Lost in Venice: Wandering through the City of Canals

Venice, Italy is called the “City of Romance”, the “City of Canals”, the “City of Bridges”, “The Floating City”, and the “Queen of the Adriatic”. I, personally, think a more fitting name for the city would be “The Labyrinth City” because it is truly a very confusing maze. Venice was exactly what I expected, and nothing like I expected at the same time. Even though I was in London a few weeks ago and technically it was a solo trip, I did have a friend there who knew the city and everyone spoke English. In Venice, I was A.L.O.N.E. Because I had more time to get ready for this trip than I did for my London adventure, I did a lot of research, talked to people who had visited and arrived prepared with a list of sites to see.

I left Barcelona late on a Friday night (730pm) so that I wouldn’t have to cancel any classes, and arrived in Venice at around 10pm. I had pre-favorited the site of my hostel on my trusty GoogleMaps and decided to wing it and just use the “star” on my screen to guide me. I did manage to get to the street where my hostel was located without many problems, which was surprising because it was a 20-minute walk from the bus station and involved about a million turns, loops and bridge crossings. My real problem was finding the actual building of the hostel, because there were no street signs, no numbers on the buildings, and no sign with the name of the dang place. Plus, I was unaware that almost EVERYTHING closes at 10pm, so there were limited places I could go to ask for help. Fortunately, I was able to ask some guy in Spanish where the hostel was and he pointed to the building. Turns out there was a plaque the size of a notecard on the door that said the hostel name. COME ON people, help a  clueless sister out and make the sign visible!

I checked into my hostel without a problem, and was STARVING. The only restaurant open in the vicinity was a Chinese restaurant. So, on my first night in Venice, I ate chicken with vegetables and a spring roll. This meal was foreshadowing for the rest of my culinary experience in Venice.

Hostels are funny places. You can meet awesome people who are adventurous wanderers who can become fast friends, or you may encounter the most annoying humans alive. I encountered the latter in this hostel unfortunately. My first night, there were 2 Americans and 1 girl from South Korea in my room. The girl from South Korea was one of the most unfriendly people I have ever met. She reminded me of Kimmy Chen, the roommate of Anna Kendrick’s character in Pitch Perfect if you understand that reference. Worse were the 2 Americans, who were leaving for a cruise the next day, and made me realize why Americans have such a terrible reputation abroad. They were talking loudly when I was clearly trying to sleep, telling stories about the appalling things that they have done in college and abroad, and slamming the door at all hours of the night. The girl was taking “business” phone calls until 3 in the morning. Thank god I brought ear plugs.

After a super fun night, I woke up early and was out the door by 730am to start exploring. I was lucky enough to be in Venice on a weekend with the most perfect weather.  My first stop was St. Mark’s Square/Basilica. Because I was up and at em’ so early, I took my sweet time walking there and was able to get coffee and walk through the many squares,and window show at the stores (which were still closed). I thought it was best to go to St. Mark’s early because it gets mobbed with tourists later in the day. I took some pictures of the square, the clock tower, the bell tower, and the outside of the basilica before getting in line for the basilica. Entrance to the church portion was free, but pictures were prohibited so I, for once, didn’t disobey and unfortunately do not have pictures of the inside of St. Mark’s. It is one of the most famous Byzantine-style churches in the world, according to a woman that I met in line. Almost the entire inside of the church is covered in gold mosaic and frescos. It was beautiful and impressive, but I am very jaded about the beauty of churches since I have seen 320949204 of them. It was worth going into because it is the most famous church in Venice, but I decided that I am more of a fan of the gothic-style cathedrals like Westminster Abbey and Notre Dame. I went up to the terrace of St. Mark’s which unfortunately does have an entrance fee, and took some pictures of the square from above and the massive bronze horses that sit on the terrace.

I walked over to the Doge’s Palace, which is right next to Basilica. It is now a museum, but used to be the Palace for the ruler of Venice (the Doge). I got in line, but decided at the last minute not to go in because the entrance was 20 euros and I hate museums. So, I settled with taking pictures of the outside of the palace, because it is a beautiful old building with a lot of charm. It sits right on the Grand Canal, and you can see tons of boats and gondolas go by, alone with views of islands across the canal.

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Next to the Doge’s Palace is a view of the Bridge of Sighs, which is a covered bridge that connects interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace to the Prigione Nuove (the New Prison). Venetians say that it is called the Bridge of Sighs because prisoners used to sigh as they crossed it because it was their last chance to look at the beautiful city of Venice before they were imprisoned or killed. Another legend says that lovers who kiss on a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset while the bells ring in St. Mark’s Campanile (bell tower) will have everlasting love.

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Next, I went to buy the ticket for the Vaporetto, which is the large water taxi that takes you all up and down the city of Venice along the Grand Canal. 3 days of unlimited travel, including the airport bus was only 28 euros, which I thought was well worth it, even though I spent most of my time walking.  I crossed the Grand Canal to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, which is a beautiful church on the water that you can see from the Doge’s Palace.

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I continued walking and decided to buy tickets to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which is a collection of modern artwork. The woman I met in line for St. Mark’s Basilica was also an art history guru and was raving about how wonderful she thought this museum was going to be. I wouldn’t have gone in if I hadn’t received the student discount, which thankfully the guy gave me even though I didn’t have my student ID. Truly, I don’t know why I keep wasting money on museums because despite the setting of the museum, which had gardens, beautiful flowers, and trees with a courtyard in the center, I HATE art museums, especially modern art museums. I really just do not understand modern art at all. There were two paintings in there that were a blue square over top of a red canvas and a green square over top of a red canvas. Sorry, Ellsworth Kelly, but if this is a treasured piece of artwork then I could be a billionaire selling the ridiculous pictures I have to draw during my English classes.

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I had seen mostly everything on my list at this point, and it was only 1pm on my first day. So, I decide to venture up to the Jewish Quarter of the city in the far north of the city. Rather than take the Vaporetto, I spent the next 4 hours wandering the streets of Venice. I took about a million pictures of the canals, bridges, and buildings that I encountered along the way.

I decided to do the free walking tour  (http://venicefreewalkingtour.com) that began at 5:30 pm, where I learned a lot of the history of the city. This particular tour didn’t take their tours to the most touristy parts of the city(aka St. Mark’s), which I appreciated, because we could easily make our way to those places alone. The tour was 2.5 hours long. I had already seen most of the places that we went, but when I had wandered through these areas I had no idea about the history of them, so it was nice to learn some interesting facts about the city. I’ll save the boring details and just post some pictures that I took during the tour. Venice is so charming and has a wild history. On the tour, we did catch a bridge and groom going off into the sunset on a gondola which was really cute.

After the tour, my feet were aching so I just ate at a restaurant near my hostel, which was crap, and passed out at like 9:30 so that I could wake up early.

Since I had seen so much of Venice in one day, I decided to take advantage of my Vaporetto pass and explore some of the other Venetian islands. I got the water taxi at 10am and was off to Murano, the island of Glass. Murano is known for its beautiful glass pieces, made by expert artisans who specialize in glass blowing. I didn’t think that I would be as impressed as I was with the glass pieces. They make some incredibly amazing glass chandeliers, lamps, vases, cups, mugs, and sculptures in all colors, sizes, shapes etc. Of course, the larger and more unique the pieces are, the more expensive they are too. The chandeliers especially were truly works of art. The island had this amazing glass sculpture that I used my selfie stick to get pictures with. Unfortunately, because I visited on a Sunday, the the glass blowers were not doing demonstrations which was a shame, but I enjoyed my time here anyway.

My next island stop was Burano, which is known for its adorable colored houses. On the water bus ride to Burano, the barge was PACKED. We were standing shoulder to shoulder, and there was no room to move at all. There was a Spanish man standing directly next to me giving his girlfriend a full on shoulder and back massage in this crowded boat, while kissing her neck and making that gross smooching sound. LIKE, REALLY?!?!?!?! This went on for about 30 minutes until everyone around them was either pissed or laughing because it was so ridiculous. I think they finally caught on when the girl saw so many people giving them the stink eye and told her boyfriend to stop. They are lucky they didn’t get pushed off the boat into the filthy Grand Canal.

After that eventful boat ride, I made it to the colorful island of Burano. Like glass is the speciality of Murano, the main craftsmanship attraction on Burano is lacemaking. The island is really small and it only took about an hour to do a slow circle around the entire thing, but it was well worth the trip. It is known as one of the top 10 most colorful cities in the world. Every place I glanced was a new photo op.

There weren’t many “attractions” on either of the islands, but each had its own charming character and I was glad I took the time to go see them.

When I got back to the main island of Venice, I decided to walk through the opposite side of the island to St. Mark’s Square again. I wandered through the windy roads without a map, knowing that I would inevitably hit the Grand Canal or St. Mark’s so I wasn’t worried. I stopped for lunch at around 4pm on a backstreet (I have definitely adapted to Spanish mealtimes) and decided to make my way back to the canal so I could walk along the waterfront. I made a pit stop at Hotel Gabrielli (You’re welcome Rocco) and meandered back to St. Mark’s Campanile near the Basilica. I waited in line for about 45 minutes before taking the elevator to the top of the bell tower for the most amazing panoramic views of Venice and the surrounding islands. I spent about an hour and a half at the top enjoying the breeze, the evening sunshine, and the insanely loud, huge bells that rang every half hour and basically blew out my eardrums.

After the Campanile, I walked into St. Mark’s Square because there was a huge crowd gathering to listen to a church choir sing. There were a ton of people, and the music was beautiful. It was so peaceful…until it ended and I had to walk through the square which was TEEMING with pigeons, or as I call them, SKYRATS. I HATE all birds, but the disgust I have for pigeons is on another level. These skyrats in particular were the size of small cats. There are men in that square that sell tourists food to attract the pigeons so that they flock to them and land on their arms. I was gagging when I saw that.  One particular pigeon-food-man chased me through the square trying to get me to feed those repulsive animals when he saw the look I gave the people with the vermin on their arms. Those birds are fearless. They got so close that I could have stepped on one. WOOF.

The last activity that I did included sitting on steps that overlooked the Grand Canal while reading a book and drinking my personal-sized bottle of Chianti during the sunset. It was beautiful and a really nice way to end the trip, plus my feet were throbbing and it was nice to just sit for a while before walking back to the hostel to get prepared for my early flight.

All in all, it was a really great trip. I feel like I really had time to explore and experience the city, and I didn’t feel rushed at all. However, the city is very small and 2 full days was more than enough time to see everything I wanted to see and more. Unlike many cities where I can pick a favorite attraction or activity, my favorite part of this trip was just getting lost and wandering through the maze of Venice. It is so strange to be in a place where there are no cars, and the only transport is by boat. I’m not sure if I could live in a place like that permanently, but it was charming and a unique characteristic of this city that I appreciated during my weekend. Also, apparently the canals are absolutely filthy even though they don’t look like they would be. The bluish/green color of them made them seem less dirty than the gross brown of the Thames or the Hudson for example, but alas, things are not always what they seem.

In conclusion:

Some negatives about the city: It was super expensive, my experience with the food there wasn’t the best (which was my own fault), and it was full of people making out/PDA. But, it was really beautiful, charming, and rustic with a rich history, impressive architecture, and tons and tons of bridges. It was a very manageable city to explore on my own, and 2 full days was the perfect amount of time. I got mixed opinions from people prior to booking the trip about whether I should go or not, but I think visiting Venice was well worth the time and expense.

I just returned from Cinque Terre, the Italian Riviera. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been so sorry in advance for the continuous Instagram updates. I’m hoping to have that blog finished relatively soon. Until then… adios amigos!

 

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