Venice has always been a dream destination and to finally arrive was slightly surreal. After a stop off at Vallach in Austria en route from Lake Bled, I was ready to be amazed. At first, it felt like I was recalling ‘spoilers’ I’d seen on Google images rather than being there, apart from when I was traipsing my luggage up bridges with steps.
I checked in and acclimatised myself, setting off to wander the narrow cobbled streets and to have my first taste of Italian pasta in Italy, from the second best rated restaurant in Venice on TripAdvisor. I ate on a bridge along a popular canal, watching many gondolas go by. The romantic image I had of them hasn’t gone away, but seeing a tight stretch of water jam packed with them almost hitting each other was a bit of a reality check. For 80 euros a pop, I was not going to participate on this trip.
For desert, it had to be gelato. Top tip, if it’s displayed mountain high, it isn’t fresh, so go for the ones that are flat down in the tubs. After visiting San Marco Square and of course Doge’s Palace in the evening light, I walked back for a good night’s rest, taking in street performances and an energetic atmosphere for the time of day (although expected here as the culture is one of eating late). One traveller told me not to bother with this main square as it’s always so busy, but it’s with good reason and you simply can’t miss it on a trip here.
Getting up early, I had a full day ahead. I wandered the streets again and picked up an espresso in a charming coffee shop bar where a local named ‘big Mario’ was also getting breakfast. My main aim was to take to the water so I bought a one day pass for seven euros and looped around the northern islands from F.te Nove before visiting the unique island cemetery, a very respectful, beautifully kept graveyard. It’s known locally as ‘Cimitero Ortodosso Greco’ but features in many guides as ‘Isle of the Dead’. On the stroll back on the main island of Venice, I managed to find myself in the hospital without realising and then saw a coffin being transported on a water bus. Morbid morning!
By now, the tourists were in full swing as I returned to San Marco Square to visit the Museo Correr and Doge’s Palace. The queue for the Camponile Bell Tower was too long for me to wait in the heat, so after sitting in the square for lunch, where a pianist set the scene, I went via boat to Giardini to visit the park, before hitting the water again to visit Lido.
Lido is the long island stretch to the east of Venice where each year, the Venice Film Festival takes place. At other times, it is a large tourist complex where most take to the beach or go shopping. I got pizza and you guessed it, got a boat to Murano, one of the northern islands again. It’s no secret I like boats, and Venice was like a theme park to me in this respect, and I spent most of my time on boats that allowed me to sight-see and tour the region with ease. Navigating them was pretty easy, but as it got later in the day they got incredibly crowded to the point where at night, everyone was crammed in like on the tube, but in 36C heat surrounded by water.
Murano has the charm and beauty of Venice without the busiest streets I’ve ever seen. The buildings are colourful, the canals narrow, and it’s main trade is glass blowing. I made sure to see a demonstration of techniques near the glass factory and watched a skilled worker make a bowl and impressively, a horse. I’d recommend the ten minutes it takes to get here on the 4.1 water bus from the mainland as it’s probably more what you’d expect from Venice than Venice itself, funnily enough.
Returning to San Marco, I was trying my luck to get up the Camponile Bell Tower that had been packed earlier in the day and it paid off. At about half seven, the queue only took five minutes and then I was up on the viewing deck staring down at beautiful, beautiful Venice. If it had been shut at this time, as Google suggested, I would have been disappointed but I refuse to queue for an hour plus in the sun when there are better things I could be doing. Speaking of which, I managed to book all of my trains to take me into France when I reserved my seat for Rome, saving me plenty of time in the coming couple of weeks 🙂
The views were magical, as Venice is in general. Churches, Cathedrals, museums, winding streets and the canals all come into view and it just works, especially with the square in the foreground.
Now, once I was down, I had an interesting journey back to the hostel as my phone decided to stop working and I couldn’t remember my route back. I was about a fifty minute walk away which I knew I couldn’t navigate from scratch so figured out what I did know: the 5.1 water bus can take me to the S.Lucia train station, which is ten minutes from the hostel and only down three streets that I could probably remember. It all worked out but this is when I realised that without Google maps and the internet, it was a lot harder to get around quickly and without hesitation, reflective of the trust I put in this app.
If you ever do get lost, just try to find something familiar and if available, buy a paper map from a tourist shop and get them to mark on it where you are. This was my backup plan, or you could also go to a nearby hotel and ask them to direct you as they’ll probably speak English and will definitely know the area well.
Visiting Venice was, as I say, a magical experience unlike any other. I can debunk that it doesn’t smell; the only smell is of sea water. Even after a short time you start to think in bridges, “I’m four bridges from the gelato shop” etc and realise you can’t remember the last time you saw a car. Be prepared though, it is expensive and when it’s lunchtime, you can barely walk or get across bridges for all the bodies taking photos, but just remember you’re one of them as well!
My best memories of Venice are sitting by the water and taking boat rides, especially along the Grand Canal. It was during these times that I most knew I was actually in Venice and not dreaming.
* A quick note on A Venice Fish hostel: do not stay here under any circumstances. It isn’t clean, it’s noisy and the staff are rude. The only review I’ve ever given on accommodation can also be found on HostelWorld, the site I booked them through.