On a train that had come from Verona, I looked out the hazy window to see a vast blue horizon. It seemed that we were floating across the water, for I could spot nothing else apart from the waves of the Adriatic Sea which surrounded my speeding carriage.
Approaching Venice, Laura and I gathered our things and impatiently waited by the doors for the moment they would open. As we left the station, we followed the crowds out into the open. I was immediately dazed by the sight of gondolas floating along the water, which lapped upon neat rows of marbled Venetian architecture. It didn’t seem possible… there really was no roads, no cars, no Italian men screeching around narrow lanes on motorbikes as had been in the case in the other cities on our journey.
We stopped off the buy a 3-day water taxi pass (approximately €40) and hopped on the next water taxi to our hotel.
We arrived at the Jan Palach Hostel in the early evening, a cheap spot for tourists staying in a such an lavish city. Despite hesitant first impressions of the dingy lobby, our twin room was cosy, quite spacious and clean, a place we would only come to to sleep in over the next couple of days. The bathrooms are shared (female and males separately) however we rarely saw anyone else. The location was also ideal, with a water taxi stop right outside that took you straight to the main areas of the city.
We immediately freshened up and wandered over to the taxi point. As we stood and waited, we noticed a large group of people spilling out of a church just in front of us. We soon realised a wedding has just occurred, and waited in anticipation for the newly weds to come through the tall doors. As the bride and groom made their appearance, the crowd (which had now grown with excitable tourists such as ourselves) cheered and clapped as the happy couple kissed to please them.
Shortly after, we caught a taxi to Piazza San Marco, the bustling main square of Venice where live bands play traditional songs as affluent tourists drank their €20 glasses of Prosecco in the square borders. As a cool breeze blew on my skin and the sight of the famous square approached, I felt overwhelmed to finally be in the floating city.
With the sun on our faces, we walked across the square, leaving the crowds behind as we took a right down a narrow street. Carrying on, without a care to our direction, we came across a market where locals were selling jewels, antiques and a variety of treasures.
As the sun began to set behind the terraced buildings, we found ourselves at the peak of the Rialto Bridge, where we gazed at the boats speeding along the grand canal.
Feeling rather peckish, we wandered the narrow streets in search of an authentic restaurant away from the tourist traps next to the canal. Getting deeper into the Venetian maze, Laura spotted a lovely family owned restaurant with a few outside tables. Tucked away on the corner of a cobbled path, it was a perfect chance to soak in the real Venice.
After a selection of fresh bread with Italian olive oil, I ordered a beautiful zucchini shrimp pasta with fresh basil pesto, a dish I have tried to replicate on many occasions. We sipped on Prosecco watching passers by, imagining translations for the conversations that happened around us, particularly from the wife and husband of the restaurant that served us.
Thanking the family for their delicious food, we ventured back out into the Venetian jungle. Along a dark hidden street we spotted the lights and laughter of a small cosy bar where we shared a bottle of fizz and listened to the chatter of the locals around us. Looking back I now regret not noting down the names of these places, a typical traveller problem, however if I was to go back I would only wander the streets a second time, looking for more authentic tastes of Venice.
A little merry, and as happy as two girls in Venice can be, we got out our maps and aimed for the direction of the Piazza San Marco. Taking a left here and a right there, we stumbled upon glittering jewellers, authentic craft shops and cosy cafes we only hoped we could find in the morning.
Turning yet another corner, we heard the charming sound of an accordion and were greeted by the sight of four Italian men playing traditional music as small crowds gathered around and danced.
It was one of those moments that has stuck with me, for when I close my eyes I can still hear them singing. I truly felt I had found the real Venice.
As we waited for the boat that would take us to our hotel, a cruise through the dimly lit rivers, I listened to the music that played to the tourists on the Piazza San Marco. Unlike those around me, I couldn’t help but feel that I had been a part of a true Venetian experience.