DAY 11 in Venice, Italy:
Waking up at 4.20am, ambitious Miriam and I planned to walk to Napoli Centrale to catch the Alibus to the airport, but Giovanni caught us as we had our müsli breakfasts and told us that we’d be better off taking a taxi to the airport instead. We heeded his advice and by doing so, scored an extra hour to contact loved ones.
A bumpy taxi ride, a cheeky 15-minute of calling out anyone wearing a suit in the airport (there were so many of them!), a rude/ panic-attack-ish realisation that we had so much fun, lost track of time and only had 1 more minute before our gate closes, a quick flight, a Marco Airport-Piazzale Roma shuttle service later and a deposit of our carry-ons at Santa Lucia Railway Station, we arrived safely in mainland Venice.
Venice was beautiful — improbably so, a centaur-like hybrid, neither land nor water but somewhere in between as it lifts from the green of the Adriatic. The city is drenched in so-exquisite-and-authentic-it-hurts beauty: the tracery of arches in the Doge’s Palace, the labyrinth of winding alleys, canals and bridges, its multitude of piazzas, and its elegantly frilly architecture. All of it invoked something childlike.
Our day was to be spent first in the Santa Croce district, in the San Polo district, and then finally in the San Marco area before we were to join a tour at Campo Santo Stefano next to the statue of Niccolò Tommaseo.
Giardino Papadopoli, San Nicolò da Tolentino (Church of Tolentini), Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (Basilica dei Frari, aka. a large church packed with art), Rialto Market, Ponte Rialto (Rialto Bridge), Carlo Goldoni’s House…
At Scuola Grande di San Rocco, an entrance would only be allowed if our knees and shoulders were covered, so since Miriam had a short skirt that day, she utilised both our cardigans to create something pretty darn amazing. You’ve got to see it to believe it haha! 😉
Along the way, we realised the abundance of souvenir shops selling authentic Murano Glass pendants ranging from 3,50€ – 13€ depending on its size and intricacy of detail. One shop’s pendants caught my eye and as I leaned in and ‘Bang!’ the glass went. It reverberated throughout the entire shop and the shopkeeper was trying to suppress a giggle when Miriam and I walked in. I realised then that it wasn’t just the shopkeeper who had seen my embarrassing moment, but also a few passers-by! Wasn’t my fault, the windows were cleaned too well!
The tiny pendants were priced at a shocking 5€! We weren’t too keen on the price and because of that, the shopkeeper laughed at us and even questioned what we were doing in Venice if we weren’t willing to part with 5€ for a pendant. Ever heard of students? Ever considered that there were other shops around selling pendants at a lower price? We walked off. Miriam managed to let the situation roll of her shoulders quickly but the anger brewed in me. Unthinkable that someone could look down on others in that manner. We had a goal to find a pendant cheaper than his 5€ ones, which we did. We found even prettier 4€ ones and wow did our wallets and pride feel good.
Moving on, we enjoyed popsicles (I had berries and Miriam had dark chocolatooooo!), bought bread (I had a terribly big hole of unwanted air in mine! Wasn’t too pleased about that!), passed by gorgeous costume shops and followed never-ending canals where charming gondoliers were singing and being chatty with tourists.
We moved away from the hubbub of the tourist hotspots, and into little alleyways — one of which led us to Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni’s House. I recognised the museum from the research I did on Venice prior to our trip and just about squealed! He was a Venetian Renaissance Playwright and Librettist who wrote some of Italy’s most famous and best-loved plays.
Money-saving tactic: Without paying for any tickets, we perused the museum shop with the intention of learning a little about the museum and Carlo Goldoni who lived in this very premises. As we did, we heard murmuring behind us. We turned around, clearly amused, and were asked by a lady cashier and a man, who I assumed must have been the museum’s manager, where we were from.
“Spagna? [Spain?] Americano? [American?] Dalla luna? [From the moon?]”
We were already dissolved in laughter as we told them that we’re from Singapore and that we had multi-racial heritages. Our conversations continued in directions I fail to remember, but I do recall how much unexpected fun we had with the two lovely Venetians. They enjoyed our company so much (well, of course, right?) (hahahaha I kid!) that they ended up offering us free entrance into the museum!
The man took the lead and led us into the main rooms, where, with his very limited English and occasional sign language, he brought our attention to Murano glass chandeliers, paper costumes, and portraits, all while making sure to tell us which were original and which were ‘prom Cheena’ [‘from China’]. To explain Goldoni’s plays to us, he grabbed a couple of leaflets — 2 English ones for us and 1 Italian one for him — before showing us which parts of the museum and its props corresponded to the pages we were looking at.
Before we left, he taught us that to say ‘a single beautiful person/ thing’, males say ‘Bellissimo’ while women say ‘Bellissimo’, whereas ‘a plural of something/ someone beautiful’ would be ‘Bellissime’. He then told us to surprise the lady cashier by calling her ‘Bellissima!’ on his behalf. If You ask me, I’d reckon he was being flirty. 😉 We took a picture taken together and we were off to Piazza San Marco.
The heart of the city is Piazza San Marco, the only square worthy of the name in Venice. The others are called “campi” (fields) or “campielli”. The magnificent Basilica di San Marco, the cathedral of Venice, the most famous of the city’s churches and one of the best-known examples of Byzantine architecture, is in the centre of the square. It is covered by gilded Byzantine mosaics illustrating the story of Venice, together with wonderful bas-reliefs representing the months of the year.
We wandered around the crowded square and gawking at gorgeous St. Marc’s Basilica, laughed at the tourists being mobbed by pigeons and stared speechless at Venice’s famous seascape with gondolas in the foreground and the Church of St. George at the background for the longest bit.
Fun fact: The Church of St. George appears bright white in the morning till mid-day, and then it turns yellow, orange, salmon-pink and finally pink as the sun returns to the horizon in the evening.
“Nat, did you realise that all the lamp posts have pink glass?”
“Oh my, no! No I didn’t! Gosh they’re so pretty!”
At this point, we started to wonder where the Bridge of Sighs was. Walking further down the promenade, we saw a huge crowd atop a bridge, enthusiastically taking pictures of something. Further down the canal, inside the tangle of buildings, we got a stunning look at a couple of bridges lined up and anchored at the end by the very Bridge of Sighs!
And then… I realised that I made a mistake. Our Free Tour’s meeting point was not at San Marco Square… it was at Campo Santo Stefano, which was about a 20-minute walk away but we only had about 12 minutes left before 4.30pm!!! So we ran and ran and ran, through alleys, over bridges, around corners, across squares
and swam over canals (hahaha no we didn’t) before reaching Campo Santo Stefano, huffing and puffing our hearts out.
Minutes after our tour began, a tour guide from another company approached our tour guide and said that she shouldn’t be conducting such tours of Venice because she didn’t have a license. The squabble between the two tour guides went on for a bit before the other tour guide eventually left. We found out later that the free tours have been getting so much business, so much so that the licensed tour companies have begun feeling threatened by their presence. Hence, the false claims against the Free Tour tour guides.
Venice’s vast architectural, artistic, and musical heritage is simply mind-boggling. It has been the birthplace or residence of many famous, influential and talented people, like adventurer Marco Polo, painters Canaletto and Veronese, architect Andrea Palladio, author (and famous womaniser) Casanova, composer Antonio Vivaldi, and art collector Peggy Guggenheim — all of which left their mark on the city, with monuments, museums, exhibitions, and concerts in their names.
We were told that Venice looks like a fish when viewed aerially and that it is made up of 124 islands, connected by 438 bridges. A long time ago, it sank at 4cm per century, but now because of the weight of people and the city itself, the heat of global warming and the erosion caused by speeding gondolas/ boats (police hide around canals with speedometers to catch the speeding gondoliers!), it now sinks at a rate of 25cm per century.
I saw Venice’s leaning tower, Corte Contarini del Bovolo (named because their house had a stairwell which looked like the swirls of a snail shell; ‘Bovolo’ means ‘snail’), the cafe made famous by the one and only Giacomo Girolamo Casanova (You’ve really got to read this to believe it), a pillar which was used the prisoners’ last hope of surviving an execution (I’ll explain below), a mini costume parade, and even the world’s most beautiful bookshop (it has awards to prove this) which kept books in gondolas and bathtubs because the shop flooded often!
Fun fact: Back in the days, Venetians didn’t have family names to start with, so they made things easy for themselves by adopting family names according to what others remembered them by. For instance, the Contarini from above who took on ‘del Bovolo’ (‘of the snail’) because of his a structure in his house that people knew him by. Another Contarini (there were many) took on ‘del Naso’ and became ‘Contarini del Naso’ because he punched the then Doge in the nose (and was executed on the very same day).
So the pillar. The executioner would let the prisoners try to jump over the front of the pillar without falling off the ledge. If they succeeded, they’d be able to escape execution. This, of course, was and is still humanly impossible (Miriam and I tried), but it still was a form of hope for the prisoners. Hope that maybe… just maybe, a miracle might happen just for them. A miracle never once happened.
And more on the world’s most beautiful bookshop! They once faced a terrible flood and lost many of their books, but they decided to make the best out of it. How? They used a special type of glue to create a huge modge-podge-type staircase out of books. The staircase of books led to a beautiful view of yet another canal.
I marvelled at every canal we encountered (the gondolas’ interior were so grand!) and every bridge we crossed (which were many), and I took hundreds of pictures that all look somewhat the same, but were all magical in their own way. For all the obvious reasons, I understand why Venice receives the deluge of tourists it does in summer.
Apart from that rude Chinese lady who tried to force a really hungry me to buy a cheese-filled sandwich, Venice was lovely. For the record, I was being absolutely polite, asking her if it was possible for her to make a fresh sandwich for me but without cheese (because she aggressively yanked the cheese out of the sandwich she had on display and the sandwich was just a mess). I was riled up and just couldn’t stop saying how Venice wouldn’t be alive without the tourists.
The streets of Venice were empty and quiet in any place that isn’t touristy. The fading pastel buildings were slowly sinking into a verdant watery grave. There were no right angles in the maze of alleyways where not a soul dares venture except locals who knows that these dimly lit alleyways all lead to the best restaurants or… a lost tourist.
Anyway, after the stop at the bookshop, it was time Miriam and I headed back to the train station if we were to be on time for our overnight journey to Zell am See, so we tipped our tour guide and were on our way. We ran, again…
My calves were hurting and I felt like my leg muscles were expanding so much from all the blood that was pumping through it! My jeans were going to tear! (Not really, but it maybe could have!) Despite yet another heart-pumping race to Santa Lucia train station (during which we still somehow managed to stop to buy some oats at an organic shop we chanced upon along the way), we made it on time, early even, and we caught one of the most beautiful sunsets throughout our trip so far (featured above) from Ponte Scalzi.
In the train station, we had a really rushed müsli dinner, but it was my favourite meal from that day nevertheless. Looking at the picture of how our table was set, feelings I felt from that moment came rushing back — peace, gratitude, amusement, and excitement. Meals with Miriam were just the best. I loved how we’d recall the day’s events as we ate. :’) We washed our makeshift bowls and utensils in the toilet sink before packing up and making our way to the platform.
The sun was setting, we were tired and quite honestly ready to end the day, but not before some cheeky reflection shots and fun in the
sun lower bunk. It was going to be my first overnight train journey, ever and I was soooooo excited!
I ate a green apple for dessert, not knowing how much I would regret it the next day. I’ll let You know what happens in the next part of this travel diary series!