As often as possible, which currently means about once a year, I take a small trip abroad with one of my girlfriends. Just 3-5 days or so where I get to be just me. No kids, no husband, no house chores, no computer. Just me, a good friend, my camera, adventure and lots of walking. In 2014 it was Paris, in 2015 Portugal, and a few weeks ago, Venice, with my dear friend and fellow photographer, Hazel.
Venice is quite popular among photographers and lifestyle and food bloggers right now, so it wasn't difficult to find advice and travel posts with tips and ideas.
I will, however, share one tip right away that I have not seen mentioned anywhere else: make sure the apartment or hotel room you plan to stay in is NOT on the ground floor. Our apartment was, and it was extremely damp and a bit mouldy and after 4 days our suitcases and everything in them did not smell very good. This condition of the buildings' ground floor is understandable taking into consideration the recurring floods and the fact that the foundations of most of the houses are permanently emersed in water, but still it wasn't a pleasant stay, even though we spent very little time there.
We made our first mistake as soon as we arrived, by choosing a water bus from the airport to the city instead of taking the regular bus. We had to wait in line for almost 2 hours on the harbour before there was room for us, and this was early April, I have no idea how long the wait must be in the middle of summer. The crossing itself was kind of disappointing. It was a beautiful sunny day, but we were stuck below deck with no real view across the water. We caught the Orange line and jumped off at the Guglie stop in the peaceful and almost tourist free Cannaregio area. I had studied Skye McAlpine's guide to Secret Venice beforehand and knew there was a restaurant nearby popular among locals, Ladroni, on the corner of Fondamenta Sensa and Calle del Capitelo. Unfortunately, because of the wait for the water bus the speciality I had been looking forward to taste was sold out for the day and our only choice was grilled fish. It was delicious though and with a chilled glas of white wine it was worth the difficult walk with our big suitcase up and down stairs.
We found our apartment and got rid of the suitcase as quickly as possible, so we were free to explore the city effortlessly and get an overview of the different areas. We were both in agreement to avoid the well-known tourist sights and streets and focus on the quieter areas of the city. Our rented apartment was located conveniently close to the bus station, but in a quiet student neighborhood right between Dorsoduro and San Polo.
On day 2, we got up early and went out in search of the famous Rialto market. I had invested in a detailed map of the city, which was definitely worth the cost, as all the free tourist maps available did not name many of the smaller streets which is a sure way to get lost. So with our great sense of direction and the detailed map we managed to not get lost and to quickly learn our way around the city. The bridge itself is probably the most tourist'y and disappointing place of the city, but the market... wow... all I wanted to do was pack away my camera, shop, and spend the rest of the day cooking. No wonder Italians are foodies in the best meaning of the word when they have regular access to ingredients like that. Although I got yelled at in Italian (with hand gestures and all) several times for being in the way, that morning at the market was one of my favourite experiences in Venice.
As soon as the market started to flood with tourists around 10.30 we headed east towards the quieter Castello area where we enjoyed a fantastic two-course lunch with local dishes at Al Covo (located on Calle de la Pescaria).
Although I truly enjoyed travelling south to the warmth and the sun, I am really happy we got to experience the city on a dark and rainy day too. That is what we woke up to on day 3. Those gray moody days fit perfectly with the mysterious atmosphere of this unique ancient city.
This beautiful old - but still functioning - gondola workshop was worth getting wet for. You can find it across from the Fondamenta Nani in Dorsoduro. You can't go inside, but I did sneak a peek through the door.
We continued a long and extremely cold and windy walk along the outer pier and the tip of the Dorsoduro island at the impressive Basilica di Santa Maria walking. In that weather I am pretty sure any kind of food would taste great, but I found an amazing slice of pizza marguerita in a narrow alley somewhere between the Peggy Guggenheim Garden and the Basilica. When we finally reached our apartment with cold, wet and tired feet the rain had stopped and the city had taken on a beautiful new sparkling personality in the dark.
On the morning of day 4, a sunday, we woke up to clear blue skies and Hazel headed out on her own while I did my photoshoot with Copenhagen designer Maria Fekih and Finnish hairpiece designer Aino (which you can see on my wedding photography blog soon). Around noon, at which point the sun was burning and the city streets were flooded with tourists, I met up with Hazel at the Campo San Barnaba where we cooled down with a few scoops of delicious gelato at Grom.
That sunday it was practically impossible to avoid the masses of tourists that seemed to move through certain streets like a river, in a triangle leading from the bus and train station between the Rialto bridge, Ponte dell'Accademia, and Piazza San Marco. We stayed in the side streets as much as possible, but in Venice there is no way to get straight from A to B, so often we had to weave in and out of the tourist 'river' and it felt like swimming up stream, noisy and exhausting getting pushed and shoved, breaking, going, avoiding people who suddenly stop in the middle of the street to look at their maps or phones. It was like two parallel worlds. The tourist insanity in one world, and just ten steps and one street away a completely different world with nothing but bird's song, locals walking their dogs and peace and quiet.
On the morning of our departure, we had agreed to get up early, so we could enjoy a quiet sunrise at the otherwise crowded Ponte dell'accademia, with the classic view of the Grand Canal and the Basilica. Despite being such an over-exposed view/location, those soft hazy morning images are some of my favourites from the trip. Maybe because nomatter how much I am always looking forward to returning to my family, those last hours of 'freedom' always seem more precious.
And finally, now that we have all my favourite images out of the way, here are a few P.S.'s. Firstly, keep in mind that the photos above are my curated version of what I found most beautiful about Venice. This first photo below, that is also Venice: lots and lots of tourists, scafolding and buildings under construction, boring modern buildings, souvenir shop after souvenir shop.
Below I have marked the most busy, tourist'y and stressful streets and areas, as we experienced it :)
And this photo: 2nd best pizza ever!!! (the best was a simple pizza marguerita in ravello on the Amalfi Coast I had in 2014) A pizze blanche with pear and brie. Incredible!! You can find the pizzaria OKE on the long southfaced pier of the Dorsoduro area but you may want to book a table in advance (all of their pizza's can be ordered gluten free :)
Though Venice did not grab my heart, like it has with so many people I know, all in all there is something utterly fascinating about a city with streets of water. And something inescapably mysterious about those hundreds of narrow winding alleys. I will cherish this journey like I do whenever I get to exlore a new part of this wonderful world in the company of a friend, but it is not a place I will return to again and again.
I think different places speak to different people. I feel as I grow older and wiser about myself, the places that grab my heart and never let go, are wild, they are nature uninterrupted, and areas of nature where if humans are present, they play second role. Venice, although truly unique and aweinspiring (not to mention the extremely delicious food), is nature tamed by man. My heart and soul are drawn to places where I feel small and "insignificant", where I can look up at things and know that we as humans are just a tiny piece of a much bigger picture. Thankyou Venice for making me get to know myself better