Onto the third weekend of study abroad, and the last weekend before our first 10 day break. Thus far we have gone to Florence and Munich, so what did this past weekend hold in store for us? Venice! Initially everyone thought Carnevale (European Mardi Gras basically) started this weekend so we were all excited to party and see the festivities. Unfortunately we timed this a little wrong and the events actually started next week… Oops. Live and learn though, Venice was still an amazing city.
Upon arrival on Friday it was pretty bleak outside. It had rained all day and the sun did not seem to be anywhere in site. We headed over to our hostel which was located on Guidecca, a small island right off of the main part of Venice. Stepping onto the first boat of the weekend was interesting. When you spend 3 days traveling only by boat you start to appreciate the land a little more, not to mention the speed of land travel. The water boats were by far the cheapest option to get around but were painfully slow sometimes. Nonetheless they served us well during our trip and really allowed us to see the city from a different perspective.
Friday night just consisted of hanging out at Generator Hostel where we stayed all weekend. We got drinks with all of the people from our study abroad and just had a good time. We figured since the festivities would be starting the next day we needed to be in tip top form.
Saturday was a much better day than the previous one in terms of weather. It was sunny and not really cold at all. Having most of the day to do what we pleased our group decided to head to Murano. If you don’t know, Murano is famous for their glass blowing. The people of the island pretty much all work with glass and are extremely skilled. I have a demo of the techniques they use to be uploaded later, but trust me, it is pretty insane how easy they make it look. From what they told us it takes around 25 years to become a master glass blower, for this reason it is usually a family trade that is taught by fathers to their sons. For this reason many of the “glass factories” (glass businesses that turn out tons of glass products a year) are a family business. Some of the factories have been in existence for 200 plus years, something that is extremely hard for me to grasp given that the United States is only a little more than 200 years old.
After the technique demo we were allowed to tour the gallery of glass items they had. Pictures weren’t really allowed but I still took a couple, I’m a rebel I know. The gallery was jaw dropping. The picture doesn’t even begin to show how awesome some of the glass they made was. There were chandeliers 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide, all made of glass. Lots of intricate glass animals. Sets of cups and other tableware. It was all insane to see and think that someone made this with their hands, some sand, and a really hot fire. Naturally at the end of the gallery there was a gift shop, also naturally as American tourists we got conned a little. I bought a bracelet for 35 euro and later found it for 7… So that was a slightly rude awakening, but again you live and learn. The bracelet is nice though, so I really can’t complain too much.
After the glass factory we looked at we wanted to find the glass museum. Unfortunately it was closed. The museum is supposed to house over 700 years of Murano glass blowing techniques and history, so missing it definitely took away from the islands experience. While we continued to meander around Murano and look at the little shops we actually stumbled upon something pretty awesome. A small restaurant that had received a Michilen Guide selection, it was called Busa-alla Torre.
The place was small but the menu was reasonably priced and looked amazing so we went all out. First we got the Little Venice Appetizer, which consisted of a small clam cooked in a delicious sauce, some crab meat salad, fried fish things and some bread for pallet cleansing. Next up came the actual meal. Venice is famous for their seafood and especially well known for their cuttlefish in black ink sauce. I had to try it. I am not a huge seafood fan, I’ll eat most fish and some crab but the cuttle fish was a little overwhelming. None of us were quite so sure what a cuttlefish even was, but I didn’t think there was going to be another chance for me to try it.
Looks interesting, right? It was actually extremely good, the only thing was you had to get past the tentacles, and the meat was a little chewy. The sauce had a distinct taste that was hard to describe, it was definitely saltier than most sauces I had tried before. It was quite an experience to try and I am glad I was able to try some genuine Venetian cuisine. Being at a good restaurant probably helped a lot also, I’m not sure it would have been as good anywhere else.
On the way back to the hostel we decided to get lost, on recommendation from Brinberg. The streets of Venice are quite confusing so I can see why it would be easy. We wandered through multiple alleyways and just admired the artchitecture and the novelty of a foreign city. Since Carnevale was (supposedly) starting later that night we had to grab some masks. We stopped in a few shops and finally settled on one. The masks are not that expensive for a basic style, only about 9 euro. So everyone made sure to get one to wear around, we are the definition of tourist.
After we headed back to the hostel everyone got ready, this is the point we realized that nothing was actually happening for Carnevale. So we ended up drinking in the hostel bar for a couple of hours in our masks, Like I said we are the definition of tourist. We ended up in the main part of Venice and dropped by the apartments the other groups were staying in for the weekend. Eventually after trying to get things together nothing really worked out and I walked/help drag some people back to the hostel. It was a fun night without anything really happening nonetheless.
Sunday was our day to be super touristy and see all of the big things in Venice. Honestly we probably missed some things by not doing much on Saturday but too late to fix that now. So we started off Sunday heading to St. Mark’s Square and lo and behold… The canals had flooded with high tide and the rain Venice had gotten from early morning. It was quite a shocker to step off the boat and see the entirety of the square flooded.
the above picture is how they remedy this problem in Venice, literally just raised platforms for people to walk on over the 6 inches of water. Crude but it worked pretty well. Some people wore rain boots (smart) or paid 10 euro for slip on boot slippers that were waterproof (dumb, mostly because when will you use those again… c’mon). Venturing over the platforms was an adventure in and of itself, definitely a novelty of Venice that I’m glad we were unlucky enough to see.
After quenching our starved bodies on cheap sandwiches we headed over to the palace. The Palace of Doge to be specific. This isn’t the palace to the well known Shiba-inu meme though, the Doge was actually the highest elected position of Venice in the old days of the Venetian Republic. Now the palace housed the Doge and other important members of the Venetian Republic but it was also the place where all the political goings on and judicial proceedings happened. Not to mention they attached a jail to it once the old one was overcrowded and in disrepair. So basically it was a multi-dimensional building that housed a ton of stuff. The museum exhibits inside delved into the uses of the palace and explained the gist of the Venetian Republic. Very interesting to me honestly, I had no clue that Venice was the first republic or that they had such a huge regional presence through about the 1500s. It is always nice to learn the history of someplace before you leave, it gives a bit of prespective to reflect on. Unfortunately this is about the only good picture I took in the palace. It is of their large assembly hall, which is huge and doesn’t look like it should fit in the palace from the outside.
Also Rachel is photobombing the picture so that’s nice too. Wrapping up the palace we headed next door to St. Mark’s Basilica. Most large cities in Europe have huge famous churches but St. Mark’s impressed me for one simple reason. All of the walls are covered in mosaic work. Literally every single wall. At first it just looks like murals but once you get close to a wall and look up and down the whole thing you realize someone actually took the time to stick millions of little squares together to make pictures. Insane, absolutely insane. A quick walk around the small church museum and you learned a bit more about the Venetians. One thing that was reiterated time and time again was the crusades. Venice actually played quite a large role in the initial crusades, along the way they managed to grab a bunch of things from Constantinople (after taking it over of course). Namely, they took lots of pieces of the church from there. Specifically the famous horses of St. Marks. Which are fantastic works of art, the horses stand between 7–8 feet tall and are magnificent to stare at.
It’s funny how history works and you used to be able to just steal things from places *cough* Britain *cough*, but I’ll save that for my UK post. Having finished St. Mark’s and the palace we had to head back to the train station and find our way back home after another fun filled weekend. I am glad we got to do the palace and the basilica because we really missed a lot of things in Venice. Some groups actually did almost nothing, it’s sad but it happens sometimes. I definitely think Venice was amazing, for its beauty as well as its culture. It was a bummer that we didn’t get to enjoy Carnevale like we had wanted but it was still a great time with great people and I think it brought a lot of us on the trip together.