"May you always find new roads to travel; new horizons to explore; new dreams to call your own."

Venice

Venice

Finally, it was time to leave Florence for the city of Verona. Verona? Sounds familiar, huh? Verona is the city where the story of Romeo and Juliet takes place. I love, love. So, I was pretty excited to visit Verona and "Juliet's house". By the way - there is no real truth to if this Giulietta Capuleti really had a star-crossed lover named Romeo. Also, Shakespeare never actually stepped foot inside of Italy - even though many of his stories were set there. 

Anyways, off to Verona.

I did not expect the sea of people we encountered in the city. The little area where Juliet's house is was also not as touching and romantic as I thought it would be. There was a little walkway with names written all over the walls, and then it opened up to a little stone courtyard area where a statue of Giulietta Capuleti stood. The statue stood below a balcony that was built because people kept visiting the house asking where the balcony from the story was. So the balcony that is there actually is not original to the house. That was kind of a bummer, but still cool that I got to see it.

The balcony is on the right.

Verona was filled with luxury shops - like most major Italian cities. It is always fun to look, but I was obviously not spending that kind of money. In the middle of the square there was a market. There were lots of little souvenir stands and MANY fruit stands. Frances (my roommate) and I ended up getting some gelato at a little spot before exploring a side alley. 

Verona was very pretty. The buildings and colors looked very Spanish.

Soon it was time to leave Verona. We had a date with a water taxi and gondola ride!

Once we arrived in Venice, we crossed the bridge and boarded the water taxis. Venice is literally all water! Venice is actually made up of islands. Very cool. There is only one island where there are cars - Lido. The part of Venice that we all see in the movies is the part where the grand canal and gondola rides are. It is so crazy seeing these large, beautifully crafted buildings "floating" on water. You can see how the water has discolored the buildings at the bottom. I like it though! The history!

There are a lot of artists selling beautiful paintings as soon as you get through the grand canal and are on land again. You see luxury shops again down the beautiful alleyways. We walked until we reached the gondolas, passing Ernest Hemingway's favorite bar - Harry's Bar. Did you know that the reason that all of the gondolas are black is to commemorate the victims of the plague in 1630?

We finally got into the gondola! I was very surprised at how comfortable they were! The seats were very cushioned. I was in a gondola with my travel family - Cory, Chris, Milton, Frances and Brittany. I would not have wanted it any other way!

It was so quiet, relaxing and peaceful.

Our gondolier was so cool. If the gondoliers need to turn they push off on a wall or whatever they can push off on to steer the gondola in the right direction.

At the end of the ride, Gianmarco was waiting for us. As Frances said, it was the first time that we were sad to see him! Seeing him meant that our time on the gondola was ending. That's okay though. 

Our evening ended with dinner at the hotel.

The next day we got up and headed to the island of Murano. Murano is know for its glass. Glass has been made on the island for more than 700 years. We got to see a glass-blowing demonstration at the Arti Veneziane alla Giudecca glass factory. This artist made a glass horse right before our eyes. It took him literally two or three minutes. It was insane. There were no photos allowed beyond that point, but the factory was FILLED with glass pieces. I really wanted these wine glasses, but they were almost $200 each. So... that was definitely a no! I did get myself, my mother and my friend some earrings though!

After leaving Murano, we went on a walking tour of Venice followed by a little tour inside of St. Mark's Basilica. There was gold everywhere! 

By this time, Frances and I were so ready for some gelato and food. We had gotten up late, so we did not have time for breakfast. We ate pizza and bruschetta. It was amazing. I got my last Italian gelato! I am going to miss that yummy goodness. I want to go back and visit more little hidden gems and try more gelato! As Gianmarco says, try a new flavor each time - well, three new flavors each time! 

Frances and I took photos on this bridge for a good 10 minutes. We were trying to get a shot without people in it lol. I really miss her. She is a friend for life now. 

It was time for us to get back on the water. This time we headed for the fisherman's island of Burano. Burano is known for its brightly colored houses. They really are so bright. I love it! Gianmarco told us that the houses are repainted once a year. I would love to go back and spend some more time there.

Burano, Italy

We came to Burano for a seafood dinner. I kept telling everyone the whole trip that this was going to be my birthday dinner! So, I was ready! While at dinner, they brought out a little cake with a sparkler in it. Everyone started singing happy birthday to me. This was the soul-touching moment that I had been hoping for my entire trip. I was overwhelmed with love and good energy. I just started to cry! It was an unforgettable moment with new, life-long friends that I will never forget.

View my birthday video here, courtesy of Cory: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B79eLA2NxkIwM0VNYXZTNm1sdk0/view
 

I am smiling too hard in that video. I look like a little kid lol. 

After a wine-tipsy ride back on the water taxi, we went back to the hotel for farewell drinks with our group! 

I cannot even express what an amazing, humbling experience this was. It opened many doors for me. I am no longer afraid to travel alone. Well, not as afraid. It also just feels so incredible to have had the honor of meeting and connecting with everyone on the trip. Strangers on day one, family on day 7. They are all so uniquely wonderful. I learned from each person I had a conversation with. Life is crazy, life has ups and downs. But life is beautiful. Never judge, never assume. You can have one deep conversation with a complete stranger, and then realize they are going through or have been through what you're going through. Then you will experience this connection, this feeling like...I'm not alone. It is amazing. 

Frances, Milton, Chris, Cory, Brittany and I pinky promised to go on another trip together. I hope we really do make it happen one day. Everyone on the trip - you all are wonderful, amazing people. I am so happy and so lucky to have met you.

Traveling does something to my soul that nothing else does. It opens my mind and my heart. Each time I travel - I discover something new about life and about myself.

I cannot wait for my next adventure. 

-Ellie

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Florence, Pisa & Tuscany

Florence, Pisa & Tuscany