Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Hardest Part

Hurricane Hanna was beginning her trek up the east coast, grounding flights and causing a lot of headache. The effects in Philadelphia resulted in heavy downpours and elevated wind speed. Was this a sign foreshadowing the rest of my experience? Time to think was not a luxury, and I hesitantly stepped onto my plane that would take me from The United States of America, my familiar home, to unfamiliar country of Italy, my home for the next three months.

When I first committed to the experience of studying abroad in Italy, I strongly believed I had a leg up on the rest of the crowd. This is my third trip to Europe, but I never would have guessed how different and difficult it is once faced with making the journey alone. Saying goodbye to family and friends was harder than expected, and I am slightly embarrassed knowing they will remember the last state I was in: Sobbing and unsure if I had made the correct decision, or if I was even able to go through with it. I had little time to ponder how prepared I was because, before I knew it, I was on a plane from Seattle to Philadelphia.

Landing in Venice, Italy, happened faster than expected. Believing I had finally arrived with little-to-no travel glitches made me proud. Passport check and luggage claim were a breeze, and I made my way into the hot, humid air to find a taxi.

A man dressed in the finest clothes I have seen yet in Italy greeted me and I was surprised to learn this was my taxi driver. He was dressed in unflawed dark denim jeans, a teal button-down shirt and light brown loafers. His dark hair was gelled and his skin tanned. He was very welcoming and knew a good amount of English, helping me haul my two heavy suitcases into his taxi van. To thank him, I wanted to be sure to give him a decent tip but had a hard time counting and making change in the new currency, which, to me, looks like Monopoly money. In total, my taxi fare to Mestre was 27 euro, so I handed him a 50 and asked for change. I received a 20 and three one euro coins. Slightly confused and not wanting to ask him to make more change for smaller bills, I handed him the three one euro coins. He replied, very graciously and politely, "Oh grazie, grazie. I will go buy myself a caffe." Was this impeccably dressed Italian mocking me for the poor tipping? I felt bad, and left embarrassed, only to learn later tipping is not customary in Europe. This explains why he insisted on carrying my two heavy suitcases up 30 stairs to my hotel in Mestre.

I arrived at my hotel in venice at 9:45 a.m., a little over 24 hours later, after no sleep during the flight over. Granted, I was exhausted and hit the sack almost immediately. The first of my three roommates for the night arrived in the same condition, and we both slept for three solid hours. Once our room of four was complete, we met up with another foursome staying at the same hotel and set out to explore Venice. After having a dinner of spaghetti and beer on the Grande Canale, we headed for San Marco Square. The lighting in the late evening was beautiful, lighting up the arches piazza, and it was pleasant to visit the square at night without worry of bumping into other tourists as you try to take pictures. Outside many restaurants, bands played for anyone who wanted to pull up a folding chair and listen. Up until this moment, Venice was everything I expected and wanted it to be. It was beautiful, romantic, and had amazing architecture. After visiting the square, we opted to wander around the streets of Venice to see more of the city. A word to the wise: Despite the city being an island, it is much larger than one might expect. Our group of eight was lost late at night for three hours. Every storefront selling gelato looked identical to the last, which made deciphering where we had been difficult. We ventured down dark alleys, and busy city streets, following signs indicating the place we believed we should have been headed. At this point in the night, my jet lag was causing me to hit a brick wall. It took everything in my power to focus on one thing: Keeping one foot moving in front of the other. This is when Venice was no longer romantic; it was rather frustrating. Directions we received from locals indicated we head to the Canale, and then turn left, which was, more often than not, straight into a building. Dead reckoning started to kick in; however, it sure was not my own, and we found our way back to the bus station, which would take us back to our hotel in Mestre, after three long hours. My head hit the pillow and I was out for the count after my first day in Italy. My next trip to Venice, I will make sure to come prepared with a detailed map.

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