With classes occurring so infrequently, the end of the semester (particularly finals) has rather crept up on me. I now have less than a month left here in France, and this upcoming week is the last full week of classes. None of this really hit me until, on Monday, my International Contract Law professor reminded us that it was our final class session before the final, though the final itself is not for another 2 weeks. This shock was further reinforced by my Marketing: Communications class, which was also the last session before the final. However, in that class, the final is tomorrow.

Thankfully, I had 2 things to look forward to before the inevitable stress of finals really took hold: Thanksgiving and Venice.

Ariel and I decided that we were going to do our absolute best to make a full Thanksgiving feast to celebrate. There were 3 flaws in this brilliant plan: we both had class on Thanksgiving (for the first–and probably only–time in my life), it is very difficult to find many of the trappings of Thanksgiving dinner over here (like stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pie), and our kitchens consist of hotplates and refrigerators (which I have lamented many times).

Although of course we could not do anything about going to class [yes, we both attended our classes], we did discover a store that sold many of the food items we needed. In Paris, there is a store called “Thanksgiving” which sells many American foods that you just can’t find elsewhere, like Pop-tarts.

The closest metro stop is St. Paul, on Metro line 1

Pro tip: The Thanksgiving store is a bit expensive, but if you really need some American foods, Thanksgiving is your best bet.

We bought stuffing mix, gravy mix, and cranberry sauce from there. Everything else came we made ourselves from ingredients at the grocery store, or bought from the local bakery. All told, we only spent about 30 euros, and around 2 hours to make our feast.

wp-image-1647934914jpg.jpegWe had turkey (breasts), stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, rolls, cranberry sauce, gravy, hollandaise, apple tart, chocolate cake, ice cream, and wine. Not bad for 2 people working with 2 hotplates!

Both of us were full of anticipation on Friday because after class we were headed to Venice! Truth be told, I was a little worried that Venice would not live up to my expectations because I’ve seen it in movies, on Pinterest, and heard about it so many times. Fortunately, it lived up to the hype.

Because we couldn’t leave until after class, we didn’t get into Venice until late on Friday, so we couldn’t really explore, but we did take full advantage of Saturday and Sunday! On Saturday we spent most of the day on the islands of Burano, and Murano.

Burano is about a 2 hour boatride from the main part of the city, but I highly recommend visiting. The island is known for its lace, and of course there are shops everywhere selling it. You can buy it in various patterns by the meter, or you can buy it in the form of shirts, doilies, table clothes, or all sorts of other things. Burano is also full of very colorful houses, so around every corner is a good picture spot.

20161126_103228.jpgPro tip: 1) wander away from the most touristy areas (yes, even this little island has tourist areas), and the prices will go down significantly. 2) you can buy Murano glass jewelry on Burano and it will be much cheaper; you only need to buy glass on Murano if you are looking for figurines, vases, or other larger items.

After lunch, we headed to Murano, the island justly famous for its glass. Although the island itself is less picturesque, the glass work is spectacular, beautiful, and simply amazing! Unfortunately, but understandably, you cannot take any pictures in the shops. I could have easily spent my entire bank account between the two islands. Thankfully, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to get it home without breaking it, so I didn’t buy much.

wp-image-814802728jpg.jpegPro tip: if you are buying Murano glass, make sure it is stamped or, if not, that it comes with a certificate. A few years ago Murano glass was trademarked because Chinese manufacturers have started making cheap glass and claiming that it is Murano glass, so all real Murano glass is stamped and/or should come with a little certificate that specifies the maker and proves that what you are buying really is Murano glass.

In the evening, we went back to our hostel to drop off our purchases, and then went wandering around the city proper and eat dinner. Everyone will tell you that the best way to explore Venice is to “get lost,” but what they mean is to wander around without any particular destination in mind. That’s how we found our dinner, and one of the many gelato places we stopped at in Venice. After dinner and gelato, we headed to St. Mark’s Square so that we could get some pictures of St. Mark’s Basilica, the Campanile, Doge’s Palace, and the Bridge of Sighs before heading back to our hostel.

Pro tip: Google maps does not work very well in Venice. So, if you really do get lost, or just need to find your way back, ask a local for “la Piazza.” They will point you in the direction of St. Mark’s Square.

We headed back to our hostel fairly early because Ariel wanted to get up to get sunrise pictures of the Doge’s Palace. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but I did get up and go with Ariel to take pictures. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and foggy, so there we didn’t really get any “sunrise” pictures, but, amazingly, we got pictures without any tourists in them! Unfortunately, most of those pictures are on my camera, so I cannot post them on here.

Pro tip: if you want pictures of these sites without tourists, you need to get them extremely early in the morning, and not during tourist season.

In my experience, churches in Europe don’t do early masses. However, St. Mark’s Basilica was an exception, so I went to mass there right after we finished taking our pictures. The inside of the Basilica was gorgeous, especially the gold ceiling, but you could not take any pictures inside. The only other thing that we had planned for Sunday was to go up to the top of the Campanile, but as mass ended at 9 and it did not open until 10, we wandered away in search of breakfast. While we were looking for food, we stumbled upon the Rialto Bridge. That is why you go wandering. We also walked past some gondolas. Ariel was also adamant that she was not going to go on a gondola ride because she couldn’t see the point, and, unsurprisingly, gondola rides in Venice are expensive (80€ per ride). However, the gondola driver told us that they give a student discount, so it would only be 60€, meaning 30€ each, and Ariel relented.

On our ride, the gondola drive pointed out a few famous places, like the oldest house. It is 900 years old, and the same family has lived in it for all of that time. He also pointed out a theater which was once the home of Marco Polo. It didn’t take long for Ariel to admit that taking a ride was a good idea.

After the gondola ride was over, we headed back in the direction of St. Mark’s so that we could go up the campanile. On the way, we found a shop that was having a “Black Weekend” sale, and we each ended up buying a Venetian Carnivale mask.

Going up St. Mark’s Campanile was the last thing we did (besides eating more gelato) before we had to head to the airport and back home. The campanile is huge, and so it offers amazing views of the city!

Iowa State Campanile (left), and St. Mark’s Campanile (right)

FUN FACT: St. Mark’s Campanile was the inspiration for Iowa State’s, however since the Venetian one collapsed in 1902, and was rebuilt in 1912, the one at Iowa State is actually older (built in 1897-8).