My Personal Public Library

I have been thinking a lot about libraries recently. This should surprise no one.

In my research, I have been rustling through pages on early monastic libraries, how they were constructed, what they held, and how they were used. I recently read about “The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu” who built libraries in Mali for the thousands of ancient manuscripts hidden for centuries in people’s homes. (These badass librarians then proceeded to save all of these manuscripts from the terrorist threat. Read the book. It’s great.) I took a tour of the National Library of Scotland and the Royal College of Physicians Library. Also, I tend to spend a fair amount of time in my own university library, which houses a collection that is down right amazing.

The Book History kids took a casual field trip to a casual library full with many, many unimportant books. I joke. I may have actually swooned during our tour of the Royal College of Physicians Library.

The Book History kids took a casual field trip to a casual library of the Royal College of Physicians filled with many, many unimportant books. I joke. I may have actually swooned.

With these recent experiences stewing in my brain, a status popped up on Facebook from a neighbor of mine asking for book recommendations. I, of course, gave her a lengthy list and as an afterthought added that she could just borrow them from my own personal library if she wished. I use the term library loosely. Mostly, the collection is just all of the books housed in my (unoccupied) attic room located conveniently across the street from her. As I am currently in Scotland, I’m not using any of them at the moment. They’re just sitting in my room like the wives of nineteenth century sailors, waiting for the day I come back to dust their spines.

My books.

I am the ship. My books are that sad lady.

My neighbor (who is actually Scottish, as serendipitous fate would have it) said that she would gladly take me up on this offer. At this point, the conversation thread between the two of us had gotten quite long and Zuckerberg’s algorithms kicked in, broadcasting our lengthy conversation to the feeds of all of our mutual friends and acquaintances (on Facebook). So my other neighbor on the hill saw my book-borrowing offer to the neighbor across the street and chimed in: she would also like to take me up on that offer. And then my mother saw the comments and vowed that she would also borrow books, though she really doesn’t need permission to do so, nor was it necessary for her to post this publicly.

Thus my personal library suddenly became a public entity and the idea of creating a neighborhood library pushed itself forward in my thoughts. I was excited about it. This library could be inclusive and exclusive at the same time, breeding that romantic sense of community, even if my “neighbors” are seven miles away. It would not only brings people together physically, but also over the shared experience of reading the same book. In today’s political climate, it could be nice to come together over some thing as simple as a novel instead of dividing ourselves along party lines.

It is not that my town lacks a public library; it has a nice collection in a brick building behind Main Street. However, the curation is less personal. It is dictated by what a library should have according to literary conventions and popular fads. My library is curated by me. The books I own are based entirely on what I have come across in my life, the various phases I have gone through and the collections I have grown.

For example, these are the books I have bought thus far in Scotland. I know I've only been here for a couple of weeks. I know it's a lot of books.

These are the books I have bought thus far in Scotland. I know I’ve only been here for a couple of weeks. I know it’s a lot of books. I have acquired three more since this photo was taken last week.

For instance, I own many, many Nancy Drew books. I collect old ones from the 1920s and still have the shiny yellow hardbacks I read when I was 10. I have almost a complete collection of Meg Cabot from when I moved past Nancy Drew, as well as Dan Brown, Harlen Coben, and whatever other fad author I could not stop reading. I have the books I hold precious and will read over and over until their spines break (The Historian, Persuasion, Arcadia) as well as old books whose spines were already broken by previous owners. I’ve got nonfiction books on weird science (Mary Roach), serial killers (David Buss), the Plantagenets (Dan Jones), and television networks (Bill Carter).

The Strand understands.

My shelves are also alphabetized, categorized, and labeled. They’re organized, but it’s a system based on the books I have acquired. In this way, a person browsing the shelves can get a sense of who I am. The largest bookcase is for fiction, which is getting full and contains books in French and Norwegian. I have a nonfiction bookcase currently bursting at the seams. Additionally there is shelf for Arthurian Legends and Medieval Romances, Shakespeare’s plays and criticisms, graphic novels and general drama. Another bookcase exclusively holds “classics,” while the shelf above my dresser is for poetry and short fiction collections. The books that lay above my head while I sleep are the ones I have yet to read, and the ones on the shelf above are just nondescript old books, to comfort me. This, so far, is what I’ve got.

Apologies for the horrible Instagram. I have apparently only ever taken one photo of a portion of my shelves and this is it. Once again. I'm sorry for assaulting your eyes.

Pictured above is not all that I’ve got. Also, apologies for the horrible Instagram. I have apparently only ever taken one photo of any of my shelves and this is it. I’m sorry for assaulting your eyes.

In order to turn my attic into a proper neighborhood library, I’m going to need to inventory and catalog, a project I intend to take up over Christmas break when I’m actually home. Not only will this provide an overview of what I have actually bought over the course of my life, but it will be a bibliographical exercise consistent with my coursework. It’s so nice when the skills you’re learning at school are actually useful.

A system of borrowing could take place through a shared document hosted on the internet. Even from Scotland I could check on who borrowed what. And if someone doesn’t give the book back, I can go find it; after all, I know where all of my neighbors live. (Note: Yes, that is a threat. Please give my books back. I will hunt you down.) The prospect of losing my books scares me (see note), but at the same time I rather the books have a life outside of my shelves giving other people joy. Books are meant to be read. That’s how they get their magic.

So, people of County Highway 14: are you interested?

The Clarification Properties of Icelandic Air

In the beginning of July 2015, I started a fancy new job in the marketing department of a renowned financial firm in suburban Maryland, right outside of Washington, DC. It was damn cushy. I got a raise, an eight-hour work day, and my very own cubicle.

It was around that same time I started googling flights to Iceland.

A few weeks before, I had traveled for 10 days around the Czech Republic and Germany with some friends. I had two layovers on the way there and one on the way back. As far as layovers go, none of them qualified as “soul-wrenching” or even “bad.” My first landed me at the Oslo International Airport.

(Brief aside: If you have not been to Oslo, I highly recommend it generally as a place to visit, but if you have choice of layover destination, always choose the Oslo airport. This airport is actually airy. It is made up of light, natural wood, artificial sunlight, and happy blonde people. Even customs and security is pleasant, and I do NOT say that lightly. As a person who semi-regularly flies out of Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia, maneuvering through OSL is like being in a jetlag-induced dream state where everything costs just a little bit too much. In fact, I could write a whole essay on the beauty and wonder that is OSL, but I will refrain for the time being. #notmythesis)

After OSL, it was a hop and a skip over to Stockholm – no jump required, as I believe the flight was around 45 minutes – then finally, it was onto Prague.

Praha is a gorgeous city. We were staying in the less gorgeous, more residential area, which turned out to be incredible anyway. Great hostel stocked with great people and we went to a weird, many-storied club.

Praha. City of Pretty.

Praha. City of Pretty.

Then it was onto Nuremberg, a city steeped with history, both ancient and recent. Plus, I got to see an old friend, two additional German cities, and CASTLES.

I repeat: CASTLES.

I repeat: CASTLES.

I left Nuremberg for Berlin, a short, unaccompanied trip during which I saw the Queen of England (and Prince Philip), reunited with my country-hopping friend (Hi Colin!), met Nefertiti (or at least her head), was frequently mistaken as German (I’m blonde…), and generally decided I loved Berlin.

It's hard to capture Berlin in one photo. It's a big city.

My flight back to the states was decidedly the worst transatlantic experience I have ever had. (Do not take WOW Air across a major ocean. It is not pleasant for your body or mind.) However, this back-straining, soulless flight was briefly and gloriously interrupted by a layover in Reykjavik, Iceland. Since my flight was cheap AF, we de-planed on the tarmac and I was greeted by this dazzling blast of fresh air.

Views from the uncomfortable purple metal contraption.

Icelandic views from the uncomfortable purple metal contraption.

The air was cool and sweet and tinged with a the scent of water and mountains and was exactly what I imagined air in Iceland to be. As I walked towards the airport, I marveled at it and, like the famed coke addicts of my profession, could not stop sniffing. I sat inside the terminal looking out the windows, gazing at the mountains in the distance, in disbelief that I had just signed a contract for my new job back in the States and wishing I could just stay in Iceland. At one point, I actually said out loud (to myself) “Oh, I’ll just stay here” and almost left the airport to find a place to stay.

So I started searching “major sectors in iceland” and “financial jobs reykjavik” on my phone as I sat there. The wifi was iffy and I did not get very far before I had to get back on the uncomfortable winged death machine.

Back outside, I caught a last few breaths of Icelandic air before my lungs were to be subjected to the recycled oxygen of the mouth breathers on the plane. Soon enough we were back off into the skies, a mercifully short flight across the northern Atlantic punctuated by moments of desperate boredom and cramped legs.

We landed and I was back in Maryland. I started my job the following Tuesday. Exactly one year later, I quit. Two months after that I found myself on another flight, but my bags were heavier this time: Edinburgh for a year, a masters degree.

Hello, Scotland.

Hello, Scotland.

The new job in DC ended up being exactly what I was looking for, except I had no clue what I wanted at that time. My only point of reference was that blast of air I got on the tarmac of KEF. Maybe I didn’t want to live and work in Iceland specifically (major sector: fishing), but I wanted that fresh air – bear with me – metaphorically. So I spent a year with my friends and family, working, and figuring out myself and my goals. I needed that job for money, direction, and for stability. Through it, maybe in spite of it, I established what I wanted. Four graduate school applications later, I had it.

I do not know what I want to do with my life next. PhD? Teach? Librarian? Historian? Bartender? But I’m going to do whatever feels like taking that breath of Icelandic air.

Beginnings in Edinburgh

This is not the way that travel blogs are supposed to begin. I am supposed to land at the airport, and immediately begin taking notes upon the surrounds, the people, the cultural intersections, and my new sense of wonder. (Note: a lot golf clubs on the baggage carousel.) However, this travel blog starts at Week 4(ish) in my new home of Edinburgh, Scotland.

I remember the flight. The (stressful and sad) boarding in Newark, the tiny movies, and the subsequent deplaning in a whole new country. Usually, my traveling involves positive anxiety: slight nausea, but mostly extremely excited. This time, I was just straight terrified. This was not a two-week trip with my best friend drinking wine around Tuscany and disregarding work emails; this was my new life as a graduate student in a foreign country. And I was alone.

Both of my best friends were busy the night I left with their respective significant others that share a name. In typical fashion, I had arrived way too early for my flight and thus spent the two hours prior to boarding reading and freaking out. Much to their dates’ dismay, my two friends received a multitude of texts from me, each message building upon the next in both stress level and letter capitalization until the texts were just all-caps fact about the Magna Carta. (My book was called The Magna Carta, by Dan Jones. Highly recommended for stress reading.) Then the texts were no more. I was in the air, leaving my friends, family, dogs, and US dollars behind.

And now here we are. Four weeks later and I have survived (thus far). I am not alone – surprise surprise – as there are other students pursuing a masters at my university! In fact, there are many of them just in my area of Literature, Languages, and Cultures (LLC, for short,) and so far, they are all nice. My dorm is not scary, though it is small, and I even have my own, smaller bathroom. I have made friends with whom I communicate with fairly regularly and I joined the gym. There are actually other people in my programme (I feared I would be the only one), though only nine, and they are also nice! Basically, Edinburgh is not scary at all. It is beautiful and old and walkable and, yes, slightly chilly.

Sitting now in my nice cushioned chair in Pret A Manger, looking out the window onto North Bridge, ogling cute men in suits, I can genuinely say I’m happy (and not just because of the suits). I quit my nonsensical job, spent a fantastic summer with my friends, family, and dogs, and now I’m studying books. BOOKS.

A person once described my degree to me as “that freaking Harry Potter programme.” Though I believe the comment was originally intended as a slight against the practicality of an MSc in Book History and Material Culture, he could not have used a more accurate or flattering cultural reference. Edinburgh is Hogwarts and books are magic. I even bought a robe. (It’s pink and fuzzy and cozy.)

I’m still terrified, of course. I’m terrified of not getting my reading done, not doing assignments correctly, not coming up with a dissertation topic, writing my dissertation, failing my classes, not graduating, my computer exploding, Donald Trump becoming president and never being able to come home, running out of milk for tea, running out of money, fires, fire doors, and getting hit by a bus while jaywalking. There is more, but these are just the fears that came to me in the last 30 seconds. Right now, with my books and my tea and a whole buttload of coursework, I say I am content with my life. All I need now is some tartan for it to really be complete.

From the Archives: Florence

Florence (Firenze) was immediately different from Venice. KSue and I exited the train station and were met by traffic rather than water. (Cobblestones however, became a fixture of our European journey and were a pain in our rolly-suitcases ass in every city. Next time, I’m backpacking.) Florentine air was also much warmer than Venetian. It may not have been sunny, but it was in the upper 50s as opposed to low 60s and I was very happy. I had directions to our hostel and so we walked in hopefully that direction. We weren’t really that tired, like we had been when we got to Venice or Salzburg, as the train from Venice to Florence had only taken two hours. Italy, I’ve decided, is similar in size to New Jersey.

The hostel was surprisingly easy to find with our HostelWorld directions and we were led up a narrow cobble-stoned (grrr) street lined with Vespas, scooters, and motorbikes. Looking back on our journey so far, KSue and I decided this hostel was the best overall place we have stayed. The rooms were spacious and clean; the bathroom was inside the room and not disgusting. The lockers were super-sized and a big breakfast in a cafeteria-like space was included. Plus, it was on the cheaper side. Win-win-win-win-win.

After we got settled and deposited our growing bulges of suitcases into the nice-sized lockers, we went out to explore a bit. First Florentine experience: street markets. Vendors take over a couple of blocks around the touristy areas, such as near our hostel, and set up shop hocking mostly leather-based items. I bought a purse (surprise surprise). The first day we walked through these suffocating, yet colourful sellers I was wearing my leather jacket. I was amused as the vendors tried to sell their items to me: “Beautiful lady would you like a leath- another leather jacket to go with the one you’re wearing? What about a purse? More leather!” Their prices weren’t bad. If I had more room, I probably would have bought more than a purse. But alas, that barely fit in my suitcase.

The street markets led to a plaza filled with international students on school trips taking advantage of the “warm” weather: wearing shorts and eating gelato. I joined them on the gelato front. The focal point of the plaza was the Duomo, a giant colourful cathedral, which KSue describes as a beautiful paper cut out. Of course, it is not made of paper, but different kinds of stone placed in geometric patterns to give the cathedral its unique look.

Pretty.

Pretty.

It is really beautiful, even against a grey sky. And massive. Luckily, it was also free, so KSue and I got to go inside to take a look at the art it contains.

Quick history lesson for those who don’t know/were unaware as I was: Florence was the centre of creation during the Renaissance period. It was here the Medici family threw money at the arts, commissioning some of the most famous artists of the time that we still talk about today. Of course, KSue can tell you more about this. As can John Green on Crash Course, though he gives a different view of the Renaissance.

So Florence is practically bursting with art: paintings, sculptures and the like, all (or most) from the Renaissance period. And what did they paint during the Renaissance? Mostly Jesus. Baby Jesus with Mary, full-grown Jesus performing miracles, and finally Jesus on the cross, but never Jesus in adolescence. I guess most artists didn’t find those awkward teenage years particularly attractive. Other than Jesus, portrayals of saints and scenes from the bible are also popular. One sculpture in particular drew our attention, you may have heard of it, it’s called The David and it’s by Michelangelo.

However, we passed the (long) line and decided that we’d get up early to see it the next day. We went back to our hostel and got ready to go out. There was at least one Irish pub in this town and we were going to find it.

We walked for a while, but we finally found it. And inside it? Americans. In fact, the ceiling of the pub was decorated with U.S. college and university t-shirts. (I didn’t see an AU one, but definitely GW and Georgetown.) As the night grew on, the Lion’s Fountain pub grew more and more crowded with…drum roll, please, biddies and bros. Should I have been surprised? Probably not, as the t-shirts should have given it away, but I was anyway. I was also a fair amount of grossed out. The level of trashiness was astounding by both females and males; they did not know how to dress for a pub. KSue and looked down at our outfits: jeans and a semi-nice shirt for both of us, boots for me and Converse for her. We weren’t going to get any male attention tonight with the sheer number of girls and corresponding cleavages. But we had enjoyed ourselves anyway, making fun of trashy outfits and too-high heels, drinking our pints.

The next day was The David and it was raining. We waited in line for probably an hour in the rain, but the three American girls standing in front of us entertained us. They could have been at the Lion’s Fountain the night before. All-in-all they were not that bad, but the real clincher came with this line, said in the strongest nasal valley-girl voice one can conjure:

“What’s, like, that big, like architectural–thingy in Paris called again? Oh yeah, it’s like the Arc De Triomphe or something, right?”

I think KSue and I may have laughed out right at that point. Then they started hating on London, which KSue and I vehemently defended…to ourselves. No one gets to hate on our adopted city.

But finally, we made it inside the museum. We politely looked at the other pieces of art the building held (I’m sure they’re all very beautiful and important, but after a while, Renaissance art starts to blend together), but really bee-lined for David. A nice treat was the hall leading up the masterpiece was lined with unfinished Michelangelo sculptures, originally for Pope Julius II’s tomb. (Michelangelo was interrupted by the Pope himself to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.) But finally, there was David, all 17 feet of him. Seriously, he is that tall. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but I can clearly remember just how glorious it was.

Also the Arno, the fabulous river that runs through Florence, (every major city needs a good river) could stand alone as a piece of art itself.

arno

Packing for a Year: Suitcases

I will be leaving the United States in September for a year, traveling to Edinburgh to pursue an MSc in Book History and Material Culture. And while I am super excited about doing all of that, I am truly freaking out about packing. Recently, as in for hours this morning, I have been googling “Scotland packing lists” or “scotland average weather” or “rei + boots” or “year-long packing list”. Don’t worry. I’m only semi-obsessed with packing lists and suitcase volumes and now versed in Osprey’s product list.

I’m sure that my packing-obsessed self will turn what should be one post about suitcases into a week-long deep dive into fabric density and airplane weight restrictions, but I’ve got to start somewhere. You, reader, are under no obligation to keep reading. Thus we begin.

Issue #1: Suitcases.

How many suitcases do you bring if you are packing for a year? One? Two? Six? When I traveled to London for six months, I brought one large suitcase and one carry-on. In addition, my parent shipped me a medium-sized box of clothes. I then found Primark and all of my prayers were answered for anything I was missing (or just wanted). This time, however, I am on my own dime and would like Primark (or any clothing store) to be a last resort. I no longer have a job and would rather my savings are not spent completely on clothing. Unless it’s Burberry. Burberry always trumps rationality.

This leads me back to the suitcase question. I have already decided that the suitcase I brought to London is inadequate and should be at least supplemented, if not replaced outright, by one lighter and more durable. So for this trip I will either bring one extra-large suitcase or two medium-sized checked bags (and a large carry-on), but I will bring no more than two checked bags.

Osprey is my brand of choice for a new suitcase, followed closely by Patagonia. Other contenders included North Face and Eagle Creek, but were removed from the running based on durability, style, and their warranties.

Of these three options, the Patagonia is the most expensive, but in the same range, both price-wise and size-wise as option 1, the Osprey 130L Shuttle. Thus price becomes much less of an object and deciding factor. However, based on reviews I have read, the wheels tend to go a bit wonky and either break or bend and the fabric has ripped. No bueno. Plus, the duffel straps seem to be superfluous with a bag this large and I see them getting in the way. Other reviewers, both on Patagonia, Amazon, and REI, swear by this bag – which is a good thing to keep in mind – but it is option #3 for a reason. Additional pros: weather-resistant, additional low-profile pockets both inside and out, light (8 lbs 10 oz), Patagonia will repair bag for a “reasonable fee”.

Additional pro: it looks cool.

Additional pro: it looks cool.

Options #1 and #2 are essentially the same bag, but in different sizes. So, if I were to bring just one suitcase with me, it would be the 130L. If I were to bring two, I would purchase the 100L, or perhaps something smaller, and pair it with my inadequate suitcase from the London trip. I like the Ospreys a lot. They have many optional pockets, which is perfect for an organizational freak like me. There are compression straps for when the bag isn’t completely full, or, more likely, it’s too full. Padded and low profile handles make the bag easy to haul, and there are no complaints of the wheels breaking. I do not believe this bag is weather resistant, but with checked baggage, that is small concern. Additional pros: light and Osprey will fix the bag for free.

Papa and baby.

Papa and baby.

One major issue for the Osprey could be the size. A reviewer posted that this bag is over the legal size for checked luggage, to which I say “phooey” to the TSA and airlines that impose that regulation.  Another reviewer contested this and said it’s just fine. Bag size and weight is potential issue with anything I’m taking and I will most likely have to pay up for it, Osprey or not. (Helpful: TSA Luggage Regulations. Phooey.)

Screw you, luggage regulations.

Screw you, luggage regulations.

Right now, I am leaning towards the Osprey and will pay a visit REI to make the final decision. I always like checking it out in person before I purchase. Who knows, I may come home with two!

*Handel's "Messiah" plays in the background*

*Handel’s “Messiah” plays in the background*

The carry-on luggage is relatively easier to plan. I will bring my trusty 40L Gregory Mountain pack, which conveniently fits a ton of stuff, has handy pockets, and is carry-on size, as well as a “personal item.” The personal item is TBD. It will most likely be a large tote purse (too many to choose from), my North Face backpack, or my Fjallraven backpack. That will come down to what additional purses and bags I decide to bring with me. So many purses, so little space. Just wait for the shoes post.

So, 800 words on suitcases. I could have done better, but I also could have done worse.

Scotland Prep

This blog has mainly been inactive since my last major excursion off the North American continent two (three?) years ago when I studied abroad in England my junior year of college and went on a subsequent four-week trip around Europe.

However, as I will be returning to the UK for a year in September – this time graduate school in Scotland  (WOO HOO) – I thought it would be fitting if to start writing again as a way to keep track of my thoughts and keep people up to date. Feel free to opt out at anytime from my ramblings, I wish I could at some times.

As I logged back in to the WordPress Dashboard, I found unpublished and unfinished articles from the past. Venice, you see, was not the last stop on our galavant around Europe. KSue and I also visited Florence, Rome, Istanbul, Greece (Athens and Naxos), and Amsterdam. There are some draft articles for these cities and I will publish what I have, but I will not write new pieces. As these trips were so long ago, I do not want write based solely on  memory; memories are unreliable and miss the meaty details which truly make a trip. Perhaps I’ll post photos from these trips instead. Look forward – if you want to, no pressure – to these articles being published soon.

Sneak peek from the Greece trip.

Sneak peek from the Greece trip.

In the interim between Venice and present day, I have returned back to the United States, graduated college, become employed, and gone on more trips around the world, albeit for shorter periods of time. In addition to all of the places mentioned here, I have also visited Oslo, Prague, Berlin, Nuremberg, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Siena (as well as various places in Tuscany), and Luxembourg. I have returned to Paris and Florence to find them just as wonderful (if not more so) the second time and had layovers in Reykjavik, Frankfurt, and Stockholm (places I vow to return to as well).

I'm a big kid now.

I’m a big kid now.

Next adventure: Edinburgh. In addition to pursuing my master’s degree in Book History and Material Culture (so excited, and more on that later), I will also be pursing flights to the Faroe Islands, London, Croatia, Copenhagen, maybe Albania, the South of France, and various places around Scotland.

What to expect from future posts: a lot of talk about packing lists, reading lists, general lists of anxieties, and the probability the pound will stay at $1.32.

Let’s freak out together.

Ah, Venice

I know, second post titled by an Indiana Jones quote, but what’s a girl to do? NOT quote Indiana Jones? I don’t think so.

Either way, KSue and I left Austria at around 1 am on the 2nd of April and arrived in Venice later that same morning thanks to our overnight train. I, once again, had the pleasure of staying on the top bunk, which wasn’t pleasurable at all. I had this romantic notion (most likely inspiring by Anastasia) of travelling across the world on a train, where you fall asleep in your personal car to the rhythm of engine chug-chugging along. Instead, I found myself cramped and in the dark, praying to the universe that I don’t fall off the slim top bunk seemingly designed for a person with half my body mass. We did make a friend in our four person compartment from New Zealand. (The second Kiwi of many to come on the trip. The first was our bartender in Salzburg, Tony.) I’m sure we would have also made friends with our fourth companion had she spoken English or had we spoken Italian. I quickly learned that I cannot speak any Italian. At all. I can’t even pretend to pronounce things like I did in France, Spain and Austria. It’s a serious issue as we were to be in Italy for 10 days.

The first thing we notice about Venice when we arrive is the water. It’s amazingly blue, it’s everywhere and it takes the place of asphalt. There are no cars, only boats (GONDOLAS). This is cool and novel to us until we have to navigate to our hostel. Venice is extremely complicated to navigate due to the fact that its main road is not actually a road, but a large canal, and certain paved routes are actually just small alleyways. You can get lost by just standing in the same place for too long. I know this. It happened.

Seriously. All of the lost.

Seriously. All of the lost.

Third issue: bridges and their stairs. I love bridges. They’re romantic and tragic and all sorts of symbolic, but when you are carrying heavy rolling suitcases, they become less poetic and more of a pain. I lost count of the number of bridges, big and small, of which we had to drag our suitcases up the stairs. You can’t walk across the water, so you must walk over the bridges. Finally, we made it to our hostel located, appropriately, right on a canal. We checked in, waited for the cleaning people to leave, and crashed in our own little bungalow. (It was a four person room, but we were the only two in there for now.) We even had our own bathroom! Glorious.

We weren’t in Venice very long (one full day, not including the first one), as we were warned by Doug and Rob that there wasn’t much to do or see. Either way, we got cracking on being tourist. This included shopping, a lot of shopping, getting lost very easily, turning corners to discover grand buildings containing columns, and generally admiring this sinking city.

IMG_8432

Each building is colorful and falling apart. I was surprised at the overall deterioration of the city, and yet it was nonetheless beautiful for it. The city is cramped and perhaps claustrophobic, with paved walkways and alleys like capillaries flowing between buildings that lean in over you, creating an atmosphere of pointless escape until you burst out either into a deserted square or blue canal. You still don’t know where you are, how you got there, or how to get back, but for the moment you allow yourself to be haunted by the ghosts emanating from the faded buildings of a city once resplendent.

Photo Credit: KSue

Photo Credit: KSue

Masks and glass are big cultural items in Venice, and every other shop sells them. Venice also marks the appearance of what Doug and Rob call “gypsies” and I call “bothersome people who try to sell us pointless things.” Generally in Italy, there is more of a street culture. (I attribute this to it being warmer in Italy than in England.) Shops, restaurants and cafes spill onto the street, while paved squares are abound and street markets can be found on every avenue. In Venice, a little city that is almost completely reliant on tourism, everyone is trying to sell you something. We mainly bought gelato.

IMG_8488We mainly just walked around Venice, stopping in stores and museums along the way and checking out famous places that occasionally flood. I, of course, had to find the library featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I was successful.

"It looks like a converted church!" -Marcus Brody

“It looks like a converted church!” -Marcus Brody

Beautiful as Venice is in the daytime, at night it can get a bit freaky. Walking home from dinner was a challenge. We were far away, there were no street lights, and one wrong turn can seriously diminish your sense of personal safety. For instance, getting home required us to go down a small road, that would eventually lead out on to the grand canal. This small road turned out to be a narrow alleyway. 200 feet down the alleyway, KSue and I decided our chances of getting kidnapped by the mob were too high to go any further, and taking the long route was best.

The next morning, we met our roommates, two Mexican guys travelling Italy. We had very brief interactions before we headed off again to explore. Luckily it was sunny! Our second day in Venice was our first warm day since traveling to Spain in February. So of course we got more gelato.

We also managed to find the Venetian Courts. We basically walked right in, as they had no security, and through to their personal dock on the Grand Canal. I’m pretty sure we weren’t allowed out there, but no one told us to leave, so we sat there for an hour with our feet dangling above the water waving at the tourists in gondolas and vaporettos as they went by.

The keys were in the boat next to us. We thought about it...

The keys were in the boat next to us. We thought about it…

The day was so beautiful, we decided to go down to Piazza San Marco and walk along the coast for a bit. We sat there and people-watched for a significant part of the day. People-watching was quickly turning into one of our favorite activities. Whenever we sat down, we tried to pick out which country people were from, as we could usually tell by their clothing and style. If they got in earshot we could try to pick out a language. Americans stick out like a sore thumb and not for any bad reasons, we could just always tell. They just emanate patriotism, I guess.

We decided to take the public transport back.

The metro stop.

The metro stop.

It was boats.

Yay boats!

So pensive.

That night, we stopped at an Irish pub located conveniently near our hostel and made some more friends, though not like the friends in Salzburg. Two countries, two Irish Pubs. Another meaning of two for two.

We left the next day for Florence at 12 by train, but not before registering for classes back at AU and killing time by sitting on the steps into the canal singing (and harmonizing to) any song that popped into our heads. (We did this for at least an hour much to the amusement of the water-taxi drivers near us.) And finally it was time to leave.

We were only in Venice for maybe two days total, but I really loved the city because of its unique atmosphere. It was a bittersweet mix between grand, modern, and tattered. It has a particular feel to it that is distinctly Italian, and yet completely its own. It is bright, it is colorful, and you will never get tired of finding a hidden canal that leads to a grand, marble building that was once of great importance.