The past few weeks have been surreal. As COVID-19 gradually worms its way into every aspect of our day-to-day activities from social gatherings to work environment to eventually our relationships with others, I am constantly reminded of how capricious life is. From January 5th to January 9th, I explored Northern Italy without a care in the world. I sauntered around the streets of Venice, humming theater tunes and swaying from the warmth of wine. In Milan, I leafed through racks of carefully curated fashion pieces and wiped my tears as I got one of the last tickets of the day to see the Last Supper in all of its glory. In less than a month from my departure, the two cities I fell in love with were suddenly thrown into dizzying circumstances that spiraled out of control until eventually the whole country was swept into a storm of uncertainty and fear.
Every day, the news details the worsening conditions in not just one but dozens of countries around the globe. It’s hard to stay positive and productive in these desperate times but I try as hard as I can because to be honest, I think I’d go insane otherwise. That’s why I’m writing this blog post over two months after my trip. I need a reminder that life is a rollercoaster and that you cannot have the highs without the lows.
Before launching into this post though, I think it’s vital to play the proper mood-setting music.
1. Dio, Come Ti Amo by Domenico Modugno
2. Nel blu dipinto di blu (Volare) by Domenico Modugno
3. ‘O Sole Mio by Luciano Pavarotti
Oh how I love you, Venice! Time genuinely slipped through my fingers. The streets were narrow and windy, leading me on unknown adventures. The water lapped against the stone, softly but steadily, as if reminding the tourists and locals alike that the ocean was always there to listen. The gondoliers crooned melancholy love songs as couples spilled their yearning for each other into the canals in excess. It was the most romantic city that I’d ever been too and it was only then that I truly started to feel the weight of loneliness warming me like a blanket at night. But with the weight of loneliness also came the liberating feeling that is only achievable through solo travel.
11:20 AM: Arrive in Venice
12:00 PM: Lunch at Da Michele Pizza e Ristò
2:00 PM: Check into Hostel
3:00 PM: Piazza San Marco
6:00 PM: Dinner
8:00 PM: Home
9:00 AM: Leave Hostel
10:00 AM: Rialto Bridge and Exploring
1:00 PM: Osteria Da Alberto
3:00 PM: Exploring/Shopping
6:00 PM: Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
7:00 PM: Gallerie dell’Accademia
This blog post is going to be a bit different than the other ones – a bit more like a photo diary than my usual organized long-read posts. Venice is one of those cities that you kind of just wander around. There were certain sites that I wanted to see like the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square but the rest of the time, you let your feet take the lead.
It might have been the season that I visited, but Venice was not as crowded as I thought it would be. The streets were comfortably busy in the mornings and turned eerily quiet as early as 6PM. I didn’t realize that there aren’t any cars allowed on the streets of Venice but that works in the favor of visitors because everything is super walkable!
One of my favorite meals in Venice was at Osteria Da Alberto. Entering the restaurant, I felt like I was enveloped into a big Italian hug. With my book in hand and a half liter of wine, I spent two hours just people watching and enjoying the best appetizer and main dish combination ever. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, I definitely recommend Folpetti Alla Veneta. The one reservation that I had with trying this dish was the fact that the octopus is purposely not cleaned, meaning they are simply cooked and cut the octopus accordingly then served in a citrus-type sauce. However, I can guarantee you that it is absolutely worth it!
Do you like shelves stuffed to the brim with books? Do you like friendly cats that let you pet them? Do you like jaw-dropping views? Of course you do! Well, Libreria Acqua Alta has not one, not two, but ALL THREE of those. From the outside, it looks like any other independent book store would but as soon as you enter, you can smell the pages right away. (those that still read actual print books know what I’m talking about) To the left, you see a repurposed canoe with shelves built into it and haphazardly placed fiction novels. To the right, you see a bathtub filled with different collection of children’s books – a confusing sight but somehow it works. Then, you see a random black cat jumping between the two! According to the sign posted on the outside of the shop, there are seven cats that have chosen Libreria Acqua Alta to be their home. I have only pet two.
Then, as you move further and further into the shop, carefully avoiding random stacks of books here and a pile of newspapers there, you see a staircase (surprise, surprise), also made out of books. I swallowed my fear and took careful steps up and up until…voilá. The pictures do this city no justice!
My only disappointment when I visited the book store was not with what I saw but with my incapability to understand the stories between the covers. Everything was in Italian (obviously), so I could only run my fingers along the spines and judge the book by the things I could see.
The other day, I was telling my mom about my blog and about how disappointed I was that she wouldn’t be able to fully understand the things I write – not because she is unintelligent but simply because she’s not well-versed with the complex connotations of English phrases and terminology. Of course, it’s far-fetched to say that one should learn every single language in the world. But how amazing would it be to be able to speak and truly understand the ins and outs of a culture through their language?
Everything is so beautiful that it is hard to believe that people live here. I had to pinch myself several times because I thought I was in a dream. One of the first signs of residential life that I stumbled upon was a funeral. I saw people walk out of their front doors and then take no more than twenty steps to the church where their loved one was being honored. At any given moment in time, there are kids playing on jungle gyms, doctors seeing their patients, people falling in love – the list goes on and on. It feels as if the world pauses just because my responsibilities fade into the background for a short amount of time but the reminders that life is a continuum always helps me put my emotions into perspective.
I’ve learned that in most situations, offering to take someone else’s picture makes them more inclined to offer to take your picture but being rejected twice after kindly offering hurt my ego enough, so I settled for taking a selfie at the Rialto Bridge. Also, yes I am wearing three layers of clothing, a scarf, a beanie and gloves. It was bloody baltic, okay?
The next day, I found myself at the Rialto Bridge again and decided to try to take a better picture but a girl about my age offered to help me! What luck!
If you have time, I recommend making the trek over to Basilica Di Santa Maria Della Salute. It’s a bit far off from St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge but completely accessible if you are willing to put out the time! I ended up spending my afternoon at the nearby Gallerie dell’Accademia, a beautiful building that showcases Venetian artists like Titian and Canaletto! Because I’m a student, the ticket was only 2 Euros! A steal.
St. Mark’s Square is surrounded by jewelry shops, snooty art dealers and over-priced coffee and pastries (all of which are inaccessible to me until I get married…I’M KIDDING). However, the Basilica itself is a must-do. Like I previously mentioned, the crowds were surprisingly not overwhelming so I didn’t have to queue to enter! The benefits of traveling during off seasons are insane. The building is massive so I wasn’t able to take a good exterior shot, but look at this beautiful piece right before the entrance.
Speaking of St. Mark’s Square, the Grand Canal is right around the corner and let me tell you, both days that I was in Venice, I spent some time just sitting with my coffee and people watching here. I can’t imagine a place like this being a bus ride from where I live. I suppose that’s what tourists think when they visit Newport Beach or Disneyland but to me, this is so much better!
One of my dreams is to go to the Island of Murano and to purchase a glass vase. I know what you’re thinking, your dream is to travel all the way to a remote island near Venice to…buy a vase? The answer is yes! As I was strolling along, I stumbled upon a local glass jewelry shop. While I was having a debate with myself about whether I wanted the periwinkle blue or blush pink pair, the jeweler was telling me about the island and how the glass is beautiful beyond my imaginations. He spoke about the history of the Murano glass-blowing process with a tone of reverence that has stayed with me to this day. So I have to go back. There’s no doubt about it. It’s not a question of whether, it’s a when. I’m excited to see which things will change and which things will stay the same. Maybe I’ll be with different company. Maybe I’ll actually grow to hate glass but will end up going to Murano anyway because young me said that I wanted to. Who knows?