Sam’s flight wasn’t until the next morning, so he got to experience the joy of sleeping in the airport that night. It was so cool that the timing worked out so I could see and spend a few days with my high school friend in Venice.
In Bologna I met up with Emily (who I wrote about before) for a visit to the modern art museum she works at and then aperitivo with her friends. It was so much fun to see them again and experience small city Italy with people who actually speak Italian. After dinner I caught the last train to Florence, walked back to Katie’s apartment, and collapsed in bed.