After 8 months of traveling, I’m beginning to feel like it might be impossible to ever fully perfect the art of budget tourism. I spent several days online examining my favorite hostel websites, and still only came up with accommodation options that either involved being miles away from the heart of Venice or paying a daily rate that made my eyes bulge out in a cartoonish manner. Ultimately, I ended up finding the perfect hostel for our two days in Venice by simply googling “hostels near Santa Lucia train station”. Who would have thought this would yield a cheap hotel in the Santa Croce neighbourhood (a pretty and eclectic area in itself) barely a few steps away from the Scalzi Bridge, with easy access to waterbuses.
I think I would have to possess more of a poetic soul in order to properly describe the beauty of Venice. It’s one of those places that’s exactly how you expect it to be, yet so much more amazing at the same time. The romantic architecture, the gondolas bobbing in the canal and gondoliers singing, the rows of street vendors selling masquerade attire; all of it fit every image, every parody, and every story of Venice. Yet it felt completely different to be right in the middle of it: Smelling the canal, seeing the magic that was created as the street lit up in the evening, and being caught up in the crowds of excited tourists. It was all far more enchanting than I could have ever imagined it would be.
On our first night, lured in by some free samples, we bought a bottle of wine in a small shop just outside our hotel. We cringed a little at the price, which was markedly increased now that we were out of the south and into Italy’s tourism central. We told the vendor that we had spent a few weeks in Puglia, and she became instinctively defensive of her pricing and ranted about the lazy Southerners who can sell their wine for virtually nothing because they don’t pay taxes. Even before this encounter, I could feel the contrast between the north and south, although it was hard to pinpoint exactly what felt different. The towns in Puglia had a very Mediterranean feel, while the north clearly had more Germanic influences. The north felt richer, more reserved and more organized.
The next morning, we decided to take the waterbus to the San Marco neighbourhood to see Piazza San Marco. I had felt a little intimidated by the waterbus system when I was reading about it before we arrived, but it turned out to be as simple as any subway system. You figured out what line you needed to be on, bought a ticket at one of the many open-air stations, waited for the boat to pull up, hopped on and then rode along until your stop was announced. The waterbus ride helped me get a better sense of the layout of Venice, which is made up of various neighbourhoods connected by four bridges over the Canal. There were a myriad of boats on the water, ranging from gondolas to increasingly industrial-looking ships as we moved farther away from the mainland.
Piazza San Marco was almost as full of pigeons as it was of tourists. The square was dominated by Basilica San Marco, which was so elaborate that I literally did a double-take upon first laying eyes on it. I saw some tourists leaning out over one of its upper balconies, with a perfect view over the entire square, and I knew that I absolutely had to go up there despite the line-up leading in. The inside of the Basilica was equally as awe-inspiring as the exterior, decorated with a stunning gold mosaic from floor to ceiling. Each piece of the mosaic was barely larger than my thumbnail; it was mind-boggling to imagine the amount of care and time taken to craft every piece and place it so perfectly to create such beautiful images.
Out on the balcony, we watched the square continue to swell with tourists, as well as the occasional mass flight of pigeons scared off by a child. We listened to a small orchestra that was serenading brunch-diners on the patio of one of the restaurants.
In the afternoon, we made our way to Rialto Bridge, purposefully taking a longer route so that we could explore the streets. We stopped for wine, and then again for gelato; savoring what we knew what be some of our last tastes of Italy. By the evening, I had an incurable crush on Venice.
If I found any flaw in Venice, it was the restaurants. We found ourselves scouring the streets for a bit longer than we would have liked, trying to find places that weren’t ridiculously overpriced or just plain unappealing. The first night, we ended up in a restaurant with tacky décor that served an odd combination of Italian and Tex-Mex food. The next night, we wanted to sit by the water, so we tried to have a glass of wine at a Canal-view restaurant, with a plan to find a cheaper place to eat dinner at little later. We were promptly kicked out because the patio was reserved for groups ordering appetizers and dinner items. After some more searching, we found a more reasonably-priced restaurant, although with a slightly less desirable view of an alley. For once, though, food didn’t seem hugely important. It felt like one could almost nourish oneself with the atmosphere in Venice and supplement one’s diet with scenery.
I was grateful that we were able to spend two days in Venice, and enjoy our last days in Italy in one of its loveliest cities. Germany definitely has some sizeable shoes to fill.