This past summer when I was working in Yellowstone, I often worked 10 hour days – five days a week. I did have consistent weekends, but never anything more than two days off at a time. My current job in Germany doesn’t give me consistent weekends, but I’m working FAR less hours (which is GREAT) and sometimes the cookie crumbles in my favor and I have MORE than two days off. Last week the cookie crumbled in all the right places and I had four days off…IN A ROW.
Living in Europe means that even a two day weekend calls for a trip out of town, but a four day weekend calls for an even further trip out of town. After weighing my options I decided I wanted to go to Venice as a “get my feet wet traveling solo” trip. Venice is rated as a very safe city, so I pulled the plug and bought myself a round trip bus ticket for around $45.
The bus to and from Venice from where I live was about 7 hrs, but the ride wasn’t bad at all. Aside from the Italian bus driver talking to me in Italian about a rattling noise he wanted me to check, the trip was smooth and I was able to take in the sights around me. I was lucky to find a direct bus both to and from Venice, which isn’t a common find.
I arrived in Venice around 8pm my first of three nights there, so I made sure to book a hostel that was close to the bus stop. Venice might be rated as safe, but after dark a city is still a city. My hostel was literally around the corner from the bus, was eclectic and modern, and cost me a whopping $11. The only downside was that this room had EIGHT beds in it, and the girl underneath me was a snorer. But…$11.
The following morning, I walked 2 minutes from my hostel to the train station, and took a train into the city center. I started my day around 7am because I wanted as much time in daylight as possible. I arrived in the city center around 7:30a and I watched the city come to life. The people I was walking around with were clearly locals, some probably on their way to work. Most of the shops were still closed, so I spent my first two hours wandering the alleys and allowing myself to get lost.
The canals were like something out of a movie. The houses had laundry hanging out to dry, and garbage bags in their windows to be collected. There were flower plants on the side of buildings and uneven sidewalks with twists and turns allowing multiple options for exploration. Venice isn’t a huge city, so you can’t really get lost, but at the same time you want to get “lost” aimlessly wandering. Eventually you’ll find a familiar building, or stumble upon a well known sight, but the true experience is found without a map.
I spent my day bouncing in and out of as many cathedrals as I could find, eating as much local food as I could stomach, and immersing myself in as much Italian culture as I could. I wandered the farmers market, I wandered the local neighborhoods, I wandered the outer streets and inner alleyways, and covered a total of 16 miles on my first day in the city. I spent 9 hours soaking up as much as I could, and I’m happy to say there was nothing I wanted to see or do that I didn’t on the first day.
I sat at a restaurant on the Grand Canal for over an hour just watching the city come to life. I watched the Gondolas come and go, I watched the tourists window shop, I watched the locals rush off to work, I felt the sun on my cheeks and the espresso in my veins. Any fear of being alone in an area I’d never been washed away with each crashing wave that entered my auditory system.
By mid day I made my way towards the Piazza San Marco, Venice’s most popular city square. The square is home to many beautiful buildings, including a gorgeous cathedral rich in history known as the Basilica di San Marco. The Basilica is free to enter (you can pay for additional exploration when inside) and was one of the most amazing interiors of gold and painted walls I’ve ever seen.
From here I wandered more on the outer edges near the water to soak up the remaining hours of daylight. I had no set plans for this trip, other than to wander as much as possible and soak up as much culture as I could. I found buildings I’d only ever seen in photographs, dogs walking next to their owners without a leash, locals and tourists alike eating gelato and cannolis and seafood galore.
Of all the cathedrals I found, my favorite was Santa Maria Della Salute. I saw the building from across the canal, and walked all the way around so that I could see it up close. What made this my favorite of the day was the inside beauty, paired with a right place/right time moment. As I arrived a live organist was playing music for a one hour time slot. I sat in the pews and listened to the music play for a good ten minutes wondering how this was my life.
This trip was the perfect confidence boost for traveling alone. My only concern when traveling alone is getting lost, but I’ve managed to loophole my maps using wifi (I don’t have a cell phone plan here and no data) and asking as many people as needed to ensure I’m on the right train before it leaves. I made sure to find my hostel for the night first thing upon arriving in the city, just in case. My second hostel in Venice I was blessed with the room to myself. I paid $27 for this stay, and had a great nights sleep.
My view from the room wasn’t shabby either.
My first day in Venice was a dream, and it was just the beginning. Day two in Venice was spent island hopping, and listening to Italians serenade me with classical music. More on that later. My eats from day one consisted of two items Italy is known for: pizza and gelato. I sometimes splurge when I travel in order to soak up the culture regardless of the physical symptoms I might feel. I’d never had gelato before, and I admit I now know what the hype is all about.
I wanted to eat seafood pasta, and cannolis, and chocolate too…but I have to be mindful and decided to save those other items for my next trip to EATaly.
The city center of Venice is a place you have to see for yourself to fully grasp the beauty. I accomplished a long time goal of drinking espresso in Italy and it was just as delicious as I anticipated. Up next is part two of my Italy adventure, full of colorful houses and beautiful music. Ciao!
Q: Would you rather: pizza, gelato, cannoli, seafood pasta, seafood?