A Weekend in Venice & A Lesson in Overwhelm

A new post, and so soon! Shortly after reflecting on my accomplishments for September, a few friends invited me to join them for their weekend trip to Venice. Knowing that I wouldn’t normally take such a trip on my own, I agreed to join them so I could expand my horizons.

We had an early start on Friday morning, waking up at 6:30 AM to catch out 7:55 AM train. After our five-hour train ride, we arrived in Venice and took a waterbus to the Biennale Architettura 2021’s Giardini location. 28 countries (and Venice) responded to the question “How will we live together?” by designing their own exhibits and hosting them in dedicated pavilions. Countries used architectural thinking to respond to the theme in a myriad of ways, such as migration and forced displacement, natural resource distribution, and anticipating the future living conditions of Earth. In the wake of the pandemic, there was a special concern for how humans connect with other aspects of the natural world and how architecture can serve as a means of creating an environment where all people can flourish. My favorite pavilion was Denmark’s, which collected rainwater from the pavilion roof and designed a path for it to flow throughout the building to illustrate the connection between life and water. As you listened and watched the water flow throughout the space, you were invited to enjoy a cup of tea.

My cup of lemon verbena tea in the Denmark pavilion. This was my favorite take on the theme by far!

We spent our entire afternoon at the museum before we journeyed to Piazza San Marco for the gondola ride we booked. We set out at dusk and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the narrow canals as Venice’s nightlife slowly bubbled to the surface.

One of my many photos from our gondola ride. What a magical moment!

On Saturday we visited the islands of Murano, Torcello, and Burano. In Murano we saw a glass-making demonstration, in Torcello we explored the quaint church and the small path behind it, and in Burano we watched an old woman make lace and strolled through the streets of brightly colored buildings. Burano was my favorite island of the three because it reminded me of Capitola, a city back home whose large sand beach I’ve started to miss.

Some of the colorful homes in Burano. This is probably my favorite photo so far!

On Sunday we woke up before sunrise and began our quiet walk back to Piazza San Marco to watch the sunrise. Seeing the empty square and listening to the water splash against the gondolas resting along the dock was one of the rare moments of serenity during our trip.

Sunrise over the water at Piazza San Marco.

So, why the title of this post?

Despite Venice’s beauty, I felt as though I didn’t really enjoy any of it. After traveling most of Friday and Sunday, we really only had one full day to explore the city, and even I didn’t take full advantage of our time there because of exhaustion and academic responsibilities. If I thought Rome was overwhelming to navigate with its multiple side streets, the addition of Venice’s canals made it that much easier to get lost. I also found myself constantly missing Rome’s familiarity and slower pace.

After returning to my apartment at 11:00 PM on Sunday night and dreading my 9:00 AM class the next morning, I went to bed wondering what I could take away from a mostly negative experience. I’ve decided that this past weekend taught me what kind of traveler I am. I prefer to take things slow and spend more time at fewer places rather than rush to see as much as possible. I’d rather wake up early in the morning and watch the city wake up rather than stay up late and witness the nightlife. Most importantly, I’d prioritize having comfortable travel; the eight-hour bus ride back to Rome may have been less expensive, but I will definitely not be doing that again.

I’m slowly learning that my study abroad experience will not always be about discovering unfamiliar facets of my personality or having new experiences, but witnessing and confirming aspects about myself that haven’t, and likely won’t, change. I have always been a quiet and methodical person who prefers spending quality time on a few dedicated things, and that’s okay! Not everyone can be the social butterfly that does the most, and not being that type of person doesn’t mean you aren’t appreciating what a foreign country has to offer you. Instead, figuring out who you are and what you like is an essential part of the adventure, whether the event was positive or negative. Part of me is thankful that I internalized such a valuable lesson in such a breathtaking city.

Arrivederci, Venezia! Maybe in the future I’ll get to know you better.

September: Retracing My First Steps

As I scroll through my photos and videos, I can tell I’ve already come a long way from when I arrived on September 2nd. When I first arrived, I could tell I was very much stuck in my “pandemic shell”; I was afraid to explore even my immediate neighborhood, I resisted introducing myself to other students, and I avoided anything that seemed too unfamiliar. While I am no less cautious now than I was at the end of 2019, I can feel my independence and eagerness returning. I can tell that I’m ready to embrace the excitement and opportunities of this year. With one month in the Eternal City under my belt, it’s time for me to share my reflections, highlights, and goals for October.

Some things I’ve observed and learned as I’ve gotten familiar with the city:
  • The metro is super straightforward. The buses? Not so much. I was absolutely terrified of navigating the metro system when I first arrived, which meant I tried to walk everywhere. While there’s nothing wrong with getting in your daily steps (and it’s impossible not to in Rome), I realized I had to take a leap of faith when I had to meet my 9:00 AM Roman Art & Archaeology class at the Capitoline Hill, a roughly 45-minute walk from my apartment. I quickly learned that the metro is easy to navigate: Signs plainly list all of the stops, it’s easy to find your train once you’re inside, and the stops are all clearly marked and announced. The buses, on the other hand, have a number system I haven’t quite learned, and they are rarely on time anyway. I’ve learned to rely on the metro and my fast walking speed to take me where I need to go.
  • Always carry your documents with you. Aside from legal and safety concerns, having all of my proper documents has allowed me to visit all sorts of amazing places. Just recently I was the only student in my Darkroom Photography class who could enter the Hendrik Christian Anderson Museum right next to campus because I brought my CDC card, a form of ID (such as a state ID or passport), and an official letter from Temple explaining the validity of the CDC card as an equivalent to the European Green Pass. Always keep these documents with you, as you never know when you’ll need them!
The inside of the Pantheon. It’s easy to visit incredible places like this now that I know how to use the metro.
A glimpse of the Hendrik Christian Anderson Museum. This is a great place for sketching and taking photographs.
My September highlights:
  • Seeing the inside of the Order of Malta. Through Temple University, I and a group of other interested students visited the Order of Malta, where we got to see beyond the famous keyhole and explore the grounds. We saw not only the beautiful Baroque church but also the gardens and an amazing view of St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • Watching the sunset at the Piazza del Popolo. After a long day of classes, nothing beats taking a short walk to the Piazza del Popolo and climbing the stairs to the lookout at Villa Borghese. The photo below speaks for itself!
  • Seeing the Colosseum and the Roman Forum five times. Part of the privilege of studying abroad for a full academic year is the fact that I can return to my favorite iconic places multiple times for different reasons. I often pass by these incredible ancient monuments depending on where I’m going for class, whether for on-site lectures or as subjects for my photographs. I can’t wait to claim more spaces as my favorites!
  • Having my first complete conversations in Italian. At last, I can sit down at a cafè or bar and order coffee entirely in Italian! My favorite cafè is a three-minute walk from my apartment and serves what they call a cappuccino eccelente, a cappuccino served in a cup lined with chocolate. I am also now able to visit my local photography store and purchase my film for the week entirely in Italian. The constant practice really helps!
Within the walls of the Order of Malta.
A sunset over the Piazza del Popolo.
A view of the Roman Forum. This is one of my favorite places to visit, especially in the morning.
The typical Italian breakfast I’m growing to appreciate: A coffee and a pastry. It’s even better with a friend!
My goals for October:
  • Be more adventurous with food. One thing I still have to overcome is my anxiety about ordering food. Now that I’ve developed a small arsenal of helpful Italian phrases, I want to try ordering my coffee at the bar or grabbing lunch to-go.
  • Visit more museums. Now that I know how to get around and that I’ve seen many of the major outdoor sights, I can finally start appreciating the collections within buildings. With my MIC card, which gives me free access to several civic museums and archaeological sites within the city as a student in Rome, planning a trip is only a matter of deciding where I want to go.
  • Evaluate how I spend my free time. This one will probably be the most difficult to approach, and definitely not a goal I can master in a month. Between studying and preparing for five classes (which for me means translating Greek and Latin texts, taking 72 film photos each week, learning Italian, and studying ancient Roman art and architecture), exploring Rome, practicing my cooking, and getting enough sleep, finding time to relax is difficult. However, I hope that as places and activities become more familiar, I’ll be able to take more time for myself to explore how my interests and hobbies evolve. Ideally, I want to read more and take a few watercolor lessons from my three talented roommates!

I’m so relieved that I am settling into Rome day by day. As the heat (hopefully) fades away during October, I can’t wait to keep you all updated on my next month of adventures!

Buongiorno, Roma: My First Three Weeks!

Hello! My name is Mary and I am an Art History and Classics double major from Santa Cruz, California, a coastal city between San Francisco and the Monterey Bay. I am attending Temple University Rome for both the fall and spring semesters, and I am so excited to immerse myself in a city that speaks to both of my majors so well!

It’s amazing how fast the time has flown already! Every day is a whirlwind of activity: Commuting, attending classes, grocery shopping, cooking with my roommates and hunting for our next favorite gelato place, studying… After the world came to a grinding halt for my first three semesters at Holy Cross, these past weeks have been intense. I’m (hopefully) having my first full year of college experiences, and in Rome no less. I’m still wrapping my head around this incredible opportunity!

When we first arrived, Temple University did an incredible job of helping us get settled and ready to explore, from an orientation trip to the medieval town of Todi to smaller and more personal walking tours of Flaminio, the area surrounding campus.

Todi, Umbria. I explored this hilltop town a few days after I arrived in Italy.

Aside from this being my first time in Italy, this is also my first time experiencing apartment living. I live with three other roommates, and together we’re still learning the ropes of how to shop and clean for four. What I appreciate most is that together we’re able to push each other to be more adventurous. For our first weekend together, we took a train to Santa Severa, a beach with a castle along the water. I never would have planned such a major trip on my own, but I had an amazing time and it helped me feel more comfortable with our smaller outings to more local areas.

My roommates gazing out at the bright blue waters of Santa Severa.

Because of the nature of my classes, I quickly learned how to navigate the Metro system. I have to buy the majority of my supplies for my Darkroom Photography class, such as film and resin-coated paper, which has allowed me to visit multiple camera stores. In my Roman Art and Archaeology class, I meet my professor and my other classmates for on-site lectures at museums and archeological sites. With the lack of reliable public transportation in California, I’ve very quickly gained a new sense of independence here in Rome!

The inside of a painted tomb from Tarquinia in the National Etruscan Museum, which I visited in my Roman Art and Archaeology class.

Of course, I’ve also taken time to visit some of Rome’s most famous sites. How could I miss out on the Piazza del Popolo, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, or the Colosseum and the Roman Forum? And let’s not forget all of the amazing churches you can slip inside of for some respite from the busy streets.

You’ve likely noticed by now that I used the more formal greeting buongiorno in my title, which is used throughout the morning and afternoon and directed toward those you respect or don’t know very well yet. I still have so much to learn about Rome, so I look forward to familiarizing myself with the Eternal City and finding my place in it this year. Arrivederci, and until my next post!