Gondolas Galore

*Note: I know CR has ended, but I still have a few blog posts from the end of the CR that I never got to finish and upload. I don’t want to toss them out, so I’m going to go ahead and post them anyway.*

My new favorite mode of transportation is by gondola.

On our free day in Florence, we were allowed to choose to travel to either San Gimignano or to Venice for the day. At first I struggled to make a decision, but then I remembered that since I was a little girl, I have dreamed of going to the city with rivers for roads. My younger self thought that gondolas floating down the waterways, endless bridges and nothing but sidewalk to walk on was the coolest thing ever. I decided to make my childhood dreams come true – I bought a train ticket to Venice.

Going to Venice was the slightly less popular decision of the two. Of the sixteen of us on the experience, only seven people decided to go. Olivia Wales, Taylor Long, Olivia Chambers, Emma Hofmeister, Jacob James, Jake Lynn, and I chose to wake up super early and hop on a train to see the “City of Bridges”.

Venice was more beautiful than I ever could have expected! We had a surprisingly relaxing day in Venice. We spent the first hour or so taking random alleys and side paths to get to the main square. We somehow managed to avoid most other tourists and locals while strolling through Venice. It was incredibly peaceful and quiet as we walked along the many canals and dozens of bridges. Eventually, we crossed Rialto Bridge, the oldest of the four bridges crossing the Grand Canal and the most grandiose. We took a while to admire the view of the Grand Canal. We were stunned by the realization that instead of parking lots, people in Venice have their own private moorings to tie up their boats! This concept of a “water parking garage” blew our minds.

We kept walking and eventually arrived at Piazza San Marco, or Saint Mark’s Square. This is the largest public square in Venice, and surprisingly, it wasn’t extremely crowded. The Piazza is beautiful! On one side is a breathtaking view of St. Mark’s Basilica. On the other is a wide open space with a museum surrounding the square. There is also a large bell tower and a walkway leading to the water. We wandered around the square for a while, taking in the view. We eventually left the square to get lunch.

After lunch, we explored Venice a little more and eventually ran into a couple of gondoliers. Gondoliers are professional gondola drivers, easily recognizable by their striped shirts and wide-brimmed hats. We split into two groups and hopped in. The view from a gondola puts Venice in an entirely new perspective because you see the city from the water! Our gondolier pointed out the more well-known areas of Venice as we cruised along the water. He even showed Emma, a huge James Bond fan, the areas of Venice where a James Bond movie was filmed. We floated along the Grand Canal and went under the Rialto Bridge, learning about the city from our gondoliers the whole way.

After the gondola ride, we got gelato and talked as we continued exploring the city. Jacob, Jake, and I eventually decided that we wanted to climb the bell tower and check out the view of Venice from above. The others went to find a spot by the water to sit as we rode the elevator to the top. Our jaws dropped as soon as we stepped out of the elevator. Venice from the air is beautiful! We could see the water on one side, the multicolored buildings on the other. Seagulls circled lazily in the air, the water twinkled in the light, and the sound of a clarinet player in the street below floated up to us as we took in the view. We took pictures and admired the city. We had wonderful, thoughtful conversation and came down from the tower with new perspectives.

After our whole group reconvened, we sat by the water and talked for a long time. Eventually, we decided it was time to head back. We took our time to appreciate the channels and bridges and bright colors of the buildings one last time as we made our way back to the train station. On the way, I looked down and realized that there were a couple stolpersteine on the ground. We first discovered these “stumbling stones” in Berlin. They are small, brass plates put into the cobblestone streets with names of Jewish people that lived in the buildings in front of the stones inscribed into them. The stones mark the names, the date of deportation and the name of the concentration camp that they were deported to. They are a direct reminder of the loss that incurred during World War II and the massive impact of the Nazis. It was eye-opening to see a direct reminder about how people were impacted by the Nazis all the way in Venice. We left that place with a little more to think about.

We ended the evening with dinner and a long train ride back to Florence. The final activity of the night was a hike to the Piazzale Michelangelo, where we admired the sparkling Florence at night. Reflecting on the day I had, I couldn’t have been more thankful for how the day went. We had a peaceful day in a city I had only dreamed about going to as a little girl. Not only that, but I got to experience it with some of my best friends. I was so thankful for CR10 as I gazed out over the Arno that night.

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