Spring Break: Week 2 – Pt. II (Venice)
After a busy few weeks back in Rome, I realized that I’ve gotten a little behind on these updates, so I’ll try and make up for lost time. When we last spoke, I had just left Florence for the City of Bridges. No, not Pittsburgh, but Venice, Italy. Built on a series of lagoon islands, the city is connected primarily by waterways. Canals both large and small run throughout the city, making boating the most popular form of transportation.
After an uneventful train ride into Venice, I got on a water bus, or, “vaporetto” as they’re called, to get to my hostel. The hostel I was staying in was not on the main island of Venice, but it was only about 5-10 minutes by vaporetto to the main island. I arrived at my hostel and checked in at around 8:30 pm. The hostel was what I imagined most European hostels being like: large rooms filled with bunks, shared bathrooms, etc.
After unpacking, I made my way over to the main island to find something to eat. It was late on a Monday night and many restaurants were closed or empty, making them very inviting. The ONE place that was very crowded, however, was the Hard Rock Cafe, Venice. Now, I usually steer clear or tourist institutions like this, but the smell of burgers coupled with the Pearl Jam blaring from the speakers made it hard to resist. And so, on the fateful night, I had my first real burger in the two months I had been in Rome (one or two McDonald’s snacks excluded). My waitress was an older woman, but very friendly, and spoke enough English that she could sit down and ask about my travels. It was a little strange, but she probably just thought I was some loser who couldn’t find anyone to go to dinner with. The table had a bottle of Heinz Ketchup and I told her that it was made in my hometown. She got really excited and immediately asked if I wanted to keep the bottle (I didn’t), and she consequentially told every passing waiter or waitress the story of this foreign dignitary from the land of Heinz.
The next day I got up early and went to explore the city by daylight. The great thing about Venice is that, besides a handful of churches, there aren’t a lot of “monuments” or points of interests that you MUST see while you’re there. Venice is all about exploring and experiencing the city, and that was exactly what I planned to do. I had a scheduled tour later that morning of a Palace on the island, so I took the time before that to wander around and get lost in the maze of streets, bridges, and canals.
The tour I had was of the Palazzo Ducale. The Ducale was the head of Venice and the Palazzo was both his residence and meeting chambers for various political affairs. The tour I took led us though a section that is not open to general admission which showed the prison cells used to hold criminals against the state. Of those prisoners was included the infamous Casanova, and our tour guide spent a great deal of time explaining the story of his supposed escape from the prison. After the guided tour, we were free to explore the rest of the Palace on our own. Filled with enormous senate halls in the political wings, and grand parlors in the residential wing, the Palace was a clear sign of Venetian dignity.
After exploring the Palace, I visited St. Mark’s Basilica, immediately adjacent to the Palace. The Basilica was much different from most of the churches in Rome. It was very dimly lit, but had numerous gilded surfaces that reflected a golden glow throughout the church. The church also featured some very interesting mosaic patterns, both on the floor and ceiling.
That afternoon I continued wandering around the city, stopping into various churches as I came upon them. I crossed the Ponte Rialto, the most famous bridge in Venice which crosses the Grand Canal. The bridge is lined with shops on either side, and provides a great view of Venice along the canal. Nearby was a large fish market with freshly caught seafood of all shapes and sizes. The efficiency with which the Venetians have to work in their day-to-day lives due to the unique arrangement and structure of their city was very visible in the goings-on around the market.
After dinner in a small restaurant, I took the longer vaporetto route back to the hostel to take in some more of the city before I got some rest.
The next morning I decided to visit a few of the outlying lagoon islands, accessible by vaporetto. The first was Murano, and island community famous for its glass making trade. The island is filled with hand-made glass blowing shops, and while I was too early to catch a tour of any of them, I was able to peek into a few of the workshops and see the craft in progress. Venetians are very proud of their glass and take it very seriously. Up until recent times, glass blowers who were deemed talented enough were granted a parcel of land on the island of Murano with the agreement that they would stay there for their whole life, producing glass works of art.
The next island I visited was named Burano. The island is filled with vividly painted house, almost in a caricaturized version of the main island of Venice. It was very photogenic, and a nice, quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the main island.
The last island I visited was Lido, a name generally given to the oceanfront areas of Italian cities. The island is a long, narrow rectangle that basically serves as a break water for the main island. It is home to Venice’s only beaches, which, while sparsely populated, were quite nice, and filled with an assortment of seashells. After stopping for lunch on the beach in Lido, I returned to the main island on the Vaporetto.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring more of the main island that I hadn’t seen yet, and around dusk, I set up my camera and laptop on the Rialto Bridge for what would become some of my favorite time-lapses I’ve taken so far (see below). I grabbed dinner and returned home to get some sleep before my departure for Barcelona in the morning.
The next morning, I checked out of my hostel around 7:00, and took the vaporetto to the main bus station. From there, my airline (Ryan Air), provided a shuttle to Venice Treviso airport, where I would be flying out of. I made all of my connections, and except for an hour delay on the tarmac before take-off, I made it to Barcelona in one piece, but more on that next time!