I’m back in Canada…! That means it’s time to catch up on the blog posts for all the travel done within the past two months, starting with…Italy with dad! So if you’ve been reading the (not so) recent posts, you’d realize that my dad visited me in France for a few weeks, mainly to attend my thesis defense. Of course, since him being in Europe is a rarity and I was leaving soon, we had to take the opportunity to travel around a little. We had several choices in destinations, including eastern Europe (Prague, Budapest, Vienna, etc.), Switzerland (one of the most beautiful countries I’ve been to), and Italy (lots of places worth seeing still on my list). After lots of contemplation and weighing pros and cons, we decided on the classic Italian route: Venice-Rome-Florence-Pisa over a course of 5 days. And so the first stop was…Venice!
For a long time I had wanted to visit Venice and I didn’t really know why. In my mind, Venice was a city built on water and when I first heard of it, I really had no idea what it would look like. I did get to visit a few European cities deemed “Venice of the North”, namely Bruges and Amsterdam. I’ve been to both of these cities twice and strangely both appeared on my list of “cities that didn’t quite appeal to me too much”. Yet, the real Venice was too elusive and I hadn’t had a chance to visit until this time around. So my dad and I hopped onto a Volotea flight directly from Bordeaux to Venice to find out what’s so special about this place.
First impression of Venice: lotsa canals and bridges! Well duh, that was expected, but they were more numerous and more beautiful than I had imagined. My dad and I actually got lost for about half an hour trying to navigate the narrow streets while looking for our hotel. Google maps didn’t help at all! (Well, I was mostly at fault because I followed the wrong signs…teehee!) A lot of frustration later, I happened to look up at the street signs and saw…our street! Ehhhhhh??? What are the chances! So without any systematic directions, we ended up finding the hotel (bed and breakfast) by luck 😉 Oh dear, the joys of getting lost. At least now we have a home-base…we think!
Pretty much as soon as we checked in, we headed out to explore as the days were short and daylight was precious. I was totally ready to get lost again, which was in fact the most enjoyable part of the trip. Turn a corner here to find a random little courtyard, or follow the really confusing and sometimes contradictory signs to discover a hidden church – surprises are everywhere waiting to be found. We did the wise thing to get a map and I would be lying if I said we didn’t consult it almost every five minutes. While getting lost is fun, it is good to know where you are headed to sometimes!
If I remember correctly, I was told that there are over 400 bridges in Venice, each one unique. Pictured above is the famous Rialto bridge, one of the few (I think 4) bridges that cross the Grand Canal, which is a long, wide water canal that runs through Venice. To be honest, I thought Rialto was quite ugly. Maybe it was because I began to appreciate the intricacies and authenticity of the little bridges that crossed narrow, hidden canals, scattered all over the maze that is Venice, before reaching Rialto. It’s like with the cities; I almost always prefer quiet and delicate small towns and villages over larger cities bustling with activity.
Before heading to Venice, I was advised by several friends to make a trip to either Murano or Burano (or both) by boat. Murano, 10 minutes away from Venice by boat, is known as “glass island” by my Chinese friends as it is famous for its glass-making, while Burano, 40 minutes away, is called “colourful island” due to its colourful buildings. With only one day in Venice, my dad and I decided that it would be too much of a rush to visit both islands, so we chose Burano over Murano, as it was the more recommended one. We got on a water bus and after 40 minutes (it was a long, long ride…) arrived at Burano, the island of colour. And they weren’t kidding about the colour! The entire island looked like it had been touched by a rainbow, not a dull corner to be seen anywhere.
In December, there were few tourists visiting Burano, and I loved it that way. I could imagine the little island being full of visitors during the summer months and completely losing the serenity that it had when we went in mid-December. I’ve always been in favour of traveling during the winter, even though it is probably true that some places are better when visited during the summer. But then, no one has an infinite number of summers to visit every place they want to see. Cold weather rarely bothers me anyway, and with reduced crowds, winter travel works out better for me in most cases.
During this particular trip, my dad and I were blessed with the most amazing “winter” weather, averaging 15 to 17 degrees Celsius every day in Italy with the sun shining brightly every day, no rain or anything. We wondered…is this really December? The only drawback were the short daylight hours, which was barely an obstacle for enjoying our trip.
Since the days were short, the sun was already setting by around 5pm. An experienced traveler friend advised me to watch the sunset by the coast of Burano as it would have been a stunning sight. So as the sun was getting ready for a show, my dad and I walked slowly towards the sea just in time to see a flock of birds take flight into the horizon.
And there’s our sunset. The sun sinks quietly yet dramatically into the sea, disappearing without a trace. By the time we hopped onto the boat heading back to Venice, the sky was completely dark, and it was only around 6:30pm or so. The vibrant shades of Burano faded in the dusk and the little island retreated into the distance for another tranquil evening.
On day 2, we woke up to another beautiful morning. In Venice we stayed at a little bed and breakfast called “B&B Cristina”, hosted by the friendly Giovanni. Promptly at 9 in the morning, Giovanni brought us a specially prepared hearty and healthy breakfast which includes bread, slices of ham, oranges, boiled eggs, fresh croissants, yogurt, fruit juice, and a very nice pot of coffee. We were quite impressed and grateful for the effort put into making sure that our stay at the B&B was smooth and pleasant. Oh, and we certainly felt very fueled up and ready to go by the time we finished eating. Thanks Giovanni!
The train to the next leg of our Italian adventure was at around noon and so we had a few more hours to admire beautiful Venice. Yet another sunny day with lovely blue skies as we wandered around the Grand Canal, this time not getting lost as we had a map as our navigational guide.
I gotta say, I really liked Venice. Before going, I was skeptical about it as on one side, I had been anticipating the visit for a long time but on the other hand, I knew it would be a super touristy destination. Some people I had talked to loved it while others…not so much. Having experienced the maze – couldn’t find a better word to describe it – itself, I quite enjoyed the atmosphere of Venice, especially getting lost. In other cities, you might have a general idea of where you are approximately even if you’re “lost”, but in Venice, you’re COMPLETELY lost without even knowing it, and to find the way, as my dad said, was “challenging” yet amusing.
One of the reasons I enjoyed Venice so much was that my dad and I mainly stayed in the non-touristy areas. The streets near the train station and the area around San Marco were filled with restaurants and souvenir shops, and after a little while it got repetitive. Our B&B happened to be situated at a quieter quarter of Venice and so we got to enjoy short (or long, when we were lost) winding walks and discover hidden bakeries and courtyards. What a lovely experience!
Here we sat in the square by the train station, waiting for the train to Rome. So far Italy has given me a mostly positive impression, from Bologna to Cinque Terre to Turin and now, to Venice. Next up: ROME. Rome, the majestic feeling that came with the word draws me to this “big shot”. “Only Rome is worthy of Paris, and only Paris is worthy of Rome.” Really? Really? Really? I gotta see how Rome is “worthy” of Paris then, since my opinion of Paris has never been too…positive. Hah! We shall see…