Team building in bella Roma

I was fortunate enough to travel to Rome with my company EC this year. They decided to do a team building event in Italy, everything paid for. It was my first time in Rome and I had a lot of fun getting to know the city and my coworkers.

 

Facts about the city:

Modern Rome has 280 fountains and more than 900 churches.

The mascot of Rome is a she-wolf that cared for brothers Romulus and Remus, the mythological founders of Rome. Romulus and Remus were twin brothers. They were abandoned as babies and put into a basket in the River Tiber. They were discovered by a female wolf, who nursed them until they were found by a shepherd. When Romulus and Remus became adults, they decided to found a city where the wolf had found them. The brothers quarreled over where the site should be and Remus was killed by his brother. This left Romulus as the sole founder of the new city, Rome. The date given for the founding of Rome is 753 BC.

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I cannot complain much about my company EC. This year they decided to take us on a paid trip to Rome, as a team building event. I never had this type of opportunities in Portugal, so I’m very grateful. Also, it was the first time I was in Rome and that city was in my bucket list for a long time.

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We were 22 people from the Admissions department. My best friends from Admissions couldn’t come so I had to be opened to make new friendships which was good. I shared the room with Keiko from Japan. She’s a sweetheart. Also, I got to know Florian, a french new guy, that I loved. He’s super funny! Rina and Mo were also there. We went on a Friday after work and we came back on a Sunday afternoon. It was short but good.

On Friday we just arrived to the hotel and had some rest. We stayed in Hotel Nizza, in Via Massimo d’Azeglio 16. The hotel was OK, but not that great. However, the breakfast we took the next morning was very good!

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We started the in Piazza VeneziaPiazza Venezia is the central hub of Rome, in which several thoroughfares intersect, including the Via dei Fori Imperiali and the Via del Corso. It takes its name from the Palazzo Venezia, built by the Venetian Cardinal, Pietro Barbo (later Pope Paul II) alongside the church of Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice.

One side of the Piazza is the site of Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Altare della Patria, part of the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, first king of Italy. The square is at the foot of the Capitoline Hill and next to Trajan’s Forum. The main artery, the Viale di Fori Imperiali begins there and leads past the Roman Forum to the Colosseum.

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Then we walked until Fontana di Trevi. I always wanted to visit this place and throw a coin to make a wish! It’s very beautiful. Fontana di Trevi is a fountain designed by the Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. Standing more than 25 meters high, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. It was completed in 1762. The central figures are Neptun flaked by two Tritons.

The fountain has appeared in several notable films, including Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Three Coins in the Fountain or Roman Holiday. An estimated 3,000€ are thrown into the fountain each day. In 2016, an estimated US $1.5 million was thrown into the fountain. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy. However, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain, even though it’s illegal.

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After that we walked to Piazza di Spagna. Since we went to Rome during the Black Friday weekend, we did that. I bought a nice jacket from Zara. Piazza di Spagna, at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, is one of the most famous squares in Rome. It owes its name to the Palazzo di Spagna, seat of the Embassy of Spain among the Holy See. Nearby is the famed Column of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The imposing 135-step staircase was inaugurated by Pope Benedict XIII in 1725, in order to connect the Bourbon Spanish embassy to the Church of Trinità dei Monti. The Spanish steps, once a year, host a famous fashion show and they are used as a catwalk. All the shopping streets lead to this square so it’s an ideal point to start shopping.

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Later that afternoon, some of us went to the Vatican City. We didn’t go inside but it was worth going there to see the impotent cathedral. St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica represent the most Christian place in the world and the home of the Pope. The Vatican city is the smallest state in the world. The Vatican was built over the tomb of Saint Peter.

The Vatican’s position as a sovereign state within a state was guaranteed by the Lateran Treaty of 1929. It’s has 920 inhabitants and an area of approximately 44 hectares. Inside the Vatican there are 11 museums and some of the most famous art in the world, like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Pieta.

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Then Keiko, Florian, Irina and me went to have a closer look at the ColosseumThe Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built. It was commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian and completed by his son in 80. Vespesian ordered the Colosseum to be built on the site of Nero’s palace, to dissociate himself from the hated tyrant. His aim was to gain popularity by staging deadly combats of gladiators.

The Colosseum could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. It was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles and dramas based on Classical mythology.

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On Saturday night we went to have dinner all together in an amazing restaurant called Alfredo alla Scrofa. This is considered the restaurant of the celebrities and they even have a lot of pictures of famous people that went there on the walls (Greta Garbo, Dean Martin, Andrea Bocelli, Jimi Hendrix, etc.). The food was amazing and we tried the famous Fettuccine Alfredo. The restaurant was funded in 1907.

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After dinner we stopped for some pictures in Piazza NavonaPiazza Navona has three amazing baroque fountains. The central one is Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, designed by Bernini in 1651. At the southern end is the Fontana del Moro with a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta (1575). At the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune (1574) also created by Giacomo; There is also the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and the Pamphili Palace.

We went to some bars and pubs close to this square and then we headed back to the hotel. The next morning we had breakfast again in the hotel and then we took a flight back to Malta. It was a very nice weekend! 

Sicily seen from the sky

In August of 2017 I went with my boyfriend to Sicily, in the south of Italy. We stayed in Catania, visited Palermo and did skydiving in Siracusa. An amazing experience! Another thing from my bucket list 🙂

CATANIA

Facts about the city:

Mount Etna is an active volcano. It lies above the convergent plate margin between the African Plate and the Eurasian Plate. It is currently 3,329 m high. Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is in an almost constant state of activity. The fertile volcanic soils support extensive agriculture, with vineyards and orchards spread across the lower slopes of the mountain.

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In August I went with Alejandro to Sicily, in Italy. We live in Malta now and we haven’t had visited the south of Italy, here so close! The flight takes about 20, 30 minutes. We stayed there in Catania for 4 days.

The city is a bit dirty and the south of Italy seems like a place that stopped in the 90’s – the people, the publicity and advertisements in the shops, the food… everything had a vibe of my childhood memories. What I didn’t like is that no one speaks English, they are terrible with that!

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The apartment that we rented was amazing! It’s called Appartamento Giada, located in Via Reitano 60, 95121 Catania. I really recommend it. It’s really close to the main square and it was cheap. It had two floors, with the room upstairs.

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We spent an amazing time there, listening to music on the radio, watching Friends on TV, drinking this strong beer that they have there called Biere du Demon with 12% of alcohol, chatting, dancing on the couch, kissing… This trip brought us even closer as a couple, it made me fall in love with him even more 🙂

In Catania we went for long walks, we played air hockey in a bar, we went to buy makeup and new shoes in Via Etnea, a big commercial street. Then, we rode an old carousel in Giardino Bellini. This garden is the oldest urban park in Catania and it was  inaugurated in 1883.

We visited the main square Piazza Duomo, where we ate cannoli and we saw the fish market located close by. In the center of the Piazza is a fountain dating from 1736, named Fontana dell’Elefant, with an elephant that is the symbol of Catania.

We also visited the ruins of an old Roman Theater. It was built around the 2nd century AD and brought to the light during the excavations in 1904 and 1906. Unfortunately only part of it is visible today, because other part is still buried under lava bridge or stones were removed in order to reconstruct other buildings. We didn’t go to the Mount Etna because it was too expensive.  


 

PALERMO

Facts about the city:

The Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo provide a macabre tourist attraction as well as an extraordinary historical record. There lies the mummy of Rosalia Lombardo, an Italian child who died in 1920 of pneumonia. Her body was one of the last to be admitted to the catacombs and is one of the best preserved bodies in the world.

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In our second day in Sicily we went by train to the other extreme of the island – Palermo. It took us about 4 hours to get there but it was worth it. I liked Palermo much more than Catania. Palermo has this natural charm. We went to eat in a sushi restaurant when we got there and then we went to explore the city.

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I loved a gigantic fountain called Fontana Pretoria, with lots of beautiful statues and surrounded by palaces and interesting old buildings. The fountain was built by Francesco Camilliani in the city of Florence in 1554, but was then transferred to Palermo in 1574. In order to transport it, the fountain was disassembled in 644 pieces. Then, in order to make room for the fountain, several buildings were demolished. However, not all the pieces arrived in Palermo. Some sculptures were damaged during the transport others were stolen. The fountain represents the Twelve Olympians, other mythological figures, animals and the rivers of Palermo.

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Another thing I really liked to visit was the Palermo Cathedral. Very impressive the architecture! It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. As an architectural complex, it is characterized by the presence of different styles, due to a long history of additions, alterations and restorations, the last of which occurred in the 18th century. It was erected in 1185 by Walter Ophamil, the Anglo-Norman archbishop of Palermo and King William II’s minister.

We ate ice cream, strolled around the commercial streets and saw some street artists performing in Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena. The piazza is octagonal, four sides being the streets; the remaining four sides are Baroque buildings, the near-identical facades of which contain fountains with statues of the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily, and of the patronesses of Palermo, (Christina, Ninfa, Olivia and Agata). It was a very fun day.


 

SIRACUSA

In our last day we went to Siracusa. We didn’t have time to visit anything in the city. We just took a taxi and went to Skydive Sicilia to do something totally crazy – skydive!! 😀 It was super super hot! First we went inside a shelter where the crew explained us the basic stuff and prepared the equipment. Then, we entered a small plane.

It was cool that me and Alejandro jumped from the same plane, at the same time, more or less! It was just me and him with the crew. My instructor was Italian and very nice. We payed an extra so that the guys could take pictures and film us while we jumped.

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It was very scary to see when they opened the door of the plane and the crew jumped. Everything seems so small from up there! First Alejandro jumped and then I jumped. It was amazing! The first few seconds you panic because it’s a free fall of 4.500 meters at 220km/h. We feel so much wind in our face that we cannot even breath. Also, you feel like you want to grab on to something but you can’t.

Then they open the mini parachute and the speed goes down a bit. Finally, they open the big one and you just stay there, flying in the air, enjoying the amazing view from above. Very beautiful! I felt like a bird. The landing was very smooth too, much more than what I was expecting.

After the jump we had to call a taxi because our flight was right next. I totally recommend this experience. I was very proud of myself for not being scared 🙂

 

Contrasts of the North of Italy

In 2015 I went with a friend to the north of Italy: to the cosmopolitan and stressful Milan and to the beautiful romantic Verona. Two cities very close to each other but very different.

MILAN

Facts about the city:

Every night, from 7 PM to 9 PM, it is time for aperitivo – the bars and cafes offer huge spreads of food, which everyone can enjoy for free after buying a drink.

The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is made famous by the fact that it houses the original painting “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. Before visiting it, most visitors don’t realize that it was actually painted on the wall of what once was the monastery’s dining room.

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I decided to take a trip with my colleague Vera. We were both in need of a routine and the stress of work. We decided to go first to Milan and then to Verona. I did not take any days off so I arrived in Porto in the morning at 8:30 am and I went to work at 10:00 am, but everything went well and it was truly worth it.

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I did not like our hotel – Hotel Brasil Milan – and I do not recommend it. It was terrifying! Away from the center, away from the metro, they did not speak English, we had a WC in the room but there was no toilet and, worse, had a horrible wallpaper stuck in our room, with a horrible tropical sunset. Plus we had to get on a super sly elevator. We paid €180 for two, for two nights. That is, stayed for €45 per night per person. It was not even worth the money.

I did not like Milan very much to be honest. It is a city full of stress, full of people hurried on the streets, full of wealth and ostentation (but at the same time full of poverty in the streets) and full of consumerism. Consumerism is the key word. It is undoubtedly a consumer city.

I only liked three places. The first place I found worth seeing in Milan is the Duomo di Milano (which, yes, is imposing and beautiful) and the main square, On the weekend in which we went to Milan was running the EMA’s of MTV in the square of the Duomo, but we did not see any famous there unfortunately.

The cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the largest church in Italy (the larger St. Peter’s Basilica is in the State of Vatican City) and the third largest in the world.

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The second place I also liked is right next to the Duomo and it is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, with its expensive shops. This is Italy’s oldest shopping mall and contains the Town House Galleria, a five-star hotel. Housed within a four-story double arcade, the Galleria is named after Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It was designed in 1861 and built by architect Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877.

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The other site that I also liked immensely was the Castello Sforzesco, with its lake and the beautiful Parco Sempione behind. The castle was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification. Later renovated and enlarged, in the 16th and 17th centuries it was one of the largest citadels in Europe. Extensively rebuilt by Luca Beltrami in 1891–1905, it now houses several of the city’s museums and art collections.

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Parco Sempione was established in 1888. I loved having coffee with Vera in the park, watching the ducklings on the lake and listening to a street artist playing. The Arco della Pace is also beautiful and stands at the edge of the park. The very design of the park, due to architect Emilio Alemagna, was conceived with the intent of creating panoramic views encompassing both monuments – the castle and the arch.

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We also visit the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, which is a Romanesque church with exquisite patio, in addition to a crypt where are the remains of Saint Ambrose. We went to the Pinacoteca di Brera (the main public gallery for paintings in Milan) and to the Quadrilatero della Moda (the most famous shopping streets).

We also visited Piazza della Scala, a square named after the renowned Teatro alla Scala opera house, which occupies the north-western side of the square. On the opposite side is the facade of Palazzo Marino, Milan’s city hall. The centre of the square is marked by the monument of Leonardo da Vinci by sculptor Pietro Magni (1872).

We also trolled around the Navigli (water canals). The system consisted of five canals: Naviglio Grande, Naviglio Pavese, Naviglio Martesana, Naviglio di Paderno, Naviglio di Bereguardo. Today, the canals are mostly used for irrigation. The only two canals who operate a tourist navigation system connected to the Darsena are the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese, also becoming a nightlife pole.

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We went to have pizza twice (typical, I know) near the Duomo. We also had bruschetta and lasagna. Of course, we also drink the typical Italian coffee, although I think it’s almost the same as ours.

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I ran into Carla in Milan, a girl from Paredes who took a French course with me in Porto! What a coincidence, the world is really small (and here I didn’t even know that next year I would be traveling with her to Copenhagen!).


VERONA

Facts about the city:

Verona is the city where William Shakespeare based one of his famous plays, ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Shakespeare set two more plays in this city – ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. If you visit Juliet’s house you should rub the right breast of a bronze statue of Juliet. It is meant to bring good fortune for those who are unlucky in love.

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For me the best part of this trip was the day we went by train to Verona, the romantic city of Romeo and Juliet. There, unlike Milan, the people were friendly (in Milan we were shocked by the lack of sympathy of some people! And nobody knows how to speak English nor make the effort to understand us) and everything was more beautiful and cute.

We entered the historical center by some beautiful arches called Portoni della Bra, which gave access to the magnificent Piazza Bra. This square has a beautiful garden with the fountain of the Alps and a bronze statue of Victor Emmanuel II. It is lined with numerous cafés and restaurants, along with several notable buildings and colorful houses.

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One of them is Arena di Verona. This arena is a very well preserved 1st century coliseum (better than that of Rome). It is still in use today and is internationally famous for the large-scale opera performances given there. In ancient times, nearly 30,000 people was the housing capacity of the Arena. Nowadays, for security reasons, the maximum attendance is 15,000 people.

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It was also in Piazza Bra that Vera and I had dinner in a very fancy restaurant.

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After this square, we continue along Via Mazzini, a very cute shopping street, full of well-known shops but, unlike Milan, here the shops are in medieval buildings with flowerbeds. Most of the major Italian labels are represented, and even if you can’t afford them it’s great to wander and window shop.

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At the end of this street we went to the most beautiful place of Verona in my opinion: Piazza delle Erbe. This square is beautiful! Home of the Forum in Roman times this is still a focal point of the city. It contains the ‘Britney Verona’ fountain and a nice market. Its old buildings are very picturesque, it looks like a movie set.

The Torre dei Lamberti was completed in 1463 and is the tallest in Verona. The unmistakable clock tower looms over the Piazza delle Erbe, and you enter via the palace courtyard. Although there are 238 steps to the top, there is a lift! Views from the top are breathtaking.

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Next door is the Piazza dei Signori and the tombs Arche Scaligere, which is a group of five Gothic funerary monuments celebrating the Scaliger family, who ruled in Verona from the 13th to the late 14th century.

Then we passed another shopping street and went to Juliet’s House. This is supposedly the location of the famous balcony love scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The house is a major destination for tourist pilgrimage, as the tiny courtyard is normally packed with love struck teenagers photographing each other on the famous balcony. The balcony overlooks a tiny courtyard containing a statue of Juliet. There is an unbelievable amount of graffiti and general scrawling on the walls, floor, seats, anything that will hold ink – there is a tradition of writing love messages to Juliet, and visitors leave notes, trinkets and bits of chewing gum fashioned into love hearts.

Afterwards we went to see some churches like the Verona Cathedral, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, San Zeno Maggiore or Sant’Anastacia. Some of these churches are very old but they had to be rebuilt after earthquakes and after the II World War.

San Zeno Maggiore is dedicated to Verona’s patron saint, Zeno. Zeno’s tomb lies in an atmospheric shrine in the church undercroft. The church itself was a center of European pilgrimage for centuries, who have left their mark – pilgrims happily inscribed graffiti in the frescos, and signatures dating from 1390 survive to this day. Its fame rests partly on its architecture and partly upon the tradition that its crypt was the place of the marriage of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

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We also went up to several medieval bridges. First, the Ponte Pietra (completed in 100 BC), with a fantastic view, which gave us access on the other bank to visit in a Roman Theater. The theater was also built in the late 1st century BC.

Then, the fortified Ponte Scaligero, with an authentic market of stalls in its interior, that gives access to the Castelvecchio Museum. The museum displays a collection of sculpture, statues, paintings, ancient weapons, ceramics, goldworks, miniatures and some old bells.

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I finished the day smoking a cigarette there to relax by the river and in Verona, yes, I felt that I had some rest. I loved the city!

In a maze of gondolas and canals

I went with Ricardo to the most romantic city in the world, Venice. It was a trip that was very important for me and I felt like my wanderlust desire was awaken again.

Curiosities about the city:

Venice is situated across a group of 118 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by 400 bridges.

The wooden piles on which the city was famously built have done their job with sturdy water-resistant efficiency for centuries. However, Venice is notoriously sinking by up to 2mm every year.

The Carnival is very famous. The Medico della Peste mask – the unnerving face-disguise which bears avian features and a long beak – is (as its name says) a reference to the plagues which swept Europe in the Middle Ages.

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We took advantage of the fact that there was a new low cost airline (Volotea) flying from Porto and we bought a direct flight to Venice, super cheap. I will never forget what I felt when I arrived in Venice. What a sense of wonder! We arrived at sunset and seeing all that with that light was breathtaking: the Grand Canal, the colorful houses, the beautiful bridges, the churches…

The Grand Canal forms one of the major water-traffic corridors in the city, with more than 170 buildings on both sides. Amongst the many are the Palazzi Barbaro, Ca’ Rezzonico, Ca’ d’Oro, Palazzo Dario, Ca’ Foscari, Palazzo Barbarigo, Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the church of Santa Maria della Salute.

Most of the palaces emerge from water without pavement. Consequently, one can only tour past the fronts of the buildings on the grand canal by boat.

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We stayed in a cozy hotel in the center – I cannot remember the name. The man front he reception could not even speak English, but we understood each other. I had never seen so many tourists together as in Venice, in St. Mark’s Square. What a madness!

The centerpiece of the piazza is, of course, magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica. Commissioned in 1071 by doge Domenico Contarini, this amazing church is built in Venetian-Byzantine style, a mixture of western and eastern styles.

The basilica has a separate campanile – bell tower – that stands 98.6 meters tall and is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. There’s also two columns that pay homage to two of Venice’s patrons – St. Mark and St. Teodoro of Amasea. The columns have long served as the official gateway to the city.

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Close to the square, we visited  Palazzo Ducale. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice, opening as a museum in 1923. Today, it is one of the 11 museums run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.

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We went to the Bridge of Sighs. The enclosed bridge has windows with stone bars and connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. It was designed by Antonio Contino and was built in 1600. The name of the bridge comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.

We also went to see the little shops inside Rialto Bridge. The bridge was designed by Antonio da Ponte in 1591. It has two inclined ramps that lead up to a central portico.

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Then we decided to go on one of the water buses, the vaporetto, to one of the other islands of Venice, with beaches and everything, more residential. These water buses are quite scary because when they hit the shore for people to leave, there is always a gap in which we can put our feet there or even fall into the water. We do not ride in a gondola, because it was an economic trip, but now I regret it.

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Last night we went out to have dinner in a typical Italian restaurant in front of a canal. It was beautiful! We had diner by candlelight, drank wine and then decided to try an Italian drink called Spritz. The drink was sweet but it had plenty of alcohol and the truth is that I drank too much!

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That last night Ricardo and I did not book a hotel. Our plan was to walk around the city, because the return flight was super early. We went to Casino di Venezia, very fancy, they even gave a blazer to Ricardo, because the dress code was mandatory. We left there and walked through the canals of Venice, now deserted and without tourists. It was interesting to see that more authentic side of Venice.