Everyone knows Venice. The gondolas, the canals, San Marco Piazza and all those pigeons. I hadn’t been to Venice before but it had made a good impression on Luke and he wanted me to see it too.
Right before our trip two of our friends had visited Venice and written about it online separately. Both had mentioned the crowds. Sarah had said that you just needed to get off the beaten path to avoid them, whereas Steve had been so put off that he recommended avoiding the place altogether. Too late, though – we had our train and accommodation booked so off we went. I’m not a big fan of crowds so I would say that my expectations were pretty low.
We’d booked a hostel near San Marco, the busiest spot in the whole city and we walked from the train station across the island with our big packs on our backs. After sending many things home and finally ditching our two person sleeping bag that was taking up about a third of my backpack, carrying my stuff is becoming much easier and we walked for perhaps an hour carrying about 20kgs each. Not a bad effort!
The crowds were pretty intense in parts on that first day. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and walked the busiest route, from the station via the Rialto bridge to San Marco then down the waterfront to our hostel. However as soon as we turned off the waterfront the little alleys and piazzas were very quiet and the charm of Venice became apparent.
I’d bought a map of the islands at the train station and it is truly a wonder to behold. The place is a real warren, few streets even run parallel. Most bend and twist and alleys that look like dead ends turn out to have a tiny passageway that joins you up to another square or a bridge. It’s quite magical.
Venice became even more enchanting the first evening when we went for a walk and found the city almost deserted. There were at least 5 gargantuan cruise ships moored near the city during our stay and many of the tourists stay off the island on the mainland where you can get much nicer accommodation for less.
This means that everyone’s pretty much gone by 8 or 9pm and you can wander without meeting more than a few dog walkers or delivery men. Even in San Marco there were only a couple of restaurants open and a few people gathered to listen to some musicians play by street light.
Needless to say, we bought gelato.
We had two full days to spend. The first we walked around the city and I got to do one of my favourite activities – orienteering! With the map and my trusty compass I navigated us via back streets and alleys to a few well known sights including the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which was not really worth the price of entry (unless you’re a big fan of surrealism and abstract art – which I don’t mind and do appreciate but the cost of entry was too high for such a small collection), although the trip was not wasted because on the way we passed a church that was having a free exhibition of work by a Chinese artist who really appealed to Luke and I. I’d describe it as fantasy-realism. A fascinating juxtaposition of lifelike portraits with backgrounds that depicted collages of objects, natural scenes, space and beautiful colours.
The second day we spent visiting two islands, Murano and Burano. Murano is home to famous glass-blowing factories. Although the island itself was very pretty the glass was… gosh. How do I put this nicely? Tacky as all get-out. Really, truly awful. There was very little that was even slightly appealing. Compared to the delicate precision and restrained tastefulness of Waterford, or the colourful organic exuberance of Turkish ceramics, I can’t say the stuff at Murano appealed to me at all. The worst of the lot of was the thick coloured glass chandeliers. Actually, no. The very worst thing I saw was a glass pillar on which sat a life sized glass eagle. Still, it was nice to see that while Italians might have a firm grasp on food, architecture, paintings and fashion, they aren’t perfect;-).
The second island, Burano, was an absolute delight. Traditionally the home of fishermen and lace makers, every house on the island is painted a bright colour and it was a photographer’s dream. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here. All I could think was ‘I want to stucco my house and paint it ludicrously bright colours… but which colours?!’.
We had a delicious lunch then caught the sea bus back to Venice.
Speaking of food, we opted for dinner and some Newsroom to finish off the day in our hostel so we went to the local Co-op Supermarket and I bought a bag of salad leaves and a tin of tuna for dinner while Luke finished of the cereal we’d bought. The green salads – just a mix of baby rocket, tatsoi and a few other leafy greens, have been one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about Italy. I often feel disappointed when eating out in Melbourne and salads are presented full of leaves that are too old, bitter and wilted. Italians *get* a green salad. Tiny leaves, freshly picked, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic. The beauty of so much of the food we’ve had here has been in its perfect simplicity. It’s been such a pleasure to eat leaves here that I’m already dreaming of getting some styrafoam boxes for growing my own salad mixes at home, hopefully year round.
So the verdict on Venice? I loved it. It’s a city that’s all about walking, which is my favourite way of getting around, and it’s hard to turn a corner without seeing something worth photographing.
Italy as a whole was lovely. Sure, there’s things not to like – people throwing cigarette butts everywhere, the spitting, begging, the ubiquitous dog mess. But the downs are definitely outweighed by the good stuff – the food, the fact that people aren’t generally trying to pull you into their shops (a very nice change after Turkey), the art, architecture and relaxed atmosphere. I think the secret to the generally excellent physiques of the locals (people here are definitely noticeably fitter than at home) is that walking is a big part of the culture here, which suits us just fine. I think we’ve been walking at least 12 kms a day and are feeling all the better for it.
So thanks, Italy! You’ve been grand.