Andiamo: Bologna e Firenze (Day 3)

Oof, yesterday was just rough. On top of the complaints from yesterday, the AC I guess was out, so few people slept too well, myself included. Thankfully, there were a few bus rides in store which meant built-in naptime!

We started the day trekking over to Bologna to visit the tomb of St. Dominic in the basilica that shares his name. This was a rare trip for our guide as St. Dominic isn’t usually one of the more popular saints. But considering that the parish hosting the pilgrimage is St. Dominic, we’d have been remiss to not stop in and visit their patron. Unfortunately for our logistics (but fortunately as someone that wanted something a little less touristy), Bologna isn’t really structured for large groups. Like they’d even shut down the bus parking lot. But whatever. They dropped us off as close as they could to the basilica in front of some random fruit stands, and we started to walk over.

I felt bad because some of the streets we were on had really narrow sidewalks, and here we were barreling through with a crowd of 40. Thankfully, pedestrian traffic on the streets wasn’t terribly heavy. But after about a ten minute walk, we finally made it to the Basilica di San Domenico. We went into the church, and they led us to the chapel with the actual tomb of St. Dominic for us to have Mass. After the Mass, we passed through the gate guarding the tomb and moved behind it to where the reliquary holding the head of St. Dominic is located. I really wish I knew more about symbolism in art and sculpture. There have been multiple occasions this trip alone where I feel like I would benefit from that information.

After the Mass, we were greeted by our tour guide, Fabio. While we all initially expected something more along the lines of the guy you’d see on the cover of erotic novels and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter commercials, he was a funny, balding, kind of fluffier guy. He will probably be my favorite of the city tour guides with Sergio from Venice being a close second. We learned something from him right off the bat: Bologna is learned, red, and fat. The oldest university in the world is in Bologna. The red comes from the fact that most of the building facades are a terra cotta color. And fat? Well, Bologna is the food capital of Italy. And just like that I fell in love. It was like all those hours of watching Giada de Laurentiis led me to this moment.

He walked us through the city a bit, stopping at a few places to note along the way. Our first stop was the courtyard of the Biblioteca dell’Archiginnasio. Fun fact: Bologna is home to the oldest university not only in Italy, or even Europe, but the world. THE WORLD. The first university EVER, and there we were standing in the main building, or at least what used to be the main building. Now, it’s a library. And the courtyard was being set up for an outdoor movie. Apparently, they’ve got an outdoor movie series going on during the summers here. Outside of the courtyard in the little square, there was a statue of Luigi Galvani, the guy that discovered that muscles are moved by electrical impulses and basically gave rise to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

We then walked down the Corte de Galluzzi to the Torre Galluzzi, one of the few surviving towers in Bologna and the last tower of its kind ever built. Apparently in the area, if you were rich enough, you got you some slaves to build a tower. It was less of a home or monument and more of a defensive strategy. But then slavery got abolished and no one wanted to pay for the labor so there went that.

We made our way over to the Piazza Magiore – which was also being converted into a large movie viewing space, and we got a quick lesson about the surrounding buildings in front of the Basilica di San Petronio. Lots of pretty architecture around there. At this point we were given the option of going to eat or taking a quick tour into the basilica. It was about 1300 when we finally made it to the basilica, and I think everyone was starting to get a little peckish so the group that joined Fabio in the basilica went from 39 to eight. But I’m glad I went inside though. I didn’t get to take pictures, but the option is there if you want to pay 2 Euros. I decided this would be as good a time as any to just listen, observe, and absorb, so I opted against it, even though I was severely tempted.

One of the coolest things I noted was that there was this pretty ingenious sundial system built into the church. The sun would shine through a hole in the church and hit the line just right. Today though was special. Fabio said that this is the first time in his 30+ years that he’s seen the beam of light actually line up with one of the special tiles. This one, of course was the one for the summer solstice, which is on Monday. There were 12 chapels lining each side. One of the chapels is where Elisa Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sister) is buried after she was removed as the Grand Duchess of Tuscany and had to flee Florence.

There was one observation I made prior to entering the basilica: there was a relatively heavy police presence compared to the other churches. We found out why from Fabio once we went inside. Apparently, there is concern for terrorist activity because of a mural painted on the wall in one of the chapels. The mural depicts the prophet Mohammed being tormented by a demon as inspired by Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell in the Inferno being reserved for religious schismatics. Normally nowadays, they require special permission to access that specific chapel, otherwise lights are off and it stays off limits. Luckily for us, someone had made a reservation and was in there, so we could actually get a decent view of the mural with the lights on.

After wandering the basilica for a while, we made our way outside to grab a bite for lunch before returning to the bus. Fabio walked us down the Via Clavature and paused for a second in front of the church of Santa Maria della Vita. He told us about the order of flagellates that founded the first hospital in Bologna. They apparently had two separate facilities based on your prognosis. Seems like their triage was a lot easier. “Will they probably live? You go here. Are you probably going to die? You go there.”

The little alleys were lined with people selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and pastas. I have never wished to have a kitchen at my disposal more in my life than at that moment. This is one of the reasons why I connected with Fabio. He is a man that loves food…and so am I. He did teach us to never order spaghetti bolognese because it doesn’t exist in Bologna. Instead, order tagliatelle al ragù. The ribbon-like tagliatelle holds the sauce better, and if you want a meat sauce, call it a ragù

Sadly, I didn’t even get to apply this lesson since the restaurant we settled on had sandwiches. But Fabio’s recommendation didn’t disappoint. We stopped into Simoni and snagged a table outside. On display were wheels and wheels of aged parmigiano reggiano, legs of prosciutto looking like something from The Flintstones, and mortadella the size of a body pillow, so we figured this place has to be good. We settled with some glasses of prosecco (and beer for my brother) and placed our orders. While tempted by the meat and cheese platter, we ended up deciding on getting panini instead. We all got some variation of ham and cheese, but Marissa won with hers. We don’t remember exactly what it was called but the receipt says Bonbon del Salumier. Either way, it was prosciutto with some kind of cheese we don’t remember. But the game changer was the sun-dried tomato. SO. GOOD. Like I’m smiling just thinking about that damn sandwich. So good.

Anyhoo, we trekked back to the bus and we began to head up to the Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca (Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of St. Luke). Scariest bus ride of my life. It’s up this long, winding mountain road…on a bus. Like there were places that I’d have probably had to do a three-point turn in my Rav4, but Sebastiano just went right on through with the bus. The man is a BEAST. I don’t know how he did it, but he did. So fun story about this place. So it holds an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary possibly painted by St. Luke himself. Leading up to the church (if you didn’t cheat and drive), there is an arcade of 666 arches leading up the mountain and ending at the church called the Portico di San Luca. That seems a very specific number of arches and an odd choice of number for something religious. However, the portico symbolizes Satan/a serpent, and the Church is representative of the Blessed Virgin stomping the head of the serpent with her heel.

We explored that for a little bit, jumped into the middle of an Italian rosary, and then venerated the icon for a few minutes until Mass started. Then we peaced out to start heading to Firenze (Florence). Which meant NAP TIME!

I woke up as we were pulling up to the hotel. This time we’re staying in the Grand Hotel Mediterraneo. This place is swanky, especially in comparison to Padua. Same drill, we dropped off our carry ons in the room and went down to dinner. For the appetizer, we had this pasta with a mushroom sauce. Not really sure what it was, but it was delicious. I don’t like mushrooms though, so I had to eat around them. After the subsequent salad, then they brought out the main course, yet another round of meat and potatoes. This time it was thin slices of pork. So good. And I was freaking ecstatic when the waiter came by because he had extras. I swear I had five slices of the pork. And then gelato for dessert!

My brother and Marissa wanted to wander around the city for a bit after dinner. But between not sleeping well last night and the impending food coma, I ended up opting to stay in. They seemed to have fun though. They said they had gelato and beer in a place reminiscent of Rainey Street in Austin: lots of young adults, food trucks, live music. I’m sad to have missed it, but not sad enough to be willing to put pants on for it.

Alright, it’s almost 0200 and I have to be up at 0630. Tomorrow: exploring Florence and Siena before trekking down to Assisi for a couple of nights.



Andiamo: A Traveler’s Rant

Bah. I started typing the post about yesterday last night before going to bed, and then intended on finishing this morning. But now it won’t let me publish it, and it’s stuck on “saving…” instead of letting me save the draft. I may just email to myself and try again at the next hotel if it doesn’t work.

Anyway, quick backstory since my other post isn’t published to explain my frustrations. Yesterday, we explored Venezia and Padova. I’ll let the main post describe specifics, but let’s just say that there were many moments when I was ashamed to be a part of this tour group. I’m pretty sure our bus driver isn’t a fan of us as a whole, and I know the staff of this hotel will be glad to be rid of us in a few hours. At least, that’s how I would feel if I were them.

So this group is with my parents’ church, so the demographic is primarily Filipino and Hispanic, which neither culture is really known for their subtlety. But the behaviors I’ve noticed are pretty much a cultural equivalent of a bull in a China shop.

I already hate being in large crowds in general. It’s even worse now that I’m actually supposed to be a part of one. But what drives me nuts is that everyone seems to have lost their sense of common courtesy. There’s almost 40 of us. We are easily able to congest crosswalks, streets, etc. But we are not the only ones here, which brings me to my first point: Stay out of the way. We are not the only tourists here. On top of that, people live here. Leave space for other people to be able to get around us.

Also, part of traveling whether it be for a pilgrimage or for pleasure is observing another culture and to an extent participating in it, whether it be the language, customs, etc. One thing that took me off guard was that when we were in Venice, I asked the tour guide if there were any cultural taboos to watch out for before we got let loose on the general public. She first misunderstood the question and then seemed genuinely surprised that I asked. I guess this is yet another reason why people generally don’t like American tourists. Point #2: We’re the guests. They live here. We fit into them, not the other way around. When in Rome, people. And we’re freaking going to Rome in a few days. Try the language, try the food, be aware of what to do and what not to do. For example, my default pose in pictures is do the UT hook ’em hand sign (which is basically “I love you” in ASL without the thumb). I learned prior to the trip that doing that is a BIG no no. Guess what I have not done in photos since I’ve been here…That. Last night, we had what I’m assuming was a stracciatella (not the gelato, but the Italian egg drop soup that the gelato was named after). Was it the best thing I’ve ever had? No. Was it even something I particularly enjoyed? No. But it’s an Italian dish and I’m in Italy, so I tried it. Didn’t make a scene, nothing. Some of the more vocal members of the group, not so much. Much of what was said was in Tagalog, so the odds of the staff understanding what they said was slim to none, but between intonation and body language, I’m sure they could pick up on what was happening, and that was incredibly rude.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the best traveler at all times, but I try to be conscientious of my surroundings and blend. My Italian consists of a grand total of 3 days on Duolingo. But I learned the basics to try to get by so I’m not the American in a foreign country presuming everyone speaks English. I was proud of myself yesterday. I had a couple of interactions entirely in Italian. Granted it was all single-word sentences on my end, but I did it.

I guess the whole point to this rant is what’s the point in traveling if you don’t take the time to absorb some of the culture?

Andiamo: Venezia e Padova (Day 2)

Unfortunately, this post finds me in less of the best of moods right now. However, 90% of my day was awesome, so I’m not going to let the other 10% cloud the good. I’ll get to what’s peeving me later; for now, let’s talk about the greatness I’ve gotten to experience in Italy.

We woke up from our overnight stay at the Plaza in Venezia Mestre, and began to get dressed, pack up, and head to breakfast. We had to have our check in luggage outside our doors by 0830 so that the porters could put those in storage for us until our bus for the rest of the tour got to the hotel at 1430. Their breakfast was what I’m assuming is pretty basic European continental breakfast fare, but considering I’ve been on pretty much a liquid/mechanical soft diet for the last week, I was relishing the fact that I could have bread again. Either way, delicious.

Then it was time to head back out into Venezia to explore for the morning before we loaded up to go to Padua (Padova). Thankfully the ferrovia (train) was only across the street. The best part was that before we even crossed the street, we already left a guy behind in the bathroom. Hot. Mess. Regardless, we all ended up on the train and headed out for a morning of exploration.

After we disembarked at Venezia Santa Lucia, we started off by going directly to the gondolas so we could get that experience. And if anyone ever tells you, “oh I did that in Vegas,” punch them in the damn face, drag them on the boat, and tell them “your welcome.” It was probably one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever done in my life, and it was definitely a great way to start the morning. The funniest part was that Fr. Roger ended up tagging along with my family for the gondolas, and he looked REAL nervous there for a minute after he actually got on the boat. For those of you that haven’t been on a gondola, or even a canoe for that matter, they’re not the most stable things. So when you step on, you’re gonna dip. For the first five minutes of the trip, I swear his knuckles were going white from holding onto the sides so hard.

Anyway, the tour guide coordinated the ride to come with a singing gondolier. Either only one of them actually could sing, or they didn’t want to be singing over each other because we ended up doing a caravan of gondolas with one of the ones in the middle singing at the top of his lungs. And he was pretty damn good too.

Thankfully, the ride wound us through what I’m assuming is a residential area and not down the Grand Canal. It was awesome to get to see what things were like in an area not inundated by tourists. Although we were met with mixed reactions. Some people were clapping and waving out their windows, and others were shaking their heads as if to say “damn tourists” as they shut their windows. Fun fact, the police station has police boats. So imagine that high-speed chase. I hope the images in your heads are as entertaining as the one in mine.

After the gondola ride was complete, we were in theory going to split up for our own exploration for a few hours. However, considering we’re on a religious pilgrimage right now, and Sta. Lucia’s remains were within walking distance, we all ended up there. We started walking, but my brother, Marissa, and I quickly distanced ourselves after the bulk of the tour group lost their minds over the window display of a bakery. To be fair, the meringues were almost bigger than your head, but still. People, at least act like you’ve been here before.

In any case, we continued the walk to the Chiesa di San Geremia. The tour guide said that it was pretty much straight down the Grand Canal. Although she used the term “straight” very loosely. After wandering up and down roads and foot bridges and alleys, we finally made it. To be fair, she did warn us that when someone tells you to go straight down the Grand Canal, you’re not just walking along the water. But yeah, you just have to remember to look for the signs painted on the side of the buildings.

I’m not going to lie. For a church holding the remains of a saint, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It was a lot smaller than I expected. To be fair, the remains didn’t start there. After her body was taken from Constantinople, she was kept at her own church until they tore that down for the railway station that bears her same name. Regardless, the church was gorgeous though. The rest of the group wasn’t too far behind, but thankfully we got a few minutes of peace to look around.

Afterwards, we made the trek to the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal. After winding through another maze of alleys and streets, we found it. That one was definitely a disappointment. I later on realized that all of the decent pictures of the bridge were taken on the water because between the shops and construction, I couldn’t get a good vantage point to save my life. And what I didn’t realize was that the bridge itself is lined with little shops too.

We did stop for some gelato not long after because Italy. Just some random spot…I don’t even remember what it was at this point. But all I know is that the tiramisu gelato was delicious. Marissa said the peach was really good too. My brother had the stracciatella, which we all know you can’t go wrong with.

Anyway, after that we crossed to the other side of the Grand Canal to see what the other bank had to offer. Answer: a lot of the same stuff. We did find something that said San Giovanni Evangelista, which we assumed was a church. And considering the parish the three of us call home is St. John the Evangelist, we had to poke our head in. Turns out it wasn’t a church but a scuola. I took it to mean “school,” but apparently it means something more along the lines of a fraternity (NOT like the kinds with the Greek letters in the movies).

After that brief detour, we wound our way back looking for a quick bite. We ended up across the canal from the ferrovia, so we decided since we still had an hour, we’d just set up shop at one of the restaurants there. We settled on Da Nino since that was the one we happened to be standing in front of when we made the decision. Earlier in the day, I had asked our tour guide if there were any kind of specialty dishes/drinks for Venice. She suggested the fritto misto as it’s relatively light and the area is known for seafood. It’s basically just a mix of tempura fried calamari, shrimp, and fish. In this case, it was sardines. She also suggested having a spritz. So that’s what I went with. My brother and Marissa ended up going for spaghetti with pesto and spaghetti pomodoro. The calamari and shrimp were pretty basic. The sardines were a little hard to get through. They tasted fine but I’m a huge fan of my food being boneless so the extra work of picking out the bones wasn’t ideal. The pastas were pretty good too. All in all, it was a solid meal. Wouldn’t go out of my way for it, but if I happened to be next to the restaurant and hungry, I’d be willing to stop there.

Anyhoo, so we finished up there and made it back to the ferrovia at 1359 (we were supposed to be back by 1400, and our mother was sending the “Where are you? We’re waiting on you” text messages). We loaded up, but the train car filled up so a few of us spilled over into the next car. Not a big deal except that the tour guide bought all the train tickets and was in the other car, and someone was coming down the aisle checking everyone’s tickets. He got to me and I’m like “Oh no, what do I do? I don’t know how to say anything in Italian that’s actually applicable to this situation.” So I point to the other car, and prayed to God that cognates were on my side and just spit out grupo. Thankfully, gruppo is Italian for group so the guy nodded and moved on. Crisis averted. Because I was really not in the mood to be yelled at by a guy in a language I could only pick up certain words in.

So we stopped back at the hotel to pick up our stuff and load up to head out to Padova for Mass at the Basilica. Aside from Taming of the ShrewPadova or Padua’s claim to fame is St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost things. Fun fact, everything about St. Anthony of Padua’s name is misleading. He’s not actually from Padua and his real name isn’t Anthony. He’s from Portugal (but died in Padua) and the name given to him at birth was Fernando, and he took on the name Anthony after being admitted into the Franciscans. Regardless, his body and relics are in the basilica that shares his name, and that was our next stop. Unfortunately, there was an issue about one of the other pilgrim’s bags, but thankfully it was already safe on the bus thanks to either another one of us or one of the porters.

We pull into the bus terminal, and start the walk over to the Basilica. We were to have Mass in one of the chapels there, and as we were making the trek, one of the ladies asked me if I’d be the lector for this Mass. So much for laying low since I don’t even really go to this church. Thankfully, I was actually dressed instead of having things sprung on me while I’m in my airport outfit like the day before. In any case, we go up to the chapel of St. Maximilian Kolbe in the cloister and have our private daily Mass there. Then we go back down to the Holy Door pilgrimage site for the Year of Mercy for a plenary indulgence. That ended up being a little embarrassing because as we’re singing outside of the open door, there is literally a Mass being celebrated inside the church. I was just waiting for someone to come out and chastise us. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to bother anyone inside, so we passed through after a song and a few prayers.

It was really cool getting to see the tomb of St. Anthony. It was covered in lilies as that’s one of his symbols. Funny enough, his feast day was the day of our departure onto this pilgrimage, June 13. He also had three relics there too: his tongue, his vocal cords, and his jaw; all miraculously minimally decomposed. And the church itself was absolutely gorgeous as well. While I understand why no photos were allowed inside, I really wish I could’ve snagged a few because everything was so ornate and majestic.

After we finished there, we loaded up and headed on back to the hotel, coincidentally also named the Plaza. During the chaos that was attempting to unload the bus, I’m pretty sure the porters were cursing all of us out in their minds and under their breath. I wasn’t exactly sure what they were saying but the stank eye and the body language made it pretty clear that they didn’t really like us. And I don’t blame them. The group as a whole pretty much embodied why I feel like everyone hates American tourists. But I’ll get into more detail on that later.

We finally get checked in and go upstairs to drop off our bags before coming back down for dinner at the Antenore Verdi restaurant in the hotel. I think everyone got spoiled by the first dinner because the appetizer this round was described by the waitress a consomme with egg. I’m assuming it was a stracciatella, which is basically an Italian egg drop soup that the gelato flavor was named after. Not the biggest fan, but the broth was good. The main course was what looked like a beef milanese without the breading with tomato sauce and potatoes. That I ate up real quick because how can you go wrong with meat and potatoes? Then the dessert was a lemon panna cotta. Also delicious, also finished the whole thing.

Now the whole downfall of the evening was that many of the more vocal members of the group were dissatisfied with the meal, and while speaking in Filipino for the most part, made it very known that they were displeased. They weren’t overtly rude to the waitstaff (thankfully), but it was one of those things where I was like “THIS is why we can’t have nice things.” But after I downed a good portion of the bottle of the local red wine we had, I was a lot less angry. For real though, everyone needs to pray to St. Anthony to find the manners they all lost during dinner.

I was going to put my rant at the end of this post, but seeing as how WordPress is telling me I’m already at over 2,000, I’ll save it for another post. Tomorrow, we spend the day in Bologna before spending the night in Florence.

Andiamo: Venezia (Day 1)

So, I was initially planning on just doing a combination of live tweets and Facebook statuses, but considering my data has been wonky since leaving stateside and my phone’s been running through battery seemingly more quickly than usual, I may have to combine everything into daily digests on here. Oh well, it’s all the same, save for a few snarky comments lost over the course of the day. Maybe I should write some of them down. I feel like some of the ones I forgot were good. Meh, that’s more work than I’m willing to put in.

Anyhoo, it all started yesterday, but since the farthest we got on the first day of traveling was to Frankfurt, Germany, I’ll call it Day 0 and move on with my life. Day 0 started with frantic packing and a last minute run to Target for some forgotten supplies. Then en route to the airport, we stopped off at the kennel where Hunter and Chico are hanging out until we get back. Partly because I haven’t seen the pups in a week and I missed them, but mostly because I forgot to bring the Trifexis with them when I brought them down last week to stay with my parents before taking them to the kennel, and I didn’t want them to go a whole month without flea/tick/heartworm prevention especially with them being in a kennel for a few weeks. Note to self: neither of my dogs like Trifexis. They’ll eat the hell out of the NexGuard and try to eat each others’,  but the Trifexis…NOPE. Literally had to shove that pill down Chico’s throat. Either way, it was good to see the pups before flying out…even if it meant going to the airport covered in dog hair. C’est la vie.

So then we get to IAH. Nothing special there. We checked in with the other groups flying out through Inspirational Tours. Thankfully, we were in matching purple T-shirts so I wouldn’t accidentally end up on a plane to Lisbon (although Portugal is definitely on the bucket list too). It was after lunchtime, and we were all hungry so we looked for a nearby place to eat. Ruby’s between terminals D and E is a pretty good burger joint. Not like an “oh my goodness, I’d wait hours for this” type of place, but it’s solid. Now technically it was only Day 6 post-wisdom teeth extraction, so per the oral surgeon, I should’ve still been on soft foods and liquids, but I was hungry and wanted to test out whether eating my way through Italy was feasible, so threw caution to the wind and ordered a BBQ bacon cheeseburger (I went big, y’all). But save for the facts that I couldn’t quite open my mouth wide enough for the burger and that I kept getting bacon bits stuck in a pocket where my right lower 3rd molar used to be, it was a success. A success that I celebrated by irrigating my mouth with cold bottled water. I know you’re supposed to use warm salt water, but I was in an airport, and that’s what I had. Either way, it worked.

We flew to Frankfurt, Germany from Houston, which took a while. Probably something around 10 hours? I don’t know. I suck at doing math with time changes. Regardless, I went in thinking I’d be sleeping through this plane ride, but not so much. On the bright side, I got to watch Deadpool again and there were USB charging ports under the armrests. That and I bred a bunch of Pokemon on my Omega Ruby game (Yes, I’m a manchild…if you don’t pay my bills, you can’t judge). Anyway, special shoutout to the Hamilton musical soundtrack for drowning out the sounds of the little shit that wouldn’t shut up on the plane.

So we finally land in Frankfurt, with just enough time for me to finish an episode of NCIS I hadn’t seen yet. After a 2 hour layover (and a really cute customs officer), we board the plane to Italy. And for some reason, despite not being able to sleep well on the other plane, I passed the hell out on this ride…to the point where my mother had to wake me up because I was snoring. Protip: Turning your travel pillow backwards helps keep your head in place and mouth closed so you’re not snoring and drooling all over yourself in your sleep.

So we land in Venice and meet up with our tour guide. I was expecting an Italian, but instead she sounded like Mary Poppins. Not just because she had a British accent…just her intonation and everything sounded like she was going to break out into A Spoonful of Sugar at any moment. Real nice lady though.

So based on the actual itinerary we got prior to the trip, it said we were getting into Venice and going to the hotel. So I wore my airport outfit (re: T-shirt and sweatpants). Turns out we were going to the Doge’s Palace from the airport. Oops. Oh well. Sweatpants it was.

So we took a boat out to the historical part of Venice. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the Grand Canal today, but it was still a relatively picturesque scene on the way to our destination. We got out and walked to the Piazza San Marco to get the radios and headsets for the tour of the Doge’s Palace led by a funny elderly gentleman named Sergio.

That place was absolutely gorgeous. I’m a sucker for pretty architecture, and this place did not disappoint. The rooms were covered with intricate paintings, wooden furniture, and gold leaf. Occasionally during the tour, we got postcard-like glimpses out of the windows of the palace into the rest of Venice. But for real though, I could spend hours in the courtyard alone with my camera if given the chance. Note for anyone interested in visiting though: photos are allowed but no flash (and the lighting inside is kind of shitty).

The tour took us through some of the attached jails and the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). Story has it that it got its name because prisoners would sigh as they took in the final view of Venice they’d get before being taken to the jail. Fun fact: the jails we were taken to were for small-time criminals. The real hard stuff went downstairs. Sorry boutcha if high tide comes while you’re down there.

So we finish the tour, and go to the bathrooms since they’re free there. We found out after disembarking the bus prior to the boat that a lot of places will charge you a Euro fifty to pee. Protip from the native tour guide: Go to a bar and buy coffee for a Euro. Drink it and go to the bathroom. You just saved 50 cents. You’re welcome. Or just void as you please…I don’t know your life…or bowels and bladder.

So we get back on a boat to go to the bus and by this point, everyone’s jetlagged as hell so it’s about a 50/50 mix of passed the hell out and still trying to take photos. Meanwhile, my family and I were on the rear deck of the boat enjoying the breeze. But not gonna lie, staying awake on that bus ride to check into the hotel was a little rough. Thankfully, check in was relatively quick and simple for a group of 39, and they decided to bump dinner up by half an hour. SWEET.

We start gorging ourselves on the bread, but when they bring out the lasagna, we’re all like HELL. YES. Then we remembered the tour guide saying that pasta is an appetizer. The real meal will come later. My brother and Marissa are bracing themselves. Meanwhile, it’s been a week at this point since I’ve last had solid food. Bring. It. On. We prime ourselves with a 20 Euro bottle of Prosecco…because what’s a meal in Italy without a little bit of wine?

Lasagna, done. No problem. So good. Then they bring out grilled chicken with green beans and potatoes. The bones slowed me down a little, but not a problem. Then the dessert. It was this chocolate cake/mousse looking thing that I wasn’t exactly clear on about anything except the fact that it was effing delicious. So much so that I had Marissa’s and part of my brother’s because they couldn’t finish theirs. On top of all that, a nice cappuccino to round out the meal, and I’m ready to pass the hell out.

Meanwhile, the tour guide had joined my brother, Marissa, and me at the table. The tables were set up in fours, so my parents ended up sitting somewhere else. Apparently, the tour guide pretty much went straight into this after getting a doctorate in translation and hating her job. She told us stories of how she used to just pick up and travel to all sorts of places around the world. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t wanderlusty jealous of her experiences. Real nice lady though…kind of spends her time half and half in Italy and at home with her family in the UK. I’d love to spend a fraction of that time in either country.

But yeah, so now here I am in bed, in the hotel room doing some last minute planning for tomorrow. We get the morning to putz around Venezia before we head out to Padua for a private Mass in the Baslica of St. Anthony tomorrow afternoon. Apparently we’ve got a gondola ride in store. I’m excited.

BuonanotteChe Dio vi benedica.

…Ugh, I need to learn more Italian so I don’t keep having to go back to Google Translate.


Our view of Venice en route back to the hotel. Pardon the picture…this is what I could get from my phone. My card reader’s been photo-deletey wonky lately, so I’m waiting until we get back stateside to upload my real pictures.