Known for its rich history, fantastic food, warm Mediterranean climate, and generally just being packed with loads of things to see made us realize that we didn’t want to just breeze through Italy. Some of the past few countries we had been through had only been brief visits of just 2-3 days, so we wanted to make sure we did Italy properly. Even then, two weeks wasn’t nearly enough time but I feel we made it to most to a lot of the highlights that make this country one of the most culturally rich and beautiful in Europe.
Our tour of Italy began in Venice after a long day of bus and train travel from Munich. Rather than staying in the city, we got off at Mestre Station on the mainland and stayed at the camping ground where it was cheaper (and by camping I mean glamping–even staying in one of the little bungalows was a great deal!) We only had a day and a half to see Venice so we didn’t want to waste any time. After grabbing a quick bite to eat we headed back to the station. A couple euros and a 10-minute train ride later we arrived in the city just as the sun was going down.
Before coming to Italy I wasn’t really expecting a whole lot from Venice. Sure it’s known to be a beautiful city famous for its canals, but others I know said it was over-hyped. It’s hot and humid in the middle of summer, smelly, damp, and was overly crowded with tourists. But once we found ourselves standing on the banks of the Grand Canal, it was love at first sight. The city lights shimmering on the canals, busy with boats and gondolas gently gliding by. The colorful and rustic buildings rising out of the sea. The endless maze of narrow streets lined with little shops and restaurants. Venice truly is stunning and I think coming at night first played a big part in creating a good first impression. After all, the city empties out in the evening as all the day trippers head back to the mainland.
We had no planned itinerary so we just aimlessly wandered the streets, which are more like alleyways really. Honestly, I think this is the best way to see Venice. There are literally no cars in the city–the only mode of transport are boats and your own two feet. Good thing we like to walk because we did a lot of it. We didn’t even really go into any museums or churches as we were happily content with just getting lost in the maze. There is a main route that connects the train station to Piazza San Marco that nearly all the tourists follow, but all it takes to leave the crowds is simply wandering astray down a side street. Once we did this we nearly had the place to ourselves at times. Even in the day time, when the island was packed full of day trippers, it was easy to find quite streets away from the crowds.
One thing I found interesting about Venice (other than that fact that it’s built on water) was its unique architecture. It’s very different from any other city in Italy. Looking closely, there are signs of Islamic influences throughout the city, from curved windows to intricate designs and Arab façades. Even the canopies atop the domes of St. Mark’s adorned in its beautiful array of mosaics are quite Arab-esque. Something I didn’t expect to see in Venice, but it makes perfect sense as the city was one of the key ports during the spice trade linking commerce and trade between the east and the west.
I also found it to be an odd coincidence that Venice is shaped like a fish! The design was completely unintentional, it just so happens that the group of 117 islands that Venice sits on was naturally shaped that way. How amazing is that?
So that’s how we spent our 36 hours at the city in the sea. Venice was much more than I imagined it to be and even though it is extremely touristy, you can’t be unimpressed by it. It’s picturesque, it’s different, it’s timeless–I imagine little has changed from hundreds of years ago. That’s why Venice sits easily toward the top of my list of favorite places in Europe. I would definitely come back if I ever find myself in Italy again.