It’s been almost a month since I’ve written. Usually I hate leaving it that long – this blog is almost a diary to me – but I’ve got a good excuse! Not neglect or being otherwise occupied with work, but actually travelling! Instead of sticking to the familiar green coasts of Scotland, I’ve been exploring a country I never thought I’d see: Italy.
We spent three days in Rome and two in Florence and concluded our circuit of Italy in Venice. We were only in the city for several hours between trains, so joined the long queue for left luggage. After discovering that we’d be waiting an hour and a half to get rid of our bags, we scuttled off instead. That’s how we found ourselves in the heart of Venice at midday, rays igniting the backs of our necks, with a few kilos of tat strapped to our spines.
Venice is a bit cliché, and I mean that in the nicest way. I didn’t realise that as soon as you leave behind the bustle and beep of the train station, the Grand Canal appears like a mirage between buildings. It’s exactly how you imagine it: meandering alleyways, terracotta panes framing oblivious housewives, eyeless masks glaring from vivid shop windows, steep bridges fanned with stone cornicing… And the constant canals, rediscovered around every street corner.
Every turn brings a new aspect of architecture to admire. Wonderful churches or chapels; bridges and buildings; all these gems fade a little under the diamantine grandeur of St Mark’s Square, where the hoard of tourists congregate. In such heat, gelato is a necessary but expensive delicacy. The closest we found was Al Todaro, whose sorbets were especially refreshing. At €7 for four small scoops, it’s fairly average price-wise, particularly if you don’t sit at the tables. Two seconds away, you can perch on a bench at the edge of the lagoon, your gaze framed by wooden poles as gondolas glide back and forth.
After our ‘petite pause’, we took a detour past The Bridge of Sighs. This Ponte has special significance for me: my great-grandfather’s sketch of it has forever been located in my grandparents’ hallway, and as a keen artist I’ve always admired it. To see the bridge in reality was surreal, even more so because about a dozen paddle boarders were screaming underneath it. The noise fades the further away from the human motorways you go, so we worked our way slowly back towards the tiny street food restaurant we’d spotted earlier.
Acqua and Mais is more a window than an eatery; the chefs gazing onto the street from behind a pane of glass that functions as an open door. Like typical street food, it’s gloriously simple: fried seafood, rosemary potatoes, polenta chips, roasted chicken. It’s fresh and unfussy, and best of all it’s cheap (important if you’re a student like me). We only spent ten euros and got two cones of calimari, prawns and polenta, plus one cone of potatoes. You may not be able to sit in (unless you perch uninvited on the window ledge) but around the corner is Campo San Polo, where you can bung your bum on a bench and munch away.
We sat in the square for a while and just breathed. Sometimes it’s not all about seeing the attractions, or rushing around the museums (as I learnt in Florence!) As we returned via poky paths and humpbacked bridges towards the station, we began to trust the painted wall markers; those saintly arrows pointing ‘alla ferrovia’. The timeless island threw us back towards civilisation and we stepped aboard the train; just another couple following the mystical signs away from the city’s watery web.
We spent just six hours in Venice between trains! We followed the signs saying ‘Per S. Marco’ and ‘Per Rialto’ to reach St Mark’s Square in about half an hour (Google Maps doesn’t seem to work in Venice!) For cheap lunches and travel snacks, cross Ponte degli Scalzi just outside the train station and, heading for St Mark’s Square, you should see a little supermarket on the right hand side next to Rio Marin and Corte Canal. It’s got a good selection of deli produce and fresh fruit. Acqua & Mais was a great find, but there are also many reasonable pizzerias and pasta places just off the busy streets.