Off the Beaten Path: Oslo

Unlike a lot of people who go abroad for a semester, I didn’t do much traveling outside of France.  I wanted to spend as much time as possible in Paris, and I went on several of the NYU-sponsored trips as well as an excursion to Giverny with my friends.  I allowed myself one international trip while I was studying in Paris.  Initially, I had been interested in going to Dublin, but plane tickets were more than I wanted to pay, so I just started looking around Ryanair, not focusing so much on the destination as the price of a round trip ticket.  In the end, Oslo won out, with a round trip plane ticket costing 37 euro.

I guess it’s kind of cruel that the cheapest plane ticket I could find was taking me to the most expensive city in the world.  Maybe that’s just what I get for thinking I could take a trip that wouldn’t leave my wallet crying out in agony.  Regardless, despite Oslo being ridiculously pricy, that doesn’t make it impossible to have a fun time – it might just require a little improvisation.  An easy way to prevent spending a boatload of cash in Oslo is to immediately forget any ideas of eating out.  One of the best decisions I made was to stay at a hostel that included free breakfast.  I would eat as much as I could every morning before setting off and I also brought snacks with me from Paris, thereby guaranteeing that I wouldn’t have to worry about buying food until the late afternoon/early evening.  To be completely honest, Scandinavia is not lauded for its cuisine, and the best, most expensive meal you could get probably wouldn’t equal any of the delicious, cheap meals you can get on a daily basis in Paris.  The easiest, cheapest option is to buy a sandwich at a supermarket or to buy some groceries and prepare yourself a meal using the kitchen at your hostel.  Speaking of which, the staff at hostels are an invaluable source of information, whether you need to know the bus schedule or want to know of a good place to go for drinks.  While on the subject of alcohol, there is a great bar downtown called Garage.  Drinks are on the cheaper end of the spectrum by Norwegian standards, the bartenders are really nice and speak English, they play good tunes, have an awesome back patio, and hold live shows in the basement.  If you decide to go out at night, you will end up blowing all the money you might have saved on food on drinks, so you might as well do it somewhere bitchin’.  Also, if you go to Oslo in May, there’s a giant collective bar crawl called the Tom Waits Run.  It’s supposed to be impossible to complete because of the sheer number of bars included in the route, but it would be fun to try if you’re like me and think Tom Waits is the coolest person ever (not that I’m encouraging binge drinking).

As far as sites and activities go, the Edvard Munch museum and the Norwegian defense museum are both very cool and free, and the Munch museum is across the street from Oslo’s botanical gardens.  As it has been explained to me, Norwegians have an affinity for going for walks, and the botanical gardens, Vigeland sculpture park, and Palace park are a few of the places they enjoy going for their strolls, and they’re all absolutely gorgeous locations.  There’s also a great travel-themed book shop called Nomaden near Palace park.  But if there’s one thing I would say you absolutely must do while in Oslo, it’s to take a boat tour of the fjords.  The views are stunning, and the boat makes stops to the opera house and the museum of Viking ships.

Ultimately, Oslo is a unique, beautiful city with lots of things to see.  It’s also somewhere to consider going if you’re looking to go somewhere other than the usual student destinations of Amsterdam and London.  Flights to Rygge airport are cheap and, while Oslo is expensive, it’s still possible to save money and to have fun on a budget.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beyond Europe: North Africa

Other great spring break ideas in Africa: Egypt and Morocco, where you are most likely to find other American tourists and students.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tips for Visiting Tunisia

  • Do not believe what people you meet in the medina (market) tell you — you are not late for a festival or celebration. They will lead you to an artisan or carpet shop and getting yourself out of that situation without spending a large sum of money is unlikely.
  • You are not in Europe; resist the urge to get upset when someone is invading your personal space. If they see you are genuinely disturbed by them, Tunisians will back off, just be firm.
  • Know money conversions and exchange money at the port/airport. 1 dinar is roughly $1.33. Life in Tunisia is less expensive; for example, a plate of couscous at a family run restaurant  in a medina is usually about 7 dinar, which includes complimentary appetizers, desert, and mint tea; a beachfront hotel room in Sousse, off-season: €11 a night. That being said, be aware that locals want your money and will overcharge you. Never agree with their first offer—Tunisians expect you to haggle.
  • The medina is the place to go for shopping but be smart and firm when dealing with merchants. They will outwit you and rip you off, so don’t be afraid to be ruder than normal. It’s really all par for the course. Once you make eye contact with a vendor, he will assume you are interested and will do anything to make a sale. An easy solution? Wear dark sunglasses while in the medina. And, yes, they will understand you; never in my life have I encountered so many people who speak more than 4 fluent languages. Tunisians mean business—literally.
Posted in Places to Go, Practical Info, Safety | Leave a comment

Beyond Europe: Tunisia

Tunisia is one of the African nations closest to Europe and worth a visit over spring break if you are looking to do something different. It is easily reached by a short flight or 16 hour boat ride from Sicily and the country has an unmistakable Mediterranean feel.

Carthage – Now a suburb of Tunis, Carthage was once a powerful ancient city founded by Queen Dido. The Romans and Vandals eventually conquered the city, but Roman ruins remain. A multiple entry ticket is 7 dinar and allows entry into 8 sights, including the Roman amphitheater, Roman villas, Roman circus, and he Musèe de Carthage. Go early in the morning and wear comfortable shoes. The sights and ruins are spread out, which takes its toll later under the sun.

Kairuohan - Kairuohan is the third holiest Muslim city and is, therefore, an important pilgrimage sight. The souk (market place) is famous for carpets, vases, and leather goods. Hire a guide for 2 hours and he will lead you on a tour of the city, including the market, and the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba. The Mosque will leave you speechless: made mostly from Carthagian ruins, the mosque is supported by 212 different

Sidi Bou Saïd – A 7 dinar taxi ride (never pay more than 10 dinar for this trip) will take you to Sidi Bou Saïd. The village is defined by narrow cobblestone streets, elaborate key-hole shaped doors, and bright white washed houses with cobalt blue roofs corresponding to the waters below.  This makes an ideal trip after trekking through Carthage—there are fewer tourists and the atmosphere is serene. Try TamTam (Ave 7 Novembre) for Italian, Eastern, and American fusion food if you’ve grown sick of couscous.  Overlooking a marina and beach is Café Sidi Chabaane (Rue Sidi Chabaane), a multi-level café with terraces cut into cliffs. Comfy pillows and carpets make this café the perfect place to relax over a fresh fruit juice or mint tea while writing postcards or simply taking in the blue oasis before you.

Sousse - An hour away from Tunis lies Sousse, complete with high rises and billboards that can be equated with a cheap Atlantic City; however, the beach’s soft sand and warm water makes Sousse Tunisia’s #1 vacation destination. The medina is fortified with square turrets and houses 24 mosques. The Babel-Ginga entrance is where the French placed their guillotine during WWII and the medina area provided the set for the first Indiana Jones movie. To see where Star Wars was filmed, you’ll have to move farther into Tunisia by the Sahara.

Tunis -Tunisia’s capital is home to a famous medina (old center of town) with over 700 monuments, including fountains, mosques, mausoleums, hidden palaces, and the Great Mosque where the Muslim University and library are located. 90% of Tunisia’s population lives in Tunis so expect streets to be busy, especially in the huge maze of a medina, with stands selling everything from scarves and carpets to livestock and stuffed camel souvenirs. Visit the Bardo Museum: originally a 13th century palace, the museum is now home to Greek, Roman, Tunisian, and Arabic antiques. The true gems of Tunisia lie outside of Tunis, so it is recommended to stay in Tunis but take day trips by train, taxi, or louage (shared taxi; same price as bus fare).

Posted in Places to Go | Leave a comment

Travel: Spain

Barcelona - Very crowded with tourists. However, Las Ramblas was a great street to walk and sightsee, and the street markets are awesome.

Bilbao – This town has amazing architecture, but is mostly known for the incredible Guggenheim museum.

Cádiz – Beach destination, kinda resort-ish, but Carnival was one fun party.   We booked an all-inclusive 3-day package trip with Funiversal travel agency for Carnival weekend.

Gibraltar – This only thing worth doing here is climbing the ‘rock,’ seeing the caves and the monkeys.  Otherwise, there is not much else.  Most people come here to take a ferry to Tangier, Morocco.  We recommend that you go with a big group to take advantage of the group rates and to take necessary safety precautions.


Madrid
– An an amazing city with so much to explore and experience.  There are amazing Museums like the Prado and beautiful parks like Retiro. However, the best part of Madrid is diving into the Spanish culture by enjoying Tapas at little local places, taking a siesta in the middle of the day, or going to see Real Madrid play a soccer match. It is a magnificent city and one that is hard not to fall in love with.

Pamplona – It is famous for the running of the bulls.

San Sebastian – Amazing tapas and a beautiful scenic beach town, plus good surfing.

Segovia – Quaint town close to Madrid with a stunning castle and church. Absolutely beautiful town to visit.  It also has an amazing Roman aqueduct!

Sevilla – Great culture stop, picturesque gypsy/folky Spanish, historic Andalucía (great during Holy Week).  There is a 2-hour high-speed train from Madrid.  We recommend the sightseeing bus tour there.  It was cheap and actually very informative and went to all the interesting and historical places with freedom to hop on and hop off wherever and whenever you want.

Toledo –  Quaint and stunning town close to Madrid with much history (old capital) and a very unique handicraft. They make beautiful pieces out of black metal with gold inlaid designs.  It is an incredible place to wander around, but be prepared for the steep hills. Also, has a very interesting rich Jewish history.  Make sure you see the old temple.

Posted in Places to Go | Leave a comment

Festivals: Italy

Certain festivals and celebrations only take place in certain cities and towns throughout Italy. If you plan on going to any of these places, it’s a good idea to reserve a train seat ahead of time; if not, you may find yourself packed tightly in a crowded train. There are countless festivals all over Italy during all times of the year. Below are just a few examples:

Battle of the Oranges (la Battaglia delle Arance) in Ivrea on February 8 is a crazy celebration based on a revolt that occurred against the town’s tyrant back in 1850. During the celebration, men dressed up as guards stand on a cart and throw oranges at the people below. Everyone participates in throwing the oranges and by the end of the festival the piazza is a sticky, orangey mess.

Carnevale occurs everywhere in Italy the week before Ash Wednesday but the biggest festivities are in Viareggio and Venice, where the grand masquerade ball is by invitation only. To celebrate, children throw bags of confetti everywhere—you’ll see confetti in cracks on the sidewalk for at least a month afterward.

The San Remo Festival is held in the Italian Riviera in March. It iis one of the most famous and significant music festivals in Italy– five days of music where major artists perform their newest songs.

Chocolate Festival in Perugia in October celebrates all things chocolate. The festival is a few days long and features different chocolate vendors on the street selling different chocolate goods. In the streets are a number of platforms with huge blocks of chocolate (see picture below) that are chipped and drilled and put into plastic bags. The bags of chocolate are given out for free to raving chocoholics standing at the foot of the platform.

Palio in Siena on July 2nd and August 16th is an annual celebration in Siena that features horseracing.

Posted in Places to Go | Leave a comment

Travel: Italy

Capri – Capri is the most breathtaking tourist trap you will ever see.  It is indeed as beautiful as everyone makes it out to be — the waters are the most dazzling, sparkling blue; the sun seems to shine brighter here than anywhere else; the flowers bloom from every crack and crevice in the earth and the shops are to die for.  But everything – EVERYTHING – is ridiculously overpriced and designed to rip off the tourist.  Do not stay on Capri if possible.  It is worth a day trip, even including the requisite, seasickness-inducing boat ride to the Blue Grotto (and possibly to other, lesser known, equally as beautiful grottoes).  You are better off staying in Sorrento on the Italian mainland from which the ruins of Pompeii, Naples, and the incredible beaches of the island of Ischia are just as easily accessible.  Sorrento is also super-touristy but it is not quite as intense as Capri is.

CagliariCagliari is Sardinia’s capital and definitely not the place to go if you’re hoping to practice Italian; Sardinians speak Sardo, which is a language all its own. This is the ideal city for shopping and clubbing, so you’ll probably spend time on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Sights to see include Cagliari’s namesake high walled castle (Il Castello), ruins of a Roman amphitheater, and two remaining watchtowers Torre dell Elefante and Torre di San Pancrazio. Although Sardinia is an island, the region’s cuisine is meat based, including suckling pig, goat, and horse. Sardinian’s have strong traditions and a culture different from mainland Italy. Meet locals, indulge in Sardinian deserts, or listen to a traditional band playing in a piazza.

Cinque Terre – The five villages of the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian sea are incredible and enchanting.  The water is warm and turquoise, the villages quaint and romantic, and the tranquility of the region’s natural beauty breathtaking.  Cinque Terre is quickly becoming one of Italy’s hotspots because of the gorgeous beaches and lush setting.  The five villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – are linked by the cleverly named Via dell’Amore, a relatively intense hiking path that offers unbelievable views of the sea.  The villages are also linked by train for the less adventurous and athletic.  The best villages to stay in are Riomaggiore and Monterosso (which features the main beaches), but Vernazza is an adorable little town with a small port and a castle overlooking the water. Cinque Terre is also reachable by train from Florence (about a four-hour ride) and is close to Genoa, La Spezia (the home of Italy’s Navy) and Portofino.  Eat pesto here because this region makes it best!

Chianti – Situated between Florence and Siena, this region of Tuscany is not only known for its red wine, but for its breathtaking views of the countryside. Visiting Chianti is a good day trip from Florence. Specific towns include Greve, Panzano, and Castellina. Go to a wine festival

Fiesole – Just a short trip on the #7 bus takes you into the heart of Fiesole. A hilly, picturesque little town that is so close to Florence it is a shame to miss.  If you can brave the intense climb up a steep incline to get to the very top of the town, you will be rewarded with an unparalleled view of Florence that is even better than the view at Piazzale Michelangelo. Fiesole also has a large collection of Roman ruins, including an amphitheater and some Roman baths as well as Etruscan tombs, a museum and a lovely cloister filled with flowers and a bubbling fountain. It is the quintessential Tuscan experience and also really close to campus so go whenever you can!

Florence – a great place to visit for a weekend because it’s fairly small, very walk-able (with a good bus system) and just about all of its main historical and artistic attractions are located in the city center within a few blocks radius. If you have money to burn, try the bistecca alla fiorentina (steak) that Florence is known for or if you’re on a shoestring budget try some hearty ribollita soup made from Tuscan bread and fresh vegetables. Don’t miss the Uffizi gallery, the Pitti Palace and, of course, the famous Duomo and try as many gelato flavors as you can. Florence is also easily accessible by plane from other European cities on cheap airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet so if you get a free weekend (or longer) definitely check it out – you won’t regret it!

Lucca - Lucca is a charming Italian city that is very close to Florence. Definitely take a day trip there to see its many churches, including San Michele which many people believe looks like a birthday cake. You can take a horse and carriage around the city for a fairly low price and enjoy a relaxing ride through its peaceful streets laden with flowers.  One of the most beautiful features of Lucca is that its city walls have remained intact since the Middle Ages and still surround the city.  Many people rent bikes and ride around the grassy walls which has a real day at the park feel.  There is not that much greenery in downtown Florence so escaping to the quiet, simple beauty of Lucca is a real treat.

Milano – Looking for the latest Italian fashions, visit Milan! In addition to the great shopping Milan has to offer, it is one of the largest cities in Italy known for its arts, nightlife, and architecture. Be sure not to miss Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

Palermo - Forget every stereotype Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino have ingrained into your head.. Sicilians call the mafia “cosa nostra” (our thing) for that exact reason: they don’t bother with tourists. Instead, focus on Palermo’s rich culture of Arabic and Normal influences. While some of Palermo’s dilapidated and war torn building areas may not seem welcoming, its citizens are warm and patient. Palermo is filled with churches, but Chiesa della Martorana dates back to the Middle Ages with colorful mosaics that remain as vivid as when they were created. Shop like a local at the main food market Vucciria; for clothes head to Capo Market and Corso Vittorio Emanuele. A must see neighborhood is La Kalsa, known for its architecture and palaces, while Piazza Marina is the site of an old port and is currently a garden at Villa Garibaldi.

Pienza – The home of Pecorino cheese and the best place to find a good-priced wheel of it.  Built by Pope Pius II, who was born there, the town square and palace are architectural gems.  The Pope’s original garden has been kept exactly as it was during his days with the same pomegranate trees still flowering.  Pienza’s location in the Val d’Orcia – a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its farmland beauty – is like nothing else you will ever see.  The Pope’s palace offers commanding views of the Val d’Orcia and the opportunity to take pictures that are nicer than any postcard.  Pienza is also quite near Bagno Vignoni, a thermal-bath and spa town that dates back from Roman times right through the Renaissance to the present day where you can indulge and feel like a prince or princess in a gorgeous natural setting.

PisaPisa is a definite day trip. Just an hour away from Florence by train, it is the home of the world-famous Leaning Tower located in its Miracle Square (Campo dei Miracoli).  Pisa’s Baptistery and main cathedral are also architecturally lovely.  There is not much else to see but some of its streets are picturesque and it definitely has some decent cafés and restaurants.  Check the weather before you go because if it is raining the whole trip feels like more of a hassle than it should.

Rome –  For centuries Rome has been known as “Caput Mundi,” “the capital of the world” and after one visit, it is hard to disagree. It is impossible to see all of Rome in a weekend; Romans themselves haven’t even experienced all that Rome offers. Explore whatever neighborhoods you find yourself in—you will always run into something stunning and historical. The Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica shouldn’t be missed, but don’t waste 6 hours on line! Go when the museum opens and avoid tour groups who usually arrive at 10:00. Take in Rome’s skyline of cupolas and bell towers from Gianicolo Hill or look through the bronze keyhole at Piazza of the Knights of Malta for a perfect view of a tree lined road leading to St. Peter’s Basilica. Via dei Condotti is the main drag for designer shops, while Via del Corso offers more affordable shopping. For lunch, taste pizza à taglio (by the slice) or simple and hearty Roman food like spaghetti alla carbonara, buucatini all’amatriciana, veal saltimbocca, or artichokes alla guida. You cannot leave Rome without: walking through the Imperial Forum or the (free!!) Roman Forum, seeing Bernini’s statues in Piazza Novona, placing your hand in the Mouth of Truth, walking around the Colosseum, enjoying a gelato on the Spanish Steps, marveling at the flawless Pantheon, and throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return. There is no shortage of museums in Rome, but for time’s sake, visit the Capitoline Museums in Piazza del Campidoglio which can be recognized by the piazza’s trapezoid pattern designed by Michelaneglo. Rome has over 900 churches, and while they each are works of art, consider Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Maria del Popolo to see works by Caravaggio. Campo de’ Firoi is a colorful market during the day,  but at night, its pubs are packed with tourists. If you’re looking to meet locals (Romans are loud)—cross the Tiber to Trastevere, a hip neighborhood known for restaurants, bars, and shops. A unique bar is Libri, Cioccolata e Vino on Vicolo del Cinque: downstairs is a bookstore, while upstairs serves wine, coffee, and drinks served in dark chocolate shot glasses with names not suitable for print. For something different, head over to the Cemetery of the Capuchin Brothers on Via Vittorio Veneto 27 to view mosaics made from the bones of actual monks—macabre, yet fascinating. The sign on your way out reads “That which you are now, we once were. That which we are, you will become,” which reiterates a valuable truth about Rome: the city is eternal.

Siena- The city of Siena is an hour and a half train or bus ride from Florence. Its majestic duomo was constructed from pink and green marble with golden accents, setting it apart from every other city’s duomo. Next door to the duomo is St. Catherine of Siena’s house, where you can see the saint’s finger. Piazza del Campo is the main piazza where the Palio horse race occurs twice a year; the seashell shaped piazza is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. Be sure to stop into specialty food shops for almond paste cookies called ricciarelli and panforte, a dense cake made from honey, candied fruit, almonds, and spices.The narrow streets are most easily accessible by foot; as a result, cars are restricted in the city center. Sienese people are among the proudest in Italy; they are members of a contrada first, citizens of Siena second, and Italians third. Siena is divided into 17 contrade (neighborhoods) that are named are an animal or symbol, such as Pantera (Panther), Selva (Forest), and Leocorno (Unicorn). The history of the contrade is long and complicated, including feuds and friendships among the neighborhoods but you will know exactly what neighborhood you’re in: every contrada has its own colors, symbol, museum, baptismal fountain, motto, and ally/enemy contrada. Walking through Siena is like playing a game—everywhere you look, a contrada’s symbol is hidden, whether on window hinges and electrical outlets or doorknobs and manholes.

San Gimignano - The home of Italy’s medieval skyscrapers, is one of the few places where formidable tower-houses still remain intact.  About an hour and a half from Florence, San Gimignano is fairly close to Siena and the two can be done in one day.  Aside from its impressive towers, San Gimignano is a touristy little village where you can get some delicious gelato, the ubiquitous pottery found all over Tuscany, and a variety of other kitschy souvenirs for the folks back home.  It also has the very interesting Museum of Torture which displays some of the Middle Ages’ finest instruments of pain including the infamous Rack and an assortment of frightening spiked collars.  The cobblestone streets give it a lot of charm and the winding hills dotted with tower-houses that overlook the Val d’Orcia make it one of the prettiest towns in Tuscany.

Trapani - Trapani is an hour bus ride from Palermo and is famous for it’s salt marshes! I know, no one cares BUT Trapani is where most budget airlines fly into and there are fun things to do there. If you’d prefer to escape from the hustle and bustle of Palermo, Trapani is a calm port city with friendly inhabitants. The city is small, so it is recommended that you spend a day or two island hopping on the nearby Egadi Islands. Part of Sicily’s mainland 600,000 years ago, the Egadi Islands are: Marettimo, Levanzo, and Favignana. Marettino has no roads or hotels, but is home to rare plant species. Levanzo is the smallest of the islands and has one village called Cala Dogana; a quick boat ride from the port will lead you to Grotta del Genovese, home to carved Paleolithic drawings. Favignana is the largest and most populated island; one side is flat farmland, while the other is jagged and hilly. The best way to experience both aspects of Favignana is to rent bikes and pack a picnic lunch for relaxing in the sun while surrounded by sparkling sapphire colored water.

Verona - If you are thinking of spending a weekend in Venice, consider also exploring nearby Verona and Vicenza for a few hours. Walk through Piazza dei Signori and Piazza Erbe’s markets to admire the city’s Romanesque churches and buildings. Piazza Brà is the main square where the third largest arena built in AD 30 is located; the amphitheatre is still used today for musical performances. Of course, Verona is home to Romeo and Juliet; although William Shakespeare is most frequently associated with the tragic couple, the story was first written in the 1520s by Luigi da Porto. La Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House) is located on Via Cappello 23; here you can stand on what would have been the balcony on which Romeo professed his love for Juliet. Be sure to rub the statue of Juliet for luck in love and admire the graffitied walls leading to the courtyard.

Vicenza - An hour from Venice by train, Vicenza was home to architect Andrea Palladio. His most famous 16th century building is found on Via della Rotonda 25 but Palladio’s work is literally everywhere. His final and most valued creation is the Teatro Olimpico in Piazza Matteoti 11. Made of wood and plaster painted to look like marble, the theatre was first used in 1585 for a performance of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. For this reason, the scenery is permanent trompe l’oeil painted by Scamozzi: he portrayed the city of Thebes with streets painted in perspective to give an illusion of length and depth. The auditorium was designed to resemble an ancient Roman theater: the half moon seating area is under a ceiling painted to look like the sky. Toga-wearing sculptures of the theater’s benefactors are placed throughout the façade. Teatro Olimpico is famous for its flawless acoustics and is still used today for plays and concerts; the theater is awe-inspiring and worth visiting, even if you cannot make a performance.

Villasimius - An hour and a half bus ride from Cagliari is the popular beach town Villasimius. There are few tourists during the winter months, but this quaint fishing village comes to life during the summer, with luxury hotels (rooms are half price during off-season) and Sardinia’s famous Peyote nightclub. Villasimius offers 10 different white sand beaches that give way to clear jewel-toned waters. If the water’s not yet fit for swimming, explore the town’s wildlife (including flamingoes!) while horseback riding through the region’s tree lined mountains or take in some sun while lying on a smooth beach-front boulder.

Venice - A three hour Eurostar ride from Florence, Venice is best explored over a whole weekend. The streets are narrow and winding; you’ll probably spend half of your time figuring out where you are and where you need to go. Remember that in Venice maps lie and directions are given in terms of how many bridges and canals you have to pass. While trying to navigate the city’s 400 bridges and 150 rios (canals), you’re sure to feel like you’ve traveled back to the 1700s as you stumble upon old palace after old palace. The city is damp and cold, unlike most of Italy; also, prices in Venice are among the highest: literally everything is imported and don’t be surprised if you pay €9 for a soda at a café in Piazza San Marco. A great way to save money is to forego an €80 gondola ride; instead, take a traghetto (a retired gondola which requires passengers to stand rather than sit) across the Grand Canal for €0.25 (yes, less than a Euro). If you look carefully you’ll find cheap hotels or hostels, many of which were once home to royals; hotels cost considerably less on the mainland, near the train station, and on Venice’s smaller islands. Be sure to visit: Venice’s only piazza Piazza San Marco and its Basilica, the Rialto bridge, Doge’s Palace, and the Grand Canal. Modern art fans should check out the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, while opera lovers should pay a visit to the newly renovated La Fenice opera house. Sample fresh fish from the Adriatic and taste a bellini (white peach nectar and champagne) at its birthplace, Harry’s Bar. If time permits, visit some of Venice’s islands. See how blown  glass is made in Murano or how lace is made in Burano, where every house is mandated to be painted a different color.

Posted in Places to Go | Leave a comment