Tag Archives: Boats

Lost in Venice


Ah, Venice… The magical sinking city that seems to float on water, where residents still need boats to get around and where visitors unfailingly get lost in its winding maze of alleyways, bridges, and canals.


Venice has always occupied a special place in my heart. In elementary school––and still today––one of my favorite books was The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, a story of two brothers who run away to Venice and are taken in by a group of street children who live in an abandoned theater. (That description may not do it complete justice, but Cornelia Funke is truly a master in children’s literature.)

Julia and I arrived in Venice on Friday afternoon by train at the Santa Lucia station, where one immediately walks out the doors of the station to see the Grand Canal.


Beforehand, I had found out that the cheapest way for us to get a vaporetto pass was through a Rolling Venice card from the tourism office. Tip: If you’re under 29, you can purchase a Rolling Venice card for only 4€ to get huge discounts on many attractions in Venice, such as a 3-day vaporetto pass and half-price admissions at the major museums and attractions.

With our vaporetto pass in hand, we boarded the No. 2 vaporetto to take us to the island of Giudecca, where our hostel was located.

After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we took the vaporetto over to San Marco, which was only two stops away by boat.

It was already getting dark, so we wandered around a bit in the rain, winding through alleyways and climbing over bridges. For dinner, we stopped by a tiny restaurant that specialized in cichetteria, little small dishes you can combine to create a meal.

Once back at the hostel, we ordered some hot chocolate from the bar and sat down in the common area. Now, hot chocolate in Italy is completely different from what you experience stateside––instead of a watery mix of chocolate power and sometimes milk, Italian hot chocolate is like a melted chocolate bar: rich, smooth, and thick.

For my first hostel experience, Ostello Venezia was awesome. The building was recently remodeled in October, with a funky common area and cool furnishings.

In the hostel, they were setting up for a “Neon Party” that night, complete with guest DJ performances. Considering that I usually can barely stay up past 11, we were only there for the first hour or so, when there were only two guys swirling around on the dance floor by themselves, so I can’t speak much for the event. But the set-up looked impressive!


By hanging out in the common area, we met a bunch of travelers from all over: Belgium, England, Scotland, and Canada, to name a few locales. Julia and I passed around a blow-up ball with a backpacker for a bit, then pulled up a bunch of chairs with a group to meet new people.

Fairly early, we headed back to the dorm room since we planned to head out early the next morning. While the atmosphere in the common area of the hostel was great, the vibe in our dorm room was very… strange. A woman had lost a pouch with a bunch of her cash in it, so she spent over three hours crying during the night and talking loudly to her friend and on the phone in Spanish. At first I felt bad––I couldn’t imagine if that happened to me––but by 1:00 a.m. and hour 2 of this, I was wishing she’d leave the room.

Despite all of that, I slept surprisingly well, armed with an eye mask and a pair of earplugs. My top bunk was even more comfortable than my bed back in Florence, and I awoke to discover that the window in the room had a fantastic view of Venice’s main island.

After accidentally terrifying a girl on my way to the bathroom (apparently, when I ask someone “Are you done with the shower?” in my pajamas and glasses it is scary enough to warrant a reaction straight out of a horror movie), we headed back to San Marco in the morning to begin our full day of sightseeing.

After a mesmerizing walk through the Basilica of San Marco––perhaps the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen––we bought tickets for the Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doge’s Palace.

Unfortunately, they don’t allow cameras on the tour, but it was completely worth the 14€ ticket price. Our tour guide enthusiastically led us through the parts of the palace not open to the general public––old prison cells, torture chambers, and archival rooms––while telling us stories from the past, such as how Casanova managed to escape from prison using a bible, plate of pasta, and a small shovel.

After the tour, we then had time to tour the grand public rooms of Venice, where the huge councils of nobles used to meet to govern the powerful republic. For centuries, Venice was governed by a kind of oligarchical democracy, where 2,000 noble men voted in the Grand Council––pretty impressive for a state that never had a formal written constitution. The Doge himself was elected from one of the leading Venetian families usually around the age of 80, then would serve in the position until his death. However, the position itself didn’t have much political power beginning in the 1200s, when the Rialto families controlled the government through various levels of Councils.


Afterwards, we got lunch at an amazing take-out pasta place named Alfredo’s then wandered around and got lost––which, truly, is the best way to spend your time in Venice.


On a small side street, we found a beautiful bookstore, where books lay stacked in precariously leaning towers. I bought some postcards to send back home.

We jumped on a vaporetto to take a look at all the palazzos along the Grand Canal by water.

We pondered some modern art at the Guggenheim.

Then we managed to get so completely lost that a kind man asked if we needed help and pointed us in the direction of the old Jewish ghetto in Venice.

For dinner, we sought out a place where we could try the Venetian speciality of spaghetti al nero di seppia, dyed black by squid’s ink.


Exhausted from a full day of walking, we finally made it back to the hostel for another round of hot chocolate and where we met a group of American students who were visiting Venice for the weekend. Then, we headed out early the next morning to make our train back home.

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off my birthday week. The Venice of reality was even more charming than the Venice of my dreams.


I can’t wait to return some day.

Sign me up for the Sultan’s harem


Passing through the entrance today at the Topkapı Palace, I smiled my simple merhaba and teşekkürler to the employee managing the gate. “Wow!” he responded. “You speak such good Turkish! I’m very impressed.”

I was pretty surprised at the response to the basic two words of Turkish that I’ve got down so far—I mean, all I said was “hello” and “thank you.” It made me wonder—do other tourists neglect to even learn a basic “hello” and “thank you” in Turkish to communicate when they visit?

We’ve gotten similar responses elsewhere whenever we try to say the few words that we know. I’m constantly frustrated that I don’t know how to say more, partly because very many Turks do not speak English but mainly because it prevents me from truly experiencing this country. Yet the sincere appreciation for our attempts so far has only further encouraged me to learn as much as I can.


Today began with a visit to what our guide referred to as the “Mini Ayasofya,” or the Küçuk Ayasofya Parklari, a mosque nearby its larger version, but quieter and older. Unlike the Ayasofya, it still operates as a mosque to this day.

We then had to chance to explore the beautiful Topkapı Palace, which was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856). The palace grounds are beautiful, and we stumbled through room after room absolutely covered with intricate tiled designs and ornate architecture.

My favorite part was being able to wander through the various rooms of the harem, imagining how they might have looked like several centuries ago.

After lunch, we then passed by Istanbul University as we walked to the Sulemaniye Mosque. School was about to start, and the walkway was filled with various student organizations and private dormitories tabling to the new students.


The Sulemaniye Mosque possessed a quiet magnificence of its own that in my opinion surpassed the Blue Mosque, with breathtaking geometric designs and its soaring domed ceiling.

We then took our little bus to the Jewish Museum, tucked away in the Pera district, because it had been closed when we had tried to go there earlier. The museum itself was tucked away in this little alleyway, and we practically had to climb through a construction site to get to its entrance.

The museum was small, but it offered a look at the lives of a particularly overlooked segment of Turks. It focused primarily on the Ottoman Empire’s acceptance of the Jews after their forced migration out of Spain. Interestingly, it did not include much information about the current state of Jews in the Turkish Republic.

Lastly, we visited the Istanbul Modern, which gave a much different interpretation of contemporary Turkish life. The collection was mesmerizing—some pieces were intriguing, while others were simply bizarre.


My favorite pieces were all of the different videos they had––one showed four women talking side by side about their lives with wigs, another showed the artist trying to shout a question over the roar of jet planes, and another showed a woman slowly taking off some 50 scarves she had on her head.

Puzzling. But such is modern art, no?

It’s tiring to make up these fortunes!

When I followed the protests in Istanbul in the early summer, I wasn’t sure what kind of country I would encounter when I stepped foot in Istanbul this fall. Yet today, we got a taste of what those weeks were like.


But before that, I’ll start from the beginning! Our first stop on the itinerary today was the Dolmabahçe Palace, a beautiful and extravagant building that honestly rivals Versailles in terms of scale and ornamentation. We took the metro down to Beşiktaş, a district along the European coastline of the Bosphorus strait that bustles with all sorts of ferries traveling across to the Asian side. The palace itself sits right on the water, with breathtaking views of the water and over 45,000 square meters of palace rooms.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the palace, but its interiors were even grander than the outside. We were able to tour the main entrance hall, the secretariat’s rooms, the sultan’s apartment, Atatürk’s room, and the grand ceremonial hall.

We had to wear these plastic booties while in the palace so we wouldn't track in dirt.

We had to wear these plastic booties while in the palace so we wouldn’t track in dirt.

After the tour, we took a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul.

Once we got off the ferry, we ate lunch at the most amazing  restaurant near Kadıköy Square. The restaurant prides itself on offering specialty dishes from all across Turkey, and we were able to sample a wide variety of dishes. Out of all the delicious cuisine we’ve had so far, this one was by far the best meal.

We then had some free time to explore the nearby bazaar after lunch.

When we were walking to the restaurant, we first came across a concert and a couple groups of protestors marching down the street in honor of World Peace Day. But by the time we were leaving the area, the crowd was huge. There was a large crowd near the stage, and both the streets and ferries had been shut down to accommodate the protest. So, our only option was to walk about a mile and a half down the road to the nearest bus stop so we could get out of the area.

This walk had us walk right down the parade of protestors, which was slightly unsettling even though the protest was well-organized and it appeared to be cooperating with the police.


There was a huge variety of groups at the protest, each with their own demands, although they all appeared to come out in support of World Peace Day. Our guides for Istanbul, Nese and Mehmet, tried to lead us as quickly as they could out of the area, particularly because many were protesting the U.S.’s proposed strike against Syria.


After about 40 minutes of walking, we finally reached the end of the parade, and were able to cram onto a “domus,” a small bus by which you pay with cash. The domus operates on a kind of honor system: when you get on the bus, you pass up the bus fare to the front person by person, even if you’re crammed in the back.

We then spent the afternoon in Üsküdar, lounging on some cushions looking out at the water and the Maiden’s Tower, a small tower about 200 meters from the shore. We had time to rest and have some tea—or, in my case, a Coca-Cola since it was so hot.

PC: Lindsay

PC: Lindsay

Amanda and Alex also had their fortunes read by Nese. According to custom, once you’re finished drinking your Turkish coffee, you are supposed to read your fortune from the coffee grounds left over.

PC: Lindsay

PC: Lindsay

About halfway through Alex’s fortune-telling, Amanda asked if she could have her fortune taken afterwards. Nese responded, “Yes, but it’s tiring to make up these fortunes!”

Afterwards, we walked to another ferry stop, and took the ferry and metro back to our hotel. At the hotel, I checked the news to find out what the protests were about earlier today, and found out that there were more protests occurring in Taksim Square, where the police had blocked entrance to Gezi Park.

We were told to stay away from the area for the evening, but it will be interesting to follow any developments that come. According to the agreement we signed before study abroad, we’re not supposed to seek out ways to participate or observe protests. However, while safety is always a priority, it was exhilarating to experience a protest first-hand.


PC: Lindsay

But to all my worried family members––don’t worry, I’m okay!