The Night Train to Venice. Sounds pretty glamorous, or murderous, depending on the books you’ve read. For us, the night train to Venice was enduring. After a poor sleep due to the constant rocking and racket of the train, we were awoken by the steward with our fancy breakfast. By 7am we had arrived on the picturesque island of Venice via the Liberta Bridge. What a sight to wake up to.
It was a Sunday and rather humid, peculiar seeing though it was so early. We navigated our way around the maze-like laneways, finally finding our hotel after 40 minutes of luggage lugging up and down hundreds of stairways, including that belonging to the magnificent Rialto Bridge. We later discovered that the water taxi – or valporetto – was a much smarter option of transport. However, we didn’t mind, because we got to discover the beauty of the city even before we had really arrived. It was Sunday and early and so quiet and peaceful so we were able to fully embrace the scene around us. Canals, old buildings, fancy bridges. Oh yes, and a new country to experience!
We were looking forward to Italy because, well, the food, but also because we thought we could “get” the language easier as it is somewhat similar to Spanish. Of course, the hotel owner was Spanish, so no Italian for now. She was very accommodating and let us check-in early. Oh, and she had a washing machine! Machine-washed clothes for the first time on our trip. What a luxury! The hotel was quaint and our room overlooked a pretty laneway with a beautiful arch right outside our window (in fact, any window in Venice overlooks something attractive).
We needed to nap before our first big day in Venice (3 hours sleep on the night train was not very sufficient). By midday, we were recharged and ready to explore the city.
But first, lunch. We noticed the prices in Venice were rather high compared to other cities we had visited. We settled on a restaurant in the nearby square, Campo Sant’Angelo. Venice is full of lovely colourful squares. This one had a view of a very leaning tower, which we later realised Italy was full of. We shared a pizza and then continued on our way.
Coincidentally, the Venice Biennale for architecture was in full swing during our visit. The Venice Biennale is a kind of city art exhibition. Obviously, Alex was thrilled. We ventured out past the grand Piazza San Marco and the thoughtful Bridge of Sighs (where convicts walked through before their imprisonment in the adjoining prison) towards the Arsenale on the eastern side of the city, which was where some important parts of the Biennale were held. After gasping at the ridiculous admission prices, we decided to instead attend the free exhibits of the Biennale, which were spread all across Venice and consisted of art installations created by a few different countries. We viewed two exhibition spaces at this point: one containing fancy images of Moscow, and then another featuring photographs of abandoned Taiwanese buildings. Rather curious.
And then it was back to the touristy parts of the city to sit and admire. The majestic Basilica di San Marco was of course scaffolded, as seemed to be the norm throughout our trip. The square itself was just terribly charming, what with the repetitious buildings enclosing the space and the soaring Campanile overlooking us.
We continued to just walk through the gorgeous lanes for the rest of the afternoon, being completely fascinated by the design of the city and being overwhelmed by its endless beauty.
Before returning to our hotel for a rest we found a gelateria. I chose the Nocciotella ice-cream, which was a mix of hazelnut gelato and Nutella gelato. Oh. My. This was truly the best ice-cream I have ever tasted. Unfortunately, we forgot where the gelateria was and were unable to return. I do plan to perhaps attempt my own but I’m sure it just won’t be the same.
After rest number two of the day (because you know, when you’re not working, you can nap two times a day), we headed out again. It was late but still light, a factor we thoroughly enjoyed whilst holidaying in the northern parts of the world during summer. We encountered another free Biennale exhibit, this one organised by Cyprus (I’m half-Cypriot so I was excited). The space was full of layer upon layer of corrugated cardboard with huge images of buildings on them. We were given a cutter and were allowed to cut into the images to make new art. It was kind of kooky. I especially enjoyed the second room, however, where they had old photographs of Cyprus on the wall. This really piqued my interest because my grandparents are from Cyprus, and the only old photo I have seen of Cyprus is an antique photograph of my young grandmother standing outside her village shack, so I always assumed Cyprus was very poor. I was wrong. It was very industrialised back in the day. And it looked very European! I will have to go sometime.
Moving along, we also encountered the Luxembourg exhibit, which focused on modernity, and also the Montenegro exhibit, which was really quite interesting and featured photos and models of abandoned buildings.
We came across the Accademia Bridge, which gave us an incredible view overlooking the Grand Canal.
We found a supermarket and I had to hold myself back from buying the hoards of Italian delicacies that caught my eye. Instead we settled on a pasta salad to take back to eat at the hotel. Before heading back we walked through the trendy Dorsoduro district to the very tip of this part of the island, which overlooked central Venice in the distance, including Piazza San Marco and the Campanile. We rested by the water for some time before heading home for dinner.
The following day we decided to make use of the valporetto. Our first stop was another island about 45 minutes north-east of Venice called Burano (not Murano, mind you, which is another nearby island famous for its glass). Burano is famous for its absolutely gorgeous multi-coloured, bright buildings. So pretty.
We admired the streets for an hour or so before stopping for lunch. Burano was small, touristy and therefore expensive. We were able to collate sufficient funds for lunch: eggplant parmigiana for Alex and pasta for me (in Italy, pizza is always cheap, pasta is always expensive). I finally tried aglio e olio, which is a delectable garlicky and olive-oily spaghetti with a few sprinkles of dried chilli, which I’d been wanting to try forever. Yum! We also tried some Italian beer, which we quite enjoyed.
In the afternoon, we jumped back on the valporetto after admiring even more buildings. We decided that the valporetto was amazing because it took a fraction of the time than walking to get anywhere. We returned to our favourite supermarket in the southern Dorsoduro district and this time purchased eggplant parmigiana and another pasta salad to eat back at the hotel.
After dinner, I persuaded Alex to go out in the dark to the Campo Santa Margherita, which was about a 25 minute walk from our hotel, but I had heard it was a very nice and youthful district. We were so disappointed… that we waited until our last night to go there! It was really a great area, full of restaurants, bars, young people and TVs airing the World Cup. We had a beer or two, enjoyed a slice of pizza and watched a bit of the game whilst being harassed by rose-sellers. Next time we go to Venice we will have to return to this Campo during the day. It was a very laid-back and exciting square at night. The night time weather was perfect too.
Venice – what can I say. We felt safe, embraced and imbued with its perfection.