Italy | Staycation Abroad

By Andrea Arredondo

Florence is wonderful and the accommodations arranged could not have been any closer to the classroom we met in, but July is a hot time of the year in Florence. As a Southern California native, I also am not used to humidity, so when a heat wave struck, I needed to swim in some water.

Beach, river, inflatable pool—I didn’t care. It was so hot and humid that I decided I needed to find a way to cool down. Unfortunately, the room I was staying in had so much natural sunlight, that it was very challenging not to sweat just sitting inside. I usually loved the natural lighting, but one weekend, I decided to find a place to swim—a shower just wasn’t going to cut it with that heat. Can you guess where I went?

Unlike other rivers, the Arno is not the cleanest. So, I did not swim there. With no beach within walking distance, I also did not go to the beach. Desperate to swim, a few girls and I decided that our only solution was to stay in a hotel. Now it might sound funny. Paying to stay in a hotel when you had an apartment in the same city? While this certainly isn’t for everyone, I was lucky to find some like-minded people in my program.

In agreement that we would be renting a hotel, we got to work looking for a place to stay. But, trying to book anything at the last moment in Florence is a challenge, if not impossible. Everything is either booked solid, or very expensive. But we persevered and we eventually found a hotel with an incredible rooftop pool and air conditioning inside.

Within minutes, we booked a room for the weekend. Upon arrival, we immediately went to the roof. While I was sure the view was going to be nice, what I saw was beyond what I expected. We basically bad a 360-degree panoramic view of Florence. As soon as I saw the pool, my focus changed toward jumping in. But as the composed college student I am, I applied more sunscreen and let it set before gracefully sliding in.

Wow. That swim was incredible and very much worth the wait. In the words of one of the other girls, it was “everything I wanted and more.” Relaxed and cooled down, we eventually went to the room where a massive bed, blow dryers, and the balcony of dreams welcomed us.

Hungry, I ordered a pizza which arrived in minutes. (Don’t forget to read my blog to learn how to make pizza like an Italian!). With the sun setting, a delicious pizza, and book in hand, I was truly living my best life that day. Not only did I get to swim on a rooftop, but I ate some pizza and was able to relax in an air-conditioned room.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, some might think it is silly to stay in a hotel. But, if you should find yourself without air conditioner during a heat wave, I recommend you look for some other friends to see if any of them would be interested in stay at a hotel for a night. Trust me when I say it was worth every second.

Andrea Arredondo studied abroad in Florence in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/English-Florence/

Italy | How to Make a Pizza

By Andrea Arredondo

What is the first thing you think about when you hear the word Italy? For me, it’s pizza. Imperfectly circular, cheesy, and saucy, a simple pizza is one of my favorite things about Italy. Lucky for me, while I was abroad, I had the opportunity to learn how to make a classic Italian pizza. Now, the instructions I am about to explain won’t give you a multi-topping Domino’s style pizza. Italian pizzas are (usually) stripped to their fundamentals. Instead, I will be sharing a no thrills, tasty and Italian-approved recipe.

Before going further, let me explain how I even learned the recipe. This journey started out when one day I received an email announcement from Accent, the program in Florence that helped organize my study abroad outings. Sharing that they would be hosting a pizza making class during lunch, I decided to sign up.

As the date approached, I looked at the list of other students that signed up and didn’t recognize a single name. In fact, all the other students were from different universities. But, determined to enjoy a handmade pizza, I went anyways.

At a small pizza shop near Accent, fifteen college students turned toward our instructor, a brawny Italian man. Excited to have students from different countries, he quickly gave us an overview of the process and pilled pairs of students into the kitchen for more detailed guidance.

As I waited for my turn, I met tons of students from UC Santa Barbara. Bonding over our hunger, we talked about everything we wished we were eating. Croissants. Burgers. French fries. Salmon. But most of all, pizza. It was great having the opportunity to meet students from other schools that like me, loved being in Florence but felt misplaced at times. We bonded over all the times our phones died and we somehow made it back.

Eventually it was my turn to head to the kitchen and I couldn’t have been more excited. After pulling my hair out of my face and washing my hands, I waited for instructions. Handed a lump of dough, I was told to add a little flour and stretch it out. If you have ever stretched dough, then you know that it can quickly get messy. Add too much flour and it flies everywhere. Add not enough and your dough sticks to the table. Lucky for me, my instructor added more flour when he realized that I didn’t add enough. I didn’t use a rolling pin to stretch out the dough. Instead, I stretched it on the table and eventually did the cool thing where you spin it on your hand.

Dough stretched, I then added a light layer of sauce and swirled it around. One important detail to remember is not to add the sauce too close to the edge to make sure your crust is big enough. Then, I was handed some pepperoni and mozzarella cheese which, I liberally spread on my pie (remember, I’m an “extra cheese” kind of girl). It is worth noting that unlike I thought, pepperoni goes before the cheese.

Seconds later, my instructor came out with a giant shovel like contraption which we used to scoop up my pizza and slide into a fire over. Do you know long to bake a pizza? One minute and thirty seconds. That is how long it takes to bake a pizza in a fire oven. So, shortly after leaving my pizza in the over it came back out again.

Perfectly toasted, I let me pizza cool before slicing it up and taking a big bite. Without a doubt, this was my favorite lunch during the program.

Andrea Arredondo studied abroad in Florence in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/English-Florence/

Italy | Forkfuls of Florence

Okay, you can’t make a blog about Florence without at least one post dedicated to food. From pasta to gelato, Italians have perfected a variety of dishes. However, I also discovered some not-too-Italian dishes which were delicious while I was abroad. While some splurge on Italian shoes, I splurged on eating out. Eating is truly one of the greatest pleasures in life for me, but a lot of foods can be oversimplified to the point of boredom. Take a spaghetti for example. In theory, it is simple to make. You just boil some water, add the dried noodles, and pour store bought paste sauce over the noodles when they look ready. While there is nothing wrong with this, and at times it is all I can make at home, this pasta is in the words of one of my pickiest friends, “sad.” Funny as it may sound–and without judging anyone that prefers pasta this way–I had to agree with what she was saying. Fortunately for me, the foods I ate in Florence were anything but sad or boring.

In Italy, the pastas I ate were always divine. The tomato sauces had little chunks of tomato and seasoning mixed in. The noodles were never too soggy, but always perfectly al dente (this is when noodles are neither over nor under cooked). I am a “lots of cheese” kind of gal, so when I pile on parmesan in most pastas, it usually never melts completely. But the pastas I ate in Florence were always so hot when they were brought to me that the cheese melted as it touched the noodles.

Similarly, I noticed that food establishments in Italy took great care to make sure they were serving the food they envisioned. Even something as simple as an ice cream cone was carefully prepared. Whether it was ensuring the scoops were perfectly round or that they were centered right onto the cone, each gelato scooper prepared Instagram ready treats. One small detail that is more common in Europe, but does sometimes happen in the United States, is that there was a small, circular cookie or chocolate placed into the scoops. Aesthetic was it was, the little detail was also delicious.

Surprisingly, I event found airport food to be shockingly amazing in Italy. As I have written before, while I was in Italy, I became a mild coffee addict. So, before boarding my departing flight, I went to one of the coffee shops to ask for a “café cream.” Not expecting to experience a life changing moment, I immediately ordered another after sampling my first spoonful. For those of you who have yet to experience the magic that is the Italian “cafe cream,” think of a Starbucks Frappuccino but better. Creamier and consisting of a shot of espresso, this little desert is like the cookie butter of all butters… and it has since raised my standards so high for coffee.

I guess you could say that Italy changed my mind about a lot of foods. As someone who doesn’t like to eat meat more than once a week, I was worried that I wouldn’t have many options in Florence. Even worse, I wasn’t sure the meatless options would be any good. However, I soon found that salads were anything but disappointing. Instead, they were full of tasty flavors and vibrant colors. Have you had yams on salad? How about mozzarella cheese? Before Florence, I had never had either of those mixed into a salad, but since then, the topping that I usually put on salads has pleasantly increased.

I could keep sharing more about everything I ate abroad, but I think I’ll leave some things for you to discover yourself…

Andrea Arredondo studied abroad in Florence in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/English-Florence/

Italy | Art Scene in Florence

By Andrea Arredondo

Florence is known for collecting some of the world’s most famous sculptures, paintings, and taxidermized animals, but with so many museums available, where should you go in the limited time you have there? Well art lovers and curious travelers, read to find out what some of my highlights and underrated recommendations are…

The Uffizi Gallery is by and large, one of the most famous museums in Florence and this is definitely not one to miss. Home to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Rafaello’s Madonna del Cardellino, and Caravaggio’s Medusa, each wing displays work by a variety of paintings by a myriad of artists. The Uffizi is easy to navigate and is air conditioned, which is a bonus during the summer heat. Best of all, after you finish, it is surrounded by other museums like the Pitti Palace and Palatine Gallery. Be sure to look for Titian’s Venus of Urbino before leaving!

Likewise, the Galleria dell’Accademia is well known for its collection of Michelangelo’s sculptures. As such, crowds quickly form and you can easily wait over two hours in line if you come at the wrong time. In order to avoid waiting, it is possible to buy tickets in advance so that you can go inside at a specified time. While the David may be the star of the museum, I also advise you take some time to appreciate Michaelangelo’s non-finito works before to see what sculptures look like while they are in the works.

A less visited museum is the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. Not very crowded, this museum welcomes you in through the Salone del Paradiso. It then displays Michelangelo’s much written about Pietà. Finally, inside another room that can barely be spotted, there rests Donatello’s creepy yet cool Penitant Madonna, a carving made out of wood. This museum may not be as large as the others, but it is a great way to get a glimpse inside the Duomo without actually going inside of it.

Similarly, Porcelain Museum is a smaller but still interesting visit. Found inside the Boboli Gardens, entrance is free with your ticket into the gardens (and completely free for locals, I believe). The Porcelain Museum can be a little hard to find as it is located at the very top of the hill and up a small staircase, but the hunt is worth the views in the small flower garden right in front of the museum. In addition to an incredible view of the Tuscan hills, the porcelain dishes found inside are beautiful to look at.

Now, any fashion lover knows that Florence is the home of Gucci, but not everyone knows that there exists a Gucci museum! Gucci Garden Galleria aesthetically presents a history of Gucci through clothing and accessories. From vintage pieces to more contemporary designs, you can learn more about this fashion leader’s inspiration in each room. Gucci Garden also sells clothing and items in a gift store—though I should let you know that the cheapest item I could find was a €10 post card (yes, just one post card). Students can get in for free, but I would only recommend this museum to someone that is interested in fashion history.

There are so many museums in Florence that I did not get a chance to see them all. Of the ones I did visit, these were my favorites so I hope you love them too!

Andrea Arredondo studied abroad in Florence in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/English-Florence/

Italy | Under the Tuscan Sun

By Andrea Arredondo

If there is one thing that makes Florence unique, it is that the city is beautiful to walk though. Whether you are on one side of the Arno or the other, there is so much to see that you could easily spend a few hours taking in Florence. With little shops along the streets, one-of-a-kind museums, and restaurants that smell divine from outside—it is easy to find things to do even after you think you have seen it all. Trust me, when I say that there is always something new to do or see in Florence, there always is…

It was a Friday afternoon and I had just left my school bag in the apartment. I went outside only to embark upon the perfect afternoon walk! Image the most unreal, only happens in a movie type summer weather. Not too hot, a slight breeze, and low humidity. Aware that I had to be back in a few hours for dinner with a friend, I decided to wander Florence for around two hours.

Before going much farther, the first place I stopped at was a gelato shop near my apartment. Unlike most gelato shops, this one was special because it made freshly squeezed lemon-flavored treats every day. A lemon and gelato lover, this particular shop was my favorite in Florence.

Cone in hand, I then headed toward the Pitti Palace, where I finished my gelato and took part in some people watching. After, I headed down some smaller, ordinary streets. Intending to avoid the crowds along the river, I didn’t expect to find the art.

I have noticed a stigma against art painted on streets. Whether it’s street painting in America, or remaking signs as I saw in Florence, people love to judge street artists. Clet Abraham is a French artist who over the last few years have caught art-lover’s attention with his politically charged images. Painting over street signs, Abraham plays with lines, colors, and cultural references to make statements.

The further I walked down the tiny street (sorry guys, I didn’t take note of the street’s name), the more of the artist’s signs started to show up. Eventually, I realized why—there was a store which sold his work on that street. Impressed and amused, I went inside only to find stickers, bags, and posters of Abraham’s sign art.

Hoping to see a bit more of Florence, I eventually left and started to climb up a mountain. While it looked easy at first, the path quickly became very steep and I started to wonder, what if I just turn back now…? What at the top of this mountain can possibly be worth seeing? Half-determined to turn around, I then realized where I was heading: Piazzale Michelangelo.

Impressed that I had made it so far, I decided to finish the climb and see the view so many claimed to be the best in Florence. When I got to the top, I could see why others had fallen in love with the view—it was incredible. Arriving at sunset, the sun struck the Tuscan city with a soft glow that felt straight out of a movie (I know I keep saying that, but Florence really is so beautiful that it is the film site for many movies). Moments later, the sun sank further away and I realized it was time for me to head back.

Having an itinerary is great, but sometimes not having one can be super rewarding—especially in Florence! 

Andrea Arredondo studied abroad in Florence in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/English-Florence/

Italy | Solo Trip to Milan

One of the scariest things about going abroad is going abroad by yourself—especially if you are a woman. But sometimes, it is important to have that alone time. While I was in Italy, I felt inspired by the powerful women I was reading about in class. So, one weekend, I decided to travel to Milan—alone.  

Now, I have traveled alone before, but I had never been to Milan. Excited as I was, truth be told, I wasn’t sure what I had in store for me. Would I be able to navigate the public transportation? Would I get to see all the museums that I wanted to? Was the hostel I was staying at be in a safe area? There are so many questions that went through my mind, but I just had to keep reminding myself that I was going to be okay!

When I arrived in Milan, I was very happy to find out that my hostel was less than a five-minute walk from the train station. Even better, when I arrived, the hostel was still serving breakfast (my favorite meal of the day) and I was able to check in without a problem. Even though I may have been nervous at first, clearly my day was already brightening up.

After a light breakfast, I then decided to start exploring the city. Before I left, I made sure to pull up the directions for the Duomo and downloaded them onto my phone. Ready to explore a new city I made my way until I found the large church where I have seen so many people take pictures before. After taking my own picture, I went inside the church and took in its historic beauty. After looking around, I made my way back outside and joined a group of students climbing to the church’s roof. The climb to the top of the Duomo in Milan may not be as long as the one in Florence, but it’s still took some energy out of me. Regardless, I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little disappointed by what I saw: construction.

Beams and poles were everywhere. It was still possible to see the gothic architecture and a view of the city, but each time I looked back at the center of the roof, wooden panels covered up ongoing projects. I am had a great time in Milan, but it seemed like I just picked a busy time to visit. Similarly, when I went to visit Teatro alla Scala later that day, the theater was also covered in scaffolding. Frustrated by all of the construction happening, I reminded myself that it was for the maintenance of the decades-old infrastructure.

Following my morning visits, I took the rest of the trip relatively calm. I hadn’t planned much so I was able to really walk around and take in the city. I went to McDonalds where I ordered some sort of coffee espresso cream. Then, I went to the Starbucks Reserve where I had more coffee. As a recent coffee lover, I found the Starbucks Reserve to be everything I through it would be–the pastries were divine and the coffee smelled unreal.

My experience in Milan might not have been as picture perfect as I wish it had been, but in hindsight I realize that I had an amazing time anyway. I had been to some of the most famous buildings in all of Italy after all! So, if I can remind you of one little detail it’s that there’s no such thing as perfection. My trip to Milan was wonderful. I ate great food and I was able to appreciate incredible art pieces. Even though some of the other things I saw weren’t perfect, they were still breathtaking. Best of all, I was able to create an amazing weekend for myself, without running into any trouble. So, if you find yourself planning your first solo trip in a new city, I encourage you not to be so nervous that you talk yourself out of an incredible opportunity. Perhaps, there might be some bumps along the way, but hopefully there will be more successes as there were for me in the end.

*Although I did meet up with a few friends for lunch on Sunday, I consider this to be a solo trip as I arranged and fulfilled all of my transportation and site visits by myself.

Andrea Arredondo studied abroad in Florence in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/English-Florence/

Italy | Textbooks and Traveling: What It’s Like to Take Classes A Foreign Country

By Andrea Arredondo

Studying abroad may seem to be a bit counterintuitive. You are traveling to a foreign country and encouraged to see new places, yet you also have to take classes and are given assignments to complete. You are told that you should interact with locals and try to soak up as much of this culture and community you are experiencing, but that can seem challenging when you have to meet deadlines. It may seem like a lot, or impossible to try and strike a balance between the two, but keep reading to see what an average day abroad was like for me! 

7:00AM- Although I certainly did not need to wake up this early, my roommate and I regularly left the windows open overnight, forcing us to wake up earlier than either of us liked. After getting up, the weather was pretty cool so, I liked to do some of my readings. About an hour later, more girls would wake up in my hall and I would great ready for class. Depending on if I had groceries, I would either make something in one of the shared kitchens or buy breakfast at a local café.

10AM- In the morning we had a two-hour long lecture. Lectures were usually held inside the Accent Center, but at times we would visit museums or go on walks during these blocks of time. Professor Looby was really great at making lectures interactive. Often, he would ask us to read passages and state our thoughts. In class, we would expand our conversations by connecting the readings to famous paintings or statues. My favorite day in class was when we were talking about a song reference in one of our books and Professor Looby suddenly started to sing!

12PM- Lunch time! The nice thing about having such a long lunch was the ability to go across the Arno to try new places AND still make it back in time for class. Sometimes I even used this time to get ahead on work, visit a museum, or talk to family and friends back home.

2PM- After lunch we would have another two-hour lecture, discussion with our Teaching Assistant, or site visit. My favorite class trip was when we went to see the Pitti Palace. Here we were able to look at art which dated back centuries. There were also more modern exhibitions which showcased the influence of the late Renaissance period on modern fashion. 

4PM- Up to you dude! Once class was over, we were never forced to stay at the museums or churches afterward. After class, we were free to do as we liked. Of course, we could stay longer, but some days I went back to my apartment to do homework or else where to explored the city (read “Under the Tuscan Sun” to learn my favorite after class walk). Although class met every day, Professor Looby was very transparent about the work he wanted from us. As such, I was always able to plan my excursions accordingly.

The things that makes studying abroad manageable is that your professors know you want to spend time exploring the city where you are at. Of course, they will give you readings and papers, but it’s up to you to use your time efficiently. After all, studying abroad is more than just what you learn inside a classroom. 

Andrea Arredondo studied abroad in Florence in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/English-Florence/

Italy | Ciao Italia!

By Andrea Arredondo

After a beautiful month in Italy, at last my time to leave had come. Clothes washed and bags packed, I reflected on everything I had just experienced. Cheesy as it sounded, I was already feeling nostalgia and I had not even left my apartment. Florence is a magical city and I had just experienced the trip of a life time. On my last day in Florence I decided to do everything I had not yet done. I woke up at five in the morning and walked across town to the big outdoor leather market. The San Lorenzo market is one of the most famous leather shops in the worlds. Thousands stroll through it each and every day. That day, I decided to look around for the best deals and find the cutest bags. After looking at hundreds of designs, I eventually found a tiny little red bag that would complete my closet.

Following my success at San Lorenzo, I then went looking for breakfast. If I am being completely honest, before this trip I was never really into coffee, but for whatever reason while I was in Italy my taste for it flourished. I mean it started from a cup every now and then to what I believed was a daily essential. Thankfully coffee is easily available and pretty inexpensive in Florence, so, on my last day I enjoyed not one, but three cups of coffee (Hey! They are a lot smaller in Europe).

Coffee-fueled, I returned back to my apartment, grabbed my suitcase, and headed back to Santa Maria Train Station for the last time. Since I was flying out of Rome, I was once again traveling to the Roma Termini. After checking in at my Airbnb, I decided to similarly do one thing I had not gotten the chance to do on the trip yet: go to the beach.

As a Southern California native, the beach is my happy place. So, when I found out that there was a beach only a short train ride away, I had to go. When I got to the beach it was beautiful and sunny. The water looked clear and there were families everywhere. In true English major fashion, I found a comfortable chair, enjoy the breeze, and read from a book I had found in my bag. Pages turned into chapters and eventually I noticed that the sky was changing colors.  Blues turned to grey and clouds were rolling in. Seconds later, a storm unleashed itself.

Unprepared for the storm, I ran for the train station and returned back to my Airbnb, where I would change and prepare to go out in the storm toward the city center. When I made it back to the the Airbnb, it was as if Spring had come. The air smelled clean and roads were clear. Excited to make the most of my last night, I looked up the best gelato place and tried flavors I had never heard of. Then, I went to a pizza shop where I had potatoes on pizza! It might sound a bit strange, but I can honestly say I have never had anything more delicious.

After eating my last slice of pizza, I returned back to my Airbnb, only having missed the return of the storm by a faction of a minute. Lucky for me, after I went inside the rain immediately returned and quickly soothed me to sleep. The next morning, I woke up early and took a train to the international airport. I couldn’t believe I had just spent a month in Italy—it all went by so fast! 

Andrea Arredondo studied abroad in Florence in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/English-Florence/

Italy | Weekend Trip to Rome

By Andrea Arredondo

The first weekend of the program, Professor Looby organized a class trip to Rome. Although it might sound like a lot to take a group of 25 college students to a different city for a few days, the professor really did an outstanding job helping to create the mini-trip. It might not have been incredibly long, but the itinerary was full of things to do and places to see.

The first Friday of the program, we were instructed to meet at the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence around 7:30am to depart to Rome. As soon as we arrived in Rome, 25 college students looked around the Roma Termini train station. Early morning and bushy eyed, I was excited to see what this ancient city had in store. Would this city be anything like Florence?

Shades on and soaked in sunscreen, I hoisted my backpack over my shoulder and waited for the group’s tour guide to find us. Eventually we spotted her and she informed us that we would be taking a walking tour of the city. Walking out of the train station in Rome is a completely different experience than going through Union Station or Grand Central Station. Stores line the walls and people rush to their work, homes, or airport. Nonetheless, we eventually we made it out and started our walk.

Rome is very different from Florence. The streets are wider, there are more cars, and I could not shake the feeling that the air felt more hectic. There are street vendors everywhere and uniquely, there were Roman statues on top of pillars throughout the city. Along the way we stopped by a church and went inside. Churches in Italy are incredibly beautiful. They have ancient designs and paintings that can be traced back to centuries ago.

After our walk around the city, we decided to check into our hotel and leave our bags. After a few minutes of relaxation and freshening up, we all meet back in the lobby to go out for lunch. Lunch was a delicious three course meal with classic Italian dishes. After lunch we had free time to explore some more. I decided that I wanted to use this time to meet other students and see some ancient ruins.

Rome really has a lot to offer. Sometimes, you just need to be willing to walk… a lot. I realized this the moment when the class met up to walk to the Vatican. One hour of walking later, we arrived at the Vatican where I was happy to learn that we would not have to wait outside for hours. TIP: always make reservations when you’re crunched for time—especially for popular tourist sites. The Vatican was incredible and I was lucky to get to see the Sistine Chapel. After the four-hour long tour, I was happy to splurge on a taxi back—beware that Ubers are illegal in Rome.

While the trip was only two days, a few girls and myself decided to extend our trip by one more day. During that extra day in Rome, we mainly relaxed and ate at restaurants in the city. Of note, we were able to eat at Felice a Testaccio, the rumored birth place of cacio e pepe. Unfortunately, it rained for most of that extra day, but we had a great time anyway.

Would it rain the next time I returned to Rome? Read to find out!

Andrea Arredondo studied abroad in Florence in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/English-Florence/

Italy | A Visit to Venice

By Andrea Arredondo

During my time in Italy, I wanted to visit the city so many of my friends, family, and classmates had seen and fallen in love with. So one Sunday I decided that I would wake up early and see the city for a day. Unlike other Italian cities completely attached to land, Venice is composed of a small collection of islands that are connected by path or require the help of a gondola to reach. Small in size, these islands are rich in history and sites to see.

One of the first things I noticed on the train ride to the central station was an incredible oceanic view. Yet the serenity I felt on the ride to the island quickly vanished once the train pulled to a halt and thousands of passengers all of a sudden got off. I have been in crowded areas in Los Angeles, Paris, and Rome, but the amount of people that were standing, walking, eating, and posing for pictures outside the station was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Just barely over five foot, the five minutes that it took for me to leave the station area consisted of me pushing through crowds and trying not to fall.

Eventually I made it through the masses and found myself in a little piazza-like sitting area. Already sweating from the intense humidity, I decided to take a few minutes to drink some water, reapply sunscreen, and plan what I would do in the few hours I had there. As scheduled, I soon commenced my walk throughout the islands. Not even ten minutes into the walk, I noticed a small little store which would alter the course of the rest of my day.

The Merchant of Venice is a small perfume shop that will capture the hearts and noses of any perfume lover. In Venice for decades, the bottles that line the fragrance house bring to life different elements of Venice and the maritime trade routes that ran through Asia and Africa. Uniquely designed, the bottles give the store a Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory appeal. Being a perfume lover, the story quickly pulled me in.

Bottle after bottle, the Merchant of Venice was my version of an adult Toys”R”Us. Like a cloud of perfume, I floated around the room. Soaps carved into roses and flasks of concentrated flower oil, I didn’t want to leave the beautiful store. But at last, my stomach commanded my attention and I floated over to the gelato stand right in front.

I spent the remainder of the day walking around Venice. When roads are narrow, it can easily take some time to get anywhere. After my initial plan was cancelled, I realized that just walking throughout the city was an even better alternative. That way I was able to explore Piazza San Marco where I found Caffè Florian, the second oldest cafe in the world. In the same area, I was able to find a tour service that offered discounted gondola rides!

In a small touristy area, it is easy to get caught up in stores and tourist traps, but it definitely is possible to visit Venice without spending a ton of money. Prioritize what you want to see from what you need to see and start with those places. Most importantly, if you plan on going to Venice remember to be on the defense. Venice is wonderful, historic city to visit, but during peak tourist season there are so many strangers around you that you never want to let yourself be injured or taken advantage of. Enjoy your time, but remember that you are in a foreign country.

Where else did I go in Italy? Check out my other posts to find out!

Andrea Arredondo studied abroad in Florence in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/English-Florence/