Our weekend started in beautiful Verona (about a four hour bus ride from Torino), one of many major tourists attractions in Italy. The city is home to many ancient Roman monuments. The most famous of these is the Roman amphitheater, which is the third largest in Italy and is actually still used today.
The city is also well-known as the setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Over half a million tourists flock to Verona each year to visit the supposed site Juliet's home and the famous balcony scene. It is tradition for couples to prove their eternal love by placing a padlock in the courtyard and tossing the key, as well as signing their names on what I'm going to refer to as the "wall of love."
After visiting these sights, we had the next few hours to explore on our own. We were encouraged to try the local delicacy: horse meat. While that didn't quite sound like my cup of tea, almost everyone else decided to try a pasta dish with ground "carne di cavallo."
After lunch we explored around the city and the open market in the main square. I absolutely fell in love with Verona and wished we could have spent just a little bit more time there, but Venice was waiting for us!
Venice was, in one word, breathtaking. It felt like a completely different world from Torino. The city is actually a cluster of 118 small island linked by canals and bridges. The only way to get around Venice is by boat or by foot. I can't even explain how strangely wonderful it was to not see a single car.
On Saturday we were able to take a walking tour around the city, which included the famous Doges Palace in Piazzo San Marco. The Palace is one of the main attractions in Venice. Completed in 1450, it was once the residence of the Doge of Venice (the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice).
After the tour we decided to check out the island of Murano, famous for its beautiful blown glass. By water taxi the trip took about 30-40 minutes, but was well worth the journey. We were able to see live glass blowing for about 2 € as well as walk through the beautiful galleries and shops.
But what's the one thing you can't leave Venice without doing? A gondola ride of course! This was definitely the highlight of the weekend for me. Traveling by boat lets you see Venice from an entirely different point of view. Our group was able to find a pretty decent deal; we paid a total of 70 € for our group of five (14 € per person) for about 40 minutes. It may seem like a lot, but it's absolutely worth it and I know I would have regretted not doing it. Our gondolier was fantastic, he gave us lots of interesting background information about Venice and spoke English very well. Definitely money well spent!
Overall, the weekend was unforgettable and I would go back to either of these places in a heartbeat. Many thanks to USAC for organizing the trip!