So far this holiday has consisted of a series of meals that are separated by a few adventures that we may have encountered on our way to the next meal. I have become at ease with the idea that I will have doubled in size by the end of this trip. Who needs bikinis when they can have pasta?
As I sit down in the sunny piazza below our apartment, serenaded by an accordion and with a glass of spritz in my hand, I reflect on how this reality has come to be from the cold, busy one that I have been living for the last few months. The weeks leading up to the holiday are always the worst, as you begin to realise all the things you have to do before you leave and how little time you have to achieve it. But once your holiday starts, time slows down. In fact, when I am on holidays, time stops and I completely loose track of the time. What day of the week is it? It’s Holiday.
We flew with Ethiad and Alitalia. Ethiad was lovely as always, and apart from the sassy staff and interesting gherkin, butter and lettuce sandwiches as a snack, Alitalia did the trick. I managed to master the high score in Tetris on both flights, and sleep a good 8 hours without a neck-pillow, to Catherine’s amazement.
While Venice looks beautiful from the sky, on land it is hard to believe it’s actually real. I spent the entire first afternoon with my jaw on the ground as we walked through tiny little paved backstreets, amazing grand churches, and along winding, Gondola-filled canals. The city really is like a maze and I have spent so long concentrating on remembering where I am that it took me almost three days to realise that there are no roads in Venice. Men with trolleys deliver stock to shops, porters carry tourists suitcases through tiny backstreets to their hotels, and even the garbage is collected by a boat that floats down the canals.
While we have tried to be adventurous with our meals, we couldn’t go past the restaurant that sits conveniently at the door of our apartment building (Restorante Al Brindisi). The staff aren’t too sleazy like one place we tried (I’ll forgive them, they are Italian after all), the portions are huge, and the prices are low. Plus it’s not too far to roll to our beds after we stuff ourselves full. The place is packed with locals too, so you know its good. On the first night when it started to rain for all of five minutes, the kind group next to us insisted we drag our table out of the rain and join their table, though we were totally incapable of joining their conversation. Throw a few hand gestures into the mix and you fit in just fine though.
We have been fortunate enough to enjoy Venice during the La Biennale di Venezia. This meant finding little gallery spaces in beautiful old buildings and down side streets that we would not have otherwise discovered. In particular we stumbled across a very different dance in the streets and while we still have no idea what was happening we both stood there for half an hour with puzzled looks on our faces. Catherine did get distracted by a dog sitting at her feet, and by almost every other dog that walks, or rather is carried past us by its owner. Small dogs seem to be a thing here, and you are allowed to take them everywhere and anywhere, including inside bakeries and department stores!
My favorite adventure in Venice has definitely been visiting the islands Murano and Burano. After scoring two delicious fresh fruit cups from the markets we jumped on a ferry headed for Murano. Famous for its glass and crystal, after jumping off the ferry we conveniently stumbled across a workshop and were treated to a private demonstration from the “master” who made an amazing vase and horse statue out of glass right before our eyes. While tempted to touch them, the “master” warned us against it as he dropped a piece of paper into the vase which instantly caught fire and turned to ash. Hot stuff…
Out of the two islands, Burano was my favourite. It was once famous for its lace, but I was more attracted to the houses, each painted a different but equally vibrant colour. Some even managed to match their laundry, which was hanging out the window, to the colour of their walls. It reminded me of the Painted Ladies in San Francisco but on steroids. We ate lunch by the water, and watched a couple that appeared to have just married (I can’t think why else someone would choose to wear a big, white poofy dress in this weather) dig away at some fish and chips…odd choice for a honeymoon we thought, but each to their own.
The twenty-five minute journey back to the mainland went by quickly as we were delighted to find the same guy working the ferry that had rode us out to the islands. We had affectionately coined him ‘Poofy’ due to his hair that sat perfectly quaffed atop his head. Known for her stalking capabilities, in the following few minutes Catherine did things that terrified me and I could not even begin to explain, but I will say this: he got out alive.
I woke to the most incredible sunrise the next morning, and though it was 3am, found myself standing at the window looking at the view for several minutes before jumping back into bed. In an attempt to beat the queues, we headed for the Basilica di San Marco early and found the streets empty and most shops still closed…things don’t really start happening until 10am here. These Italians have got life pretty sorted. While we did beat the queues, we did forget to read the dress code and both had to wear a shame shawl to cover our knees, though Catherine did manage to fashion it quite expertly into a neat little skirt to avoid embarrassment. The Basilica was incredible and huge, the walls lined with gold mosaic and the chairs balanced carefully on a floor as bumpy as the water in the canals around it. Afterwards I satisfied my love of heights by climbing the Campanile, a bell tower with incredible 360° views of Venice.
En route for our afternoon siesta (a phenomenon that has become a fixture in our daily routine so far) we watched the flocks of pigeons in the Piazza San Marco climb on people who had PAID for seeds to feed the pigeons. They had PAID to have flying rats eat seeds out of their hands…I still can’t quite get my head around it. But anyway…after a big bowl of spaghetti and a short slumber we headed out for a gondola ride to officially tick of the last of our to-do list while in Venice. Through some excellent research Catherine had discovered the Traghetto, a less-fancy version of a gondola that travels across the Grand Canal like a ferry. The best part about it is it costs €2 as opposed to €80, so I was keen as a bean. Our oarsman even shared his bowl of cherries with us, so I considered it a win-win.
Venice has been an incredible introduction to Italy and I leave with my arms stinging with the hope of a tan, a newfound understanding of siestas, and a tiny bit more of a grasp on the Italian language. Bring on Florence.