One of the most difficult things about studying abroad, especially for a full year, is the fact that I can't see my friends from back home for that entire time. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to see a couple of people since I came to Europe: I saw Paul a couple of times already, and a couple weeks ago, I got to see a few other friends. UC Davis had Spring Break, and my friend Meg wanted to see and one of our other friends, Rachael, during that time. Since I had time off and Rachael didn't, I suggested Meg fly to Italy and I would meet the two of them down there. Meg arrived on Sunday, March 20th, and I was to come a few days later.
And so, on Tuesday, I packed up my backpack and flew down to Padua, where Rachael is studying for the year. As soon as I got out of the gate and saw them, it was like all hell broke loose- we were so happy to see each other! We kept talking with each other without any breaks, while we were buying bus tickets, while we were waiting for the bus, and then as we were on the bus from the airport in Venice to Rachael's apartment in Padua. And the bus was where we got our first taste of Italian culture: a lady at the front of the bus turned around to yell at us to stop talking! This turned out to be a theme for the trip, Italians glaring and/or yelling at the three of us for speaking in English, what we were wearing, and who knows what else. We sat in awkward silence for the second half of the bus ride to Padua, not wanting to be yelled at again. We got off the bus and went to a pizza place that Rachael goes to quite often and where the owners now know here. Apparently, they were expecting Meg and me to come in at some point, because one guy immediately said, "Ah, the friends from America!" (Except he said it in Italian. Unlike Berlin, almost nobody in Padua speaks English, or is willing to, at the very least.) Rachael ordered us two pizzas to-go, which she said were very common among university students there: a kebab pizza (pizza bread and sauce with the meat of a Döner on top) and a french fry pizza. Not going to lie, they were pretty weird! The kebab pizza did taste pretty good, actually, although I think I'll skip the french fry pizza in the future. Also in the apartment, I met Rachael's roommate, Diana, who miraculously spoke perfect English.
Rachael had a little bit of time to show us (well, me, really) around the city before she needed to head to class. We started out by walking by St. Anthony's Church, one of the most famous places in the city. Just down the street was the Prato, a large grassy area where people like to go when it was warm out and study, play football, or play with their children. Fortunately, it was so nice out that we were able to see this actually take place. Rachael then took us over to see some of the main buildings of her university before leaving to go to one of her classes (oh yeah, she still had to attend those!). Meg and I used this opportunity to walk back to the Prato and catch up after several months of not seeing each other. Meg and I met Rachael a few hours later back at the apartment, where we spent the night talking to Diana and watching movies, before all four of us falling asleep in one room. It got quite cozy in that apartment!
Wednesday, we took our first day trip of the week to Venice. Upon our arrival, our first goal was to make it to St. Mark's Basilica, but since there was no rush, we just meandered our way through the city, enjoying the views of the water and the city, before getting hopelessly lost. We ended up walking around, trying to find the church, for a good hour or so. The weirdest thing was, we were following the signs "to" the church, but kept walking in circles to get there. Finally, we found the way and made it to St. Mark's Square, which was so crowded! Lots of little kids and school groups were there, but somehow there was really no line to get into the church. From what I could see of the church (we actually couldn't get all that far in), it wasn't anything shabby, but nothing extraordinary, either. From there, the three of us walked over to Ponte Rialto, one of the main bridges of the city. From there, we could see the Isola di San Michele, one of the main cemeteries of the city, and the beautiful blue water. We did a little bit of shopping among the street vendors before grabbing gelato to take with us as we went window-shopping for clothes we couldn't afford and wouldn't have room in our suitcases for anyways.
Thursday, we took a trip over to Milan. The train ride took three hours each way, so we had a lot of time to just talk to each other and read or listen to music. It was such a nice day, I decided to wear a skirt, one that didn't cover my knees. It wasn't until halfway through the train ride that I realized the length could be a problem if we went into any churches (like the Duomo). Rachael assured me that there were usually places to buy serapes. Since she was the pseudo-native, I trusted her, but told the two of them that if my outfit was a problem, I would wait outside so they could go inside any churches they wanted. It was my decision, I'd live with the consequences.
Our first stop was the Castello Sforzesco, a castle that originally was built to help defend the city against Venice. Now there are lots of museums there, none of which we actually went into. From there we walked over to the Duomo, the main place to go in Milan. I quickly looked around to see if there were any such stands or stores, but couldn't find anything. So, as we were going inside and getting our bags checked, I asked the guards if I could go inside or if I needed to wait outside. One of them kind of glared at me, checked my skirt length, and then said I could go inside. As Meg, Rachael and I were inside, admiring the ceiling and the artwork (silently, as required inside the church), an old lady came up to me and started absolutely screaming at me in Italian. Although Rachael translated for me after she left, I understood her perfectly well: I was being "disrespectful" to the Lord with what I was wearing, that I was a terrible human being, and I should have some manners in a holy place. I was half-tempted to tell her that the people at the entrance let me in after I asked them (it's not like I snuck in), there were lots of other tourists there taking pictures (which was not allowed), and she was being just as disrespectful for yelling in a holy place. But I held my tongue, since I knew it was no good: even if they lady spoke English, I wasn't going to change her opinion. So I brushed it off and continued with admiring the church. From the Duomo we headed around to see piazzas and the streets of the city. After we grabbed some dinner, we walked along one of the major shopping streets to do some window shopping before catching our train back to Padua.
Friday we took our last day-trip of the week to Verona, most famous for being the city of Romeo and Juliet. When we arrived, the first thing we saw, though, was the Arena, which can only be described as a mini Colosseum, although certainly not small! We decided not to go inside, and continued through the old city gates towards Juliet's residence and balcony. Since the house was only named the Capulet house by the city of Verona to bring in tourists, we didn't spend the 4 euros to go inside to a fake house. Instead we went into a small little shop that did customized embroidery, where they embroidered each of our names onto pieces of cardboard for free, which was amazing to watch! Next up was the Castelvecchio, a castle on the edge of the Aldige river.
Meg's flight was at 6:40 Saturday morning, and since she wanted to get to the airport around 4:30 to check in, Rachael figured out we would need to leave the apartment at 2:45 that morning to walk to the train station. As none of us figured we could be trusted to go to sleep and wake up again at 2 am, we decided to pull an all-nighter. Rachael's roommate had gone home for the weekend, so we didn't have to worry about keeping her up, we just had to worry about ourselves. Finally, the time came for us to leave, and we made the journey to the train station, just to find that it was closed. Not knowing what time it would open in relation to the train we would need to catch to get to the airport, and seeing the somewhat sketchy people hanging around outside, we made the quick decision to jump into a cab instead (after negotiating a price with the driver first!) The cab ride ended up getting us to the airport around 4 o'clock, the doors didn't open until 4:30, so we were stuck there for half an hour, trying hard not to fall asleep and waiting around with some other people who decided to get there early as well. Meg and Rachael decided this was the perfect opportunity to teach me how to swing dance, so we turned the iPod on and Rachael taught me some basic moves. I don't know how well I did, but it was fun, helped to keep us awake, and definitely earned a few strange looks from the others waiting around! Finally, the doors opened, Meg checked in and said goodbye to Rachael and me. My flight wasn't until about 12:30, so Rachael and I had originally planned to go into the city of Venice while waiting for the check-in desk to open. We never ended up doing that, I think we were both too tired to do that, so we just waited around the airport, ate breakfast and continued talking. Finally, after hours of sitting around, it was time for me to say, "Ciao!" to Rachael and go through security to head back home to Berlin.
Overall, this trip was quite a bit different from most of my other travels. Although we did take day-trips and act as tourists, the main point of this trip was to see my friends again after so long. Unfortunately, talking to Meg did make me realize just how much I'm missing back home in Davis by being abroad, but at least I was able to catch up a little bit. If this trip did anything to change my perspective on things, it made it so that I can look forward to making the trip back to California. It's not time yet, and I'm not in any rush to go back, but I think that, due to this visit, I won't be dreading the day when I have to leave. Only time will tell if this feeling will last until I fly back in a few months!