Sciences Po winter break: day 7
On my final day with my Sciences Po travel crew, we woke up in an AirBnB apartment in Venice, Italy during Carnevale season.
Of all the places I visited on our week-long whirlwind tour of Central Europe, Venice was easily the most visually unique. I mean, it’s arguably one of the most visually unique cities in the world — there’s a reason it’s a popular tourist destination. Each city we visited had its own style in some way — for example, Frankfurt had the charm of both old town Germany and a modern city of skyscrapers and Ljubljana had the most beautiful scenery with mountains in the distance. But at the same time, to some extent, they all ran together in my mind.
Venice, on the other hand, was completely different. You could never confuse Venice for Budapest or Prague or Vienna.
I think being there during Carnevale season also helped its case. Not that I’ve ever been to Venice at any other time of the year, but if I had to suggest a time to visit, I would definitely suggest Carnevale. The weather is perfect, for one: Italy during the wintertime is still fairly mild, and there are fewer tourists than there are in the summer. Apparently the canals can get somewhat smelly in the summer as well, which was not an issue I noticed at all when I was there in February.
Carnevale season is meant for partying — and even if you’re not a party person (or, if you were like my friends and me, you were too tired for partying after six days of night buses and walking tours), you can enjoy watching the partygoers in their elaborate costumes and masks.
I did my best to replicate the Carnevale style of fashion with my purchased masquerade mask and my vintage velvet coat, but what I was wearing was nothing in comparison to the elaborate ball gowns and hats and coats that I saw people wearing. If our only destination was Venice, and if I’d been planning this trip for more than a few weeks, I would’ve bought myself a costume.
I suppose the elephant in the room is that while we were there, Carnevale weekend, was when the first COVID-19 outbreak in Europe occurred. We left on Saturday, just a few days before the first cases began being reported, so we had no clue what was ahead of us in the coming weeks and months. At that time, COVID-19 was still a news story for Asia, not Europe. That was probably one of the last times I was in a large crowd with strangers, and one of the last times I existed in a world where COVID-19 wasn’t on my mind.
I had one more destination ahead of me than my friends, so I bid them all farewell in the afternoon to catch a plain off to Madrid, Spain. Madrid, however, wasn’t actually my actual destination: Toledo, a smaller town about an hour bus ride away from Madrid, was. Toledo was where my friend, Emma, was studying abroad and living with a host family.
I left Venice shortly after lunch, and I ended up getting into Madrid past sundown. From there, I had to take the metro for an hour, from essentially one end of the city to another. Then, it was another hour to find my bus and wait for it to arrive, and then yet another hour to actually get into Toledo.
Emma and one of her friends met me there, and we walked back to her host family’s house. It was dark, about 10 pm, so I couldn’t see clearly, but even in the dark I got the sense that Toledo was yet another visually distinct town. For one, there were more hills than I had seen in any of the other cities I’d visited in the past week. It was quite a hike.
At that point, I wouldn’t have minded to have just taken a shower and gone to bed, but Emma had made plans with some of her Notre Dame friends to go bar hopping, and I couldn’t resist the invitation to go out in a new country.
I thought 11pm-ish was somewhat late to be heading out for the night, but according to Emma, for Spanish people, it was early. She and some of her friends remarked that one of the clubs we went to wasn’t as energetic as it usually was, which they figured was due to it being too early.
For me though, by around 1am, I was feeling dead on my feet, and I suppose Emma was starting to notice, so we said our goodbyes to her friends and headed home. At that point, I’d been backpacking for a whole week, sleeping on buses and walking all day, and within 24 hours I’d celebrated Carnevale in Italy, flown to Spain, rode a train from one end of Madrid to another, and taken a bus to Toledo. With one mixed drink and a shot of vodka in my system, my body was ready to sleep.
Coat: A vintage shop in Budapest (thrifted)