I won’t lie, this is a bastardized rewrite of a letter I wrote to a close friend back home recounting the events of my week in Italy while living in France as a volunteer farmer.
I had spent the previous five months working on a variety of farms in southern and central France picking grapes, herding longhorn cattle, and doing renovations on organic farms associated with the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) international organization. Despite the beauty and simplicity of farm life, I had grown restless and sought out a trip away from chores to take in ancient Rome and Venice. Rome was awesome, but Venice was what I would remember most dearly.
“I think it’s only fair to chronicle my last trip and final days in France and Italy to you since you’ve been through it all with me. My constant listener. I left for Venice on the Thursday and took the ‘slow’ train from Rome. I wasn’t to be disappointed, and the so-called slow train really was slow, taking seven hours to arrive in the scenic city. In spite of the long voyage, when I looked out the window at my impending destination and saw the tracks surrounded by water and a far off island approaching, I couldn’t help but smile widely. I had finally arrived.
“Taking boats around the city struck me as weird at first, but by the end of the trip, I wished more places were like this. I loved the Grand Canal. It’s the main channel that cuts through the island and exists as the central highway for travel around the city. It is much simpler to take a boat taxi than to walk the island if you have a specific destination. The city is comprised of 117 small islands and features 409 bridges, many of which crisscross haphazardly. There are signs that point you to main points of interest, but it’s best to have a flexible schedule to allow for some wrong turns.
“I had come in Venice during Carnival, the annual celebration in February which precedes Lent in the Christian calendar. It’s kind of like the bachelor party before the wedding: an excuse to get fucked up before you settle down. The whole city was pulsing, dancing, singing, and wearing extravagant masks. I saw so many elegantly dressed couples and groups sporting period wardrobes and wacky ensembles, including a group of three young guys who were dressed as giant Lego men with a boombox strapped on one of their backs pumping ‘90s rock.
“The streets were packed. Piazza San Marco is the central hub of activity drawing in thousands for events and musical acts. It hosts the best live concerts every night with a wealth of musical acts including opera singers covering rock and pop songs, and DJ’s spinning reggae and euro electronic music. Tons of little shows also happened just on the streets. Busker groups from around the world inspired huge masses of spectators, the best being an air band dressed as The Beatles who played “Hey Jude” as their encore and had hundreds circling them, all singing in unison.
“If you’re an art or history buff, you’ll love the cultural highlights. The city has a Guggenheim Museum, lots of historical estates to visit and tours in which to partake. I visited Doge’s Palace and its attached prison, and learned that the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ connecting the two got its name from the prisoners who would pass over it, looking out through the barred windows at their last glance of freedom, and would sigh from of the knowledge of their impending fate.
“I didn’t really get ‘lost’ in Venice because finding my way wasn’t really the goal. Walking the zigzagging streets and bridges was such a pleasure that the idea of trying to get anywhere in a hurry seemed illogical. The people were nice, too. My hostel was full of loud and proud South Americans and Italians, so things were always interesting. I got picked up by a group of young Aussies at one of the concerts and was invited to a party starting later that night. The place was packed with hundreds of Italians, and I met a bunch of locals from Venice. The music was loud, the bar was on-site, and everyone was dancing. The night ended [with] me taking the night ferry at 4am to my hostel.
“On my last day in Venice, I was starting to feel nostalgic. I walked around Giudecca, the lower island where my hostel was, and sought out the little seen neighbour[hood]s where real Venetians lived. The aged apartment buildings and culs-de-sac weren’t flashy, but I really think that you have to get away from the tourist traps and attractions to gain a real sense of the place you’re visiting. The back alleys and dive bars are just as much a part of the experience than the beautiful architecture and tourist attractions. I left Venice the next morning at 5am to catch the early morning Ryanair flight to Brussels where I met up with my RideShare pickup. I’ll see you soon.”