I meant to post twice since I posted last Sunday, however, fencing got in the way. If that's a good enough answer for you, feel free to skip down to the actual part about travelling.
But if you're saying, "Wait, fencing?" Feel free to keep reading this bit. Yes, fencing. Namely Olympic fencing. Ever since the Olympics started, I've been watching virtually all the hours that I am not working. I was of course super excited about the gymnastics since that is always my favourite summer Olympic sport. (How about Team USA dominating the women's team final and Aly Raisman finally getting her Olympic all-around medal!? Or the really scary fall that Great Britain's Ellie Downie took on her head in qualifying, yet she still competed on vault in the next rotation!? And then she put out a really respectable performance in the all around final! How about Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands performing that amazing beam routine in qualifying and them promptly writing in her journal before she even got the score? Or Max Whitlock becoming the first Brit to medal in all around in over a century and that terrifying second-to-last tumbling pass in the whole competition where he tweaked his neck and was shaking his head going into the last pass but did it anyway?) Oh, the Olympics.
Anyway, so fencing. I guess I've always had this very vague interest in fencing, enough that I signed up for USA Fencing's alerts during the Olympic games. I watched the first bout I got an email about. My reaction was, "Well, this is cool, and their masks light up but how on earth do they score and what is the difference between foil, sabre, or epee? How does the team event work?"
In the span of a few days, I not only watched about eighteen hours of fencing, read the entire 141 page digital handbook for USA Fencing (in one night), researched clubs in both the US and Iceland, did some practicing in my kitchen with a wooden spoon (see below), but I now actually understand what is going on in a fencing bout, and can name every member of the US team, some of their backstory, and whether they fence foil, sabre, or epee.
My conversation with someone about the US men's foil team bronze medal match against Italy went something like this, "There are three fencers on each team and they fence for three minutes or until the score reaches a multiple of five. So if the team is behind, they can score the difference up to a multiple of five, but the winning team can only score five. Italy was winning, and then Gerek Meinhardt delivered this outstanding parry and ended up scoring 8-1, which really turned Team USA around. In team fencing, you can have a fourth fencer to sub in, but if you do that, the fencer subbed for cannot go back in. Only the fencers who actually fight on the piste get an Olympic medal, so the alternate only gets one if subbed in and they were winning by so much, that the coach put in the alternate, Race Imboden, for one of the later bouts, against the individual Olympic champion, so he would get an Olympic medal too and I just loved that and he did so well! And at one point Alex Massialas and his opponent collided and he knocked him off the strip, but then reached down to help him back on the piste. What a great kid! And he faced off against the Olympic champion too, who he lost to in the individual gold medal bout, but this time, he beat him 5-1, so I'm sure that was great redemption. His dad is the US coach and his younger sister won the 2014 Youth Olympic games and now fences at Notre Dame and hopefully she'll be on the 2020 Olympic team herself. And the US hadn't won a men's foil team fencing medal since 1932!"
If none of that made any sense to you, I understand. I had never heard of most of the terms or any of those people a week ago.
But, yeah, I guess I'm kind of obsessed with fencing now...
Back to the travelling. I arrived in Venice alone, as my friend had gone back to London with a foot injury. We had booked an Airbnb together before we realized I'd be alone at this part of the journey. The Airbnb hosts were so confused as to why I was alone. There were three of them, all very friendly, but only one spoke a tiny bit of English. We discovered that his Spanish is better than his English and my Spanish is better than my mostly nonexistent Italian. They showed me around the neighborhood and took me to a coffee shop, the whole time with their giant dog following us. I'm sure we looked very confusing, speaking the strangest mix of Italian, English, and Spanish.
I visited Venice last February during carnivale and found the city gorgeous. One of my favourite places was the Liberia Acqua Alta bookstore. This high water bookstore is right along the canal and stores books in boats and bathtubs as protection against flooding. It calls itself the most beautiful bookshop in the world and with its stellar book garden, it is easy to see why! I also saw a snoozing cat during my visit!
While the rest of Venice was still beautiful, it was incredibly crowded, even more than carnivale! After a day of wandering around, I realized that I just wasn't interested in spending another day in the crowds and heat of Venice (I know, what a great problem to have, being bored of Venice!). So I decided to take a day trip to Padova.
The first thing I saw in Padova was one of the most important pieces of early Renaissance art, the Scrovegni Chapel with Giotto's 14th century fresco cycle. To enter the chapel, I had to go through a series of air conditioned rooms to get "dehumidified" to protect the frescoes. We were taken inside the chapel in groups and allowed twenty minutes inside. Both the artist and Reginaldo Scrovegni are mentioned in Dante's Divine Comedy (for very different reasons! Dante casts a favourable light on Giotto, but Reginaldo is condemned for his usury).
Padova is also famous for its cathedrals, especially the Basilica of St. Anthony. I walked to what I thought was St. Anthony's basilica, but was actually the Abbey of Santa Guistina. St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things, so I was amused that I got lost trying to find his basilica! The Abbey of Santa Guistina has its own claim to history, as the tomb of St. Luke is there. I was reminded of the time when I spent three weeks walking past a church by my hostel in Rome, finally stepped inside on my last day in the city, and discovered the the ceiling was designed by Michelangelo. Only in Italy can you accidentally wander into cathedrals with so much history and significance! I did eventually find St. Anthony's basilica and it was just as gorgeous as I'd heard.
Padova has long been at the height of culture and learning, so when I learned that it was home to Orto Botanico di Padova, the world's oldest university botanical garden, I had to visit! Unfortunately, I don't really speak Italian and all the signs were in Italian so I had no idea what anything was, but it was still really cool!
I ended my day in Padova at Cafe Pedrocchi, one of Europe's oldest cafes. Then, I took the short train ride back to Venice, collected my luggage, and took a bus to the airport, destination: Dublin! All the late night flights out of that wing of the airport were either to Dublin or London Gatwick and, surrounded by loads of Brits and Irish, my American accent felt terribly unsophisticated as I went through passport check!
Unless fencing foils my blogging plans (see what I did there?), check back on Tuesday about my brief visit to the Emerald Isle!
Florence was always on our itinerary. But, as I mentioned in my last post, it was not our intention to get stranded here a couple days early. I've visited Florence before and count it among my favourite cities, so it is the best possible location to be stranded.
Because we had more time than intended in Florence, we had time to check out some yoga studios. Florence may not come to mind as a yoga destination, but the two studios I visited have made it into my list of all-time favourite yoga spaces.
The first place I visited was called It's Yoga. The walls had Medieval frescoes and the building had a lovely courtyard. The next day I visited a place I liked even better called Yoga Garage. The studio was originally a Medieval church and was also used a bookstore.
I loved using the bookshelves along the walls and the paintings on the ceilings as focal points. I enjoyed the class so much that I ended up going back in the morning on the day I left Florence.
I also visited a previously undiscovered gelato shop, Gelateria dei Neri. I've had a lot of gelato on all my trips to Italy, but this has to be one of my favourite shops of them all! They also had lots of vegan flavours. (I am planning future blog posts detailing vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Italy, Iceland, and the UK.)
I also took time to see some of the museums that I didn't make it to during my last visit. One of the highlights was the Medici Chapel. I also visited the Dante Museum since The Divine Comedy is one of the best works of literature ever. The museum was an interesting look into Florence during his time. There wasn't a ton about Dante himself, but considering that he was exiled from Florence at the end of his life, it isn't that surprising that not that many artifacts have survived the centuries.
One night, we decided to attend an Italian cooking class at Lorenzo di Medici cooking school. I had never made pasta from scratch before! We had a hard time rolling the dough thin enough so we were assisted by a pasta machine. The class was a lot of fun and we got to keep the recipe and our aprons!
On our final day in Florence, we went on a Grape Tour, visiting three of the Tuscan region's vineyards. The scenery was gorgeous and it was really interesting to learn the history of each vineyard. We even visited a wine cellar that was 500 years old!
Florence is definitely one of those cities that I could see myself one day calling home!
Hi, I’m Crystal! I love to travel and am currently a graduate student in Scotland. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 27 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: firstname.lastname@example.orgHappy Travels, Crystal
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