My best travel stories can be found in my handwritten journal, which I kept while I backpacked through Europe in the Autumn of 2011. Here I have transcribed one of those journal entries that meant the most to me, and hopefully it will help bring Venice, Italy to life for you.
11th November, 2011
Stepping onto the island of Venice was like stepping into an old storybook. This medieval city remains nearly unchanged after hundreds of years. We spent much of our time there merely wandering around, almost with the intent to get lost. And getting lost in Venice is inevitable. The innumerable streets have names posted only occasionally, and wind over, around, and through one another like a labyrinth. It's something truly incredible to duck through an alley barely three feet wide and come out on the other side into the open space of some glorious piazza, or onto the abrupt edge of a canal. The canals are the focal point of Venice, functioning like roads themselves, and separating the city into all its nooks and crannies. Unfortunately, we could not afford the opportunity to take a ride in any of the famous Venetian gondolas. We really don't have an extra 80 euro to spend, and that's the going rate for a 40 minute ride! Around sunset, the price even jumps to 100 euro! The gondola ride seems best saved for a honeymoon activity, perhaps. We were, however, able to get out onto the water. Venice and it's surrounding islands have their own public transportation system: a huge fleet of ferry boats called vaporetti. The system works just like a subway or metro, with different lines and routes.
On Wednesday, we bought a day pass and took boats to all the different Venetian islands which was an amazing experience; the islands seemed like little worlds unto themselves. We went first to the cemetery island, where thousands of graves and mausoleums sit, absolutely covered in the brightest of flowers. I've never seen so many flowers in one cemetery. The numerous bouquets, set about in the brilliant sunlight, gave the place almost a cheerful atmosphere. Perhaps the Italians try to celebrate life with the flowers, and honor their dead in this way.
Next stop was the island of Murano, famous for it's beautiful glass. Glass blowing demonstrations could be found all over the island, and jewelry, drinking glasses, and various trinkets were for sale everywhere. The island was quaint; less crowded and with a quieter atmosphere than Venice.
Burano was our next island, and my personal favourite. Here the houses are painted in the most magnificent and vibrant colours. Canary yellow, emerald green, fire engine red, sky blue; it looked so welcoming on this island. There were cats everywhere and Ryan got a bit annoyed after a while that I insisted on stopping to photograph every single one we saw. But I can't help it! Who can resist a little gray kitty mewing at them from some perfect Venetian window sill? Burano is also famous for its lace, and we saw many fine, intricate items on display. Beautiful white dresses lined the exteriors of shops, just begging to be bought, but the lace is quite expensive. There is a lace museum in Burano as well, but honestly that sounded like a bit of a snooze, so we thought it best to skip it.
Our last island was quite a haul away-- the boat ride took about 35 minutes, and seeing as we were already as far out as Burano, at this point we were considerably far from Venice. Torcello was the name of this final island. Now almost uninhabited, there are only a few inns left on Torcello, and one ancient church, dating back to the 8th century. This island was incredibly lovely; it was almost surreal to come to a place that felt so remote. Most of the island seemed to consist of vegetation, with buildings few and far between. As we caught the vaporetti that evening to head back to Venice, we watched the great red Italian sun setting over the water.
Our trip is nearing it's end, unbelievably enough. Yesterday, we acknowledged to one another that we only have one more week of this European journey. We have already visited seven countries, and France will be our last. We took a picnic out to a quiet area of the island, and sat along the waterfront, dangling our feet over the edge and watching the boats go by. As vaporetti passed, those on board waved at us happily, like old friends. And we returned the gesture, as if to agree, "We can't believe we are all so lucky to be in this beautiful place." And so we sat, sharing a bottle of Prosecco, reminiscing about all the fun we've had, all the completely crazy experiences, and what we've learned.
I'm really glad that I had a friend with me on this trip. Originally I was planning to go completely on my own. That would have been unique and exciting, but it honestly would have been a completely different trip. I'm so glad it turned out the way it did. I wouldn't have seen many of the places we decided together to visit, and I would not have had anyone with whom to share my travel memories. That is very special.
There's so much that we both took away from this trip; learning about ourselves and the larger world. I can't speak for Ryan... but as for me, this trip gave me the sense that the world is not as big as it seems. Seeing Europe had been a dream of mine for a really long time, and finally getting here was incredible. So to actually BE here made me feel as if the world is somehow much more accessible; I dreamed of going here and HERE I AM. It always seemed as though backpacking Europe was a bit beyond reality, beyond my reach; something I would always dream of but too grand a scheme to be actualised. Well, it's not. Anyone can do it, and that is AWESOME. While the thought of backpacking Europe seems an extreme adventure, the reality is that it's a suprisingly easy adventure to embark on. I'd encourage ANYONE who dreams of doing this to simply DECIDE to do it and JUST GO! All you need is the desire to do it and the rest will follow. It doesn't even take as much money as you might think; especially if you don't mind staying in hostels or couch surfing.
That being said, even though it turned out to be so simple, I did, in fact, have a dream come true. When that happens, it's so encouraging, and I feel optimistic that I can see other dreams become realities. Setting out on this journey has actually inspired me to consider what other dreams I might have, no matter how crazy. I was able to make this one come true, so why not others? We'll see what happens next....
In a few hours we'll be off to Paris. I'm glad we're ending our trip on such a fabulous note. The city of lights should be a dream.