After the conclusion of the third month in my Remote Year – Kublai European itinerary, I embarked on a solo side trip to Italy to visit beautiful and historic sites that I learned about in history class. After studying the Renaissance in World History in freshman year of high school, I became interested in the history and culture of Italy. It seemed like a place out of another world: lovely scenery, breathtaking art, and savory foods. I had never really been much of a history buff, often finding myself bored or falling asleep in those classes, eager to instead get on the computer and start building something. This was the first time I had felt engaged in a history class and wanted to know more about the places we were learning about.
Venezia: Islands and Car(e)-Free Life
My first stop was to the main island of Venice, Italy. Venice with its unique geography consisting of several distinct islands linked together via waterways and water taxis immediately struck me first learning about it in depth. It seemed like a place from a dream: a charming city with old-world architecture and a prototypical Italian-European approach to life: full of food and laid-back and without the stress of hustle-and-bustle work life.
I first got off the plane in Venice to be greeted by warm, humid weather. Yucky, more sweat. It was nice in Prague (even after being over 100F early in the month) to cool off a bit. Landing in Venice, I had plunged myself right back into the full force of summer. The Mediterranean climate offers year-round temperature semi-stability, allowing for warm-climate flora that would otherwise perish at latitudes as high as Venice. In short, I learned there can in fact be palm trees above the 45th parallel.
After gathering my luggage and exiting the airport which is north of the main island, I made my way to the water taxis. These are interesting vessels that resemble public transportation on the inside but they are in fact waterborne vehicles. A word to the wise: don’t sit next to open windows on the boat if you don’t want to get splashed from the occasional rocking and disturbance from the other boats creating waves.
My Airbnb was situated on the main island of Venice, near San Marco. I had a pretty ideal location, one that was just far enough from the most central touristy areas but still walkable from everything Venice has to offer. Of course, the island isn’t really that big to begin with, but it still has tons of unique little corners and spots you might not otherwise see if you weren’t paying attention.
My Airbnb was a cute little studio with a very positive message above the fold-down bed. I couldn’t agree more with it. The kitchenette was cute and functional also, complete with a fridge and freezer! This studio was perfect for me, a solo adventurer, with wonderful decor and crispy cool air conditioning offering relief from the sweltering Venetian humidity.
Panoramic view of the Canal Grande (Grand Canal)
I spent three days in Venice, which turned out to be plenty of time to tour the compact island city. The ‘streets’ were really pedestrian walkways, ranging from my wingspan’s length to several meters wide. There are no cars on the main Venetian island – a welcome relief from the pollution-filled grip the automobile has on virtually every locality across the world. I could get behind this. Non-walking transportation consists of boats along the many waterways that snake their way through the main island. The Vaporetto is the public transport system in Venice, consisting of water taxis that serve numerous stops along the islands of Venice, from San Marco to Murano and beyond.
The first day consisted largely of getting situated in my new surroundings as well as sampling some local (vegan) Venetian cuisine. I treated myself to a pizza from Bella & Brava, a newer entry to the Venice restaurant scene serving modern twists on traditional pizza classics. While not a vegetarian establishment, a sign outside indicated inclusiveness of vegans and vegetarians. I took advantage of this and was not disappointed. I had the capricciosa: a pizza with tomato, artichokes, olives, capers, mushrooms, and tofu slices. So delicious. Rich in flavor and fats, it is probably one of the few times I’ve actually enjoyed olives (I’m not a huge olive fan).
After eating, I did a bit more exploring around the city. Dodging so many bodies from all over the place, I made my way to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) in front of the water to observe the late afternoon/evening sun and take in all the sights. I gazed outwards as a Celebrity cruise ship departed from the shores on to what was certainly some luxurious itinerary across the Adriatic Sea. I stopped for some photos along the waterway.
Day Two: Doge Museum and Tours
The second day found me touring the beautiful artwork of Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). This Doge refers to the military leader of Venice for over 1,100 years, similar to but not the same as a duke. The doge was the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice. Housed inside the museum, one of eleven that can be found in Venice, are apartments and prisons with fantastic displays of art and ceilings lined in gold.
There are so many lovely works of art, sculptures, paintings, and ceiling decorations. I was in awe at how much work had to have gone into these masterpieces. Afterwards, I grabbed some lunch and scheduled a gondola ride. You can’t go to Venice and then not ride a gondola. Even though it was a short half an hour ride, it was fun. I met and chatted with a couple of people from Canada and London. That is part of the fun of traveling solo – meeting people you otherwise wouldn’t ever meet.
Later that afternoon into the evening, I took a long stroll to a park near Largo Marinai d’Italia. This was a 40-minute walk in the heat, so it was definitely a warm stroll. I had to sit down and make sure I was drinking cold water so I wouldn’t pass out at one point. I made it to the park without issue, however.
After hanging out and observing the boats and ships passing by on the water, I got hungry for dinner. I made my way aboard a vaporetto line but not before witnessing a magnificent sunset along the shores of the island city.
Dinner that night at Frary’s was scrumptious. A nice spot for vegetarian fare, I scarfed down familiar foods like hummus, rice, and vegetables. Not overly Italian by any means, but when you’re vegan in a city full of butter and cheese, you take what you can get. The meal was rich and delicious, however.
A bowl of deliciousness from Frary’s
That evening was a quiet one. I headed my way back home and caught some rest for my last full day in Venice.
I’ve been fascinated by glass blowing before and knowing that I’d be really close to Murano, I wanted to check out a demonstration of some official Italian glass blowing. In the morning, I made my way towards Mvseo Vetrairo (Glass Museum) and browsed some fantastic works made by Venetian and non-Venetian artists. There were some really creative and elaborate pieces housed in this museum. All shapes, sizes, and colors were prettily presented in (also) glass cases.
The museum was nice and I was glad to be able to see a lot of wonderful pieces of glass art. However, my heart was still dedicated to finding an actual blowing demonstration. Wandering around with Google in hand, I managed to track down a place. Vetreria Artistica Colleoni – Murano Glass Factory was cool enough to give me a 15-minute private demonstration and a walk through their glass museum. This was absolutely breathtaking and I think my favorite part of Venice. I was forbidden from taking pictures of the inside, though I did manage to snap a few, hehehe.
After visiting the glass museum, I high-tailed it to my next stop: a boat tour of the Grand Canal and Venice. My goal was to get an overview and tour of the major points in the city. I tried to cram as many factoids of historical knowledge into my head as I could while simultaneously being memorized by the surrounding architecture.
Overall, Venice was a nice spot to visit for a few days, but the constant onslaught of tourists was overwhelming to say the least. Having to battle through hordes of bodies just walking through the streets was frustrating, especially when people lackadaisically stop in the middle of the walking path, gumming up an entire section of people behind them. Families argue and push their way through the crowd with sometimes screaming and fussy children, left to roam sometimes at their own devices. I knew this would be a tourist trap, and it certainly lived up to that.
The weather was hot and humid, with only brief relief during a thunderstorm and downpour on the second night. I’m thankful I had an Airbnb with a well-functioning air conditioner, as I back-sweatted through so many of my shirts in just a few days. On the food side, while the bread was wonderful, Venice is quite the opposite of Prague. There were scant vegan options, being the traditional cuisine is doused in large quantities of cheese and butter. I had a bit of difficulty tracking down cruelty-free eats while I was there. I also expected this to happen, but it made the food side of the trip less enjoyable.
If you go to Venice, you really only need a handful of days to hit the whole island. Visit the major points of interest like the museums and gondola tours. Be prepared for warm weather, tourists, and have nice shoes for walking, walking, walking.
My next stop was via high-speed train to: Florence.