Happy 2015!! I just checked my stats and I am so surprised at how many people still check out the Sun even when I am horribly neglectful for months….Sorry guys But it’s a new year which means a fresh start! A lot will be happening this year including the birth of a new travel blog brought to you by me! This post will be making its way over to the new site once it’s fully built, but all I post on the new site will also continue to show up here, at least in the beginning. I have great adventures semi-planned out for the year’s end but I will continue to be stationed in New York while I save up for the great escape! More on everything later this month once the journey becomes a bit more concrete, but until then, let’s get in the traveling spirit by looking back on my past travels. Welcome to Venezia!
For as breathtaking as Europe can be for the first time American tourist, Venice, Italy easily took my astonishment to a whole new level of enchantment. Hands down, it holds the title for the most surreal place I’ve ever been surrounded by. Think of it this way, when you’ve lived your entire life classifying Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross house as the oldest architecture you’ve ever seen, you tend to feel pretty silly once you stroll down most any street in Europe. And I’m not sure where Venetian architecture fits in on the international timeline, but it’s constant dip into the Adriatic Sea each time it has rained for the past thousands of years has definitely added some wear to the already ancient city. The structures are so continuously soaked, that their facades tend to look more like shipwrecks recovered from the sea rather than buildings. Streaked with salt water and smelling of brine, this town is the closest equivalent to Atlantis that you’ll ever see. And trust me, when people say you need boots for Venice, they aren’t exaggerating! When we arrived, it was grey and drizzling but the next day we were met by a bright, beautiful, warm sun. We ventured out into the city in our regular shoes, assuming the puddles had either dried or drained, but once we arrived in St. Mark’s Square, we were met with water levels that reached half way up my leg at points!
We arrived on an overnight train from Vienna, leaving Austria around 9PM and arriving in Venice roughly twelve hours later. I had never been in a sleeping car on a train before so this was very exciting. I felt like Harry Potter, heading off to Hogwarts! Our car had two beds, one on top of the other, a small sink, mirror and a gift basket filled with water, soap, Prosecco and cookies! There were two bathrooms per car and in the morning they delivered us breakfast to our cabin! It was amazing to eat my toast, sip on my coffee and look out the window at a new adventure that lay before us as we rolled into the station. Once you arrive, there are many machines and vendors, both in and outside of the train station, that will sell you passes for the vaporetto (the boats that act as the Venetian transportation system), but we had been told that the cheapest tickets were sold at the information kiosk outside of the station. They were very friendly, helpful and spoke English. I soon discovered that I did not take well to the motion of the boats mixed with the smell of the sea and some of my ripe fellow passengers, but Venice is not large and a trip to most any point does not take very long. And make sure to have your boat ticket handy! Like most places I visited in Europe, you do not need to swipe them for admission, but there are patrols that can randomly ask to see your ticket once you’re on board. I was never asked throughout my entire stay abroad except for on my first vaporetto ride out of the train station.
And just as we had done in Vienna and Prague, we secured our accommodations through AirBnB. We found an apartment on the far east end of the island, in a small section called, Santa Lucia. This area was incredibly void of tourists. It was quite, calm and the locals barely spoke English. There were two restaurants, a little park and a small market. At night it was pitch black, with the only light originating from the corner market, softly glowing upon it’s produce, illuminating the fruits and vegetables like little jewels, as the sun set beneath the sea. I was SO glad we were able to retreat to our peaceful sanctuary at the end of each day. Although it wasn’t peak tourist season, the streets were still packed with visitors all attempting to funnel through the tiny, winding alleys. The only reason we ventured out to Venice in the first place was because it was a Biennale year. What is the Venice Biennale? Well it’s only considered by many to be the largest and greatest international art show in the whole world! But more on that later… Our apartment also happened to be located right next to the main entrance to the Biennale Gardens so it worked for us on many levels.
I quickly discovered that walking through Venice is like walking through a postcard. It really is that beautiful. Each photo you snap is a masterpiece. You won’t believe it was actually you who took it on your little iPhone 4. But in Venice, everyone is a professional photographer. The colors are more vibrant and intense then any colors you’ve ever seen before. Perhaps it has something to do with all the reflection off the water. The sky compliments the sea so perfectly that it’s difficult to see where one fades out into the other. There are no cars and the streets twist and wind with no logic. The buildings are so densely packed, that they create some of the most opaque shadows I have ever seen. The contrast of darks and lights, mixed with the vibrant building facades and the blue sea created a landscape I had no idea existed in real life. There are no lamp posts and at night it can get so dark that it’s possible to walk right off the street and into a canal if you aren’t careful! Each turn is a mystery. Will you enter a dark alley, narrow enough for just one person to pass through? A grand city square, teeming with outdoor cafes and street performers? Or just another dead end, with steps leading straight down into the water?
But I know I am a sucker for the past and that memory has definitely sweetened it for me. At times I felt very claustrophobic, being squished among the buildings and the people, on this little piece of floating land. As I mentioned earlier, I did have a few bouts of motion sickness, the outlets in the apartment were totally different than the ones we found in Austria and outside of the tourist zones, there was a larger language barrier than both Prague and Vienna. And of course, the prices compared to our other destinations were way up, especially in the center of town.
Besides the Biennale, we had a small list of Venice to-do’s. We had to take a ride on a gondola, we had to see Saint Mark’s Square, and we had to stop by Cafe Florian. We missed the Rialto Bridge but you have to leave something for next time! Before I had left for this trip, I had read a list that ranked the most beautiful cafes in the world. Number two, three and four just so happened to be in Prague, Venice and Vienna, so I was in luck! And although the prices were grossly exaggerated (they charged us a hidden music fee for a band that was playing out in the square and they were even on break the whole time we were eating!), it was absolutely stunning! And what they say is true, you cannot get a bad cup of coffee in Italy. Which is a huge perk for me! I love coffee! As for St. Mark’s Square, well it was covered in water and tourists. And our gondola driver totally lied to us. We told him to take us anywhere he wanted, we just did not want to go on the Grand Canal. He said, “Si! Solo un po’ grande canale!” But where did we end up for eighty percent of the ride, IN THE GRAND CANAL! Dodging all the crazy vaperettos and water taxis and cruise ships, all while he sang to us about spaghetti and meatballs. Well, we survived and it was memorable!
The food in Venice was pretty great as well. We had a few recommendations from friends and we used Trip Advisor to find the rest. On our first night we had the most amazing sardines at this little neighborhood spot by our apartment. Divine. I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong with any variety of seafood. We ate our fair share of gelato and marzipan and had most of our day time meals at our apartment, which had a full kitchen. I think the funniest thing I saw there was “American Pizza.” Slices topped with French Fries and weird orange cheese. Those Italians, they totally get us 😉
But the majority of our time was spent at the great Biennale. Two full days dedicated entirely to art. There is so much to say on the topic that I think I’ll save it for another post. I’ll also include a comprehensive travel guide/breakdown of where we ate, where we went and what we did in Venice, Part Two, so stay tuned!