16th April 2018
First things first. Here’s a little background to our story. Aravind and I were on a two-week backpacking trip in Europe. We decided to keep Milan as our base, from where we would explore other cities around Milan and outside Italy. We had two days in Milan before we headed to Florence and having visited Milan once before, instead of looking around the city, we decided to do two day-trips to places outside Milan, one on each day. On the first day, we visited Lake Lugano – a lake situated on the foothills of the Alps with breath taking scenery – in Switzerland. On the second day, after much thought, we decided to go to Venice.
**Before you go ahead, if you are short on time and simply want to know the places we covered during our day trip to Venice, please scroll right to the end. If you have all the time in the world and want a more detailed story of how we went about through our day, jump right ahead**
As surprising as it may sound, Venice was never my first choice for a day trip from Milan. At first, I wanted to add an extra day and make it a two-day trip to Naples. In fact, Venice was never my second choice as well. If not for Naples, I wanted to make a trip to Lake Como – another breath-taking lake set on the foothills of the Alps – situated an hour and a few minutes north of Milan. The only reason we decided to skip the first two options and visit Venice instead was because Aravind had been to Venice once before, by himself, and he wanted to visit the city again but this time, with me. Also, we had visited Lake Lugano just the day before and we didn’t want to visit yet another lake with similar scenery the very next day. After much thought, we decided to visit Venice, a city I never thought I’d visit, yet here I was, about to do just that.
Now, I know it seems quite surprising that I never wanted to visit Venice in the first place. It is supposed to be, or at least made out to be, one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in Europe. Imagine walking with your loved one, hand in hand, along the canals, across the numerous bridges that connect the several islands that make up the city. It does sound romantic. But I had a hunch. I knew the city wasn’t going to be as romantic as it is so often made out to be and I believed I may end up not having a good time. Well, I was partially right. I did have a good time but not because it was romantic but for a totally different reason. You’ll know why soon enough.
The day started as usual with our favourite European breakfast – croissants and a cup of hot chocolate – at a café close to our Airbnb apartment in Milan. After breakfast, we went to the closest Metro station and took a train to Milan Centrale – the central, as the name suggests, and the biggest railway station in Milan, from where both inter city and inter state trains depart. We had already purchased our tickets online several weeks before our trip. There were several ticket vending machines where one could buy tickets on the day of travel, provided they were available. Although, tickets are usually cheaper if bought much in advance. We reached roughly around fifteen minutes before our departure time. Since we had dated tickets, we didn’t have to validate our tickets, which must be done when travelling in Italy if your tickets are not dated (tourists most often forget doing this and end up paying a fine if caught). The first time we were in Italy, we forgot to do this and the conductor on the train was kind enough to do it for us when he came by checking tickets. I guess we had tourists plastered all over our face and he took pity on us. He did warn us to not forget the next time though. Anyway, back to the story. The platform number was put up on the big screen that displayed all the details of the train that were to depart in the next half hour. We made a note of our platform number and headed towards the platform. We boarded the train and made our way to the assigned seats.
A few minutes later, we were on our way. Several minutes in to our journey, Aravind started reading his book (I’m not sure which one) and me, mine – The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara – a perfect book for the journey. An hour and a half and a quick brunch later (we had some packed food), we reached Venezia Santa Lucia – the station that lies right on the bank of the Grand Canal. We got down and entered the city of Venice. My first impression of Venice matched that of my hunch. The city was crowded with tourists and much of the streets were filled with shops that sold your typical Venetian souvenirs – Venetian masquerade masks, glass beads and tiny figurines made of glass. There was the occasional Gelato shops and cafes as well. Since Aravind had already been to Venice, I asked him if he remembered his way around the city. He didn’t remember much. We didn’t have a local sim card or internet connection to find our way to the places we wanted to visit in Venice. After a few minutes of simply walking around and wondering what to do, we decided the age-old trick of simply following the crowd. Most of them were tourists and we were sure that they would lead us to at least one of the popular tourist attractions from where we would ask around and find our way to the others. Hardly two minutes in to following the crowd, we were distracted by a Gelato shop. Naturally, we stopped for a quick scoop of Gelato. Once we were done, we continued following the tourists who finally led us to what seemed like one of the popular streets of Venice. We kept walking along. On our way we crossed several tiny bridges that connected the numerous islands that made up Venice. We stopped at several of these bridges to take some pictures and admire the boasts and gondolas that sailed under them. It is also only at these bridges where you can truly admire the uniqueness of the city. You can witness the buildings immersed in water. It made us wonder how the structures continue to stand despite being immersed for several years in water.
Streets of Venice
A little more of walking and we finally started seeing sign boards that pointed us towards Piazza San Marco – the most popular square in Venice. I then remembered, from my planning days, that most of the tourist attractions were near this square. We followed the sign boards through narrow streets, canals and bridges. A few minutes later, we spotted the famous golden arches of Mc. Donald’s. What a relief. Not because we wanted to eat but because it meant free Wi-Fi. We couldn’t have been happier. We stopped by outside Mc. Donald’s and connected out phones to the free Wi-Fi. We then locked in our directions to Piazza San Marco and to a few other tourist spots that were on our list. We realized everything was very close to the square just as I had remembered.
Now that our route was locked in, we hit it off straight to the square. The ginormous cathedral – St. Marks’ Basilica – is the first thing you’ll notice when you enter the square. For a minute, I was speechless. There was something very different about this cathedral when compared to the other cathedrals that I have seen around Europe. Most cathedrals, especially those in big cities, are huge in size and almost mostly in shades of white. But this one was different. There were colourful mosaics, frescoes and reliefs, statues and sculptures depicting the life of Christ along with flora and fauna adorning the exterior walls of the church, along with a touch of gold making it look rich and regal. Simply put, there was a lot of colour on the exterior of the cathedral which usually is never the case. It was quite overwhelming to be able to take it all in. A replica of the famous four horses of St. Mark’s welcomed us from above (for those of you who are interested in seeing the original, it is currently placed in the museum inside the cathedral). After a few minutes of admiring the uniqueness and beauty of the church, we turned around to face the square and were equally overwhelmed. But this time not by its opulence or grandeur, but because of its sheer size and the immense crowd that filled the square.
St. Mark’s Basilica
Not having anything much to do at the square, we quickly walked past the Basilica and we reached the Doge’s palace – a palace built on the Venetian Gothic style and is a symbol of Venetian architecture. For a fee, you could go in and explore the treasures and antiquities of the palace. We decided to skip it since we were never big fans of museums or displays. We kept walking straight and we finally reached the edge of the island. We sat near the shore for awhile admiring the sea and the boats that docked, the tourists that got down and the painters that lined the coast displaying their artwork of the city.
After a while, we decided to walk back the same way we came. Our next stop was The Rialto Bridge the oldest bridge that crosses over the Grand Canal. We remembered seeing sign boards to the Rialto bridge on our way to the square. While approaching the St. Mark’s cathedral, I noticed a tall orange tower which I assumed would be the bell tower as is common to all Cathedrals. There was a long line in front of the tower. A sign board on the outside said it costed 5 Euros to climb to the top. Though a small part of me wanted to climb the bell tower, we decided to skip it and we left. On our way to the Rialto bridge, we came across a vegan friendly pizzeria – Bella & Brava. We stopped by for a quick lunch and naturally, to use the Wi-Fi. It was while having lunch that I realized the beauty of Venice lies in its numerous islands and the canals and bridges that connect these islands. What better way to admire the city then but from a great height. We decided to climb the tower after lunch. Two large pizzas later, we went back to the crowded square, stood in the line, bought tickets and waited our turn. When we reached closer to the tower, we realized that we didn’t have to climb the tower and there was an elevator that took tourists in batches to the top and bought a bunch of them back down. After thirty minutes of waiting, it was finally our turn. We reached the top of the tower and thoroughly enjoyed the views. Seeing the islands that make up Venice, the canals that separate them, the orange roofed houses that make up these islands, was worth the money and the time. After spending close to fifteen minutes admiring the views, we again waited in a line, a much shorter one this time, and came back down.
Views of Venice from the top of San Marco Campanile
We rested for a few minutes in a bench outside and then made our way to the Rialto bridge, yet again. On our way, Aravind spotted a Vodafone shop. He wanted to stop by and enquire the rates for a sim and data package. It had been two days of wandering around without an internet connection and we realized that a constant internet connection had become a necessity for our travels. If the prices weren’t exorbitant, we decided to by a sim that would give us enough data for the entire two-week stay in Europe. Upon enquiry we found that for 20 Euros, we get 10 GB of data plus 100 minutes of international talk time. We decided to get a sim. The sim was to get activated only after two hours. So, we still couldn’t access the internet and hence we had to rely on the signs to get to Rialto bridge. After several wrong turns and enquiries, we finally reached the bridge. Truth be told, I wasn’t captivated. The inner side of the bridge was lined with shops and was dreadfully crowded. Crossing the bridge simply felt like walking through the streets of Venice but with a lot of steps. We did admire the several boats that crossed under us within a short span. If you want to truly admire the bridge, you need to step out of the bridge, walk along the grand canal for a few 100 metres and admire the structure from the outside.
View of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge
After our quick trip to the bridge, we simply walked around for several minutes when Aravind remembered visiting a bookshop on a boat, the last time he was here. Apparently, due to constant flooding, this bookshop permanently keeps its books in boats and bathtubs to protect the books in case of flooding. Aravind and I love visiting unique bookstores and libraries during out travels and we surely didn’t want to miss this one. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember the name of the bookshop, so we couldn’t ask for directions. With our data still being inactive, we decided to go back to the only place we knew we’d get free Wi-Fi – Mc. Donald’s. Luckily, it was only a short walk. We connected to the internet and searched the location of this bookstore. We found that it was called Libreria Acqua Alta. Once we had the directions, we started walking. Ten to fifteen minutes later, we were there, and I must say it was a unique experience seeing tens of thousands of books and magazines cramped into Gondolas, bathtubs and other water proof bins. We had good fun looking at the collection of books, mostly in Italian. After a while, we left. We followed our way back to the Mc. D and from there, we knew our way back to the station. It was time. Our bus (Flix Bus) to Milan was to depart from Venice Mestre (the other station located on Mainland Italy) at 5 PM. We walked back to the station, briefly stopping over at a Farmer’s market on our way, to buy a bunch of big and bright red strawberries for just one Euro. The vendor was also kind enough to wash them for us. We then continued our way back to station. At Venezia Santa Lucia, we bought a train ticket to take us to Venice Mestre (the very next station) from where our bus was to depart. The train was to leave in fifteen minutes.
Just then, I noticed a store named ‘Tiger’ inside the station. Something about the store (maybe its name) made me want to go and see what it was about. The minute I entered, I fell in love with it. It was like love at first sight. There was everything I could ask for in a shop – quirky stationary, little diaries and notebooks, all kinds of art and craft supplies, home supplies, chocolates and much more. Throw in some bags and clothes, I could marry this shop! Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to look around. We picked up a few notebooks, paid and left the store. I did make a mental note to look for this shop sometime later in our trip either in Florence or Milan. I convinced myself that this store had to have outlets in other cities as well. I was right. But that’s for another story. We got in to our train just in time and a few minutes later, we reached Venice Mestre.
Luckily, the bus stops just 200m away from the main entrance of the station. We got out of the station and went straight to the bus stop. Several minutes of waiting and wondering if we were in the right stop later, the bus came. We boarded and were on our way back to Milan. The bus journey was close to 3 hours and a half – much longer than the train journey. But I must say, I enjoyed the bus journey much more because the bus made a few stops in some of the other cities of Italy (Verona, Bellagio) that I have never been to and thus gave me a glimpse of those cities as well. Unlike trains, buses drive through the centre of the city thus giving you a clear picture of the city and its people.
Three hours later, we reached the Milan Lampugnano bus terminal. There was a Metro line right next to the bus stop. We took a metro back home and called it a day. We did stop at a grocery store to buy some fruits for dinner.
Since my trip to Venice, every now and then I wonder, why is Venice considered Europe’s most romantic city? Did we visit the wrong places in Venice? Was there some other part of Venice that could have been more romantic? Did we miss something? Sadly, we would never know. But, I must say, I did enjoy the city quite a bit although, from a totally different perspective. What I loved the most about the city was its uniqueness and its gothic architecture. There are several cities in Europe that have canals and beautiful architecture, but Venice was different. There is a reason it’s called the floating city. I realized the gravity of its meaning only after I visited the city. The buildings are literally immersed in water which gives rise to its uniqueness. Something that should be witnessed by all. If you visit the city expecting it to look like those photos you’ve seen in magazines, you’re in for a shock. But if you visit the city with a different frame of mind, you will end up liking the city. I’m glad I did.
My favourite parts of the trip were – the view from the bell tower, the Libreria Acqua Alta, crossing the several tiny bridges that spanned the city (this felt better than crossing the Rialto bridge) and the vegan pizza at Bella & Brava.
There are several islands in Venice that are not connected by bridges and hence cannot be walked to. You must take the boat/ferry to reach these islands. The ticket counter (for a ride on these boats) is located just opposite the central station where you can purchase day passes or single tickets (very similar to metro tickets).
If you have more time that I did, make sure you visit Murano – one of those islands that can only be accessed by a boat – and check out glass blowing. It’s a very popular activity in Venice.
The Gondola rides cost 80 Euros and it’s simply not worth the money, in my opinion (we did have fun looking at couples riding the Gondolas though).
Places covered on the day trip –
- Mark’s Basilica
- San Marco Campanile (the bell tower)
- Piazza San Marco
- Doge’s palace
- Rialto bridge
- Grand Canal
- Libreria Acqua Alta