By Denise McGuigan, Contributor
Though it was upsetting to part with Greece, we were all anxious to visit the slowly sinking, yet astonishing city of Venice. In northern Italy, Venice stretches across 117 islands in the Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea.
Venice's unique culture and beauty radiated as we took our water taxi to the Piazza San Marco, the main square within the city. The square was beautiful: filled with people as they stared in awe at the Basilica in one corner, the Doge's Palace, and the countless stores selling Venetian and Murano glass that Venice is known for.
Fortunately, we were all able to enjoy a uniquely Venetian experience – a gondola ride through the waterways of the city. It was so relaxing to meander through the city, having never experienced anything like it before. It also didn't hurt they we were able to get a discount as a group.
Afterward, a few of us gathered on the top of the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal. The view was exactly as I had pictured Venice to be from the movies.
What is amazing about this trip is that we will be in one country in the morning, and in another one at night. After Venice, we drove to Piran, a town in southwestern Slovenia located on the Gulf of Piran on the Adriatic Sea. The coast was a spectacular sight – facing a marina and a vast expanse of beautiful, blue water.
While there, some of us walked up to the fortified walls that allowed us an amazing view of the entire city. The weather was perfect, and I couldn't think of any better way to spend the day than to stand in awe and watch the sailboats move toward the shores of beautiful Slovenia.
After Slovenia, we traveled to what soon became one of my favorite places – Budapest, Hungary.
Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is the country's center for politics, culture, commerce, industry and transportation. Its rich culture is evident as one wanders the streets, attempting to take in as much as the beauty as our eyes will allow.
The city is home to the largest synagogue in Europe, an opera house, the third largest Parliament building in the world (modeled after Britain's), Heroes' Square and three bridges that cross the Danube River.
Our hostel is in an amazing location – just down the road from Saint Stephen's Basilica and close to the center of Pest. As you may know, Budapest was at one time separated into Buda and Pest and was not united until 1873. The Pest side, especially, is incredibly rich in culture, allowing us all to experience its spectacular architecture and amazing monuments, squares and landmarks.
We were all also able to share a new experience – seeing our first opera. Coincidentally, the one we were able to see is one that you have more than likely heard of before, Romeo and Juliet.
Budapest gave us all new experiences to remember and to share, and will always be thought of in our minds as one of the cleanest, most beautiful cities we have ever had the pleasure to visit.
Tomorrow it is on to Vienna, Austria. Though Budapest will remain fresh in our minds and our hearts, I have a feeling we will all feel similarly about Vienna.