Work finished for the Christmas break two days earlier than anticipated, so, like the go-getter that I am, I booked a plane to Venice. I even treated myself to a hostel, a step up from sleeping on the street.
For real, as a lone or cheap traveller I would recommend the Generator Hostel. It’s ludicrously cheap and easy to find. It may be on Giudecca which means that you will have to buy vaporetto tickets (€7.50! for a single, €40 for 72 hours, or €28 for 72 hours if you are 18-29, like me woo hoo) but it is just on the waterfront and only 2 minutes from transport. Another seller is the wifi, cleanliness, and €5 dinners. One of the guys in my dorm said that it was the nicest hostel he had ever stayed in, and he seemed like the kind of person to have stayed in a lot of hostels (“seemed like”, “told me that”).
I didn’t come here to talk about hostels.
And I didn’t come here to write a typical travel blog post.
What is there to say about Venice?
With my vaporetto pass and my trusty feet, I saw most of what this strange lagoon city had to offer.
I visited every district, went into every free church that I could feasibly enter, saw the markets, saw the museums , saw Murano, Burano and Torcello, accidentally got a boat to Lido, and took a day trip to Verona.
I did not eat well. I can’t look after myself.
On the first day I ate a peanut butter sandwich at 4am then had three drinks in the evening which was enough to make me gone for the night and have a rough boat ride the following morning. Waterways are beautiful, but morning boat hangovers are a bad decision.
On my second day I had my first ever sit down meal in a restaurant, and sent my first ever meal back. I was the only one in the restaurant. The staff were all Chinese and I ordered a seafood risotto. Just as you should only go to a Chinese restaurant with Chinese staff and Chinese clientele, so you shouldn’t trust Chinese people to cook Italian. The rice of the risotto was very undercooked. Rice should be the thing they get right. It returned soaking wet. I was very hungry by this point and didn’t want to walk out or cause too much of a fuss. It could have had more seafood in it. What a disappointing risotto. I read my Kindle distractedly.
The following night I ate alone in the hostel bar, which was a far more enjoyable experience. I watched something on my iPad, and quite a few other people were eating alone so it all seemed fine. I ordered a carbonara, but saw there was also a lasagne.
“Would you recommend the lasagne or carbonara?”
“Ah, I kind of had my heart set on the carbonara I think. Which is more filling.”
“Carbonara is bigger, but lasagne will make you more full. I prefer lasagne.”
“I’ll go for the carbonara.”
I paid and went to find a table. A girl was eating a sad-looking pasta dish.
“Is that the carbonara?”
I think she thought I was striking up conversation. She looked mildly excited.
“Is that the carbonara?”
“Thanks. I think I’ll change my order.”
I changed to lasagne. The girl probably thought that I thought the carbonara looked good, but it was quite the opposite. I considered asking the girl if she wanted to have dinner together, but I already had my iPad and then would have to explain that her dinner looked disappointing when my lasagne came.
The lasagne was very good. I made the right choice. Always listen to the waitress.
I went to put some more cheese on my lasagne, leaving my phone, iPad and purse on the table. When I turned around a man was walking slowly but purposefully towards my table, only to then meander around “minding his own business”. Ten seconds more and I would have been robbed. That is a lesson to me.
This was my first holiday alone. Venice is a great city to go holidaying in alone, romantic reputation be damned!
The reason that it is so romantic, I shall opine, is because of the lack of cars and proximity to water. Humans are drawn to water. It is the danger, the reflection and the calming to-ing and fro-ing of the tides. Humans are not naturally drawn to cars, but do find that it makes life easier when getting from A to B or trying to do a large shop. I am a big wanderer, and one of the pitfalls of wandering is having to spend large chunks of my life waiting to cross roads or not be hit by an errant motorist.
Build a city on water and get rid of the chance for cars to ruin your prospective tourists’ romantic getaway!
There was thick fog for most of my stay, bar the final hour.
I travelled from the 20th-23rd December and would highly recommend this as a time for visiting Venice as there were barely any people. Of course, there were still some people, but I never really had to wait for anything and only had to queue for a total of about 10 minutes on the whole trip.
I dread to think how unpleasant Venice must be during its peak season, particularly in the heat. How does the city, and especially the vaporettos, cope?
I went everywhere that I saw was free in my guidebook. I got frequently lost and spent most of the time rushing around worrying that I wouldn’t see everything. I was concerned about how compulsive I can be at times and how I have a tough time living in the moment. I didn’t eat enough and I think that affected my reasoning, but I lost weight in time for Christmas which is what every girl wants.
Venice felt like a lonely city. This may be because I was alone, but I never really felt lonely, or I hid my loneliness with busy-ness. It was the emptiness of the streets, the fog that hung over it, the buildings that are suspended in the Renaissance, and that everywhere except the main arteries of the city (Canale Grande, La Spagna, etc) seemed to shut down after nightfall. It felt safe (I was literally walking down alleyways in pitch darkness which, in most cities, is ripe for trouble) and indeed I experienced it to be wholly safe. But it felt somewhat like a city that is lacking, or, I don’t know, one where the magic has escaped or something else tacky.
Much of my time wandering (with purpose) was down empty or nearly empty streets, or crossing bridges across empty canals. I marvelled at this city built on water, a former powerhouse against all odds that has manage to survive and thrive for many centuries. The population is an ageing one as most young people leave for other cities where there are more jobs, cheaper living standards, and things are generally more accessible. I wonder what will happen to Venice in the future. Will it become purely a tourist theme park? Or will there be a way to make it workable in the modern social economy? Time will tell.
In the spirit of giving some sort of recommendation of what time see without giving detailed description, here are my top recommendations:
San Marco’s Basilica (for the mosaics and to be obvious) and Piazza (ditto)
Gesuiti (my favourite church. Gesu was my favourite in Rome. I like jesuit churches.Jesuits do it right. Jesuits do ornate. Jesuits make Catholics look like Puritans).
St Michel (a cemetery island. I was struck by David Chipperfield’s extension at the back, and the general solemn nature throughout. If I felt lonely in Venice, this is where I felt the most poignantly so. Everybody dies).
Murano/Burano/Torcello (for a point of difference and for an explore. Loneliness prevails. History comes alive.)
Santa Maria della Salute (best round church; makes for nice exterior pictures, moreso when it’s not coated in fog I’m sure)
San Giorgio (a Palladio on an island that has little else. The wonders of symmetry)
Rialto Mercato and Bridge (I always love a good market, and bridge I guess. No fish on a Monday as per the rules according to Bourdain)
It really is the perfect wandering city.
As for romance? Anywhere can be romantic if you are with the right person, just as anywhere can be insufferable if you are with the wrong person.
So it is romantic because of the water rather than for the content. I would say. Some may also say the architecture, but I think Florence, and probably many other cities, have superior architecture. And is architecture romantic? Again, anywhere can or can’t be romantic: it is the person that you are with who really decides it.
If I could go back and do my trip again, I would do it slower. I would watch people more, rather than frantically rushing around. I had a bottle of water and a guidebook in my hand at all times, and my camera around my neck. To what end? I saw it all, but there were only a few highlights. Had I missed things, my life would be no worse. I should plan less (or “overplan” less) but plan better. I did very little research before going and so didn’t properly curate my itinerary. I still had a good time, but I worried myself at how frustrated I got whenever I took a wrong turn. I would have made a terrible travel companion.
Life should be savoured. To stop and appreciate is more valuable than to rush and only half see.
In my final hour ate seafood arancini (incomparable outside of Italy) in a square and listened to a man play jingle bells on the accordion.