Eurotrip 2012: Venice, Italy

After our wedding in December, Francois and I could finally spend all our time focusing on the important things in life: our honeymoon. In the early stages of planning The Wedding and discussing possible destinations for our honeymoon, we realized that we both want to see a really huge part of the world, and this offers the perfect opportunity to get started on our travel list.

We grabbed a world atlas (you know, those printed books with pictures of the countries of the world? Pre-Google Maps), and started planning and prioritizing. Inevitably the list grew bigger and bigger, but over the next two years (yes, we got engaged almost two years before our wedding) the list diminished, the places we felt we absolutely had to see came to the front, and we had a route to plan. We were heading to Europe, visiting Italy, France and the Netherlands.

Over the next few weeks – in fact exactly three months after our month-long trip – I’ll share our experiences. City by city.

6 – 9 April: Venezia, Italy

We start our journey from OR Tambo International in Johannesburg. After a brief stop-over in Charles de Gaulle, Paris, we are on our way to Venice early on the morning of Friday, April 6th. This is my first long-haul international flight, and I have to admit that it was not the most pleasurable of experiences.

From the Marco Polo airport we take a water taxi to St Mark’s square on the main island. We had bought an SD card with European maps for my Garmin in South Africa, though somehow forgot to charge the GPS before departing home. Without knowing where exactly on the island we had arrived relative to where we think our hotel is, we started looking for a hotel that had a tourist map, lugging our little suitcases behind. We manage to find a map and our hotel in short succession, and after showering we take to the small, windy streets of Venice.

Without a real plan of where to go, we decide to walk around exploring a bit randomly. We learnt quickly that time and distance is very warped in these twisty streets.

Realizing this trickery, we quickly learn that Having a Plan was a rather good idea. We armed ourselves with our tourist map, and set out exploring the area close to our hotel. At 14:30, we joined a guided tour we had booked travelling to Murano, Burano and Torcello. Our guide is amazing and presents the entire tour in five languages (Italian, French, German, Spanish and English).

Glass-blowing in Murano, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the Church of Santa Fosca on Torcello and exquisitely coloured houses on Burano.

Our first stop is the glass-blowing island or Murano, where we watch as the glass-blower shapes a glob of molten glass into a beautiful fish. From here we travel to Torcello, viewing the oldest church in the area and walking along a picturesque canal to the other side of the island. Our last stop is the colourful island village of Burano, where each house is painted as a lively representation of the family inhabiting it.

We end our first evening in Italy with an over-priced meal in one of the tiny streets and a stroll across St. Mark’s square. During the day the square is incredibly busy, and the whole of Venice-central is extremely tourist-driven. After our meal, we wander around the island, discovering more than a few teeny-alleyways and a plethora of beautiful and impressive buildings.

Venice at Night

Exhibition of cello’s at the Vivaldi Exhibition, Basilica St. Marco at night.

We spend Saturday morning looking for a hardware- and grocery store. We find both and, after supplying ourselves with some salami, Italian beer and a plug converter, we make it our aim to get away from the suffocating crowds in the centre of the city. We meander through the streets, buying fresh bread and fruits in quaint shops we find along the way. Our lunch is fresh bread, cheese, salami, mandarins and beer in the Giardini Gardens. The weather turns bad and we head back to our hotel, hoping to wait out the rain.

After a while it becomes clear that the weather seems to be here to stay, so we grit our teeth, put on our waterproof jackets and head out to face the music. One of our (read: my) must-see items in Venice, was the Peggy Guggenheim collection and we decide to visit the museum and then explore that side of the island on our way back.  The artwork is astoundingly beautiful (no photos allowed, of course) and we spend a few hours strolling through the collections. I love sharing my knowledge of art history and the movements housed here with Francois, and I spend most of my time in front of the Dali and Pollock paintings on show.

As our hotel is close to St. Mark’s square, we head in that general direction on our way back to look at the beautiful basilica in the rain and notice groups of people entering through a side-door. We join the throng (thinking that the basilica is open to the public), and once inside we realize, together with all the other tourists, that we just walked in on a christening. A choir sings under the gold-covered ceilings, and it is an amazing moment to take in that we are standing in a basilica in Italy, listening to the beautiful sounds. After the ceremony, we head back to our hotel and fall over, quite satisfied and tired.

Our breakfast on Sunday morning is bitter-sweet, as it’s our last day in Venice before we take on the rest of our itinerary. We packed (extremely) light, so we check out of the hotel and carve a winding path slowly taking us towards the train station, from where we will depart to Assisi. Again we notice how the throng of tourists thins as we leave the main centres and take the little alleys less travelled. Francois finds glass cuff-links that catches his fancy, and we cross many and a few more bridges to get to the station. We arrive just in time to miss the rain that has moved in, and go off in search of our train to Assisi.

Francois & Catherine in Venice

The first photo of us together in Italy, on the Ponte degli Scalzi on our way to the Venezia Santa Lucia train station.

Continues in part two with a day in Assisi, Italy.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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