The streets of Venice in the winter are eerie and damp. The buildings seem to be disintegrating into the canals in some spots, but there is still a beautiful and romantic charm about it. In some parts it’s like a spooky maze. In the shop windows peer the hollow eyes of Venetian masks, and every hour bells ring from the ancient towers all over the city.

This past week, my boyfriend came to visit and we spent half our time in Venice and the rest in Barcelona. Being able to share Barcelona and discover a new place together was like bringing a little piece of home along with me. Everything seemed just a little bit brighter (despite the rain), and even the places I see every day in Barcelona seemed new again.

On Thanksgiving, we spent half of our day in Barcelona at Parc Guell and then headed to Italy, which is a short flight under two hours long. Even though I missed Thanksgiving at home, the food we ate the whole week made up for it. After arriving late on Thursday, we found an authentic Italian restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood of Venice. We got a three-course meal that wasn’t the Thanksgiving food we’re used to, but a more than worthy replacement.

Although Venice is an easy walking city, despite its small size, the best way to get around is by the water taxi. With our one-day pass, we got an early start the following day and took the water taxi to two of the islands off the main part of Venice- Murano and Burano.

Murano wasn’t originally a part of the plan, but when the two of us travel together, our downfall, but also one of the best parts, is our flexibility and ability to just get lost. Murano is known for its glass blowing, so when it was on the way to Burano, we hopped off the taxi to check it out.

Every single shop is filled with anything from tiny glass elephants to elaborate glass blown chandeliers, easily catching our interest and pulling us in. Before we knew it, we had spent more money than intended on glass objects. There was even a huge glass blown sculpture that looked like a bright blue star in the town square in front of the bell tower.

The next stop in Burano was something well worth seeing. It’s about a 40-minute boat ride, but the scenery on the way there and in the town is irreplaceable. Burano is known as the island of colored houses. Every single color of the rainbow covers the tiny island. Some houses are hot pink, others sky blue, some yellow and green – anything you can imagine.

Burano is the most unique and charming place I’ve seen so far. The food there didn’t let us down either. In the restaurant we ate at, the waiter convinced us to order the pasta with the fresh clams his fishermen friends had just brought in. As someone who isn’t a huge fan of seafood, even I thought it was delicious.

Cap. - Credit: Caroline Humphrey/The Good 5 Cent Cigar
Cap. – Credit: Caroline Humphrey/The Good 5 Cent Cigar

Time got away from us and before we knew it, we hadn’t even seen the most famous part of Vencice, which was St. Marco’s Sqaure. We raced against the clock to try and make it back in time to get into the palace and tower, but just as we got there, the doors closed in our faces, literally. Although we were disappointed, we still made time to do everything we wanted the next day before our flight. Sometimes while traveling, it’s best not to follow a strict plan. Although we missed some parts, we were enjoying where we were and each other’s company more than anything.

Even though we didn’t get to see everything, we did get to take a gondola ride through the canals all around St. Marco’s Square and around the Doges Palace. In the dark it was ghostly, but beautifully serene. Christmas lights and lights from the buildings sparkled off the water in the chilly night air.

Back in Barcelona, I felt like a tour guide of the city. We saw all of my favorite parts again, which is the perfect way to wrap up my journey. I have just about two weeks left until I come home, which I cannot believe. It will be bittersweet. I can’t wait to be home just in time for Christmas and with my family, but at the same time, I know I will miss my second home.

At the end of my trip, I can confidently say this experience of studying abroad has been the most valuable of my life. I look back to how I felt when I started and how I feel now and it is like night and day. Some points of this trip have been hard,  with some huge learning experiences, but mostly unforgettable.

I realized I wasn’t supposed to come back the way I left, but as a better version of who I was. Fear was at some points my biggest obstacle, but when I truly stepped out of my comfort zone that was when I the learned most.

I’ve learned not to just be a tourist when travelling. Don’t just see things, but really look. Don’t just listen, but learn and try to understand. Instead of just taking pictures to say you were in a place, actually experience it. Take every part in and make it a part of yourself.

That language you speak or where you are from isn’t all that defines you. The biggest barrier I have seen while abroad is the fear people have in their differences. Although a place may be a little different, there is always something beautiful it can offer. Instead of just looking in through the window, step inside of another world and see what it has to offer. Chances are you’ll leave better than you ever imagined possible.