Venice is one highlight of my backpacking trip through Western Europe. I arrived after 8 am on a flight from Paris and followed precise directions provided by my hostel. An hour or so boat ride with Alilaguna cost 15 Euros and took me from Venice’s Marco Polo Airport to San Zaccaria, right in front of my hostel and the clogged heart of Venice as tourists know it. The boat ride over to the mainland provided a great opportunity for me to take in the ancient beauty of Venice. Every single home seemed to have the same pinkish-tiled rooftops but the bodies of some homes are brighter than others with rich yellow and pink paint.
I spent hours of my first day wearing out my feet and just winding through the streets of Venice. There were dozens of shops selling Venetian carnival masks and glass pieces from Venice’s Murano island in every direction. In tourist sections restaurants advertise pasta and pizza dishes and then translate those menu options into about four languages. In these places it’s still pretty easy to get a meal for about 20 Euros, despite the fact that some charge a cover fee, or a 12% service fee or only provide water in a bottle at a cost.
Exhausted, but with pasta in my belly and satisfied with what land I’d covered in Venice for the day I was fast asleep by 9pm. I woke the next morning to find that five of the six beds in my hostel room were now occupied. I also confirmed, as I had suspected the day before, that I was for sure the only female in the room. I was one of two Americans and the other roommates were from England, Sweden, and South Korea.
That morning I allowed myself an hour and a half to walk from my hostel in southern Venice to northern Venice – a walk that Google Maps predicted would take less than 30 minutes. With a page of directions in hand and what I felt to be more than enough time, I set out. The thing is, having a time limit and searching for an otherwise unknown destination in Venice feels quite like one is in the movie The Maze Runner. If I couldn’t find a street that Google Maps was sure was there I’d go down one direction searching for it, only to find that it dead ended into a canal and I had to search another crevice. Time dwindled and dwindled I felt like I was racing against my fate.
The further north I succeeded in venturing the less tourists I saw, the less English was spoken and seemingly, the more willing people were to help with directions! I’d reached a point where I saw no other tourists, just locals speaking with one another or otherwise going about their day. I saw a mailman and figured he’d know the streets better than most so I went over and asked him for the street I was in search of. He, however, didn’t know where the location was and actually began shouting out into the square, asking if there was anyone who spoke English. He was just one of many taking time out of whatever walk they were on when I stopped them to help me find one street or another. Tapped out of my hour and a half, overheated, and frustrated with myself I only made it to my destination with the help of about half a dozen Venetians.
This struggle to navigate Venetian streets was actually a low point for me. I felt disappointed in my inability to make it with time to spare and I learned first hand the benefits of just taking a boat in order to get around Venice. Luckily, once I arrived at my destination I was told that I would still be able to complete what I had journeyed so long to experience: How to be a Gondolier!
How to be a Gondolier is run by a mostly-female Venetian Rowing company and it gives tourists like myself a chance to row, row, row a boat through northern Venice’s canals and lagoon.
My instructor was incredible. Very sweet, strong attention to communication skills and encouraging. I learned that she is originally from France, speaks four languages, and picked up rowing in this manner when she arrived in Venice some years back. She repeatedly praised me on my rowing skills and tried to assure me that she wasn’t just complimenting for compliment’s sake – she really meant it. It was sweet and I was flattered, but I suppose I’m still learning to accept compliments, perhaps especially when it comes to those pertaining to athletic abilities.
After almost two hours of rowing – both from the front of the boat and rowing from the back in order to learn how to steer, I was on a high. The energy I had within my legs was absolutely spent and I certainly hadn’t eaten enough calories up until that point but I was beaming with happiness.
Back on land I traveled around and ended up buying a seafood risotto plate for lunch. When I returned to my hostel I still felt elated over what I had accomplished that day. I accepted a dinner invite and left with two of my hostel roommates for a nearby restaurant. While we ate pizza and drank wine another one of our roommates happened to be heading to the same restaurant! He joined and our conversations spanned the things people usually refrain from discussing at dinner, like politics and religion, to outlooks on life, breweries and of course, travel. After dinner the roommate who joined us said he was off to bed, but the remaining three of us went to a pub one roommate had been to just a few nights before. Navigating Venetian streets during the day is hard enough, so I wouldn’t have gone out on my own in the dark, but the roommate who suggested the pub had Google talk us through the directions (oh, technology). From the pub we happened upon a large square filled with young Venetians trickling into and out of local bars. We all made friends with a group of Venetians and once again traded ideas and experiences.
Sometime after 3am, when all the bars had been shut down for at least an hour already, our big group slowly split into smaller segments, pairing up based on what direction we were taking home. As my roommates and I approached San Marco Square we had to pause. We had seen it plenty of times already as it was just minutes from our hostel and a hub for tourists, but now the tour groups and restaurant tables were gone. At night San Marco Square was lit up, providing just enough light for teenagers in the distance playing football/soccer. The three of us talked about just how beautiful it was in a still state. One roommate starting taking photos of the square and I took off running, taking the freedom of empty space as an opportunity to gallop and jump about.
Super happy with our adventures we quietly peeled back into our hostel room and set off for sleep on our own times.
Have any questions about my time in Venice or want to share your own Venetian experience? Please do!