The last two weeks of my study abroad trip consisted of going to two places that I have dreamed of visiting since I was a kid.
First, I visited Venice, the Italian town built on water. Venice has been one of my dream cities to visit since my mother took my sisters and I on a gondola ride at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. That was twelve years ago, and ever since then, it’s been a goal of mine to visit Venice. Now I have made that dream into a reality.
Boats pass to and fro with locals and tourists waiting for their stop. There are shops and trattorias (Italian for family-owned and operate restaurants) all around and of course, there are gondolas everywhere.
Our ISA coordinator, Luca, took us all around the historic city. He took us to the City Center, where you can find jewelry and other items made from Venetian glass, chocolate shops, and Venetian masquerade masks. The bustling area encapsulated what Venice looks like in its entirety. However, Luca informed us to not buy any sort of souvenirs or items in that part of Venice because of the incredibly high prices. Instead, he took us to one of the most underrated parts of Venice, the Jewish Quarter, a section that inspired one of William Shakespeare’s works.
Once we arrived by boat, you see quaint buildings all around, pretty much like the City Center. But once you walk around, there are Kosher delis and restaurants, a first I saw in Italy. Another thing that sealed the Jewish culture was the men and boys sport their traditional yamakas all around the area. There, the souvenirs are reasonably cheaper and the shops reflect a mixture of the Italian and Jewish cultures.
Next, I rode an authentic gondola. The gondola was one of the most extravagant and eye-catching contraption that I have ever see. The elongated boat had a smooth wooden body with plush red seats fit for royalty. Even the gondola driver was quite the charmer. He explained every nook and cranny of Venice and what buildings were the most significant. For instance, he took us to see where the palace of Venice once stood. And what was a gondola ride without some singing? Once he explained the buildings, he sang in a wonderful tenor voice a classic Italian song that has been sung for generations. When the ride was completed, I knew I had accomplished my Venetian goals.
After the Venice trip, Professor Kofford gave the group free days to travel and do what we want. What my sister, my friend Vanessa and I decided to do was visit Paris, France. The three of us shared the same dream of living like a Parisian for a day.
Upon arrival, we immediately hopped on a bus and then a metro to see the most iconic fixture in history: the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is quite the spectacle, to say the least. This gigantic wonder surpassed my expectations. I had no idea that the Eiffel Tower would look like this. To give you an idea of how tall the Eiffel Tower is, I looked up and I still could not see the tip of the tower; I had to stand miles away in order to see the tower’s entirety. Afterwards, I met another goal: eating at a French Bistro. It was there where I ate an upright delicious meal, a croque monssieur. It’s a ham and cheese sandwich with emmental cheese melted right on top. The sandwich was accompanied by a viniagrette-dressed salad and French fries (French fries aren’t actually French).
Then it was off to the Arc du Triomph. This fixture is just as breathtaking as the Eiffel Tower. It was amazing to see the artistry and workmanship that went into its construction. With a beret on my head, I took pictures and ate a French macaron while gazing at its beauty. Afterwards, the Louvre was our next stop. We entered for free since we are European students, technically speaking. Once we entered we were surrounded by artwork from different cultures. There, we scurried to take a look at The Mona Lisa. Once I caught my eyes on her, I felt chills all over my body. It is not everyday where you see something so iconic like the Mona Lisa every day, and I was emotional since the only way I have seen this piece is through history books and Google Images.
My Paris adventure doesn’t stop there! The next day, we visited Disneyland Paris. This was my first time at an international/foreign theme park. This park differs greatly from the Disneyland that I know and love. First, Mickey is not the park’s main fixture, it’s Remy from Disney-Pixar’s Ratatouille. This character is plastered everywhere from T-shirts to hats. Plus, the park has greater focus on its French characters like Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and Quisimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Food wise, the park offers different treats. For instance, crepes are popular at the park. They are sold at almost every stand and corner throughout the park. No churros in sight, yet waffles with Nutella are available. Yet, there are some more familiar treats like hot dogs, chicken fingers and hamburgers that are sold, too.
The attractions there are just as magical and heartwarming. We got on the Indiana Jones ride, The Pirates of the Caribbean, Phantom Manor (The Haunted Mansion), It’s a Small World, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and many others! It’s safe to say that I felt like a kid again!
These two trips put things into perspective. I realized that I am truly fortunate to be in the place where I am now. I have been able to see places in the flesh instead of a book. I was able to experience new foods and learn about different cultures. All this knowledge and information will be kept with me for years to come.
Hector Teran blogs from Milan, Italy in the summer of 2015. The Psychology major chose a writing-focused faculty-led program for his international experience.