I couldn’t sleep all night. I guess that’s what happens when you start to age; you start waking up at 3 in the morning with cravings for dumplings and then you can’t go back to sleep (or maybe it was just the time difference, who knows). Do you know how I figured out what time it was? Because there was a clock in our shower. I don’t know where they come up with these things but I guess someone just woke up one day and asked, “You know what this bathroom needs? A pisuar and a clock. Yep, that will just pull the whole room together.” I opened up the window and sat on the edge (there were no nets so I felt like a complete dare devil) and watched the sun rise over Venice. Not the worst way to start my day.
I went back to bed and fell asleep only to be woken up a few minutes later by my parents, who led me to the kitchen, where there was a fresh baked sweet bun with candles in it and a bouquet of flowers waiting for me. Not that I was allowed to eat the sweet bun, I mean I had my thighs to think about, but I did take a picture with it. It was my birthday and I was now 16 years old, meaning I could now legally drop out of school and get married (but only with parental consent). I put on my trusty white fedora (you can’t pull this look off anywhere but in Europe) and we hit the road.
The first place we went was the Rialto Bridge, one of the best places to view the Grand Canal in all its glory. It was rebuilt several times, the last time being in the 16th century, when they had a competition to see who could create the most functional bridge. Michelangelo and Palladio competed but the winner was Antonio Da Ponte, a lesser known architect (score one for the little people). The Mercerie and nearby Calle dei Fabbri (running along the Piazza San Marco to the Rialto Bridge) have been the main shopping streets in Venice for hundreds of years. I sauntered down the streets and wasn’t going to leave until I spent all of my money.
The streets had small stores along the sides and I bought a pair of pants that everyone seemed to be wearing (baggy around the top and slim around the calves). The street was very lengthy, crowded with hundreds of people and full of carts selling t-shirts and other souvenirs. I’m not much of a negotiator, but all you have to do to talk down a price is find something you like and ask how much it costs. After they give you a number, scrunch up your face and say, “Oh no, it’s too expensive, I don’t have that much,” then start walking away. They will scream every number imaginable after you. “Ok, I give you for 10 euro, 5 euro, ok I’ll pay you to take it!” (I’m paraphrasing of course).
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I bought a dark green sweatshirt with the words Universitia de Venezia on the front (look at me, I even make shopping educational). Did I feel stupid buying a huge sweater in the middle of the summer while the heat was sweltering? Not even a little bit (ok fine, a little bit). I also bought a light blue shoulder bag with the words ITALIA scribbled on the front and quickly dumped the contents of my back pack into it (all I had was a pack of gum and a hair tie, but I still carried around a huge purse). The stands were selling the same 5 shirts and we even found a store called Genuine Fake Watches. Catchy name, no? There were also many stores selling Venetian masks that had Phantom of the Opera music playing inside. For souvenirs and gifts, I found that the best places to go are the streets north of Campo Santo Stefano.
After a difficult day of shopping (I’m serious, it’s exhausting! I am never making fun of personal shoppers again), we came home and that’s when I brought out my high heels. Why? I honestly don’t even know. But I was committed to them, and I walked down the cobble stone streets in my three inch blister machines with tears in my eyes. It was the accomplishment I am most proud of, in all my 16 years. Trophies, awards and winning competitions don’t even begin to compare to the impressiveness of walking through Europe in heels. I knew I was going to regret wearing them, but that didn’t stop me from packing four pairs of them, did it?
We walked through the busy streets leading up to the Rialto Bridge, and I managed to buy a beautiful painting of Venice (to add to my collection of paintings from around the world…did I really just say that?). I stopped at some boutiques to buy shoes (as if I didn’t have enough at home). After we left the store, I realized that I didn’t have my painting. My dad and brother went back to find it and came back empty handed. I was on the verge of tears and my dad passed by in front of me and I saw the painting tucked under his shirt. I pulled the painting out so fast that it left a mark on his back and I did my best to pretend like I was mad at them for tricking me on my birthday.
We hopped into a gondola and rode around the city, with tourists taking pictures of us from the Rialto Bridge. As we were passing by, we watched as a man dropped to his knee in front of everyone and proposed to his girlfriend at the tip of the bridge. Am I the only one who appreciates private proposals nowadays? Is being proposed to not special unless hundreds of random strangers are surrounding you?
The gondola dropped us off by St. Mark’s plaza and we sat down to dinner as the sun began to set. I ordered, of course spaghetti with meatballs. I have no idea how I am supposed to go back to eating canned spaghetti and frozen meatballs because, once again, my standards have been raised. Since it was my birthday, I decided to take my first sip of alcohol (no, I’ve never had alcohol before, stop acting so shocked) by trying some white wine. How do you people drink this stuff? I thought it tasted like nail polish remover. And here I was worried that I would like it too much. I’ve learned that there is technically no drinking age in Europe, they just use the number 18 as a cover.
After dinner, we made our way to the Procuratie Vecchie, where there was an orchestra band playing Besame Mucho. We sat down (costs 6 euros per person to sit at the set up tables) and ordered dessert. My mom ordered a cup of tea for 9 euros ($11) and I ordered some coffee ice cream for 16 euros ($20). When my dad’s hand started shaking as he pulled out his wallet, my mom argued that it’s not every day that your daughter turns 16. My mom pulled out a pair of candles and stuck them into my ice cream as I made a wish (like there was anything left to wish for). We sat back, with the sky a perfect royal blue, as if Michelangelo had painted it himself.
There was a subtle breeze with beautiful (yet expensive) music and salesman selling little lighters attached to rubber bands. The kids kept slinging them into the air, lighting up the sky with little stars. I made my family sit through one hour of classical music before I finally said that we could leave. My heels in hand and walking bare foot, we made our way back home. If anyone were to ask me what I did for my birthday, I could hear myself answering, “Oh nothing really, we just went out to dinner as a family. I ordered spaghetti and meatballs, and did I mention that we were in Italy, and then I had some ice cream. No big deal. So what did you do for YOUR birthday? I’m fascinated.”
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