Reflections on Italy

At last! Here is my final article on Italy, or it will be until I return again! It has been two years since my departure and a lot has happened since then, but I still continue to hold this experience near and dear to my heart. 

Us girls in Venice

So how did Italy compare? While Italy was not a dramatic culture shock or full of the most beautiful natural world, this trip held a lot of value for me personally. How I ended up meeting my host family alone was something out of a feel good movie, since finding your late mother’s penpal of over twenty years is not something that occurs every day. I was so grateful for all the support and aide they gave me during my stay and its easy to say I will never forget the connection I made with them. They are a second family to me and I love them dearly. As for the country itself, here are my biggest takeaways:

Taking in the view

Italy is the home of plenty phenomenal examples of architecture and showcases so many of the works of Palladio, who inspired much of the typical western architecture we see today. I felt that ever corner I turned down, there was yet another ornately detailed building. This is especially true for many of their cathedrals where art and architecture combine seamlessly. I felt the frescoes of Treviso or San Marco’s Basilica were some prime examples of this. 

San Marco’s Basilica

The food was also incredible and rich. I loved trying their numerous types of pasta and candy. I felt that there was such a strong connection between food and culture in Italy, which made it so much more enjoyable. I wish I had had the opportunity to try more of it (or at least bring home more than I did). 

I also loved the history in Italy. Here in the States we are often devoid of buildings from the medieval times, but in the Veneto region, they are so common. I loved looking at them and wondering if someone hundreds of years ago did the same exact things and what kind of life they lived. I also appreciated how well the new and old buildings mesh into a beautiful combination of modern and archaic. 

Old Palladio buildings

The culture is also so vibrant and fantastic. I was lucky enough to be there during some of the festivities and it was so great to experience the holidays. La Befana was a great experience that allowed me to take part in Christmas traditions without being flooded by other tourists like some celebrations, such as Carnevale in Venice. I also loved taking part in the dinner culture that plays such a huge role in many people’s day to day life. It was great to spend our mealtime together and conversing, even if it took several hours to do. There also weren’t nearly as many phones out at the dinner table as we see in the States or other places in the world. 

My host family

Was Italy better than any of my other trips? 

I can’t ever effectively compare all of my trips because they are all so different in nature. Italy held a personal reconnection with my mom and her friend that was very unique to that particular voyage and that alone is hard to beat. I wasn’t looking at the natural beauty of Peru or doing service in rural plains in Tanzania, but that didn’t mean the trip was any less important to me.

Canals in Venice

Did I like Italy? Would I recommend it?

I did love Italy, except for Venice. Venice receives a lot of hype from the travel world, but that is exactly its flaw. It is a gorgeous city, but there is a definite red flag when the amount of tourists outweighs the local population. In fact, tourism has driven out many of the locals, which hurts my heart because the people who created that beauty for us to enjoy are no longer there. Not to mention, the heavy cruise traffic and pollution has damaged the lagoon that used to provide so much life. To me, I feel like it is a lot of lost beauty that has been traded for economic benefit, and that is the reason I didn’t enjoy Venice as much. The rest of Italy that I saw was phenomenal and I would suggest visiting. I think Venice is great in the area, but I would hope it is not the sole focus of one’s trip.

The night before my departure

Overall Italy was a fantastic experience for me to reconnect with part of my old life and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I would hope that everyone has an opportunity to experience their vibrant culture and lifestyle!

My Opinion on Italian Cuisine

Before I left to Italy, nearly everybody told me how excited I should be about their food, because apparently it is stuff of legend. I had certainly had americanized Italian meals, but never the real deal, especially because I have very little Italian heritage in my family. So of course I had to wonder, was it really as good as people said?

A cake from my awesome hosts

Because I was staying with a family, I was lucky enough to try lots of authentic home cooked meals rather than eating out every night. I also stayed in a smaller town, so when we did eat out, we went to smaller restaurants instead of those geared towards tourists (which I always recommend doing if possible!). I wish I had the opportunity to try some things that I didn’t such as a spritz (Italy’s famous mixed drink), some more pasta, and more candy, especially from the brand Kinder.

However, here is a complete breakdown of the food that I ate while I was there and what I liked and didn’t like:

DAY ONE:

When I arrived from the Paris airport and arrived to Loreggia, one of the first things I tried was tortellini. It was super simple, with mostly salt as seasoning and we also had a cured ham, parmesan, white wine, and bread. The parmesan was so great and was eaten just off of the block with some of the ham or nothing at all. The wine was a light Prosecco and something that we drank with dinner on most nights. Prosecco actually originated in Treviso, a nearby city, so we were close to the most original source.

DAY TWO:

We actually didn’t eat breakfast this morning because we headed straight off to Venice, so my first meal was at a hidden restaurant near the canals. Here I had a panini with salami and brie cheese. I really liked it! We just drank water with our meals. Unlike the United States, most places charge for water and you have the option of flat, distilled water or carbonated water. Carbonated was popular where I was, but personally I can’t stand it so I stuck with my plain, flat water.

For dinner, I finally got to try Italian spaghetti! However, it was not much different from any back home, which was surprising. In fact, some noodle brands are the same that we have in our stores. We also ate baguettes, parmesan, and sopressa, which is a super yummy type of cured meat. Along with all of that, we also had the strangest vegetable I have ever seen. It was a steamed romanesco, which is a type of broccoli and has a vibrant green color. The coolest part about it is its fractal patterns that create a weird symmetrical shape. We just ate it steamed and it was fantastic. My host family was surprised and entertained by my interest in the veggie too, since apparently its commonplace in Italy.

Romanesco

DAY THREE:

This was the morning following the visit of La Befana, a witch who fills your socks with all sorts of goodies, so I got to try Italian candy! There truly wasn’t anything I disliked, except for some of the fruity candy, but I absolutely loved Ciok and Kinder’s Cereali. The Cioks are almost like a cracker/cookie/biscuit thing with chocolate on top. Kinder is a very popular candy brand in Europe, known especially for their Kinder Eggs, which are actually banned in the US since they are thought to be a choking hazard since toys are stored (safely and obviously) inside. However, they also have many other products, such as Nutella (my favorite!) and Cereali bars which are chocolate bars with a white filling and rice puffs. They are my favorite candy ever, hands down, and are so addictive. Please get some if you go to Italy or Europe!!!

All my treats from La Befana

That day was also the first time I had real Italian gelato in Treviso! In my little town, we have a small bistro that has gelato, but I had never had any sort of comparison, meaning trying some was super exciting and totally on my bucket list. When we toured the city, we made a brief stop to get some, even though it was single digits and freezing. I was drawn to the hazelnut and chocolate flavor and I certainly did not regret my choice. I didn’t find it much different from that at home, but I did thoroughly enjoy it. Had it been summer, I would have tried some more flavors or more stores.

Chocolate and hazelnut gelato

After returning from Treviso we returned to Lorregia to celebrate the burning of La Befana. There I tried more candy, although I have long since forgotten what brand it was or if I liked it. We then decided to go to dinner with some of our family friends and I finally got to try Italian pizza. Each person is given their own pizza to eat (albeit they are smaller than America’s sixteen inch or so) and they are pretty amazing! I had my pizza with ham, but the most common pizza is margarita, which has tomato, cheese, and basil. While I wasn’t obsessed with the other pizzas, the margarita ones are fantastic and I wish there was something comparable in my hometown. I would totally recommend them if you are in Italy!

Now would also be an appropriate time to mention the dinner culture in Italy. For the locals, dinner consists of a lot of chatting and a lot of time, which is absolutely phenomenal. We spent three hours at dinner usually, but there was so much connection and appreciation for one another. At the restaurant, we sat separated by age and gender, but conversed with everyone at the table, even though I wasn’t able to communicate as much due to language. Some had a light drink before the pizza arrived. After pizza, there was more talking and then coffee was served. For dessert, there was two options for liquor, of which most of the adults and young adults drank, including anisette, which is a shot that tastes strongly of black licorice, and limoncello, which is a light lemon flavored shot. Both of these are supposed to help with digestion and help with stinky breath. Afterwards, we talked some more and than finally said ciao or goodbye!

DAY FOUR

Much of the food we tried on day four was the same as food we had already eaten in days earlier, but I would like to draw attention to Italian hot chocolate. Here, most of our hot chocolate is watered down cocoa mix with marshmallows, but in Italy, it is more like actually, creamy, melted chocolate. It is very thick in consistency, but also very rich. I loved it, but I could only consume a small amount because it is so heavy.

DAY FIVE (AND THE REST)

So unfortunately, my notes on the rest of my trip are few and far between. We ate more tortellini and pasta, but what really stood out was tiramisu, a coffee flavored, soft cake that is super good. I actually got the opportunity to make one from scratch with my host family and it turned out so good. It is layers of coffee-soaked finger cakes and a cream/cheese filling. I have actually brought this recipe back and remade the cake here in the states, since it was that good. I love making it for family and family friends.

Tiramisu

So was Italian food as good as people make it seem?

Short answer: I would say so!

Longer answer: It is certainly good, but there are certain foods that get a lot of hype and aren’t as good there (spaghetti being one), but there are also some that deserve a lot more attention, namely tortellini. I wasn’t completely in awe, but even after being home from the trip for two years, there are still foods that I miss and want more of. Romanesco, parmesan, tortellini, and tiramisu were easily my favorites and ones I would recommend you try! Overall, I loved the food culture and all the yummy options.

La Befana in Italy

Italy is home to many wonderful and exciting celebrations throughout the year, but a lesser known one involving La Befana, is one of my personal favorites and one I was lucky enough to experience. This tradition on January 6th marks both the end of Christmas and the day the magi reached Jesus to bring him gifts in Christian beliefs.

La Befana in Treviso

La Befana is actually a person who takes the form of an old woman who is ragged and poor, with a broom and warts, much as an American Halloween witch. Put simply, she arrives to visit the families on January 6th every year bringing candy for the good children and coal for the bad while the household is asleep. However, this tradition stemming from the 13th century comes from an old legend.

According to the story, when Christ was born, the three Magi came to visit the baby and bring their gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. They stopped at the house of an elderly woman and they passed the word onto her and asked for her to join, but she politely declined, saying that she had much work to do around her house.

My gifts from La Befana

However, after some time, she felt as though she hadn’t made the best decision and decided to follow the same star the magi were and set off on foot. Along the way, she left candy in socks on the doorsteps of children, hoping to find the baby Jesus. Now, with the combined ideas of this legend and Santa (who is a much more modern tradition), she will deliver coal to the poorly behave children as well. There is also a forewarning from parents that if you attempt to see La Befana in the night, she will whack you with her broom.

Just like with Santa in the United States, during this time of year, you will see many La Befanas walking around so you can take pictures with them, like the one in the photo above. Some are on stilts, some have warts, some are scary, and some have pointed hats, but all of them are super unique and awesome!

Later in the night after she has brought the candy, there are more celebrations. In fact, in some places La Befana is burned (a fake of course), at a huge bonfire and the whole town celebrates. Supposedly, if the ashes go up it will be a good harvest and a poor one if they go down.

The Lorregia fire

My experience with La Befana was fortunately very personal. Since I was staying with a family, I had the true local experience of having a Befana sock and attending the fire, but also an embarrassing one because I was a foreigner with little Italian skill. It went something like this:

We get there and there is a lot of people, fireworks, and in the middle of it all, a massive bonfire. Stacks of pallets high, this thing is huge, easily the biggest fire I had seen. I immediately start photographing with my Nikon. I am so in awe of this fire that when my host pokes my shoulder, I jumped.

“Hey, there is a La Befana here and if you talk to her she gives you another stocking. You can get cookies and hot chocolate too.”

Free hot chocolate? I’m down. One of her girls takes my arm and walks me to Befana and promptly tells her I am American.

This is about the time I realize La Befana has a microphone. And this audio is being played on loud speakers, meaning the whole population of Lorregia can hear our conversation.

Now is also a good time to reiterate that I hardly know any Italian.

Flames from where the witch was

Befana is immediately amused and starts laughing about my confusion as well as cliché American things, such as our then president elect Donald Trump. She asks me questions and I, of course, can not answer, and I desperately look around for my host to translate. She said they asked what state I was from and I responded. Then at this point, La Befana says she speaks English and talks to me. If I am correct, it sounded something like this:

“Ajkvbfjvisfjnvj fnvbksf njvj sj efbskjgijer sfjwb jfbkwurgbbgjw!!”

Also known as, gibberish.

To say the least, I hurried away from that microphone. But then I also realize that the entire town is staring at me. It was like I may have well just landed from Mars. Many were gawking at me even though I looked pretty similar and some even did cheers with their hot chocolate and clapped as I passed. It was mortifying and something I will cherish at the same time.

Fireworks

Of course not every town has traditions like this, some are bigger and smaller, but if you want to stay away from the main tourist season but still celebrate some Italian holidays, I would totally suggest seeing La Befana!

Venice (Venezia), Italy

Venice is the primary destination in the northern part of Italy and a beautiful one at that. I loved my time there, although I do have my critiques. Venice is a city of history, culture, and brilliant sights; however, the heavy tourism has degraded a lot of the city’s natural aura and it’s beginning to show. However, many of the places are still worth the experience and I would recommend going if you are in the area!

Venice Canals

Originally, around 400 AD, Venice was founded as a refuge from the mainland of Italy, where Goths and Huns were a threat. The islands were a sanctuary, since their opponents could neither sail or understand the seas. Venice remained out of the turmoil of Italy for vast amounts of time and grew to be the 118 islands it is today, of which some are man made. Their community was led by a doge, who was originally elected by twelve people. Over the years, Venice became a center of trade, due to its position on the Adriatic Sea and eventually, in the 1200s, it was the most prosperous city in Europe, but that ended after other countries began to explore overseas and the plague became widespread, killing tens of thousands of people. In modern times, Venice is largely prospering from tourism, but the population of locals has heavily decreased due to high living cost. In this sense, this is the part of Venice that I did not enjoy as much: there is not a lot of genuine authenticity due to a lack of citizens who actually live on the islands.

A seagull perched over the water where tourists come flooding in from ships

However, Venice is touristy for true reasons, as there is much to see and do. The architecture of the islands themselves, as well as the buildings, is stunning and exceptionally detailed. Venice is also famous for glass blowing, of which you will see many fine examples of in the area, especially in the island of Murano. The food is also great and there are many opportunities for pictures if there aren’t too many tourists in the way. I was there in January, hence my photos were nearly empty of people since many did not want to endure the bitter weather.

Venetian streets

If you are going to Venice by any other means than cruise (which hopefully that is true, since the cruise ships pollute the water and damage the historical city), the best way to reach Venice is by train, since no cars are allowed on the islands. Italian public transportation is super easy to use and cheap; just make sure to punch your tickets at the little kiosks to avoid any fines! The view from the train station exit is also beautiful and is fairly near the main attractions and other little places you might want to see.

The view out of the train station

Not sure what to do with your time there? Here’s a list:

PIAZZA SAN MARCO:

This is probably one of the more iconic sights in Venice besides the massive canals and rightfully so. Here you will find lots of little bars, cafés, designer brand stores, but the most interesting attractions are the Doge’s Palace, San Marco’s Basilica, and the clocktower. I have been fortunate enough to see many fine works of architecture and the Basilica is definitely one of my favorites, probably only rivaling Machu Picchu.

The Doge’s Palace was built for the rulers of Venice and now serves as a museum. It features Gothic architecture and actually connects to the prisons, where those accused could be taken directly from the courtroom to the cells. Here, you can find the Bridge of Sighs, where as legend has it, convicts would sigh during their cross because it was their last sight of Venice and the outer world. While there may be little truth in that statement, the Bridge is fascinating to look at, as well as the Palace.

Bridge of Sighs

San Marco’s Basilica is a massive church that is ornately detailed and built in a mix of European and Byzantine architecture styles. Its construction began in the mid-eleventh century and continued over many years, especially due to its beautiful mosaics. Part of the church is now a museum, that I would completely recommend entering because it is stunning and full of history. You also get a chance to see the artwork, which is a great opportunity to take a break from all the traditional frescoes that one sees across plenty of Italy and see the sculptures and mosaics that aptly give the building a nickname of “Church of Gold.” You can also take the stairs all the way up to the balcony, which gives an awesome view of the square and allows you to see the horses that tower above the plaza up close. Admittance the building only costs a few euros (usually between 2.50 or 5) and is totally worth it.

San Marco’s Byzantine Domes
Entrance to the Basilica
Mosaic work on the exterior
The Horses of San Marco
Image result for san marco basilica ceilings
Basilica’s interior; photo credit to Gary Campbell-Hall

Some of the other iconic sights in Piazza San Marco include the clocktower named San Marco’s Campanile, a beautiful clock face with the Zodiac symbols, and many of the beautiful cafés and views. I loved the face and its beautiful decor. I wish I had more time to stop here and enjoy espresso or a spritz, but we kept exploring.

San Marco’s Campanile
The 24 clock with the zodiac signs

RIALTO

Rialto is the main commercial center of Venice and is home to many of the markets, and of course, the infamous Rialto bridge. Rialto is mentioned in many works of art or literature, including Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” The bridge itself is made of steps (be careful if you have wheelchairs or strollers!) and has shops lining its sides. You will also come across lots of tourist traps here; I wasn’t pickpocketed, but I did have people giving me roses and demanding money or people asking for money. However, despite its down falls, it is a must see area, especially if you are interested in markets.

Rialto Bridge

OTHER ODDS AND ENDS

Losing yourself in Venice is one of the best ways to experience the city and the many things to do. You can easily stumble across many of the grand churches or bridges or museums from any direction you can go. There are plenty of places to pick up souvenirs and take phenomenal pictures. If you are interested in a particular sight, such as the cathedrals, there are many routes you can take that allow you to hop from sight to sight.

BITS OF ADVICE

  • You will likely see this in other blogs or publications, but the gondolas, in my opinion, are overrated. Especially in the summer seasons, the canals can be filled with too many people and the rides are often super expensive. I never went on a tour because I didn’t have the funds to do so, but I seriously don’t think I missed anything. I know people who have and the majority feels as though it is a fun thing to say you have done, but didn’t feel like it was worth the amount of euros they forked over.
  • I would advise eating away from central areas because the prices go up, but there is also so much to explore away from the common streets. Food in Venice is expensive as is, but it certainly increases the closer you get to some of the main attractions. 
  • Don’t fall for scams that I mentioned above, such as someone handing you a rose and then demanding you pay. This is also common for someone demanding pay for taking your picture, among other pickpocketing tricks.
  • Definitely take advantage of some of the free tours that Venice offers. You can find some online and many will take you places that are off the beaten path. Our guide took us to a gorgeous pier where we could look across the basilica. 
  • I would certainly recommend bringing home some of the stunning glass pieces as well! Even the little animals are absolutely adorable and I bought a few to bring home as a gift.
Where they make the gondolas
Markets in Venice
One of the churches we visited on our tour
Arches in Venetian walkways

Overall, I loved my experience in Venice, especially in regards to architecture, but it wasn’t exactly my favorite place I have been. It was so beautiful but it also revealed the true impacts of heavy tourism and how difficult it can be on a culture. I don’t know if I would return (aside from visiting family friends), but I think it is worth a stop if you are in the area for sure.

At the top of San Marco’s Basilica

Padua (Padova), Italy

Often overlooked by Venice or Verona, this city of 200,000 people was founded around 1183 BCE and is rich in detail and history. It’s home to many cafés, markets, and even a university. There are so many historical sights, beautiful views, and gorgeous pieces of art scattered throughout the city that it is hard to take them all in at once. I only spent a few hours touring here, but I would love to return and experience it all over again.

Here is what I would propose for a day trip to Padua and the background that goes with it:

Prato Della Valle:

This large square in Padua wasn’t always what it is now. Its land has seen many drastic events, from housing a temple, providing a scaffold for executions, a place to stage fights, and a swampland. However, it was drained and land was added to create its unique shape we see today. The statues were added later, of which many are of those who contributed greatly to the city or worked at the university. 

Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua:

Construction of this building started in 1232 and has been a sight for pilgrimage since then, even though it isn’t the official cathedral of the city. Its Byzantine style domes make it an iconic part of Padua scenery and it offers lots of history and character. If you decide to take a tour, you will see the numerous construction styles that it has gained over the years, from gothic to baroque to romanesque. 

Piazza della Frutta:

This lively plaza is home to the local fruit and vegetable market, where vendors and buyers come together in the numerous stalls. Where I am from, we only have this once a week and it seems to be less of an importance, but here, it is as important as a grocery store. The woman I was staying with even purchases some veggies here before our trip home. There is also some beautiful architecture nearby, including the twelfth century clock tower and Palazzo della Ragione, which is a massive hall covered by frescoes. 

Palazzo della Ragione near the markets

Piazza dei Signori

This plaza with its infamous clock has played several roles over the years. It has served as a grounds for the Austrian army, when it was under their rule, and played a heavy part for numerous medieval traditions including courtships and battles. You will also see a lot of construction styles, especially medieval buildings on the sides of the palace. Also, there are markets here too!

Piazza dei Signori

Caffé Pedrocchi

This interesting café was opened on New Year’s Eve of 1772 by Francesco Pedrocchi, but it was passed on to his son, who remodeled it and opened in again in 1831 with flair. There are three rooms which all have a separate purpose:

  • The Green Room is a spot for college students or other busy people to sit and work without needing to buy anything.
  • The Red Room is where the historic bar sits (which is fantastic!) and here is where you would stop to drink some coffee or hot chocolate. Remember that most Italian cafés will charge extra if you sit down!
  • The White Room is more of a restaurant where you can eat lunch and dinner. Also, during Austro-Hungarian soldiers once fired a gun in this room and you can still see the bullet hole today. You will also notice an upside down map. According to my host, this was to show that Italy was above and superior to Austria, who controlled the Veneto region during the second opening of the café.

Scrovegni Chapel

If you are looking for some of the most beautiful European art, stop right here. This chapel is absolutely stunning with its frescoes from Giotto during 1803-05, which are so well preserved. From the outside it doesn’t look like much, but as soon as you enter, you will be absolutely blown away by the beauty of this building. Circling around the building are depictions of the story of salvation, which were large and detailed for their time. They also feature emotion, which was some of the first artwork to do so. At the front of the building is a depiction of Last Judgement, which there are paintings of both heaven and hell. There are also panels on each side with the seven virtues and vices. This was honestly one of the best pieces of art I had seen. The entrance fee isn’t bad but the wait can be long, especially because you have to wait in a room to be decontaminated in order to preserve the paintings. Nearby are museums and even an old Roman arena.

The old arena

Overall, Padua is a fantastic place to stop and explore while en route to Verona or Venice!

Vicenza, Italy

In the beginning of my trip to Italy, Vicenza was another gorgeous destination we traveled to on the numerous day trips we took from Padua. The family I was staying with decided to take a tour with another family so I got to not only experience the city, but also connect with more locals who even had a daughter my age. Luckily, they had an Australian exchange student so they could converse in English, which was much smoother than my broken Italian. They also travel a lot and had great experiences touring parts of the United States.

Us on our tour

Before we took our tour, we parked our car (luckily, Vicenza has lots of accessible parking!) and grabbed a bite to eat. I had margarita pizza, which is a definite must in Italy and even got to try a bit of cod, which is certainly not my favorite.

I feel like this a good time to note the significance of dinner in Italian culture. Here in the United States, many households don’t view dinner as an important part of their day, but in Italy I was amazed by the deep connection and social aspect of dinner. There, dinner can last four hours and becomes a time to relate and discuss and grow true human relationships. I absolutely loved it, even though it could be time consuming. Not to mention, the food is superb.

Waiting for our pizza

Anyway, back to Vicenza. If you are at all interested in architecture, Vicenza is the place to go. In fact, Andrea Palladio, who was born in Padua during the early sixteenth century and is considered one of the most influential architects of the western world, designed a very large part of the city. He is the one responsible for using the design of the iconic white pillars for in front of many government buildings- including our government. A large part of our tour was centered around this part of history and we were able to see many of his works.

Sketches from Palladio from the 1500s

Some of the most impressive sights we saw on our tour and others we did not. However, Luca, our guide, was very helpful in telling us the history of Vicenza in depth. Here’s a list of the main sights and their history:

  • Teatro Olimpico: this was the first indoor theater of Europe and was constructed by Palladio himself, which opened in the 1500s with its debut being Oedipus the King by Sophocles. Today, it is still in use (even though it can only hold 400 people) and is known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, Palladio never saw it finished, but his son continued it for him. The architecture is amazing and this site was the start of our tour. You can purchase a ticket to see it for eight euros, which also allows you into the civics museums.
  • Basilica Palladiana: another work by Palladio, this building rests in the Piazza Dei Signori, the main plaza of Vicenza. This building also contains the Torre Bissara, the large clocktower that looms over the square. The exterior arches are beautiful, but also make sure to check out the ceilings as well!
Basilica Palladiana
  • Corso Palladio: this street runs straight through the town and highlights many of Palladio’s works, including Teatro Olimpico and many of his palaces. Today, there are lots of shops in the remaining buildings, but his architectural work is still there. There are a few cafés nearby that are great for tasting Italian espresso or hot chocolate, which is much richer and tastier than the ones we have here.
  • La Colonna di Galeazzo da Roma: this is random, but there is a little engraving at the end of Corso Palladio that reads:

“QUESTO E’ IL LUOGO DOVE ERA LA CASA DEL SCELERATISSIMO GALEAZZO DA ROMA , IL QUAL CUM ISEPPO ALMERCIO ET ALTRI SUI COMPLICI COMMISSERO ATROCISSIMI HOMICIDII IN QUESTA CITA’ . DELLO ANNO MDXLVIII DI III DI LUGLIO.”

La Colonna di Galeazzo

This memorial commemorates a dramatic event that happened in mid-sixteenth century, which were the murders of the Valmarana family. According to history (or legend), the sister of a wealthy man, Galeazzo da Roma, Isabetta, loved one of the Valmarana brothers who was named Alberto and refused to marry her, since he didn’t love her back. In anger, Galeazzo came in the home during midday with Leonardo da Roma and Issepo Almerico, and killed Alberto, two of his brothers, and two servants who came to Alberto’s assistance. Galeazzo also relocated and killed a friend of the Valmaranas. Afterwards, he fled to Como, where he could become noble. It is suspected that Leonardo committed more murders and became almost a serial killer, but there isn’t foolproof history to support it. Almerico was the only one who faced criminal charges and was soon hanged in Florence. The sign now hangs below the house of the Valmaranas, which is now part of a bookstore.

La Colonna di Galeazzo da Roma

Overall, Vicenza is a fantastic place to get a glimpse of Western architecture without the massive crowds of Venice or Rome. I wish we spent more time here because the atmosphere is phenomenal and I thoroughly enjoyed our tour and exploring independently. There are just so many great places to eat and shop, making for a more true Italian culture away from all the tourist attractions. I would totally suggest visiting here on your trip to Venice, Verona, or anywhere in the Veneto region!

Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy, is often overlooked in favor of its grand neighbor, Venice, but is nonetheless beautiful and worth the pit stop if you are in the area. It is labeled as the origin of tiramisu, a soft coffee flavored cake, and Prosecco, Italy’s famous white wine and dates back to medieval times, of which you can still see the remains today.

We only came for a few hours in the evening, since we were spending our time near Padua, which is where I stayed with my lovely Italian family. We came with some of their friends and took a small tour around, occasionally stopping for food or coffee to warm up, as Italian winters are very cold!

La Befana, a Veneto tradition, in the streets of Treviso

Treviso has endured lots of hardships since its creation near 49 BCE, where Gauls, Romans, and other nationalities ruled the area. It has experienced numerous countries’ rule, but it has remained in Italian rule since 1866. In more modern history, Treviso was a target in World War Two, especially in the bombing of April 7, 1944. However, the restoration efforts taken have minimized the aftermath, even though some damage is still visible.

Treviso is walled in from the defenses of the sixteenth century and is surrounded with canals and cobbled streets (Pro tip: consider thick soled shoes so the cobble stones don’t make your feet sore). Here one can find ducks and other water loving birds, as well as the popular fish market used for selling produce, which sits upon its own island in the water. From my own opinion, these canals are less magical looking, but much more clean than in Venice. I would love to take more time exploring those alone.

Unfortunately, we didn’t tour all of the popular highlights, but here is a brief list of the main attractions:

  • Piazza dei Signori- this little plaza is home to what used to be the seat of Treviso’s government and many buildings that date back to Renaissance periods. Here there are a few palazzos, or palaces, that served as locations for officials and the town hall. During the market times, this plaza can be filled with vendors and shoppers alike. The tourist office is also nearby, so stop by there if you have any concerns or are interested in tours.
  • Cathedral and Museo Diocesano- Treviso is home to several churches and this one is also housing a museum. Treviso was granted a bishop during the roman era and they now have a Roman Catholic diocese. During the bombing, it lost the library, but the majority of it remains intact, where people can explore the history. Here, art and historical passages are also available for viewing.
  • Palazzo dei Trecento- This palace was built in the thirteenth century and was decorated with frescoes, mural paintings that are placed upon wet plaster. These frescoes have lasted since medieval times, even through the turmoil in the war. In fact, this building was heavily hit by the April bombing and had to undergo massive renovation.
The palace restored
The palace during the bombing

Wandering around around Treviso offers many beautiful views and subtle glimpses of history. From the canals to the markets to the architecture, there is so much detail to soak in. The frescoes alone are fabulous and can be seen in the arches of buildings around town. Out tour guide said they were done to protect the buildings as part of a seal, but either way, they have been intact for hundreds of years.

Frescoes near the palace
Frescoes inside the palace
These ones have been here since Medieval times!
Many of the shops in the Veneto region have similar designs

Also, I had the opportunity to try authentic gelato in Treviso. It was so good! I got chocolate and hazelnut and absolutely adored it. I was there in January, so not many gelato shops were open, but there were a few here and there. I would definitely recommend trying it.

Hazelnut and chocolate gelato

Overall, I loved this tiny town and its homey feel. It was so full of history I had never experienced before and the art was amazing! I think it makes the perfect base to and from Venice or a simple day trip from any of the larger cities.

Reflections on England

Note: This is one of six articles on my time in England, United Kingdom from December 2016 to January 2017. Not every one of them follows what I did during that particular day, but also follows the culture, lifestyles, and interest in the area. Articles will be published twice a week until complete.

Honestly, I should have created these posts much closer to when I arrived home, but here I am, two years later, writing about my experiences in London and Bournemouth. It was my first international trip after my arrival home from Tanzania. I went with my dad before departing to Italy alone, where I visited some fabulous family friends. London was also my first in depth city experience, since I have spent my life in a rural town with only 7,000 people in it. But what are my takeaways from such a drastically different experience?

Me in one of the iconic red telephone booths

London was a whirlwind of history, sights, new food, and an entirely different culture. Everywhere I looked I felt like I was experiencing something new and learning more about the world around me. The diversity was incredible and the amount of things to do and see awed me. To further this, London also felt very safe and friendly. The people were warm and welcoming and I had no issue with anyone. Additionally, everywhere was pretty clean and well maintained, especially the public transport systems.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to connect with many of the locals, but I was immersed in the day to day life. Our friends from the United States moved there and we were staying with them, so we got to do a lot of things that those who live there do, but I was unable to meet many people native to the area. However, those I met in passing were super sweet and kind!

Going on a walk

The culture was something I hadn’t experienced before as well. Even though I was a fellow English speaker, British life has differences in comparison to here in the States. There is a broad appreciation of soccer, which I absolutely loved and the deep history and pride from that is something I wish we had in the US.

The food was also super good. I tried lamb and calamari for the first time, which was exciting and I liked both. I only had one bad food experience the whole trip, but it was only with a Cesar salad that tasted quite awful. This is a relatively small happening, but I also had my first Kinder Egg, which was super exciting since they are banned in my country. The pub atmosphere is incredible and fun, in which the drinks are good as well. I wish we could have seen a few more of the more traditional ones!

The Royal Oak

The buildings themselves also amazed me, since I was so unused to ancient or even old buildings. In my state, the oldest building was built in 1848, yet some of the ones in London are in the first century! On top of that, the architecture, both old and new, was astounding. I loved each style from over the centuries and am exciting to see what the future will bring.

Buildings in London
The bridges are super cool too!

The attractions were all I hoped and more. My personal favorite was the Tower Bridge and the Tower itself. I could go more into detail here, but for a better grasp of their beauty, I wrote a post on the most popular sights. I also thoroughly enjoyed the soccer games and their stadiums, which are quite impressive. They turned me into more of a fan than I was before and hopefully I can go back for a few more some day! We love you Arsenal!

Emirates Stadium, home of the Gunners
Big Ben and Parliament!

I didn’t spend much time there, but I also enjoyed Bournemouth as well. This city lies on the coast of the English Channel and is quite beautiful. We were there for less than a day to watch a game but from what we saw, it seemed like a nice place. We walked from the train station to Dean’s Court to the coast, where we hung out and stood on the pier. Since it was the middle of January, things were awfully quiet, but it looked like a fantastic place to be in the summer. We ate at a nearby restaurant, which was super good, and walked to a hotel to meet up with our friend and the Arsenal team. After the game, we took the train back to London. I wish the visit was longer, but it was nice!

Ferris wheel in Bournemouth
“Surfing” in the English Channel
English Channel

Overall, I had a fantastic time in England and hope to return some day. It was a beautiful place with beautiful people and is home to some of the most fantastic history. As this is my final post on England for now, I hope to be moving on to other places in Europe, but the UK will always have a dear spot in my heart.

Top Attractions in London

Note: This is one of six articles on my time in England, United Kingdom from December 2016 to January 2017. Not every one of them follows what I did during that particular day, but also follows the culture, lifestyles, and interest in the area. Articles will be published twice a week until complete.

London is exceptionally famous for all of its iconic sights, from the Queen’s palace to the magnificent bridges. I got to experience a handful of them during my two days of exploring. Honestly, there is so much history and depth in this city that even though I got to see most of the major attractions, I felt like I was barely scratching the surface. Out of all those amazing things, here are some of my favorites in no particular order:

Buckingham Palace:

This stunning building doubles as an iconic sight and the house of the royal family! It is tucked away across the Thames River and the London Eye and is squished between Green Park and St. James’ Park. The royal palace has hosted many celebrations from its construction in 1703 and is exceptionally ornate and detailed. While you can tour inside, watching the pompous and extravagant changing of the guard at 11:45 is exciting and gives a taste of royal British culture. Make sure to get there early because the space can fill up quickly and so you can see/listen to the band!

Buckingham Palace

Big Ben and Parliament:

Ah, the most iconic sight of London! The four faced clock tower looms over the Houses of Parliament, always chiming on time since its first strike in the mid 19th century. The clock tower is not open to the public, but tours of Parliament are available. Additionally, there are numerous videos of inside it, if you are wanting to take a look. As of 2017, it is under maintenance for three years, which will stop the chiming and will cover the faces up with scaffolding (big bummer, but worth it in the long run!). Parliament is also ornately detailed and is an exceptionally beautiful building that houses the sessions of British officials. Together, Big Ben and Parliament make an iconic duo that are definite landmarks of London.

Big Ben’s face
Big Ben and Parliament

Westminster Abbey:

Westminster Abbey is a stunning gothic church originating in 929. This building has been through it all, from remodeling to destruction to renovation. It has held weddings, funerals, coronations, masses, and more. Even today, it still continues its services. It is full of art and history, from its medieval rooms to its paintings to its poet’s corner. This is a vast and extensive piece of British history that has only continued to grow over the years and into current day. Luckily parts of it are available for tour, but make sure to be quiet and respectful, as it is a functioning church!

Westminster Abbey

The Coca-Cola London Eye:

This massive observation wheel is the most popular attraction of London and rightfully so, since it manages to incorporate all parts of the city. When it opened in 2000, it was the largest of its kind, but even now it amazes the people who visit it with its views of London. It also can light up differently depending on the occasion and serves as a popular monument. Instead of seats, it has large capsules than can fit 25 people. Tickets are easily bought online with a fast track option, which I would recommend because the lines are excruciatingly long.

Coca Cola London Eye

War and Calvary Museums:

Sandwiched between Big Ben and St. James Park is a number of museums that hold a lot of history of London. The Imperial War Museum, a museum with five branches dedicated to preserving the history of England, owns three branches that are in London, one of which is the Churchill War Rooms, which held an underground war communications room from the twentieth century and focuses on war communication and the life of Churchill himself. A large amount of restoration took place after Margaret Thatcher pushed for it to be opened and now it serves as a popular attraction. One of the other museums is the Household Calvary, which specializes in telling the history of the British calvary, including the royal horse guards. It costs to get in, but the changing of the horse guards is free for all to see (definitely get pictures, it is a unique sights amongst the rest of the city). A number of other museums and departments litter this area as well.

Household Division Charity near the Household Calvary Museum

Tower of London:

This fortress was established in the 1070s by William the Conqueror. Since then, it has faced an array of historical moments, different uses, and now, millions of tourists every year. It is mostly famous for its rich diversity of reasons for fame, since it is known for being a safe place for royals and their jewels, but also the site of murders and executions. This is heavily showcased through the modern usage of the facilities, with one of the tours taking place at twilight to highlight to some of the legends and myths. Over time, it has seen the creation of currency and armor, the murders of young princes, the executions of those famous and unknown alike, the creation of legends and ghosts such as young Anne Boleyn, a 17 year old queen executed for adultery, and so much more. I would definitely recommend checking it out and getting a ticket for tours.

One view of the London Tower
Gift Shop at the Tower

Tower Bridge:

During the Victorian era, this magnificent bridge was built to accommodate both road and river traffic. Its ornate decorations help it stand out from its neighbors, the London Tower and HMS Belfast, a moored ship converted to a museum on the Thames. The bridge is now a popular attraction, since it has opened to show people the history of the bridge and the steam engines that once gave it power. It was also furnished with a glass walkway that allows people to experience views all around them and see the water and life below. Additionally, you can check the times to see the bridge lift up for waterway traffic.

Tower Bridge
A view of Tower Bridge from the London Tower

Platform 9 3/4 :

For all the Harry Potter fans out there (myself included), this is an absolute must-see and an easy attraction to reach. When you are en route to any of the other destinations, stop by King’s Cross/St. Pancreas station and explore the home of Platform 9 3/4. The station itself is beautiful and is a gateway for the underground and the train station. There is also a gift shop full of Harry Potter memorabilia and souvenirs. There are so many people but honestly it was such a cool place to be in. I was fortunate enough to leave with Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Hufflepuff (the best house) and Gryffindor scarves, a wand, and numerous other little gifts. There is also a spot to take photos of you running through the wall to the platform.

Platform 9 3/4

All of these places are absolutely marvelous to see and explore. Many of them are phenomenal, even from the outside. I highly recommend getting some sort of pass to help with cheaper admission rates, such as the London Pass, so you can explore more of the history and beauty of this city. Either way, even just going to one of these is a fantastic experience!

For further information, or a place to get tickets, here are the websites for most of these stunning attractions:

Buckingham Palace: https://www.rct.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace

Big Ben and Parliament: https://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/tours-of-parliament/bigben/

Westminster Abbey: https://www.westminster-abbey.org

London Eye: https://www.londoneye.com

Imperial War Museum: https://www.iwm.org.uk

London Tower: https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/

Tower Bridge: https://www.towerbridge.org.uk

London Pass: https://www.londonpass.com