Venice, Italy

Venice, the city of canals, romance, and getting lost (over and over again). Venice is a beautiful city, overrun by tourists from all different nations. The city that is slowly sinking, amidst rising water levels. Go to Venice, before it is gone.

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How We Got There

We took a Bla Bla Car from Milan to Venice as this was our fastest and cheapest choice. Bla bla car is a like an Airbnb combined with uber. If you are heading somewhere, such as Milan to Venice, you can rent out a seat in your car. Bla bla car helps you set a price, provides extra insurance, and is a platform for long distance ride sharing. We had a great experience with both the cars we took! The meeting spot was very convenient, usually by a train station or metro stop and the ride was smooth. We talked to the drivers and they said they do bla bla car a lot because they have to drive back and forth a lot to visit family and what not. Italy has a lot of rolls on its highways so selling the seats help cover those costs and cover costs of fuel. Plus it’s way more fun to drive when you have people in the car along with you!

Click to check out Bla Bla Car's website
Click to check out Bla Bla Car’s website

 

Where We Stayed

Venice is a very expensive place to stay, difficult to navigate, and will take awhile to get your stuff to your hotel (unless you take a water taxi and your accommodation is right on the water). We stayed in Mestre, the industrial city that connect Venice to the mainland. This is a good place to stay if you want something cheaper and not as crowded as Venice. Beware that the area by the train station is a little bit sketchy, so only stay there if you aren’t scared and have a buddy. Our hotel balcony overlooked the corner “owned” by what we concluded was a prostituted. The next corner over was covered in Nigerians and the sweet smell of herb. The main square of Mestre is a lot safer and touristy. But if you use your better judgement, you should be fine in the red light district.

There are other towns nearby such as Padova and Treviso. You can get to Venice in around 40 minutes, plus they are great towns that are safe and just as fun to explore.

Getting around

The “metro system” of Venice is a fleet of ferries known as the Vaporetto. They have designated lines and routes like a bus, but are in water and a bit slower. It’s nice to take a trip down the grand canal or go to one of the islands with them (more on that below).  The price is pretty hefty. 7.50 euro a person per ride or 20 euro for a day and 10 additional euro per day after that.

Water Taxi

Very expensive, but does make you feel like a sophisticated being. These boat taxis are motorboats with wooden paneling and act like a regular taxi, but even pricier. We didn’t take one, but we did admire them from afar.

Gondola

People don’t often use gondolas to get around, they’re mostly for tours and the experience now a days. The boats cost 20,000 euro and have a lifespan of about 20 years. They are beautiful and fancy and you will want to get in!  We went and thought it was lovely… and short. The ride was fun, but it’s not something I would do again I think. Pretty costly and it doesn’t feel much different than being in a canoe, except you’re not rowing yourself. Rowing a boat down a canal or river is pretty hard, judging by that time I went punting in England.

We shared a Gondola ride with some people through couchsurfing. An experience you should try at least once, but only once.
We shared a Gondola ride with some people through couchsurfing. An experience you should try at least once, but only once.

Walking

Buy a really good map, look for signs, and bring an extra battery charger for your phone. Venice is a maze. If you want a good pay-what-you-want walking tour I would suggest the Venice Free Walking Tour, we had an excellent guide who was a local venetian and told us about the history of Venice, how it was built, the future of Venice, and other fun stories. Highly recommend!

What to do

Spend some time researching what you want to do in Venice. The city is a maze and there are no straight paths anywhere. Try to get familiar with the basic layout of the city using a map and mark a couple places you want to go. Make sure you have your phone charged because you’ll most likely need google maps all day long.

St. Mark’s Square.

One of the most crowded places in all of Venice, people everywhere, expensive and overpriced restaurants lining every side. The St. Mark’s Basilica lies here, along with the Doge Palace (and a few others).

Doge Palace was really cool, and is something worth checking out. All of its walls are lined with paintings and sculpture and art. It’s breathtaking at first, but does get old after you’ve seen 20 rooms that all look (almost) the same. The coolest part is getting to walk over the Bridge of Sighs and into the prison. You can actually walk into the room where Casanova was jailed and kept.

The walls and ceiling inside the Doge Palace.
The walls and ceiling inside the Doge Palace.

You get a ticket to 3 other museums with the Doge Palace ticket, so if you have time, might as well pop into those. We didn’t and we ran out of time, but from what I’ve read online, we didn’t miss much.

Get lost

Venice is made of several districts. Spend some time walking around each one. There was a church built on every island before the bridges were built. Plus there used to be even more canals before the Austrians came and filled in a bunch of them. You’re bound to find many churches covered in sculptures. Visit the San Pantalon for the largest painting on a ceiling, and the Santa Maria dei Miracoli, which is the only all marble church in Venice.

The northern part of Venice is where the Jewish ghetto lies. It’s not a slums, like the word ghetto would imply, but instead just an area where a minority (the Jews) live. It’s interesting to walk around, you’ll see lots of Hebrew souvenirs, shops, and synagogues. There’s even a Jewish museum to check out if your interest.

The southwestern part of Venice is another good place to visit. Here it’s not as touristy and it’s quieter, but still has an assortment of cheaper shops and restaurants to go to.

Walk the Main Path

Similar to getting lost but with more of a goal in mind. Through the center of Venice you’ll see signs directing you to St Marks or the Rialto Bridge. These are each located on one end of the island, so even if your map gets torn to shreds or your phone dies, you can still find your way to a main landmark.

On this path you’ll see lots of Venetian mask shops and souvenir mask shops. Real handmade masks start around 25 euro and you can usually see the crafter in the shop making masks and attending the shop. This is how you know your mask is legitimately made in Italy. Most other masks are imports from China, shop local right?

Restaurants & Food

Word of advice: If the restaurant has a picture menu, or someone at the front telling you to come in, don’t sit down. According to locals these joints are overpriced and don’t have great quality food. Instead try to find somewhere off the beaten path that is filled with people and has a mostly Italian menus, with maybe a few English menus to supplement.

Beware of cover charges!!! They are higher here than the rest of Italy. You’ll be charged around 15% of the total bill, this is essentially your “sitting down fee.” We went to a bar and ordered takeaway and try strictly forbade us from sitting down on one of their tables.

Foodwise Venice is supposedly know for the origin of Tiramisu. True or not, its coffee dessert is absolutely delicious, not too soggy, not to dry, but a perfect combination of creamy and moist. Another typical venetian dish is the “Sarde in Saor,” which consists of sardines or anchovies, topped with onions, pine nuts, and raisins, in a sweet and sour sauce. I didn’t try it, but Jake seemed to like it.

Venice is one of several places claiming to be the origins of tiramisu. Either way, it is a delicious treat!
Venice is one of several places claiming to be the origins of tiramisu. Either way, it is a delicious treat!

 

Islands of Venice

There are several islands you can travel to via the Vaporetto. Mainly Murano, Burano, and Torcello. We didn’t make it to Torcello, but if you have some free time, it would be worth it to check it out it.

We visiting the island of Murano first, known for its glassblowing and glass factories. We walked into some cool glass stores with fancy chandeliers made of glass along with glass of all colors, shapes, and designs. We wanted to learn more about the glass of Murano, so we walked to the Museo del Vetro. I would NOT RECOMMEND this museum, it is overpriced and you can get the same experience watching a video on YouTube and walking through the glass shops of Murano. We each paid the student price of 7.50 euros and walked out feeling cheated. Our favorite part was this video showing the process of making certain glass designs. The rest of the museum was a timeline of glass styles. We were really wanting more information on the process of glassmaking along with reasons why Murano is so big for glass. Stick to YouTube.

On the island of Murano, overlooking their main canal.
On the island of Murano, overlooking their main canal.

I essentially had to drag my boyfriend to Burano. He told me he didn’t want to see any more “pretty houses,” but he ended up really enjoying the island. We finally found a grassy park, which there is not much of in the Venice region, and sat for an hour watching the boats go by on the sea.

Burano is such a happy island, it’s hard to be grumpy when you are surrounded by bright colors everywhere you go. It also has more of local vibe vs touristy feel. There was a festival di Ragazzi happening in the main square. An organization hosted activities for kids somewhat like a carnival. Looked like fun for them.

Burano is also known for its lace, but beware of the “Made in China” lace. If the price is too cheap, it is probably imported. There are plenty of stores that sell only lace, some stores sell clothing, overall it is a good mix of stores with diverse choices. Definitely visit this island if you get a chance.

The leaning (bell) tower of Burano.
The leaning (bell) tower of Burano.

Como, Italy

I have Wednesday afternoons off, so I decided to use my time to explore the nearby city of Como. It’s roughly 43 kilometers from Milan and takes about half an hour by train.

Como is home to a natural Y-shaped lake at the very base of the Alps. It’s the largest city on the lake and has history dating back to Roman time. It’s a cute little city filled with pastel terra-cotta roof houses, shops, and of course the lake.

I went with this girl from my università, I had posted on our Facebook group if anyone wanted to come, so it was nice to have a companion. We walked along to the lake to the Life Electric statue. Its 3/4 of the way into the lake and you have to walk on the long side to get there. We thought it went all the way through, but the boats have to get out of the port area somehow!

Life Electric monument in the middle of the lake
Life Electric monument in the middle of the lake

The city of Brunate is only a 8 minute funicular ride away. It’s pretty high and I could tell because  my ears popped several times. Unfortunately, it was a foggy day in Como. You couldn’t see much. On a clear day you’re supposed to be able to see the cities along the lake, Turin, Switzerland, and the high Alps in the distance. We didn’t want to just get back on the funicular, so we walked around town, looking for something to do. The signs we were passing kept saying Como with an arrow, so we decided it was probably time to head back. Only significant thing we saw there was yet another church.

Walking around the city center of Como was a nice walk and window shopping experience. Featuring a mix of local and upscale stores, the city embodied what a typical Italian city looks like. We found the Porte Torre, the gates of the city, and headed back to the train station to go back to Milan. A perfect day trip!

Panoramic of Lago di Como
Panoramic of Lago di Como

Milan: La Citta della Moda

I came to Milan because it’s “The Fashion Capital of the World.” It’s where famous Italian designers and houses grew their reign, where inspiration meets innovation, and where craftsmanship is valued to great lengths. I take great appreciation in that people actually care about what they wear and while I can’t afford a lot of the clothing I see in the shops, nothing stops me from admiring through the windows like a child at the gelateria. Fashion wise, it is amazing how different Milan is from Austin, and from the US as a whole, in many more ways than I had thought.

Mango during Vogue's Fashion Night Out (VFNO). A night dedicated to shopping and celebration of fashion.
Mango during Vogue’s Fashion Night Out (VFNO). A night dedicated to shopping and celebration of fashion.

Fabric

I went to a fabric store in Milan, and it wasn’t quite what I wanted. The ones in the US let you stroll around and choose your fabric in private, letting you use your five senses to determine if it’s the right one for you. While waiting to get your fabric cut you can shop for needles, thread, embellishments and more. Here you tell them what fabric you want, for example jersey cotton, and they give you some options. Prints aren’t very common in these smaller fabric stores. You’d either have to find a larger store or get it custom-made. The fabric stores also don’t always sell other sewing supplies. You have to go to these “Asian dollar stores” or the supermarket for those. These “Asian dollar stores” usually have no name, but they sell just about every knick-knack you will need for cheap and they are always run by an Asian family, with everything sporting that “made in China” label. I miss getting to browse the large warehouse-like fabric stores in the US. I feel weird having someone watch me as I inspect and choose a fabric; I feel like I lose my inspiration and creativity under pressure.

Shops of Milan

I was at the Milan Centrale train station the other day to get my bus pass. The train station doubles as a mall and I decided to walk around and see what they had. Later I walked down a big pedestrian street with a lot of similar stores. I went in to compare. This one shop in particular, Tally Well, had a similar assortment of clothing in each store, but their prices and displays were a lot different. The train station was cheaper and had a warmer tone to all its clothing and displays. The Tally Well on the street had edgier clothing, with blacks and whites being in the middle of it all and kitschy t-shirts with graphics like “I love you / you’re problem”. The contrast of these two stores really explains a lot of Milan. The train station is safer; anyone can go in and feel like they can buy something; the atmosphere is inviting. The one on the street feels more Milanese; edgy, forward, powerful, and fashion fierce. It’s for people who are serious about fashion and they way they express themselves.

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Street display on Via Montenapoleone

I met a guy on the tram. He lives outside of Milan but defined the city in a very simple way: “Milan is very expensive for the expressive person.” While a lot of clothes aren’t ridiculously priced, it still comes at a cost due to the fast fashion concept. Zara restocked every 2 weeks. That is people going in every two weeks to buy clothes to show they are the most fashionable of them all. But it doesn’t stop there. People in Milan want to look rich, but often aren’t. My Italian teacher explained it this way: “Men in Italy wear their pants low so you can see their Armani underwear waistband. They all want to show off, but 80%, if not more, of those are fakes. The purses you see on the street? Most of them are fakes. Italians want to look rich, but they don’t want to work.”

Chanel No 5: The way to *SMELL* rich
Chanel No 5: The way to *SMELL* rich

Walking the Fashion Quadrilateral

Next to the Duomo, the largest gothic cathedral in the world, is the Galleria. Built in 1865 to commemorate Italian unification, it features several pricey boutiques and restaurants. Here is where the very first Prada store was opened in 1913. All the shops in the galleria have the same lettering in their signs: Gold letters on a black background. Walk out of the galleria towards Via Montenapoleone and you’ll enter “The Fashion Quadrilateral.” You know you’ve reached it when Ferrari’s zoom past you like no big deal, and when there are security guards in front of every shop and building. Here is where flagship stores of every famous brand you can think of reside, Armani, Versace, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, and more. You’ll hardly see any price tags, but if you do, you probably can’t afford it. Some stores you have ring and then be buzzed in. Others have more employees than customers walking about, intimidating window shoppers from going in. Several haute couture fabric stores lay around, selling a meter of fabric for more than what your entire outfit is worth.

As intimidating as the price tags read, walking around the the fashion quadrilateral is an exciting and beautiful experience. Not only are the clothes and accessories beautifully designed and crafted, but their displays are made with just as much quality. I was excited to walk down Via Montenapoleone during Milan Fashion Week. Everything is buzzing, people are everywhere, and everything is sparkling with beauty.

The Everyday Dress Code

In America you might see a few people stand out or dress super stylish, with the rest of them wearing basic t-shirts and jeans. In Italy it is a bit different. T-shirts are can be seen around 20% of the time, but instead of a graphic tee you’ll see a nice blouse with a quiet print. Looking down this tram I can only spot one pair of bright sneakers, they’re not even Nikes, they’re Adidas.  Looking around some more I notice the types of colors worn. Nothing is neon and nothing is bright, except for one outfit worn by a child. I see someone wearing black & white and conclude it is the brightest outfit on the tram. I see greens and reds and blues and more, but everything is a darker tone than what you would see back in the USA. The only exception may be some business casual shirts colored pastel blue.

I picture myself on a bus in Austin, what would I see people wearing there? A lot more burnt orange, a lot brighter colors, and a lot more t-shirts and “norts” (Nike shorts), etc. Comfort seems to be a lot more important in American vs. Style in Italy.

Trendy Italians walking down the street.
Trendy Italians walking down the street.

Conclusion

Italians are very prideful about their country, and when it comes to clothing, if it’s made in Italy, it has to be good. While a lot of their knock-offs may come from China, it still appears Italian thus they still feel patriotic towards their country. Italians take pride in the goods coming from their country and I think that is where a lot of their love for fashion stems from. I see women walking their dogs in stilettos down the street and I think, “Only in Milan.” Comfort is for within the home and style is for outside the home. I’ve been trying my best to keep up with the Milanese fashion, but alas I don’t have the budget or the closet space to keep up with their stylish fashion. In fact, I’m so behind that I don’t think I would have enough time to shop for even all the basics I would need in my wardrobe. I have 3 and a half months left to figure out the Milanese fashion culture, challenge accepted.

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Us trying to keep up with Italian Fashion.

 

This article originally appeared on the UT BBA Study Abroad blog

Outlook Festival

What do you get when you cross a Croatian beach with an ancient fort? Outlook festival! By day, picture beach parties with great reggae bands, hammocks, people swimming, and everyone just hanging out. By night, walk up a hill to “The Clearing,” aka the mainstage. The speakers and lights perfectly synchronized for maximum boom and bass. Continue down the path to “The Fort,” which is actually the Fort Punt Christo. Inside you’ll find a tiny stage, yet the crowd is just as wild. Down in the moat, is another stage. A long corridor quickly filling up. There’s a stage on top, a stage in the old horse stables, a couple stages here and there.

Everywhere around you are the sounds of drum ‘n’ bass, dub, bass, and dubstep. This is Europe’s largest festival for this kind of music. The stages open at 9pm and the music goes on til 6am. The atmosphere is perfect for these kind of sounds. The forest and fort create a spooky, yet safe-feeling environment for all to dance in.

Outlook's Main Stage featuring the hardest drops, people dancing their feet off, and intense lighting and sound design.
Outlook’s Main Stage featuring the hardest drops, people dancing their feet off, and intense lighting and sound design.

We only got one day passes, which was all we had time for, but one day provided us not with a taste, but with a whole meal of music, dancing, and more. I actually didn’t know any of the artists on the lineup, they were mostly European artist and producers. Although I knew that if I followed my ears, i would be able to find good music the whole night. And that is exactly what happened.

Reflection on my 2-month Euro-trip

After having been on the move for a solid 2 months I am very happy to have finally unpacked my big bag for one last time. I nearly teared up putting my toothbrush in the cup by the sink. I smoothed out my clothing and hung it up for the first time in months and smiled at the arrangement. I sat in bed and looked at the White wall next to me, wondering what it soon will become. These past two months were hard, but I learned so much about myself, the world, and life.

Touching the tip of The Lourve in Paris
Touching the tip of The Lourve in Paris

Myself

I am a very independent person. I don’t think every person has the capability to travel two months all alone (into the unknown). I thought I was the right person in the beginning, but during my trip I doubted that. I felt helpless, alone, scared, and even bored. By the end though I can look in the mirror and see myself as a different person; a stronger and smarter person. I am much better at adaptation now. Culture shock got easier and easier to deal with in each city I visited. I was able to figure out the basics of the city so I could quickly get around, find food, learn about the culture, and meet others.

Waffle full of toppings
Waffle full of toppings

The World

The world is so much bigger than I ever thought. Of course I knew it was big, but there is so much more to the world than you can read about online or hear about from a friend. I’ve learned about new ways of life; new ways of speaking and communicating. I’ve seen and learned about all the history I had to learn back in high school from a new perspective. I can see firsthand how the world wars affected people, the cities, and how the city is shaped. I didn’t know the Berlin Wall was put up in one night; I didn’t understand that Berlin was in east Germany but allowed to be split. That is just one of the many things I learned and experienced. All throughout Europe i look at these wonders and ask myself, “how did these survive the bombings?”

In Central London with my girl Natasha
In Central London with my girl Natasha

Life

I’ve learned that the only person you can truly rely on is yourself. You have to be careful who you trust, but you also have to be willing to take some risks. When you start to meet a lot of people, you get better and better at reading each one. It gets easier to quickly decide if that person is trustworthy, if that person is a good person to be friends with, etc etc. I had to use this judgement when i was Couchsurfing. A lot of people are impressed when I tell them I confidently stayed with strangers. Even through the web I figured out a way to read them and figure out if they were trustworthy. I used previous reviews, I judged their ability to speak English (it’s hard to trust someone who is hard to understand), I judged them through the conversation we had, and then I could figure out if they were. Everyone I stayed with was absolutely wonderful!

The unpopular opinion: Sometimes you have to rely on stereotypes. You can’t always risk getting to know a specific person before judging them. Sometimes you have to take their culture, their dress, and their first impressions into account, especially if there is no one there to say, “hey don’t worry about them, they are nice.”

The famous Love Lock Bridge of Paris
The famous Love Lock Bridge of Paris

In regards to life, you really learn how to use your time wisely. It was difficult to get up each day, but I pushed myself to at least make the day worth it. Sure I had a few days where I barely did anything, but as a human you NEED time to do nothing and let yourself rest. I learned to value my time (and my money), but not let myself stress out. I had two mottos:

“Tomorrow is a new day.”

“It’s a sunk cost, so oh well.”

Telling myself these two sentences helped keep me from not getting too stressed, and to stay positive.

Selfies with my gopro, so glad I bought one!
Selfies with my gopro, so glad I bought one!

In the end I am happy I went alone. I remember crying and telling myself going alone was a bad idea, that I would never wish this upon anyone, that I would never travel alone again. Looking back, I’m glad I did it. I became stronger and had the experience of a lifetime. I don’t think I would want to do another big trip alone though. I found while overall I liked going alone and getting to meet people and do new things with them, just constantly longed for a buddy. It was hard making all the decisions on my own; going out by myself sometimes; going to the aquarium all by myself.

 

The sunset in Sevilla
The sunset in Sevilla

I encourage others to try a trip alone, or at maximum one other person. Western Europe is pretty safe, you just have to be alert, play it smart, and don’t venture into the rough areas. Don’t be like the girl from Taken, inviting a stranger into her empty house. Hostels are typically safe. Check out Europes Famous Hostels if you want a really good and social hostel experience. They are a little pricier, but are always nice and really fun! Happy travels!

Templehof Park in Berlin
Templehof Park in Berlin

Steps to Visiting a New City

Traveling to a new city isn’t always the easiest thing, especially if their language and culture is very different than from what you are used to. I’ve travelled to a lot of different cities and began to form a quick pre-departure plan.

Google Maps App is a lifesaver
Google Maps App is a lifesaver

Step 1

Download the city and surrounding area on google maps. This allows you to access streets, some buildings and businesses, and more while offline.

 

Step 2

Research where you want to go in the city and how to get places. Even if you know what you want to visit, you never know what kind of surprises a city may hold. Continue reading “Steps to Visiting a New City”

Belgium Montage Video

During my time in Belgium I visited Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels. I did go to Boom for Tomorrowland, but since I had made a separate video for that, I didn’t include that in.

Featuring Odesza – “iplayyoulisten.”

A Short Guide to Surviving Ibiza

Ibiza is a beautiful island with millions of tourists every year. You’ve probably heard about it’s world-famous nightlife, clubs such as Space and Pacha. Ibiza is so much more than that, it has beautiful landscapes, beautiful beaches, and the beautiful dark blue water of the Mediterranean.

Cost

First things first. Ibiza is not as expensive as you would imagine. Yes you may pay 50 euro to get into a famous club on one of their big party nights, but entertainment aside being in Ibiza won’t entirely destroy your wallet. Hostels may be around 40-50 euros a night, hotels being around 100+ euro, airbnbs can be found starting around 65 euro. Food isn’t terribly priced either. I got a warm ham and cheese sandwich for 3 euro. You can get a smoothie for around 3 euros. Get some pizza for around 3 euro and on and on. The grocery stores don’t have too many options, but they are still reasonable priced. Continue reading “A Short Guide to Surviving Ibiza”

First 12 hours on the White Isle

What an adventure already! I didn’t have anywhere to stay that first night because my plane g0t in late and I couldn’t check in anywhere decently priced (note that I booked and researched for this back in may). I had just planned to go out my stuff down at a hostel and hang at a cafe.

You can't really tell, but this is from the inside of Sankeys.
You can’t really tell, but this is from the inside of Sankeys.

My night was better than expected! I met a group of Italian locals who let me put their stuff down and invited me out. I was (of course) a bit hesitant at first, but after chatting with them, I decided it would be okay. Continue reading “First 12 hours on the White Isle”