My Venetian Valentine
Yeah you read that right! Since my itinerary was planned beforehand, I pretty much knew that I would spending Valentine’s Day in Venice; one of the most romantic places in the world…ALONE.
News of this conspicuous blip on my itinerary drew mixed responses from my friends ranging from pure derision to the odd empathetic comment of a possible Venetian Valentine romance. Unfortunately, life is no fairy tale and as much as I secretly hoped and prayed- it did not materialize. Valentine’s Day in Venice alone wasn’t a conscious decision(I mean who does that willingly to themselves?!). It was just one of those instances where the universe, hiding under the disguise of coincidence, flips a big middle finger at your pathetic love life. So by the powers of coincidence and convenience at play when planning my itinerary, I ended up alone in Venice on Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day and issues of romance aside, Venice turned out to be so much better than expected.
I am sure most of you can relate to the fact that all of us form impressions of a place beforehand based on what we have seen, read or heard. The first time i heard or read anything about Venice was in a textbook, a Social Studies textbook to be exact. Woohoo! The joy of learning…yeah right.The chapter on Venice was about the Venetian Empire, Doges(or Dog as i used to pronounce it), politics and what not. It was bearable for me since I have an interest in history but probably boring for a majority of you guys reading this. Watching “The Tourist”, a film starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp(a decent film actually), shaped my visual impression of the city.
While these impressions one might have about a particular place may be accurate most of the time- don’t be restricted by them. Venice not only met those expectations i had from the impressions i formed early on but exceeded them. There is indeed so much more to a place then what meets the eye. Lesson learnt: Travel with an open mind
16 Hours in Venice
I arrived in Venice at a quarter past five after a lengthy overnight train journey which was riddled with countless stops along the way. I was one of the few, if not the only one, to alight at Venice. Most of the passengers had already alighted at the previous stops. The Santa Lucia Station was near empty. There was only a homeless woman sleeping on one of the benches for company. I’ll pass. In a rush of excitement, I headed for the exit to catch my first glimpse of the Pearl of the Adriatic. Given that it was still 5-ish in the morning, I was welcomed by the sight of dimly lit buildings, Popsicle lined streets and the unmistakable damp salty Venetian air.
It was chilly outside so i took refuge on the bench across the homeless woman and bid my time away; reading the book my sister had loaned me- Perks of being a Wallflower.
It’s a magical experience; witnessing a city wake up from its slumber,synchronized with the rising sun. With the city now bathed in glorious sunlight, I stepped out for my first real view of the fabled city and damm what a sight to behold!
The city was still in the process of waking up so I bought a map for 2 euros and set out for a little exploration. Venice is made up of many little islets in a lagoon. Space is a premium so everything is really compact and constricted hence narrow alleyways and bridges are the norm. All this forms part of Venice’s charm which entrances millions of tourists to visit each year.
Most of the shops were still closed and I was ravished from the train journey. I finally found breakfast at a sports bar of all places! Here in Venice, draft beer taps and coffee machines coexist alongside each other. I got myself a breakfast wrap(eggs,salami,prosciutto) and washed it down with a cappuccino while the highlights of the previous night’s Serie A games flashed on the LCD screen above. Starting the day like a true Italian?
The main mode of transportation in Venice is obviously the boat. By boat I am referring to a speedboat called the Vaporetto and not the romanticized gondola you see in movies. Since it was February, gondolas were hard to come by anyway. They usually flood the canals in droves during the summer months. There were still a couple of them plying the canals but at 150 euros per hour, I’ll pass and take the Vaporetto instead. An all day Vaporetto pass would set you back about 17-18 euros giving you unlimited access to all the islets located in the lagoon. The Vaporetto pass also covers most buses on individual islands. “Bus-stops” here take the form of floating barrages anchored to shore. What a novel experience!
Piazza San Marco
Named in honour of Saint Mark, the Patron Saint of Venice; it is the largest and most iconic square with steps leading into the Adriatic Sea.Two massive columns with Saint Mark’s lions perched atop greet seafarers. Saint Mark’s Campanile, constructed from red-stoned bricks, overlooks the entire square and the Adriatic Sea in the horizon.
The square is also home to Doge’s Palace and other Saint Mark’s tributes.The Venetians surely do love and idolize this guy. Familiar with the game “Hidden Mickey” on Disney? Play the Venetian version- Spot the hidden St Mark’s Lion! It’s the emblem of Venice and you’ll find variations of it all over the island.
Basilica San Marco
A stunning example of Italian-Byzantine architecture.Venice served as a vessel state to the Byzantine empire in the past and this church serves as a testament to that era.
After a brief visit to the Basilica, I headed round the corner to Palazzo Ducale otherwise known as the Doge’s Palace.The seat of Venetian Power in her heyday. It was time to finally experience the pages of the textbook I read all those years ago come alive.
Admission cost 18 euros.You get access to the palace, its accompanying buildings and the museum. Pretty steep but it’s well worth the price for what turned out to be an artistic historical feast for the eyes and mind. The Doge Palace remains one of the most intricately decorated governmental buildings I’ve ever visited to date. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better than Versailles, the Doge Palace surpassed it. As usual, Gold everywhere and even more frescoes by the stalwarts of Italian Art.
One of the highlights of the palace is the Bridge of Sighs. Sighhhhh……… It was only right that I visited this bridge today given my situation. The Bridge of Sighs is an enclosed bridge which connects the interrogation rooms located in the Doge Palace to the new prison across the Rio Di Palazzo. The Bridge of Sighs was the last glimpse of Venice that prisoners saw before their internment and this is also what gave rise to it’s name. The prisoners were said to sigh at Venice’s beauty one last time before they were transferred to their cells.
My visit to the Doge Palace gave me an Art Migraine. Sounds preposterous doesn’t it? A self-diagnosed condition by yours truly. An Art Migraine arises from continued admiration of art masterpieces till the point your brain is overwhelmed by their excessive beauty and complexity.
I left the building and took a stroll along the sea to regain my sanity.
One of the benefits of buying an all day Vaporetto pass is the freedom of mobility it offers. In an lagoon of many islets this is a lifesaver. You get to hop on to any boat heading to any direction of your choice. In the true spirit of adventure and travel, I hopped on a random boat headed to an unknown place by the name of Lido. I knew nothing about Lido. My itinerary called for me to head to Murano where I would witness firsthand how their world famous glass was made. At this point of my European adventure, weariness from constant travelling had began to set in and all I wanted to do was relax. Little did I know that Lido would be the perfect place to do exactly that.
Lido Di Venezia
Lido Di Venezia is a 11km long sandbar which sits in between the Venetian lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. I alighted from the Vaporetto and hopped onto a nearby bus which was about to depart, without the faintest idea of it’s destination. I spent the next half hour or so on a joy ride across the island before the bus brought me back to the exact spot where I boarded. With my new found familiarity of this small sandbar island, I continued on the bus loop once again and got off at the other side of the Island. Lido was mainly a residential town from what i gathered through the windows of the bus. There was only one main street with shops and restaurants. It was beautiful in it’s own way. It’s tree-lined coastal roads, colorful houses and quaint canals. Lido exuded an atmosphere of serenity. Time seemed to come to a standstill here. A much welcome break from the grandeur and hubbub of the main island.
I walked aimlessly along the coast before settling for a nice spot under a tree at the edge of the sea. With my legs dangling over the emerald green water, I delved into my book- Perks of being a Wallflower. For the first time in my life, loneliness was a wonderful companion. The setting complemented the book perfectly. I was a wallflower. I drifted off into the world of fiction and deep thought. It must have been hours, just sitting there engrossed in the book; reflecting on the book and my life so far. I only regained consciousness of time when I realized it was the last few chapters of the book. Mind you, I only began reading it that very morning at the train station.
It was already quarter past five when I caught the bus back to the Vaporetto stop. While waiting for the boat, I snagged myself some Venetian pastries from the local bakery to munch on the journey back to the main island.
My time spent at Lido took up most of my 16 hours in Venice. A part of me could not help but feel a tinge of regret at the fact that I “wasted” precious time reading a book at an unassuming island when there were more interesting parts of Venice to discover. But that time wasn’t wasted. Not a single second. It turned out to be one of the most memorable highlights of my trip. It taught me to be comfortable with loneliness and to embrace solitude every now and then. I recall a poem I scrutinized back in college about introspection. Back then, it was the first time I ever came across that word. Despite finding out it’s definition and my Literature teacher’s best efforts in explaining it, I never quite got it. Some words are incomprehensible by the mind alone, it’ll only unveil its true essence through experience. And that day I finally understood it perfectly. It’s amazing how the most mundane things can transform into something magical at certain points in your life, particularly when you need it the most. Lido reinvigorated me with a new perspective of both the world and myself. For that, I am extremely grateful. It remains my favorite island in Venice.
Sunset in Venice
I made a pit stop at Piazza San Marco and backtracked to a shop I had walked past earlier on in the day. Since I didn’t manage to visit Murano personally, I settled for a piece of Murano glassware. I bought a beautiful key bowl to bring back home. A souvenir from my time in Venice. On the boat ride back to the train station, I managed to catch the sunset. Venice takes on a reddish earthy hue during sunset. Simply breathtaking.
A Hong Kong-er & His Quest for Wifi
I settled for dinner at restaurant not far off from the train station. I still had two hours or so to burn hence the free wifi sign outside the restaurant drew me in. Dinner was penne arrabiata, Italian sausage and a beer. At 10 euros, this was a steal considering the fact that I was in Venice where the price of everything is inflated. I had already finished my meal and was idling my time away when I was drawn to a commotion at the other side of the restaurant. A Chinese man was complaining loudly to the waitress about being unable to connect to the Wi-Fi. She clearly did not understand and uninterested in whatever he was saying and scurried back to the kitchen. The man conceded defeat and headed back to his table. I felt bad for him. No Asian should ever be deprived of Internet connectivity! So I stopped him as he walked past my table and offered my help. I managed to connect his phone to the Wi-Fi and he thanked me. We exchanged pleasantries and began to talk. Simon was from Hong Kong and he knew where Singapore is! A welcome joy for any Singaporean travelling overseas beyond Asia. What happened next was awkward. I was oblivious that his family was actually sitting behind me all this while.
Simon: ” Hey Lucy! Meet Nicholas” *signalling for a teenage girl to come over*
Simon: “This is my daughter Lucy. She’s on summer break. Studying in London.”
A big grin spread across his face. The daughter and I nodded sheepishly at each other while her mother smiled beside her. He didn’t bother introducing his wife or his young son. Things were getting awkward and I took that brief incident as a signal to leave. I still had an hour left to burn but no way I was spending it in there. I bade farewell to the Hong Kong family and left. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. Simon had seemingly attempted to match make me with his daughter when he barely just met me!
So that sums up my 16 hours in Venice. My initial preoccupations of spending Valentine’s day in Venice alone proved to be unfounded. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to celebrate February the 14th here. I wasn’t inundated with lovey dovey couples, roses, Valentine’s Day specials and what not. It made me realize how commercialized Valentine’s Day actually is back home. I guess if you’re an Italian male – who hold the esteemed title as the most romantic men on the globe – you don’t need Valentine’s Day to romance your lady. It’s probably Valentine’s Day everyday in Italy! Venice was great and I can’t wait to return in the near future(with someone special preferably the next time around). A gondola better be waiting for me! Now a 3 leg, 20 hour train ride to Harrogate awaits!