Venezia, amore mio

I could try and play down how amazing this week has been, but honestly, it’s been downright incredible. I’ve wanted to visit Venice for as long as I can remember, but never thought it would actually happen. But somehow, Erasmus has done something to me which makes it impossible for me to turn down an opportunity like this. Less than 48 hours after meeting each other, Bo, Toni, Iris, Adele and I had decided that we’d road trip to Venice, but I didn’t actually think it would happen, or that I’d be able to do it. But it did and it was an incredible, incredible weekend.

To be honest, the week started fairly normally: Monday was the usual gym/shop/washing day (along with the added surprise of a new TLSP release) and Tuesday was another lecture-filled day with a quick soup lunch with Adele and Leonie squeezed in between and a fun basketball session in the evening. Wednesday was yet another gym trip, followed by a history lecture, then it was home for a quick change before heading out for burgers with the girls, and then on to O’Malley’s Irish Pub. Once again, Thursday was another standard gym/language course day, but in all honesty, my mind was elsewhere….

Venice! Friday came and I was so excited. The five of us piled into Toni’s tiny 3 door car at 9am to begin the 4 hour drive to Venice. The drive took us through some incredible Alpine scenery, snow-covered passes and featured a pit-stop at what could be Europe’s most spectacular service station. After an uncomfortable nap and a delve through the depths of Adele’s iPod, we arrived at Marco Polo airport where we parked and, after an encounter with a very rude Italian, caught the bus to Venice. We were all absolutely shattered at this point, but too excited to truly care. When we arrived, we were dumped right in the heart of the tourist area, and you could see why. From the very first bridge, the view along the Grand Canal was spectacular. Venice must be one of the most disproportionately represented cities in popular culture, but when you get there, you can see why – it feels like a movie set! We then wandered over to the train station to try and get a free map (impossible), take out money (£119 for 120 Euros ?!??!!?) and get our bearings, before immediately plunging into the warren of side streets/canals that lead from the Grand Canal into the San Polo Sestiere. Here, there were considerably fewer tourists and it felt more like the Venice I expected: buildings built right in the canals with tiny narrow footpaths and ornate bridges crisscrossing them. Every now and then, a local in a speedboat or some tourists in a gondola would glide past; the whole scene was beautiful. Surprisingly, we found our hotel fairly easily and managed to smuggle Adele in past the reception (we’d only booked a room for four!). The room was basic, but large enough and clean and besides, we didn’t intend on spending much time there at all. As soon as we could, we left the hotel and set off walking with one goal in mind: to get lost.

And get lost we did! I bet even the locals have difficulty getting from A to B here, everywhere looks the same and there’s very few distinct landmarks to orientate yourself with once you’re away from the Grand Canal. We wandered for hours around San Polo, crossing the Academia Ponte into San Marco and stopping for coffee on a beautiful square. The museums in Venice are often very expensive and tourist-saturated, so we kept to the smaller churches which you could just wander into. We did however, have one tourist vice and bought ourselves Venetian masks, ostensibly for Halloween, but they doubled as souvenirs. On and on we wandered, stumbling across dead ends, laundry hanging 6 floors above our heads, tiny churches, cafes, leaning buildings, canals, bridges and via an incredible dark chocolate ice cream. Thanks to sheer luck rather than planning, we ended up at the iconic Rialto Ponte at sunset, offering a spectacular view down the Grand Canal. Here, our tiredness led us to ponder how Venice could even exist; the buildings and hotels seemed to be falling into the water! The weather that day had been ideal, so the sunset was uninterrupted and breathtaking. As Adele commented, it was like being in a movie! By this point, Bo had been in Italy without having had wine for far too long, so we went in search of a wine bar, and stumbled across a cute one in a quieter area across the Rialto, away from the tourists. Encouraged by this, we sought out a restaurant in the same area, but must have managed to find the only bad Italian restaurant in Venice! After a swift exit, we found another beautiful wine bar very close to our hotel where we stayed for hours, drinking the local wine and eating cheese. Then, after an exhausting but magical day, we headed back to the hotel and fell asleep instantaneously.

The next morning, rather than being woken up by church bells, I was shocked away by Adele jumping on top of me; apparently I’d been sleeping so deeply that I’d met the alarm. After quick showers and a session of leaching off the WIFI from the next door university (god bless eduroam), we set out in search of brunch. This time, we wandered further south past the Academia Ponte into the Dorsoduro Sestiere, probably my favourite area of Venice with it’s numerous coffee shops, canals, trees and lack of tourists. Here, we stopped for breakfast and some very good (but expensive) coffee before continuing our walk past the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and on to the cathedral at the southern tip of the city where we sat on the steps of a small side canal and watched a local fix his boat. We then walked along the front overlooking Guidecca and the Lido before crossing over into San Marco again to make the obligatory pilgrimage to St Mark’s. Being the main tourist attraction in the city, it was obviously rammed with people, making it quite unpleasant, so we quickly dipped into a side street again and stumbled across a much more pleasant, quieter and just as beautiful square. We then walked along the canals on the northern side of the island (and found a very precarious tower) where we bought pizza slices from a hole in the wall pizzeria, eating them on the side of a canal as the boats sailed past – heaven! It was then on with the walk, via the most incredible ice cream that we never found again, a tea shop (which appeased Bo) and more beautiful small and large canals.

Eventually we ended up in Cannaregio, at the far north of the city. Here, things were a lot more peaceful and laid back; the canals were wider and so were the footpaths, creating a more community feel. We then bought Aperol Spritz from a bar and drank them with our feet dangling over the canal in the late afternoon sun, deciding our next move. Reluctantly leaving our spot, we headed into the Jewish Ghetto area of the Sestiere before heading back down towards the Rialto, accidentally wandering into what must have been the busiest street in Venice. Over the bridge, we found another cosy wine bar to drink in, before heading back to our neighbourhood (collectively this was our favourite) where we found a beautiful restaurant where I got talking with some English people and where we were able to eat outside overlooking a narrow canal. The food and wine were incredible (the chocolate pyramid!!!) and we stayed for a while before Bo and Iris headed back to the hotel and Toni, Adele and I went to meet up with Leonie, who coincidentally was visiting a friend in Venice at the same time. She took us to the student area of the city (very close to where we stayed) and we drank (not so nice) wine whilst her friend relayed to us the difficulties of being a resident in a city so ill-equipped for the number of people it has to deal with. After a long day, it was a giggly walk back to the hotel (via what we christened the “eduroam bridge” as it was the nearest place to our hotel where we could get WIFI!) where I fell asleep immediately. Another beautiful day.

Sunday dawned and we were determined to make the most of our last day in Venice. After successfully smuggling Adele out of the hotel and checking out, we headed towards Dorsoduro again where we stopped for brunch at a hole in the wall panini shop. It was then onwards through the city to the Guggenheim Collection, which we actually visited this time. This was a private collection of modern art in a palatial villa overlooking the Grand Canal and made us feel very cultural! It was then another walk across into San Marco in pursuit of the previous days ice cream shop, in which we failed, but found one that was equally as nice. We then crossed the Rialto again, reconvened at the Academia and had one last Aperol Spritz at a small cafe before heading back to the hotel to collect our bags and navigate our way back to the bus stop. All in all, we’d managed to visit almost every corner of the city and enjoyed every second of it. I was genuinely sad to leave, but resolved to come back again. The journey back was relatively smooth and we reminisced on what had been an incredible weekend (done on the cheap, might I add).

I love Venice and I’d visit again in a heartbeat. Whilst it’s not a place for an extended trip, for a long weekend, it’s beautiful, unique and magical. There’s just something about a city that might not be here for much longer that gives the place an air of intrigue and magic. The fact that it’s so easy to get lost and so beautiful at every turn makes it a city that just keeps on giving and, as long as you stay away from the tourist hotspots, can be a relaxing, peaceful and idyllic experience. When I leaned over the bridge by our hotel on the final night, I reflected on how far I’d come, both literally (a few hundred miles) and metaphorically; past me would be in awe of current me taking long weekends to Venice with my friends. This has definitely been the highlight of my Erasmus year so far, and I can’t wait to travel more – I’ve caught the bug!!

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An autumnal Salzburg
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The view from the backseat

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Botticelli babes

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