Venice – Interlaken
Ever since I was a young I’ve wanted to visit Venice. Childhood holidays spent in Italy coupled with the mysticism and intrigue of a city built on water was enough to convince me that this was a must for my travel bucket-list, and ticking it off has been just as amazing as I’d imagined.
Granted, Venice is not what I expected when I was young – think Atlantis, but with more pizza – however it is easily one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Even without the countless canals and infamous gondolas that drift along them, the architecture is stunning, with middle-eastern influences shining through from trade in years gone by. Of course, the miles of waterways that snake between these buildings add to the charm that the city holds, though I personally did not take advantage of this popular tourist feature (80 euros for 35 minutes on a gondola is not a justifiable expense as far as I’m concerned).
I arrived in Venice relatively early on Monday, around 2pm, and proceeded to spend a solid half an hour trying to figure out the local vaporetto system – a network of boats that operate like buses around the main island and others nearby, such as the one I stayed on. Once you’ve got the hang of them, they’re fantastic, but this can take a while. When I finally arrived at my hostel, I dumped my bags and headed straight back out again, catching the vaporetto over to the Piazza San Marco.
It is worth mentioning at this point that my childhood vision of this city did absolutely nothing to prepare me for the sheer size of the masses of tourists that congregate here. It isn’t so noticeable in the backstreets and wandering around the canals, as the pavements here are so narrow that you expect them to be busy, but as soon as you encounter a large open space it really hits you just how touristy Venice is. This didn’t deter me though, and I happily spent the afternoon pottering about in the sunshine.
That evening, having spent 30 euros on a two-day waterbus pass, I took it upon myself to create my own boat tour of the city. I had unlimited use of these vaporettos until my departure, so I figured I may as well make the most of them. From San Marco, I caught the boat up the central Grand Canal to Ferrovia, travelling almost the entire length of this waterway and taking in the beauty of the buildings that line it, lit up against the night sky and reflecting off the water.
On day two, following a much-needed lay-in, I headed back to the Piazza San Marco for some more sight-seeing. This square is surrounded on all sides by attractions – the Basilica di San Marco, Ponte dei Sospiri, and Museo Correr are just a few – each of which marks the start of a long, long queue that winds back through the Piazza itself. This is a place best visited in the evenings, I think, before the buildings close for the night but at a point when the crowds begin to wind down. Determined to return later, I walked down towards the Accademia, a district filled with museums and art galleries. With venice being as notoriously expensive as it is, I unfortunately didn’t enter any of these, although I found that most were closed on Tuesdays anyway.
At this point, I began yet another venture into my favourite pastime: becoming horrifically lost in foreign cities. For around an hour and a half, I wandered aimlessly around the increasingly empty streets of suburban Venice. My map was almost no help, my phone wasn’t picking up 3G, and the street signs here are totally useless. Eventually, I found myself back at Rialto, a popular region along the Grand Canal filled with restaurants and shops, centered around the famous stone bridge that links the two sides of the water (one of only four on the Grand Canal).
After spending a while sat eating lunch at the foot of this bridge, I took another self-guided boat tour back down the canal. Cities always have a totally different atmosphere at night than in the day, and Venice is no different, with the vibrant buildings standing proudly against the water in the sunshine; a stark contrast to their shadowy selves some 18 hours previously. This time, I departed the boat at San Georgio Maggiore, a large church on a separate island to the south of the main areas. The church itself was housing an art exhibit at the time, focusing on drawing people together and culminating in a large wheel of mirrors stamped with “Love Difference” on the exterior face.
Back at San Marco, I joined the heavily reduced queue to enter the Basilica. Entry itself is free, but beware that you’ll have to pay one euro for a ‘shawl’ (read: large scrap of orange tissue-like fabric) if your clothing is deemed inappropriate, as well as up to eight euros for entry to the more interesting parts of the Basilica, plus the fee for storing your bag if it is large enough that the security guards think you may sneak something in. Or out, as they’re probably more concerned.
Photography is forbidden inside this sacred building, so you’ll have to make do with my lack-lustre description, as I doubt anything I say can live up to the splendour found here. The ceiling, formed of several large domes, is entirely coated in a layer of glittering gold leaf, cracked from age and adorned with countless images of Christ, his followers, and depictions of significant biblical events. The altar, as with other features of the Basilica, is impeccably ornate, carved from cool grey marble. Even the floor is beautiful to walk on, as you follow the marked path around the perimeter of the building. Back out in the Piazza, I took in the impressive astronomical clock of St Mark’s clock tower (not much different to that in Prague in appearance), before scanning the square one last time and heading back to my hostel for some dinner.
I know this sounds cliché, but one of my favourite things about Venice was easily the food. Good veggie food has been difficult to come across as I’ve been travelling (the supermarket in Bled didn’t sell any fresh vegetables, and meat and fish feature heavily in the Scandinavian diet), with most meals comprising some combination of tomato, cheese, and carbs. Italian food is my favourite, and while it didn’t offer much variation on the theme I had already defined, at least the tomato-cheese-carb combinations here were done well. Even the food served up in my hostel was fantastic, which my wallet certainly appreciated.
I ended my second day in this stunning city sat outside my hostel on the waterfront, feet dangling over the sea below, watching the sun set with a few fellow hostel guests. I tried to take a timelapse of this view, but the clouds had other plans for me, sweeping in at just the wrong moment. No worries, though, I’m sure I’ll see a fair few more beautiful sunsets before I head back to England.
This trip really is flying by now – I can’t quite believe it’s been three weeks already. I’ve got two weeks to go and there’s five more stops on my list, but the cities can wait a little longer. For now, it’s back to the mountains, and Switzerland is sure to deliver.