My list of must-see countries is far too numerous to mention and prioritising places I need to visit before I die are decided mainly by my budget. My desire to travel is usurped only by my fear of running out of time before I have visited the many countries in my ever-growing catalogue.
Choosing between Burma and starving through the winter months, or Venice, and affording to eat and keep warm, play a large factor in my decision making. This was why, when I was trawling through the usual winter destinations and grimacing at the prices (like Berlin or Prague and their famous Christmas markets), I stumbled across Venice.
It occurred to me that Venice was your typical summer destination, with gelato and gondola rides, which was why I was astounded to see significantly cheaper accommodation in the bustling San Marco square, and even cheaper flights all costing me under half a months rent.
As soon as I stepped off the waterbus in Venice from the airport, I knew I had made the right decision. The streets looked as if they’d been polished, every other shop was elegant and high end, and the Christmas lights lit above every street were picturesque. The only trouble was that the narrow streets were maze-like, and almost identical. Arriving so late in the evening, and having to guess the whereabouts of the hotel proved challenging. That’s when I noticed each building was numbered, so my boyfriend and I continued to wonder the streets aimlessly trying to find number 4737. At long last, we struck gold after a good hour of searching, but we weren’t fully satisfied yet- we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and were praying for an open restaurant somewhere. Of course, Venice had a place to eat which was open past midnight and relief flooded through me like never before.
Exploring the streets in the daylight was just as exciting, the deep blue winter skies seemed to enhance the turquoise of the canals and absorb the reflections of shop windows, producing a brilliant contrast. The bitter winter breeze made our many stops for Italian coffees more enjoyable, as we sat and people watched the locals passing by from the other side of the café window.
Island hopping is also a must, and having purchased a 3-day pass, we were able to travel almost anywhere. The home of glass-making, Murano Island was our first stop, exploring row after row of glass shops boasting expensive displays of glass ornaments, (unfortunately the prices of ornate glass vases don’t decrease in the off-season). San Servolo, a small island with an abandoned mental institution and its artefacts was an interesting visit; it was nice to be able to learn more about Venice’s history through each individual place I visited. It wasn’t as nice however, when I hastily got off the waterbus to what I thought was a historical cemetery island, to find it was actually a Monastery. I wandered through a scenic, plant-covered land towards the only building on the island, a large, dated Monastery offering guided tours for three euros.
It became worse when I discovered that the waterbuses only stopped every two hours. When the man offering tours saw that I came by accident, he offered me a free tour, but as soon as my boyfriend appeared, he hastily demanded six euros. We quickly made our way out when I was greeted by another Italian man, who gave me a handful of olives from a nearby tree and spoke to me in rapid Italian. I accepted the gift, and decided I was quite admired on this island, being offered various things by Italian locals, but sadly my feelings weren’t reciprocated. We sat at a cold, bare winter bus stop waiting for the waterbus and played any impromptu games to pass the time. The sound of the motor coming towards the island was like music to our ears, saved at long last from isolation! I finally visited the cemetery island the following day, containing masses of graves of Venetians from as early as the 1800s.
Visiting Venice in the winter was truly beautiful, and exceeded my expectations: minimal crowds and tourists, gift-wrapped buildings and decorative displays, vivid colours and a festive winter chill. The waterbuses, museums and restaurants constantly maintain a calm presence- and it’s just as nice, if not nicer than visiting at summer, all without breaking the bank.
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Words by Tara Proudfoot