Studying abroad in Florence this past winter enabled me to better appreciate Italian culture as I went on day trips to Lucca, Rome, Fiesole, and Venice, in that order. To be honest, Venice was quite the treat, as I've always wanted to visit the glorious canals and waterways that split the city into its 118 islands.
What was even better was the opportunity to take a quick train ride from Florence to Venice in just two hours where I was able to absorb the immensely beautiful landscape and farmland of Italy. It was a shame that I was only able to be there for three and a half hours, given that I arrived at roughly 2:45 PM and had to return to the station at 6:15 to catch the 6:30 train back to Florence. However, these three and a half hours were some of the best moments of my lifetime.
Upon first entering the city of Venice, I was gobsmacked by just how beautiful it is. Actually, let me take that back. To say that it is beautiful is an understatement; imagine taking the magic of the Sistine Chapel and multiplying it by 100 — that's Venice. The uncountable number of arched bridges, the Grand Canal, the vibrantly colored houses, and the lack of cars made the experience that much better.
As part of our HON 110 course, we were required to visit several "unsung treasures" in Italy, where we took a selfie in front of the attraction as proof that we were there, as well as eventually writing a paper on what its significance was and our reaction to visiting it. In Venice, despite the immensely short time that was given to us, we had three places to visit — the ghetto, the Rialto bridge, and St. Mark's Square.
After visiting the three treasures, I decided to get lost in Venice on purpose with one of my roommates. Now, if you know anything about Venice, it is extremely easy to get lost in the city; the city's 118 islands, narrow walkways, and canals make it a true labyrinth. One wrong turn and you could end up lost for hours before you find your way to your destination. Obviously, we could use Google Maps and location tracking to help us navigate the labyrinth, but we decided to impose a challenge on ourselves.
We will absolutely, positively, most definitely not use the blue dot that pinpoints our location while getting lost, meaning that we will better appreciate the scenery around us while trying to read signs and ask people for help if we get lost. We could even use an offline map to help guide us, as long as it did not have the blue dot.
At about 4:15 PM, we parted from the main group at St. Mark's Square when the sun was about to set and thought it would be a fantastic idea to simply roam around Venice and try to hurry back to the station once it became too dark. After following a few signs to the Rialto, we somehow made a wrong turn and ended up facing the Adriatic, with the giant piazza in the distance. We walked along the edge of the islands and crossed a few bridges as we got great sunset pictures and even greater gelato (I recommend the black cherry one, hands down!)
We realized we made a wrong turn somewhere at around 5:00 PM and frantically traced our steps back to where we made the wrong turn. We scurried around, looking for the signs that read "Ferrovia" (train station) and "Rialto." Once we found signs that led to the Rialto, we eventually figured out how to get there, and by 5:30 PM, crossed it to the other side of the Grand Canal. This was not an area that we explored to get from the train station to St. Mark's Square, so this was completely new for us.
We still had about 45 minutes left before we had to be present at the train station, and we were so close to using the blue dot. However, my offline maps helped us navigate up to a cathedral, at which point we were completely lost and had no idea as to where to proceed. A friendly local pointed us in the right direction and even walked with us part of the way to help make sure that we knew where we were going.
We eventually found the signs that said "Ferrovia" and found another bridge crossing the Grand Canal that was extremely close to the station but had to navigate countless dead ends and false turns. Once we got back to the station on time, we proudly proclaimed that we didn't use the blue dot, to everyone's surprise.
More than just completing the challenge we set upon ourselves, we also found places of Venice that we wouldn't have stumbled into if it weren't for that accidental wrong turn. This encouraged me to not rely on precise location tracking and to trust my gut and the locals around me. I got to see Venice in a new light and better understand just what about it gave it its charm and eternal beauty.