The GoGlobal Blog

Category: John Felice Rome Center

Arrivederci Roma!

Arrivederci Roma!

Arrivederci Roma! We sang that song three times at our Voice concert celebrating the end of the semester on Monday, April 23rd. There were a lot more people in the audience than I expected. (Many of us had pleaded with our friends not to come.) They came anyway, and we laughed and stammered through a few classic Italian songs, including our solo pieces. Most of us were not singers, but we had fun with it, breathing sighs of relief in between phrases because the semester was almost over, we were almost on our way back home.

 

Street art in Prati, Rome

 

     Early on in the semester, I read a blog post written by a former JFRC student, she warned future students not to spend too much time wishing they were home. She wrote that during her semester, she never really stopped missing home, but that’s okay. I too found myself stubbornly missing home and looking forward to going back all semester. I never woke up one day no longer missing home at all. When I read her post, I realized every moment spent wishing I was home was a wasted one. Soon, I knew, I would be writing this last blog post, from my own kitchen table in Chicago. I think after I read that, I was more motivated to make the most of each day, and I did that the best I could for the rest of the semester.

 

A guitarist plays on a curbside in Rome

 

     Looking back, I loved my semester. Even though it wasn’t perfect, it was my own, unique experience that I wouldn’t change. I traveled to Poland and Switzerland, I toured Auschwitz and jumped off of a mountain. I had pizza in Naples and gelato in Florence. Saw the David, the Trevi, Botticelli’s Primavera, and dropped coins in the hats and cases of dozens of street musicians.

 

St. Peter’s Square

 

     Not only am I lucky to have been able to take this trip, but doubly lucky to be able to come home to a place I love. Friends and family, and a whole list of things I missed. Less than 2% of American college students study abroad, an even smaller percentage gets to study abroad, all the while looking forward to coming home, while still enjoying their experiences in the host country. Needless to say, I have a lot to be grateful.

 

Snowfall in Rome!

 

     I got home Friday, April 27th. It’s been a relatively smooth transition. Three months is long enough to grow and change, but not enough to forget what home is like.

     Next steps: Have a fun summer, and hopefully work a good internship related to communications. Next year I will be an RA at Loyola University Chicago, living at the water tower campus near Michigan Avenue. One more thing: I can’t wait to travel like a tourist in Chicago. It’s time for me to see more of my city, and my country!

 

One angle of Amsterdam

 

A hungry scavenger waits for a meal above a fish market

 

Artwork on display during the WWII trip

 

 

 

 

 

One Weekend Remains!

One Weekend Remains!

     This weekend I stayed in Rome and took some time to revisit some of my favorite sites in the city. On Friday I went to a cool cafe called Ex Circus in the city center. They serve many different types of tea, healthy sandwiches, and salads. It’s one of the few cafes in Rome that welcomes students to come in and do some work on their laptops. Many cafes are made for a quick espresso and maybe a bite to eat, nothing more. It was nice to hang out in a cafe like at home.

     I enjoyed some gelato near the Pantheon and walked around, checking out The Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona. The city is even more colorful now that flowers are growing and the summer tourists from all over the world are making their way to Rome.

     The weekend was warm and mostly sunny, and Saturday was a good day to visit the Villa Borghese Gardens. Borghese is a giant green space in Rome with gardens, museums, and restaurants. Go kart drivers, rollerbladers, and dog walkers travel through the almost 200 acres of the park in the spring and summer. SLA Ola, two other students, and I had more gelato and took a roundabout way to the park. We rented a rowboat and paddled around a small man-made pond in the park. After everyone had had a turn clumsily trying to row the boat, I became the designated driver. The girls did not enjoy it when I brought us close to the angry honking geese on the shore.

     I’m always surprised by how close everything actually is in Rome. The city is chaotic and can seem confusing, but in the center, the main sights and structures are only a few minutes apart on foot. When you can get an overhead view, like at the top of the Spanish Steps, it’s easy to point out landmarks and see that the main sights are all fairly close together.

     After a fun weekend walking around and ignoring my homework, I’m back in the library writing this post. With two weeks left, I’m determined to make the most and not let them slip by.

 

 

A pond in Villa Borghese
Piazza Navona
On The Streets of Balduina
The Pantheon

 

Everybody has one of these in Italy

 

Leaving TRG

Leaving TRG

I’M DONE WITH MY FIRST INTERNSHIP!!!

I’m so happy with how far I’ve come, oh my goodness. My last day was this Friday and it’s my longest day in office all week. This gave me plenty of time to complete projects I had and wrap everything up. I completed my final events post for May. I added some content to MeetEdgar for the events posts to get it out there on all the social media accounts. I created a thread on Twitter for all of the food tours The Roman Guy offers so it’s easily accessible to whoever goes on their page. Finally, I went over everything I’ve accomplished and what struggles I’ve faced throughout the course of the internship.


Facebook:

  1. YouTube Videos get the most interaction.
  2. Best time to post: between 6 and 9pm
  3. Posts with a longer description do better.
  4. People aren’t as engaged on Facebook, so they aren’t really into answering questions about their favorite places or anything like that. They prefer visual content that doesn’t involve much interaction which is why YouTube videos do great.

Twitter

  1. Live tweeting does well and I think it’s much easier than scheduling into Meet Edgar.
  2. Testing: Scheduling a few key posts into Meet Edgar such as events posts, and live tweeting while in the office. I think live tweeting does best because it seems more authentic in my opinion.
  3. Constant content creation/ Updating is key!
  4. Best time to post: any time/all day. With twitter there isn’t really a set time because people tweet so often that in order to be seen we also have to constantly tweet.

Instagram

  1. Stories do well and I’m a such a fan of saving the whole story as highlight because it organizes content by what people would like to see. Polls are best in thestories because they’re easy to followers to use. “Foodie Adventures” were my favorite thing to do once a week because it involved the least amount of work with the greatest engagement.
  2. Posts: Sweets, cheap food, trip advisor recommended restaurants do the best
  3. Best time to post: between 6 and 9pm
  4. Testing: posting on Saturdays instead of Mondays seems to be doing really well and hitting a bigger audience.
  5. Tested: Putting borders around pictures with a common theme, but it takes too much time and doesn’t really add much to the value of the posts.

Enjoyed:

  • I really liked running the Instagram because it allowed me to see immediately what posts did best and the analytics are easy to have a look at.

Highlight:

  • I really enjoyed the tour. It was a super interesting to see the quality of what the Roman Guy offers first hand because I spent the past few months hearing about the tours so it was cool to finally see what all the hype was about.

Enjoyed the Least:

  • Twitter: I feel like Twitter could be really fun and has a lot of creative potential, but with the new rules in MeetEdgar it’s difficult to keep on renewing content.
  • I wish I had more time to try more creative things with twitter. For example, I think it would be a good idea to create a thread on twitter of food tour information and pin it to TRF twitter so its the first thing people see when coming to the twitter. This would also be a good way to link TRF Twitter to other social media accounts.

Challenges:


  • Having enough photos for posts. Since constant has to be constantly flowing, it’s important to always have new pictures and places to talk about. That can be difficult if one week there isn’t time to go out and take more pictures.
  • TIME! I just wish I had more time here. I feel like I could have accomplished so much more. By the time I got used to how everything works and what I’m supposed to do, it’s time to go!
  • Sometimes tasks seemed a bit disorganized. Sometimes I’d have assignments on google calendar, then there was the google doc, now there’s asana so it was a bit confusing figuring out what to do at time.
  • Some weeks I’d have the main things I’m supposed to be doing like the FB, TW, INSTA, content creation, stories, monthly blog post, follower growth for TRF, but then I’d also have follower growth for TPG and TRG along with Pinterest, and Trip Advisor reviews which ended up being a lot considering I’m only able to come in for 10 hours a week. It did get a lot easier once more interns came do tasks weren’t so heavy.

What can TRG do to help future interns?

  • Show them exactly what posts should look like or what key points to hit. For example, on Instagram, name the place, food item, price of food item, recommend it.
  • For blog posts, I think formatting is helpful to go over because it’s so important in making TRG look professional.

After going over all of this with my supervisors, they gave me a run-down of improvements among their social media accounts. Engagement and website traffic went up for all social media 

accounts which is awesome! Although I didn’t reach my goal of 4,000 followers on Instagram, I have brought Facebook engagement to a record high. I had no idea I was actually doing well because I wasn’t sure of myself throughout the course of the internship considering I’d never worked in Marketing before. I was really shocked because it kind of felt like I was drowning a bit, but I pulled through.

That night we all went out for aperitivo and gelato in Testaccio. It sad to go, but I’m beyond grateful for the time I’ve spent with the Roman Guy.

 

Walking Assisi and Biking Via Appia Antica

Walking Assisi and Biking Via Appia Antica

     On Saturday, April 7, I went with SLA Vanessa and some other students for a bike ride along the ancient Roman street known as the Appia Antica. Getting to the road took two buses and a train, about an hour of commuting each way, but it was well worth it. The important road was used for military transportation in the 4th century BC. It connected ancient Rome to Brindisi, a town in Southeast Italy. The area is now a huge protected park. The stone road is flanked on both sides by beautiful green fields and ruins of walls and castles, probably used as military bases and outposts hundreds of years ago.

     The trip was the highlight of the weekend. We had perfectly sunny and warm weather that day and I had a blast riding a bike for the first time in a couple of years. I even got some color on my arms from the sun! We watched as a herd of a hundred or more goats passed by on their way to a nearby farm. We stopped for group pictures at the best viewpoints. After riding for almost two hours down the road and back, we grabbed a delicious lunch at a nearby restaurant. The special that day was pasta with salmon. I asked the waiter for formaggio to sprinkle on top and I was laughed at. I forgot that putting cheese on any pasta dish with fish is frowned upon. I did not get cheese.

     Saturday was an even longer day. Got up at 6 AM, headed out at 7 for a pilgrimage to Assisi. This is a study trip offered by the JFRC, so I had been looking forward to it since January. Unfortunately, I finally got sick this past week, probably from insufficient sleep over Easter break. Not wanting to miss the trip I had been waiting for, I stumbled out onto the bus, groggy but excited for the day. The trip was full of beautiful churches in an awesome location. Assisi is a hilltop town built above acres of farmland. It is significant because it is here in Assisi that Saint Francis and Saint Clare lived and worked to help improve the lives of others. Saint Francis was somewhat of a revolutionary figure in his day. He spoke openly about the need for all creatures to live in harmony. He is the patron saint of the environment. If I had a favorite saint, it would be him. The weather was great and I was relieved each time I stepped out of every chilly basilica and into the sunlight.

     We must have sang 100 “alleluias” that day, as it was still Easter Season and we spent a lot of time celebrating Jesus’s infinite love and mercy. If I had been feeling better, I would have appreciated the time spent reflecting and praying during mass and the prayer services more. Despite my sore throat, I sang when I could and tried to get the most out of the experience. All the while, I eagerly awaited dinner.

     Dinner was a delicious, extravagant, four course meal at an agriturismo (bed and breakfast/farm) 30 minutes away from Assisi. The wine flowed freely and the servers kindly offered seconds of each plate. The thing about these big Italian meals, is that instead of making you terribly full, feeling like you’re going to burst, they usually leave you perfectly satisfied. This is because each course is smaller than meals at home in the states, and there is enough time in between plates to digest and enjoy.

     What made the meal so great were the jokes and burns exchanged between Father Ted and Father Al, the two priests who lead us on our trip. They had us cracking up. At one point, Father Ted, an older, usually quiet man, stood up and asked if we had ever heard his impression of a German Shepherd. When we said no, he proceeded to shout instructions at an imaginary herd of sheep in a terrible German accent. (There were many more similar jokes and puns throughout the evening.) A little girl of about 7 or 8, holding the hand of one of the waitresses, walked up to Father Al, and wordlessly handed him a drawing she had made. The drawing was of two people lying on a beach under some palm trees. There was no explanation, it was just a simple and sweet moment. One teacher, Sander, known for his long-winded speeches and toasts, shared some lovely thoughts on his time spent with the two fathers as the meal was winding down.

     Sander remarked that the Assisi trip is a great way to bring people back to their roots, spiritually and emotionally. This was the last official trip of my semester and I feel closer to home than I have since the winter. The trip was exhausting but it reminded me of how much I have to be grateful for, and gave me some new ways to get closer to my roots when I get home.

 

 

 

Views of Assisi
A herd of goats passing by
One of many ancient ruins along the Appia Antica
The group stops for pics on our ride
One of the many times I dropped back to climb on something
Can you spot the biplane?

      

 

22 Days Left

22 Days Left

It’s crazy to think how much time has flown by. I feel like I haven’t done a lot during my time here. However, I have. I have had the great opportunity to travel all over Europe, which I thought would be impossible as a low-income and first-generation student. Yes, money gets tight. But there is nothing that budgeting can’t help you with right? I have learned SO much during my time here and I want to share with you what I have learned so far.

  1. GO OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE: I know it can be extremely hard to talk to people you don’t know, but this is the time to get comfortable. if you end up having an awkward encounter it doesn’t matter. You will likely not see those people after your semester here either way. My own personal example is when I met up with a random classmate in the bus stop. We were both going towards the same direction. Instead of dispersing right away, we decided to explore together. If I didn’t decide to do that, I would have never been able to visit Castel Sant’Angelo. One of Rome’s most famous castles. Take on an adventure with someone you normally wouldn’t. It could be worth your time.
  2. CREATE TIME FOR SCHOOL: There is always plans when you are studying abroad. It can be hard to catch up on the stuff you want to and need to do. You must remember that you are here to study. I have found myself slacking with schoolwork when back at home I would be on top of it. Make yourself a schedule and make sure to follow it. Don’t get distracted by social media or watch Netflix. Sit down and reflect on what you need to do and get it done. Preferably, without people around you. This will lead you to concentrate more with fewer distractions.
  3. MAKE SURE TO TRAVEL IN THE DATE OF YOUR CORRESPONDED TICKET: I recently went with Venice and I misread the date I was supposed to go. I don’t know how it happened but it did. It was super stressful at first because I thought I was going to get caught. At the beginning I didn’t. I was calm and cozy and was even able to take a map. On the way back though, it was a mess. I needed to show my ticket because a couple came in claiming it was their seat. I had to go talk to one of the workers and he offered me options since technically I was not on the right train. First off all, he was extremely rude. I explained the situation and he completely shut me off. He made it seem like I was lying to him when I wasn’t. On the way to Venice, one of the workers said it was fine that I was on the train because there was something wrong in the system. At this point, I knew I had gotten lucky. All in all, make sure you do everything you need to do before boarding your train. Including going on the right date
  4. DON’T LET YOUR EDUCATION GET IN THE WAY OF YOUR KNOWLEDGE: It may not make sense since you are here to study abroad, but think of it this way. You are here studying abroad in a whole different culture and environment. Instead of solely focusing on your classes and staying in the library, make sure to go outside and interact with locals. Increase the knowledge of the place you are studying in. Become more interactive and informed of the ways to navigate yourself around the city. Don’t stay stuck to your books. I know it’s important, but there are ways you can do both. Instead of staying in to study, go to a café to study. Get the cultural experience while you are studying abroad. Make it worth it.

There are so many things studying abroad has taught me and I can definitely say it has transformed me as a person. I feel more comfortable interacting with people I don’t know and I feel like I can navigate things more independently now. I had a lot of easy  accessibility to the things I needed back at home, such as money, food, and comfort. Studying here I don’t have all of that, but I have learned to manage random obstacles and even overcome them. I am still in the learning process though. There is always room to learn right? I am going to make the best out of these 22 days left and learn as much as I can, but also have fun! I’m excited and sad at the same time to leave. But hey, it’s been a good run so far!

Here are some of the places I have visited so far!

 

Ciao!

Jessica Criollo

ONE WEEK LEFT

ONE WEEK LEFT

Next week is the last of my internship and honestly this came really fast. Everything after Spring Break tends to go super quick, though. To celebrate the end of my internship, I’m going to be going to Santorini, Greece next weekend and I’m so excited for it. Treat yourself, why not? My roommate and I are going together so hang out on the beach to destress from this semester. I know I need it.

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Coasting Through to Spring

Coasting Through to Spring

 

     On Thursday, March 29, I hopped on a bus and headed down to the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. I went on the trip alone using tour company Bus2Alps. The company provides all types of trips for students studying abroad. They boast that they are “Europe’s #1 Student tour operator” and their most popular trips are to the Swiss Alps and Amalfi. Back in January I took the ten hour drive with them to Switzerland and had a great time taking in the beauty of the alps and glacial lakes there. Since then I had explored a number of cold destinations like Poland and Florence and I was looking forward to laying out on a beach under the sun. Back in January, the thought of a trip to the picturesque coast at the end of March sounded like a distant dream. The semester has come and gone so fast, and now Easter weekend is behind me too. The trip to Amalfi was certainly one to remember, though the chilly weather wasn’t ideal for the swimming and tanning I spent the last few months fantasizing about.

     We arrived late Thursday night, with only enough time to get our room keys and go to bed. For my last Bus2Alps trip, I was with my friend Kate. This time, I was on my own. Of course, traveling with a group of 200 other American college kids is not exactly a brave, lonely venture, but the experience of traveling alone is different than traveling with friends. My roommates were all friends studying in Barcelona for the semester. They were halfway through their weekend of drinking and having fun together on their trip. Wherever you travel, odds are there will be times when you want to relax, or take a moment to breathe and take inventory. Sometimes this can be difficult when you don’t know anyone besides the tour guide who emailed you the itinerary weeks ago. If you’re planning to travel alone, even with a tour group, be prepared for some time to yourself, and maybe some situations that are less than ideal. For example, because I had 7 strangers for roommates, I had to take the only bunk bed in the room. Of course, the bottom of said bunk bed was occupied by one of the frat guys – and his girlfriend – both nights. Like I said, less than ideal.

     Moving on, I wasn’t going to let minor discomforts ruin my trip, and neither should you when you travel! Friday morning we left the hostel early and took a boat ride to the nearby island of Capri. Capri is beautiful and the best part was taking a chairlift up to the top of Mt. Solaro, the highest point of the island, for a 360 view of the surrounding blue waters. The colors around Capri are unbelievable when the sun is shining. (See images below) If you like citrus, Amalfi is the place for you. Known for their lemons, nearly every shop offers some sort of treat featuring the fruit. Lemon desserts, chocolate covered orange skins, and, if you can stomach it, limoncello.

     Day two was beach day, but the overcast weather forced me to stay in my jeans and sweatshirt. Thankfully, Positano has tons of shops, cafes, and art galleries tailor made for tourists. It’s easy to spend a whole day walking around looking at the art and ceramics, or sampling gelato. This is definitely a trip meant for summer or late spring. The Bus2Alps itinerary includes private boat tours, cave exploration, and swimming under the sun. We had to skip several of these activities due to the windy weather. If you go before April, there’s a good chance you’ll have to skip the beach or brave some chilly water.

     On Sunday I got to hike Mt. Vesuvius, and tour the ancient ruins of Pompeii. In 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius erupted, covering the thriving city of Pompeii in ash and smoke, destroying buildings and burying citizens. Pompeii is famous because so much of it was preserved by the volcano. You can even see plaster casts of people in their last moments, frozen in time by the cooling liquid rock that buried them. That part can be a little depressing but it really is a beautiful place. I walked down the once-bustling avenues and intersections of the city. Pompeii is a lot bigger than I thought. I recommend paying for a guided tour, or at least using an audio guide like on Rick Steves’ travel app so you don’t get turned around.

     I had been most excited to hike to the top of Mt. Vesuvius. I didn’t realize how windy and cold it would be on the way up. I tightened the hood of my windbreaker and kept marching up. The top was cool, but a little underwhelming. I couldn’t actually peer down into a vast pool of lava. It was just a sunken valley of gravel and rock. The volcano is still active today though. I still recommend the hike to any adventurers out there. There are some stunning views of the city and ocean along the way. If it was a sunny and clear day it probably would have been amazing.

     We ended the trip with margherita pizzas in Naples. Best pizza ever. I went to Naples earlier in the semester and had a vegetarian pizza. It was disappointing. If you get the chance to have pizza in this classic Italian city, you have to get classic margherita. Trust me when I tell you you don’t want to ruin it with other toppings. Less is more here.

     By the end of the weekend, I had gotten a little bit of sun, taken a lot of good pictures, and I felt ready to return to Rome. Some of my favorite things were the stray dogs and cats that lounge around the islands, the views from the top of Capri, and the pizza at Pompeii Pizza. I recommend the trip, but it is best taken in the warmer part of the year.  As for the solo aspect of the trip, I’m glad I went by myself. Traveling alone is a great way to test your self-reliance and do some reflecting. Bring a journal on your next solo trip so you can jot down your thoughts throughout and look back on them later.

 

 

 

Views of Capri from the water.

 

One of the beautiful art pieces in free galleries of Positano.

 

Classic Amalfi Coast spot, but a little cloudy

 

Beach Dogs

 

It says “Explore”

 

Statue at Pompeii

 

Wow, this is a real place!

 

Cat Nap

 

It’s good with or without the vodka
Romantic Solo Trip to Venice, Italy

Romantic Solo Trip to Venice, Italy

So, there I was, sitting in Rinaldo’s in my usual seat on the couch in the corner listening to my peers discuss travel plans for the upcoming weekend. I couldn’t join in because I had no plans so I decided I needed to go somewhere. I pulled out my computer and my credit card, searched “Rome to Venice” and booked a train ticket and a hostel for the weekend. Spontaneous and maybe even a little impulsive, I made the decision and didn’t need to discuss it with anyone. After I realized what I did, I thought, Oh my God I’m going to Venice, ALONE!! And there began the brewing of excitement tinted with unease in the pit of my stomach.

Here’s my “excited-to-travel-alone” selfie.

After a late night of cheering on the Men’s basketball team and celebrating their victory into the Sweet Sixteen, I woke up (a little hungover), packed, and made my way to the train station. I’m not an anxious person, but when it comes to traveling with a deadline, I’m always on the edge of panic but everything went smoothly and I made it on the fast train headed to Venice. With a grin on my face, I admired the hills and fields passing me by as I sped over 150 mph towards the City of Water. Four hours later, tired and hungry (the default state of being for a college student studying abroad), I arrived in Venice, immediately dropped my backpack off at my hostel, and went off to explore the narrow streets and winding canals.

Venice is a maze. Google Maps would tell me to walk down what appeared to be a dark, deserted alleyway but, when I would turn the corner, the street would be bustling with life. I thought I was walking in circles because I would pass Murano glass shops, mask shops, and pizzarias then I’d walk over a bridge and pass more glass, masks, and pizza. I happened upon Piazza San Marco, the only piazza in Venice, crowded with one half tourists and the other half pigeons. Children were chasing the pigeons, couples were dancing to live music emanating from the caffès lining the piazza, men were feeding the pigeons and trying to get tourists to pay to take pictures with the birds, and tourists were walking around with their selfie sticks, always looking up with their mouths agape. When you travel a lot, you start to notice the typical tourist giveaways.

At the East end of Piazza San Marco lies Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco, Saint Mark’s Basilica. Unfortunately, I was unable to go inside but I did admire the facade, which was highlighted with gold mosaics and sparkled in the golden hour sunlight. The sun was approaching the horizon and I realized that now was my opportunity to see a Venetian sunset so I frantically walked around trying to find that perfect view that I’ve seen in photos but, unfortunately, I could not beat the sun. I started back towards my hostel, meanwhile glancing at all the menus posted along the way. A woman, whose job consisted of getting people into her ristorante, advised me about the perfect Venetian dishes to try for a seafood beginner (I’m not a fan of seafood but I wanted to be adventurous). I ate spaghetti alle vongole which was spaghetti with teeny, tiny clams in their shell and tomatoes with garlic sauce. Delizioso! Oh, can’t forget the glass of white house wine, one must drink wine in Italy.

I began my second day in Venice with a cappuccino and a trip to Murano, an island about a thirty-five-minute waterbus ride from my hostel. Murano is famous for its glass production which began in the 7th century. I went to the Glass Museum and saw some ancient glass and learned the history surrounding the main product of Venice. The glassblowing process is so fascinating, I wish I could’ve seen it in person! After leaving the museum, I walked along the canals and browsed through the shops lining the water. It took lots of deliberation but I found some beautiful souvenirs to bring back home for my friends and family.

Let’s talk about transportation in Venice. There are no roads, only canals, so you can either walk or travel by water. Waiting for the bus consisted of standing on a swaying platform next to a dock and hopping on a boat when it arrived. Venice did not feel like a real place because it is so different than any city I’ve ever seen. Florence has mopeds, Amsterdam has bikes, London has the Tube, Paris has the Metro, and Venice has waterbuses and gondolas.

Gondolas have set rates in Venice so one gondola for forty minutes is €80 and you can have a maximum of six people splitting that cost. As we know, I was traveling by myself and I could not afford an €80 private gondola ride on my romantic solo trip but I couldn’t go to Venice and not ride a gondola! I scoured the internet until I came across a deal on Viator.com for a walking tour plus thirty-five-minute gondola ride for $51. US DOLLARS! Lifelong dreams were coming true that day. It was time to meet up for the walking tour of Venice and my tour guide was a Venetian with a sarcastic, dark sense of humor and I enjoyed it. We toured an area with less tourists and saw a few of the one hundred and twenty-five churches of Venice. Venice sinks about 12 cm a century so now is a great time to invest in the housing market (credit for that joke goes to my tour guide, Marco). 

It was finally time for my gondola ride! I was put onto the boat with two couples and another solo rider and we embarked on our thirty-five-minute expedition around the winding Venetian canals. My gondolier did not sing or wear a fun hat like I saw other gondoliers wearing but he peacefully propelled us along. The best way to experience Venice is by water and I am so glad I was able to go on a gondola ride. It was peaceful and beautiful but over all too quickly.

After disembarking from the gondola, I wondered around a bit and happened upon Piazza San Marco, again. There are wooden walkways for when the city floods stacked all over the piazza so I went off towards the Doge’s Palace to sit on the walkways with the other tourists. I had a salami sandwich in my purse leftover from my sack lunch and I was starving so I thought it would be a good time to relax for a minute and eat. Plus, I was saving money because I did not need to buy another meal. I pulled out my sandwich, unwrapped the tinfoil around it, and took a bite but within thirty seconds of that first bite, a seagull swooped down and grabbed the sandwich from my hand. The seagull landed about fifteen feet in front of me and eight other seagulls were fighting that thief for my sandwich. I was completely shocked. Did a seagull really just take my sandwich? The other tourists around me also looked shocked and I started to laugh hysterically. I could not believe that just happened and I thought it was hilarious because it was such a stupid mistake to try and eat in a piazza FILLED with birds. If you go to Venice, please do not eat in the Piazza San Marco, learn from my mistake!

There I was in the piazza, hysterically laughing, alone, and without food so I wondered around until I found a take away pizza place. I had walked past it a couple of times during my earlier adventuring and there was a spinach and ricotta pizza that I had been eyeing. Of course, I got the pizza because it was only €3.50 and the slice was huge! I think my sandwich was meant to be taken from me so that I could enjoy that delicious pizza. It was waaaaay better than any pizza that I’ve eaten in Rome so far.

The sun was setting on my second day in Venice and I found myself at a dead-end with a perfect view of the sunset. It finally hit me that I was in Venice. Traveling is hectic and everything moves so fast that it’s possible to forget to take a breath and really appreciate the place you’re in. I felt the cool breeze on my face and I knew that if I touched the water, it would be cold. I’m not sure for how long I watched that scene but I did not walk away until the sun made its full decent beyond the horizon.

Venice is gorgeous, unique, and a little bit ridiculous and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to visit before it sinks. I’m kidding, that’s not going to happen for a while. Traveling to Venice felt unreal because it is so different than any city that I have ever seen. This small town will forever hold a place in my heart, even if it feels like just a dream.

 

Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo

On Friday, March 23, I visited the famous Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. I have wanted to see this building in its entirety since I first visited Rome junior year of high school. I had seen the outside many times but now I finally had the opportunity to step inside and walk the halls and passages. I must admit, a big reason I like this building so much is because of its appearance in the video game Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. The game franchise was one of my favorites growing up. Okay, it’s still a fun series and I am excited to play it more when I get home. Castel Sant’Angelo serves as a fortress and hideout for the antagonist in the video game. During one mission the player must scale the walls of the castle, sneak past countless guards on their patrols, and kidnap the wife (and sister) of the bad guy. Breaking into that fortress was always so challenging and now I know why.

Built in the second century AD, the castle is a huge cylindrical tower of stone and brick. It has been a prison, a fortress, a hideout for fleeing popes, and an apartment complex for wealthy political leaders. It was first built as a mausoleum for the Roman emperor Hadrian to store his remains and those of his family. Since construction began, the tower was built upon gradually as different popes and emperors took power and added what they wished to the foundation. So many of Rome’s ancient structures have been reduced to ruins over time but this castle still stands tall overlooking the Eternal City. I took a solo tour and slowly worked my way up to the top, where I got some great pictures of the entire city.

Inside the castle you’ll find weapons used by guards that worked there. Swords and incredibly long, heavy guns encased in glass give you a sense of how intimidating those guards must have been. Each viewpoint has an informational sign that guides you through your own tour. There are lavish apartment suites and guest rooms used by the rich popes and clergymen who lived there. My favorite parts were the various traps and obstacles put in place to ward off invaders and attackers. If Rome was to be attacked, the rich people taking shelter in the fortress would have been protected by a moat, trap doors, catapults and cannons.

It’s kind of weird thinking of what this building used to be, compared to what it is now. I sat in a cafe built into one of the upper floors and sipped an overpriced cappuccino. Centuries ago people may have died in that same space, fighting to build and protect a powerful city. What was once a powerful symbol of Rome’s dominance is now a tourist museum that the locals probably mean to visit but never get around to it. (Hello Willis Tower and Chicago Cultural Museum) I want to make more of an effort to visit places like this at home. If you can’t be a tourist in your own city, why live there? Of course, we don’t have any landmarks with that much history in them, but we do have some really great sights and things to do. Sometimes seeing places like Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome only make me want to be home so I can explore our landmarks too.

Michael The Arch Angel watched over Rome

 

 

An examples of armor worn by castle guards.

 

 

 

Many famous Roman landmarks can be seen from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo