Glistening canals, breath-taking buildings and surely the most bridges ever constructed in one city. Venice truly is unlike any place I have ever seen.
My home Island of Raasay is full of beauty, but it is natural beauty. Where as Venice is positively filled to bursting with man-made beauty. The city is a marvel of human engineering, architecture and creativity. Unless you were deaf, blind and mute, you couldn’t help but appreciate how lucky you are to be walking these beautiful streets.
A key aspect of the city’s uniqueness is its layout, which while beautiful can be quite a pain to get around. It may be a small place but its twists and turns, bridges and dead-end streets leading to water, mean it can be both tiring and irksome to get from points A to B. When I first got to Venice I was surprised how easy it is to become lost, especially since I had just come from Florence, where it was actually difficult to get lost.
There is public transport in the form of buses and bus-boats. While I didn’t take full advantage of it, you can buy a tourist pass that gives you unlimited trips on both the boats and buses for a certain number of days – I paid €30 for two days. If you don’t really feel like walking everywhere or paying for a taxi, I would advice buying a pass. It’s also a good way to get a different perspective as you sail down the canals, getting to see some more of the beauty that Venice offers. Which is quite impressive when you compare it to the perspective you receive from public transport in most cities.
But if you go on foot, it doesn’t feel like torture. I thoroughly enjoyed just wandering, trying to find every scenic sight or curious quirk that the city would reveal to me. I really can’t repeat often enough: it is a beautiful place, illuminated by the heavenly reflective properties of Venetian water with the sun dancing across it, lighting up the undersides of the bridges, causing a constant shifting of light in a myriad of chaotic and hypnotising patterns. The historic and timeless beauty of Venetian buildings come in all different colours and designs, all carrying a unique charm. Quite a number of houses are starting to crumble, or present a rougher, worn exterior, but it’s tremendously impressive that you can still see the core and primal beauty in even the most run-down of buildings in Venice.
There is also a lot of graffiti in the city. I have noticed that across Italy. It’s not much like the graffiti back home, which might entail delightful wee messages such as “Scott McGraw’s a grass” or “your da sells Avon” or more likely something involving someone’s mother or sister. A lot of Italian graffiti is political and concerns Italy’s current economical and political situation. I have seen a lot of the anarchist signs – an A in a circle. A few pieces of griffiti approach street art, as in the pictures below.
There was one thing that I have missed and was excited to find in Venice, and that was the smell of the sea in the air. Here you do find that smell however it carries the usual unidentifiable city smells, the cocktail of odours that is in equal parts repugnant and curious.
If you’re into art, Venice is a treasure trove waiting to be opened, with all different sorts of jewels. I recommend visiting the Gallerie dell’Accademia. It is full of beautiful Venetian paintings up to the 18th century, and if you tell them you are an art student you get to enter for free. If contemporary art is something that tickles your fancy then visit the Jan Fabre glass and bone sculptures exhibition. It is simultaneously weird and cool, with many of the sculptures made out of human bone. It is also free at the point of entrance.
Or just walk the city. There are sculptures and art projects all over the place, and it’s not surprising. In a place like Venice it would be hard not to try find some way to express the beauty of the place. Making Venice truly one of the great muses of the modern era.
The food in Venice is great, but I preferred Florence for a number of reasons. One is that on my budget the prices were more expensive in Venice (€12-15) than in Florence (€8). I thought there was a greater range of food in Florence as well, although if you love your seafood Venice is a better place for your palate. A local speciality is spaghetti al nero di seppia. That is spaghetti covered in squid ink and I absolutely loved it. That makes it all the harder to be leaving Venice as when I am back in Scotland I will sadly be without squid ink.
If you have been travelling all over Italy, one change that you will notice in Venice is in the weather and temperature. It is much colder in Venice and on a few days during my stay the sky was overcast. It’s still quite warm in the sun, but when in the shade or at night it certainly isn’t shorts and T-shirt weather.
A must-do in Venice is the Piazza San Marco. It contains the Doge’s Palace, St Mark’s Campanile and St Mark’s Basilica. It’s especially odd for me visiting this spot, because I am reading a book about the old Venetian empire given to me by Roger, an experienced and successful journalist and author who I’m now calling my mentor.
The book gives descriptions of Venice way back in the prime of its empire, and it certainly feels as if St Mark’s was the heart of an empire, with imposing and beautiful structures that are begging to be entered. I unfortunately missed out on the basilica but absolutely loved the Doge’s place. The Campanile gives a great aerial view of Venice, but make sure you are careful what time you visit. I was quite late and it was starting to get a bit too dark. The Piazza is obviously packed with tourists and unfortunately also with pigeons, which make your life flash before your eyes when they come within a hair’s distance of hitting you. If there is just one place that you are able to visit in Venice, make it the Piazza San Marco.
Concerning accommodation, anything on the actual island of Venice is extortionately priced, so if you’re keeping to a budget book somewhere in the surrounding area, like Mestre. I stayed at the AO Mestre hostel, which was more like a hotel really, I mean, the toilet in my room had a bidet, which being the uncultured swine that I am I have no clue how it is used, and my working class pride refuses to let me Google it to find out. The atmosphere isn’t always the best there, but I luckily met a few people who kept me entertained. It is also right next to the Mestre train station which makes it amazing for arriving at the hostel and for getting a train to Venice, which is a ten minute journey costing €1.25.
For the nightlife in Venice, a good spot to hit up is the Campo Santa Margherita, a square with a bunch of pubs open until late.
And I think that just about sums up my time in Venice, it’s a beautiful place that I will visit again – hopefully not on a budget next time, as I think you would enjoy yourself much more in Venice if you had money to burn. I want to thank Alice for being my acquiescent tour guide, who I treated more like an internet search engine than a person.
I’m off to Rome next, and that will be my last stop before heading back home to Scotland. So you won’t have to bask in my drunken revelry and naive literature for much longer. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, I will let you judge. Goodbye for now, and I’ll talk to you later.