My parents, bless their hearts, were crazy enough to take an eight year-old to Italy. No normal parents would think that was a good investment and they took a risky gamble when they brought me to Italy for a week when I was only eight. Thankfully, their gamble paid off and I loved the trip.
Eleven years later, I finally was fortunate enough to return to Venice, the city of canals, gondolas, and pigeons. I traveled there this past weekend with two of my best friends, Hannah and Laura, who were also studying with me in Heidelberg.
Since Pepperdine gives us very little time off to travel, we had to take a night train from Munich to Venice on Thursday night. I value my sleep more than anything, so I arranged for us to travel in a couchette train – six beds in a sleeping car. It is not the ideal sleeping situation, but it’s cheap and I can at least sleep horizontally while waking up in my destination.
The three of us rolled into Venice at 9:00 Friday morning. We were exhausted but ready to explore the city. Unfortunately, we could not check into our AirBNB until 11 so we had to carry our luggage with us. Fortunately, I had my large 45-liter backpack and I didn’t have to drag a suitcase over the stones. Despite eating a lot of food (and dessert) before leaving Munich, I was starving. We found a café that had a continental breakfast for 7,50 euros. It didn’t take much to convince me to eat there. For only 7,50 I had a cappuccino (molto Italiano), orange juice (which tasted like the nectar of the gods), bread rolls (which tasted nothing like German bread), and a croissant (covered with sugar). All I knew is that I never wanted to eat anywhere else.
By that time it was almost time to head to our AirBNB. It was a decent distance from us, so we walked to the Rialto Bridge and bought our vaporetto passes. For 28 euros, we had unlimited transportation on the vaporettos, or waterbusses. We were even able to get a rolling pass that allows for a discounted price at some attractions. The vaporetto was chock-full of tourists toting massive suitcases and taking pictures with iPads, so we weren’t able to sit outside to partake in the picture-taking process. Nevertheless, we enjoyed watching the sights as the boat cruised along the canal.
It took us nearly 45 minutes to arrive at our stop – Giardini. Our host, Laura, was there waiting for us. She was very friendly and led us down a parkway to our AirBNB. Who knew that Venice had trees and wasn’t made up of only canals? We finally arrived at our flat and were stunned by how modern it was inside. My bedroom (I claimed it quickly) overlooked a canal with laundry drying on the clotheslines from all the windows. It was so picturesque and I never wanted to return to Heidelberg.
After quickly showering off the feel of the couchette, we headed out to explore. St. Mark’s Square was a quick 15-minute walk from our apartment, so we started there. I was beyond thrilled to discover that it was like I had remembered it from all those eons ago. Crowded, cold, and full of pigeons. Since it was Carnival, throngs of people were dressed up in costume taking pictures with tourists. I took my fair share of pictures although I was slightly leery to become distracted in case there were pickpockets nearby, which there always were.
The tourist card that was part of our vaporetto pass gave us a discount at Doge’s Palace. I had wanted to go inside for a long time and was dancing like a puppy waiting to take a tour. Visiting museums with Laura and Hannah was a much-needed relief from the 19 years of sightseeing with my parents. My mom loves to read every single plaque about every single thing in a museum. Despite my interest in history, I realize that there are other things to do and I can’t devote my whole day to one small room. Laura and Hannah are on my side, so we made excellent time while walking through Doge’s Palace. I didn’t know what to expect inside, but I was floored at the sheer magnificence of the rooms. When I have my own place, I want to decorate it the same way as the palace. Even the door jams were beautiful!
For me, the highlight of the tour was visiting the Bridge of Sighs. According to legend, as prisoners were led from the Doge’s Palace to prison over the bridge, they would look out the window at their last glimpse of Venice and sigh. I don’t think that was the biggest concern of the prisoners, but based on the view from the bridge, it’s easy to see why this legend became so popular. I tried to imagine myself viewing freedom for the last time while walking across the bridge and couldn’t – I think they needed some bigger windows.
Once we were finished at Doge’s Palace, we ate at a restaurant along the lagoon. I was determined to eat pizza while in Italy, so I ordered one with mushrooms, meat, and artichokes on it. I also ordered a Coca-Cola, but cried actual tears of joy when they brought out a Pepsi. It truly is the small things in life that excite me the most.
When I visited Venice with my parents and grandparents, I fell in love with it. I had an obsession with the hand-blown Murano glass and I discovered that nothing had changed, even 11 years later. I was still like a kid in a candy store; distracted by every piece of Murano glass that I saw. And trust me, there was lots to see.
Hannah wasn’t feeling well so she went back to the AirBNB and Laura and I continued to explore. I couldn’t visit Venice without going inside St. Mark’s Cathedral, so we took a quick peek inside. It was free, which was good because despite its grand interior, we didn’t stay inside for long. There were lots of signs instructing me to not take pictures, so naturally I took several. The stream of people inside was continuous and they kept pushing us along to the exit. I wasn’t too upset; I’ve become accustomed to visiting churches with my dad – this was just much quicker than when I am with him.
Every single travel blog will give you the same piece of advice about Venice, but I agree with them entirely. To truly explore the city, you have to get lost. Walk down random streets and see where they lead. You’ll never know what you can find. Laura and I walked through many small streets leading in and out of residential and commercial areas. We passed dozens of souvenir shops selling the exact same Carnival masks and key chains and only bought one mask (shh don’t tell). Without even realizing it, we made it to the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal. There’s no telling where you can end up in Venice. Unfortunately, the Rialto was under construction so it was difficult to get a really good quality picture. Some things really do change in 11 years. Regardless, we wandered around a little bit more before boarding the vaporetto to go back to our flat.
Before we headed out that night, the three of us dressed up in our masks for Carnival. None of us had any idea what we were doing or where we were going, but we were going to look stylish in our masks while we did it. After an extensive brief photo shoot in the flat, we hit the town. It was freezing but we wore our masks with out heads held high and our toes and fingers frozen. We found a small restaurant a few blocks behind St. Marks and stuffed our faces full of fettuccine alfredo and Lemoncello. I highly recommend the pasta – the Italians can keep the Lemoncello. It was late by that time so we went back to the flat… completely covered in glitter. Apparently my mask likes to shed. Oh well, things could be worse.
We slept in a bit the next morning and got a late star. Hey, studying and traveling is exhausting! On the bright side, it was socially acceptable to order pasta at this hour, which I was more than happy to do. Our waiter was very kind and even brought us complimentary appetizers. We decided to see St. Mark’s Square again and were shocked at how many people were dressed up and wearing masks. It was as though a masquerade ball had multiplied tenfold and been let loose in the square. We didn’t want to miss out on the fun so we quickly went back to the AirBNB and changed to put our masks on. The food coma from our meal had set in so we spent a little bit longer at the AirBNB than anticipated. It was okay though, because Laura and I had fun taking pictures from our windows while standing on the bridge outside. Call us basic but the pictures were cute.
When we headed back out, we had one mission in mind – find Harry’s Bar to try a Bellini. That bar is the birthplace of the scrumptious Bellini so we had to taste it for ourselves. It was almost like a peach smoothie it was so delicious. Sadly, it came at a price of 16,50 euros but oh well, memories are expensive. We tried to find a restaurant that Laura had eaten at before but weren’t able to. Venice is hard to navigate! Instead, we discovered a small restaurant tucked away in a back alley. It had such a fun atmosphere and delicious pasta! I ordered penne pasta that came in a tomato sauce that I actually enjoyed. That lets you know how good it was. We were so exhausted afterward that we went back to the Grand Canal and took a waterbus back to Giardini.
I got hardly any sleep that night and woke up extremely early to make our train. My acute sense of direction and timeliness would have gotten us there with plenty of time. Unfortunately, the driver of the waterbus had other plans and arrived 11 minutes behind schedule. We missed our train by one minute. I was furious, but we were still able to work out the train schedules so we could make it back home to Heidelberg.
Was Venice different for me the second time around? Yes. Although I didn’t stay in a glamorous hotel on the Grand Canal, I was in a wonderful apartment overlooking our own canal. This time around I didn’t have my parents purchasing everything for me, which was a bummer but I knew how to budget my money and appreciate my expenses. Most importantly, I was able to try Bellini in its birthplace on this trip, which is what making memories is all about.