I have always been a massive fan of Italian food! And by this I mean, I divulge in inhumane amounts of pasta pretty much every day (smothered in cheese of course!!! It’s a miracle I haven’t got high cholesterol yet).
It has been a dream of mine for many years to visit Italy purely for this reason… filling my face with sweet, sweet Italian cuisine.
A couple of months ago I started reading Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I loved the film and consequently fell in love with the book! During her story Elizabeth spends a year living in Rome with nothing but fond words for the city and of course, its food. Spurred on by this, I began looking for cheap flights to Italy. This desire was of course fulfilled by Easyjet, known for their budget friendly tickets. Venice in September… perfect! I found a friend to tag along and promptly booked.
It was then that I reached the part in the book in which Elizabeth herself visited this mystical watery city….. And she hated it!
“Her cheer, her optimism – they in no way match this stinky, slow, sinking, mysterious, silent, weird city. Venice seems like a wonderful city in which to die a slow and alcoholic death, or lose a loved one, or to lose the murder weapon with which the loved on was lost in the first place. Seeing Venice, I’m grateful that I chose to live in Rome instead. I don’t think I would have gotten off antidepressants quite so quick here.”
Safe to say I was more than a little disheartened!!!!
Aside from this, being a professional bargain hunter, (I have awarded myself this title – I think it’s well deserved) I just assumed I would be able to do Venice on a budget. A few people then commented on how expensive it was and panic struck!! Who just buys flights to a City cause they love pasta and read about it in a book without really considering what this entailed?!?!?! …. Me that’s who!!
Luckily I managed to maintain my professional bargain hunter title and do everything I wanted in Venice for an extremely reasonable price:
Flights: £110 return for two people from London Southend to Venice Marco Polo. (September 16th 2015)
Accomondation: Airbnb £177, one bedroom apartment. (We also had to pay city tax when we arrived and EUR 35 for arriving after midnight.)
Spending money: I exchanged £250 which got me just over EUR 300. I came home with £100 worth of euro’s!
This was the first time I had travelled from Southend Airport and I absolutely loved it!!!! The airport is so small, it resembles a sports centre. I was half expecting to turn a corner and arrive at the public swimming pool. This meant that everything happened so quickly and efficiently which was a massive pro (especially on the way home but I will get to that later – I know the suspense must be killing you.)
If only everything had stayed quite so blissful and efficient, but no, of course not….. Oh Laura’s travelling? Cool let’s spice things up a bit, keep her on her toes!
So firstly, a lady was taken ill on the plane that had just landed, the plane that we were now supposed to be boarding. We waited for what seemed like a life time till this woman could be taken off the aircraft and wheeled embarrassingly passed a whole line of restless travellers.
We finally boarded, got to the runway…..sat at the runway…. continued to sit at the runway. The Pilot came over the sound system and explained that due to bad storms ahead air traffic control would not yet release us and we would have to wait till they gave the all clear.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the pilot then came back to us explaining that we had sat and waited for so long; we had consumed too much fuel and would have to head back to the terminal in order to fill the aeroplane up enough to make the journey! (You can’t make this stuff up!)
Finally in the air and after a lot of nerve racking turbulence we arrived at our destination an hour late. We hurried through the airport and found the counter which would sell us our rolling Venice tickets (which would enable us to travel on the vaporetto (water bus) as much as we wanted for the duration of our trip) and headed to the bus.
After a 20 min bus journey and a 10 min water bus we arrived at our stop. We had booked to stay in an apartment using Airbnb and were met by our hosts’ son. Our apartment was a 2 min walk from the vaporetto stop which was super handy.
We signed all the necessary paperwork, paid our tax/late arrival fee, then Luca produced a map and proceeded to explain how we could get to all the sights we wanted to see. He also gave us some suggestions regarding places to eat etc. (These tips, and map, became integral to our trip and we were extremely grateful for the local knowledge.)
He then showed us to our apartment which was absolutely adorable! Perfect for our little trip and filled with quaint matching furniture and shuttered windows.
(N.B. whilst Luca was writing down the code to get into the building he made a mistake and let out a “Mamma Mia!” – this filled me with joy and I thought, yep… we’re in Italy now. It’s the little things in life.)
Leaving the apartment around 10am we promptly realised that Venice was not a morning city. Most places were still closed and there didn’t seem to be many people around. This did not deter us however, and actually worked in our favour as we were able to get our bearings without being crowded and also enabled us to mingle with the locals.
I was in awe of everything! The city, although old and battered, was so mystical and beautiful to me.
Our first stop was the Jewish Ghetto where we found a place to sit and eat. It was a gorgeous day so we picked a table outside that over looked the river (although most places in Venice overlook a river.) I ordered spaghetti in tomato and basil sauce – being on holiday I felt this to be an acceptable breakfast – and my friend ordered a pizza. We were also accompanied through most of our sitting by a friendly dog.
When the food arrived and I took my first bite, I could have cried!
DELICIOUS!!!! This is exactly why I was in Venice!
After almost having a food induced break down, we made our way to the vaporetto stop. We had decided that this day would be dedicated to visiting a few of the Islands around Venice.
Our first stop was San Michele, also known as “the cemetery island”. I would like to point out here that this was not my choice!!! We arrived at our destination and within seconds of stepping foot onto this island of the deceased we were met by a frail old Venetian lady in floods of tears. I looked at my travel buddy in horror and a “why the hell have you bought me here!!” Luckily this was the only griever we met. And the place was actually quite beautiful. What I noticed from the island is that Italians clearly place high value on family, have a lot of respect for those who have passed and many are great religious believers.
I was surprised to see most of the graves were accompanied by a photograph and all of the flowers were fresh and well attended, even for those that had passed many years previous!
I also noticed…. there were a lot of tiny lizards on the island! Cute and small, but extremely quick and difficult to get a photo of.
Originally when my friend had told me that she wanted to visit the cemetery island I had assumed that she was referring to Poveglia; which is known as one of the most haunted islands in the world. In 1793 there were several cases of the plague on two ships calling at Poveglia and consequently the island was transformed into a temporary quarantine for the ill. Then in 1922 existing buildings were converted into an asylum for the mentally unhinged. The island was therefore subject to several hundred years of cruel death and later abandoned.
To be completely honest, side stepping the fact that I am a GIANT wimp, I’m a little disappointed we didn’t go here! Although it has since been sold and is no longer open to the public.
Next stop…. Murano! This was a cute little place known for its glass blowing; we actually managed to witness this in action whilst passing a glass workshop. There was also a rather impressive lighthouse on the island; we took some time to rest here, taking in the views across the water (and of course getting in a couple of selfies!)
Our final stop for the day was Burano and boy did we save the best till last! I am completely and utterly in love with this colourful little island!!! Every house was a different colour; shops were filled with Venetian lace, cafes and restaurants filled with delicious smells.
We spent some time wandering around in awe of the colours, the tiny streets, the utter cuteness of what felt like a completely imaginary place! Then we decided to refuel – After looking round all the cafes and restaurants available, in true female style, we went back to the first one we saw. We ordered some meats, cheese and Prosecco, all of which tantalised the taste buds and the whole scene would have been perfect…. until I knocked my glass and threw Prosecco all over the table, my friend, myself and an angry looking waiter – OOPS!
For dessert, there’s only one choice… a customary gelato! – How is this so much better than ice cream but practically the same thing?
The islands, although amazing, were filled with a lot more tourists than where we were staying and it was the first time we had heard anyone actively speaking English (or American English). Personally I much preferred listening to the locals… there’s something quite meditative about not being able to understand the people around you. It gives you time to focus on your surroundings rather than being nosey to other people conversations – or is that just me? I just can’t concentrate on beautiful scenery if the people next to me are relaying their woes to each other; I’m a sucker for a good piece of gossip.
So after all that excitement we decided to head back to the apartment, getting some fresh fruit from the market stalls on the way, in order to freshen up before finding a place for dinner. Luca had told us of a place nearby called Al Timon and this is where we ended up.
Al Timon was a small bar on the river’s edge, and it was full of locals! The selling point of the establishment was two boats on the river directly outside which you could use as seating. We were told that this was the only place in the area which did such a thing, which seems ridiculous to me? You’re whole City is surrounded by water, take advantage! Tourists love this stuff. It’s not every day you get to eat your dinner on a boat.
So we went inside ordered two aperol spritz and a selection of cicchetti (which is basically bread with different toppings and super tasty!) We perched ourselves crossed legged on the boats deck, with a collection of strangers, to sit under the stars and consume our Italian treats. Safe to say I did not enjoy the spritz and my next order was a Prosecco…. sometimes you have to stick to what you know! But the scene itself couldn’t have been more perfect.
On the way back to our apartment we stopped at a café. My friend opted for a hot chocolate but being in holiday mode I settled for another Prosecco. These were accompanied by some free crisps (a massive tick from me!) and some light music, which was highly welcomed as we had noticed a severe lack of music within Venice.
We also managed to fit one last helping of gelato in before we called it a night! It would be rude not to really.
Our last day in Venice had arrived! We packed our bags and “checked out” of our apartment. We contacted our host who told us where to leave the keys and we were able to leave our bags in the building to collect later that day. (The building was code locked so we were able to get in without needing a key or disturbing anyone – extremely handy for this sort of thing.)
Being in a new city we thought it mandatory to visit the main tourist area, so we hailed a vaporetto and headed towards Rialto. We reached the Rialto Bridge; supposedly an iconic artefact in Venice… but in reality we were faced with the vague resemblance of a bridge which was covered in scaffolding and sporting a large advertisement poster for some fashion brand. Not exactly what we were expecting… so much so that we didn’t believe that was it!
After manoeuvring our way through the busy side streets filled with a proliferation of highstreet, Venetian and tourist stores we arrived at Piazzle San Marco (or St Mark’s Square).
It felt as though we had wandered into a gigantic fire drill where every building had evacuated its people and they were subsequently standing in lines/milling around. In other words… it was CRAZY busy! Not only this but the sun was beating down in the square and I was yet to consume any food … safe to say, I was getting HANGRY!
So we swiftly left the madness of the square (where people feed pigeons for fun!?!?!?!?! – You can get your photo taken with them by a professional photographer… I have no words!)
Wandering back through the lanes we found a small restaurant. I ordered a lasagne (one of my favourite dishes) and I was not disappointed! Although not aesthetically pleasing … it tasted DIVINE. This was finished, of course, with a gelato from the store opposite.
We then braved the square once more, purely to get to the other side. Once we reached the water’s edge, things were slightly calmer, and with a happy tummy I was able to relax again. The sun bouncing off the sea whilst the gondola’s bobbed simultaneously was just the kind of sight I had been hoping for.
Our next stop was La Bienalle, a yearly exhibition that attracts art lovers from all over the world and our most cultural part of the trip. There were two venues for the exhibition, first of which was in Arsenale.
Personally I loved it! The place was full of modern art which leaves much to be interpreted, but the sheer range of work and the messages the portrayed (those which could be understood) were truly impressive. I got lost in the atmosphere and took to practically running around like a child gawping at everything I passed.
Unfortunately, with another venue to see and time not being on our side, we had to move on without getting to see everything. It became apparent that this was a trip in itself. So we grabbed some food (Pizza for me) and headed to Giardini.
The walk to the next venue was absolutely stunning. As we walked a path towards the water’s edge lined with trees of autumnal colours we noted the adorable Italian couples, all leaning on each other in the afternoon warmth, many asleep and some conversing. A large statue filled the entrance to this majestic pathway and upon reaching the concrete master piece we noticed that it was surrounded by little turtles! Not at all what we had expected but a welcome surprise none the less.
Giardini was set out slightly different to Arsenale in that there were separate buildings, each dedicated to a particular country. Every country was represented by an artist and their work was exhibited within the selected building. I had been researching La Bienalle on Instagram and there was a particular installation that I was interested in visiting. This was in the Japan Pavilian and consisted of two wooden boats, surrounded by thousands of keys all attached to red string. The exhibit was truly impressive and I couldn’t help but wonder how long this would have taken. Interestingly, there was a time lapse video playing which portrayed its creation.
Britain was represented by an artist named Sarah Lucas and was named I SCREAM DADDIO. When speaking of her art she was quoted to have said, “Humour is about negotiating the contradictions thrown up by convention. To a certain extent humour and seriousness are interchangeable. Otherwise it wouldn’t be funny. Or devastating.” – Well she was definitely a woman of humour, which we discovered when walking into her room full of body casts with cigarettes hanging from various orifices. I promptly photographed the statues and sent the evidence to the girls back home to show how cultural I was being. I mean in this day and age who doesn’t wander round rooms of half bodies with cigarettes hanging out of their vaginas? Come on people, get some culture in your life.
It was soon after this that time caught up with us and we were forced to make our way back. We collected our bags from the apartment (used the free Wi-Fi to check nothing important had gone down on Facebook) took a swift stop at the gift shop (to purchase a Venetian mask for my mum) then settled down for one last food intake before heading to the airport.
Spaghetti and meatballs complimented by a carafe of Prosecco. Meatballs were the last food I needed to tick off of my list before leaving Italy and I was SO glad that I hadn’t gone home without trying these heavenly gems.
So that was it! Venice was done… another city of the world witnessed through the eyes of a Butcher (although the first to have been blogged… Venice should feel special.)
Our journey back home was executed with ease. We had initially been worried considering that our plane was due to land only 20 mins before our last train home was due to depart. Luckily we landed early and with Southend being such an efficient airport we were out in a timely manner and actually managed to catch the prior train.
All in all I am pleased with my spontaneous trip decision as it allowed me to experience another wonderful city (which ultimately may not be there much longer considering that it’s sinking.) It was a break filled with colour, culture and exquisite cuisine. I would highly recommend Venice and hope that I get the chance to return sometime; there are still edges that remain undiscovered by myself including the island of Lido which I would be interested to explore.
So if you’re looking for a holiday that includes copious amounts of free carbs, the possibility of drowning round every corner, and a beauty that cannot be described (mainly because I’m tired of writing now) Venice is the place for you.
Thankfully I will be heading back to Italy in August next year, this time visiting Rome with (what will then be) my new husband. We are travelling the day after the wedding for a minimoon…this is either a genius or a terrible idea! I’ll be sure to keep you posted.