“Where are you going next?” she asked, “I was thinking about Rome, but now I don’t know,” I resplied. “Come with us to Venice!” she exclaimed and just like that I changed plans changed was heading somewhere unexpected and new, thrilled to see such a beautiful city.
Date: May 26th, 2016
Time: 3:33 p.m. – 03:33 EST
Location: Plus Florence Hostel, Firenze, Italia
As I sat on the ferry typing up my blog, I began to question my decision to leave Croatia so abruptly. Did I really need a full week to see Rome? At the moment it seemed like a good idea, but now I didn’t know. Although it was too late to go back now, my mind kept on racing back and forth over whether I made the right choice.
The Ferry ride was surprisingly rowdy. A DJ played loud Latin and Italian music, riling up the much older crowd onto the dance floor. At around 10:30 p.m. I saw a group of three young travelers, two girls and one guy, come out into the main deck area and start dancing with the older crowd. I noticed one of them had a sorority shirt on, and I thought to myself, “YES AMERICAN TOURISTS!” I planned on approaching them after I used the bathroom, but then I conveniently bumped into one of the girls in the bathroom and opened up by saying, “So y’all are definitely American tourists, right?” She laughed, and said yes, inviting me to join them at their table.
The guy explained that he had me the two girls in a different city, and then met up again in Split. They had suggested he join them in Venice, so last minute, he decided “Why not?” and bought the ferry ticket to Ancona. We swapped stories, and although we were going separate ways, agreed to meet up in the morning to walk to the train station together. When we got off of the ferry, we all swarmed into a café, and that’s when one of the girls suggested I join them in Venice. Much like Paul, I thought to myself, “Why not?” and we agreed to split an AirBnB Tuesday and Wednesday night, then head separate ways on Thursday. Traveling with strangers was now becoming common for me.
The four of us made our way over to the train station, and we bought our tickets for Venice, excited about having already booked a cool apartment to share and spend a few days indulging in la dolce vita. When we arrived in Venice I immediately fell in love with the beautiful city. Although it was swarming with tourists, the canals and streets were like nothing I had ever seen before.
We found a café with wifi and looked up directions to our AirBnB, but it turns out the space we had booked had already been reserved, and the owner had made a mistake in his calendar, so we had to find a new place. For two hours, the four of us were panicking searching for a spot; just when it seemed like we would have to give up, a host responded, and we were able to book a place right on the canal for a total of about $90 each, so $45 a night per person, which is about how much you would have to pay for a hostel in Venice.
Walking through the city felt like walking on a movie set. The streets were beautifully intricate and the buildings looked unreal. Wow. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t even considered coming to this amazing place. In that moment I felt immensely grateful for the newfound friends, and I remembered that it’s important to trust your gut. My gut said it was time to leave Croatia, and everything worked out perfectly.
The AirBnB we had booked surpassed my expectations, it had windows that overlooked the canal and comfy beds much nicer than anything at a hostel. After dropping off our bags, I walked over to a café solo with my laptop, ordered a cappuccino, and began to type away. People at the shop kept on talking to me in Italian, and although I didn’t understand them, I felt as if I was at home. Berlin may have been my city, but Italia, Italia was my country.
We met up at 7:30 p.m. to eat dinner at a place the host had recommended, but unfortunately it was full to the brim, so we made a reservation to eat their the next night. Instead we continued walking until we found a charming spot that looked authentic and delicious, Vineria al’Amarone. The menus were handwritten in Italian and changed on a daily basis. We asked the server to suggest a bottle of wine, and when she poured it we raised our glasses, “Salute!” I told the group, “Cheers to good friends, good food, and good wine,” which would ultimately become my mantra for Italia.
When it came time to order, we went all in, beginning with a delicious bruschetta. Let me just say that I don’t think I’ve ever had a real tomato until I bit into that appetizer. The tomatoes were sweet, plump, juicy, and fresher than anything else I’ve ever eaten in my life, the mozzarella was tender and decadent, and the olive oil with the arugula gave it the perfect shot of flavor. “I’m going to get fat in Italy,” I announced to the table, “And I’m going to enjoy every single moment of it.” For dinner I ordered a Diavola pizza, with spicy salami, I peer pressured Paul into getting this amazing sounding gnocchi with tender braised beef, and both Alex and Grace ordered a delicious pasta with clams.
When our entrees arrived, our jaws dropped. Yup. I’m definitely going to get fat in Italy I just kept thinking to myself. Every bite was better than the one before. When we finished we were amazed with how rich and flavorful everything tasted. We literally scraped the leftover sauce off of the plates with bread. I was in food heaven. As we walked back to our apartment, I knew without a shred of doubt I had made the right decision. I fell asleep happily, knowing that the next day I would get to indulge in so much more deliciousness
I woke up around 10:00 a.m. and by the time I actually made it out of the condo it was already past 11:00 a.m. We agreed to do our own solo exploration, and then meet up at 6:00 p.m. for a gondola ride and dinner afterwards. I considered getting a cornetto and cappuccino for breakfast, but when I saw the gelato shop, I knew that I would be eating something much sweeter for breakfast. The woman working suggested the nutella flavor, and I happily obliged. I had been waiting months to try real Italian gelato, and it did not disappoint.
Originally I had planned on going to a bunch of places I had seen in my guidebook, but as I walked around the streets of Venice, I decided the best thing to do would be just wander aimlessly taking in all of the beauty that is Venezia. I walked into a beautiful church and found myself humbled by its immensity. I watched tourists take pictures on all of the charming bridges, I ate a bomb slice of pizza from a street vendor, and I indulged in the sounds of Italia and forgot about everything else in the world. This was definitely the dolce vita, carefree and lost in bliss.
We split an 80 euro gondola between the four of us, and although our gondola driver (is that what you would call him?) wasn’t exactly lively, the view was beautiful. Sidenote, did you know that in order for you to work in the gondola business, you basically have to be born into it? “My
grandfather carried Lady D in this gondola,” said our guy, “they last about 30 to 40 years, and then that’s it,” he elaborated with a thick Italian accent. Twenty-five minutes later he dropped us off back where we started and we walked over to dinner.
Again, we didn’t hold back. We ordered two bottles of wine this time, one of Prosecco and one Merlot. As for appetizers, we shared a pot of steamed clams and mussels, and a fresh Capreze salad. In Italy, it’s common to do a first course that’s carb heavy and then a second course that’s more protein and veggies based, so we agreed to all do our own individual first course, and then split two second course dishes. For the first course, I ordered pasta with prawns and zucchini, and for the second course the table split cuttlefish with polenta and John Dory fish with fresh vegetables.
The best thing to do is get out of touristy zones and look for a place with a menu that has no English translation. The food in Venice is amazing when you manage to leave the tourist traps.
After dinner, the girls went back to the Airbnb and Paul and I went to grab more gelato. We walked around the streets of Venice amazed at how beautiful the city is. Without a doubt, you could spend a week here just getting lost in the maze of the streets. So far, it’s the most beautiful city I’ve been in.
In the morning I woke up early to catch the train to Florence, and as I left, once again my heart hurt to be leaving such a beautiful city, but this time I felt the thrill of the renaissance city pulling me in. Ciao Venezia y Ciao Rome.