Ah, Venice!

From sight-seeing to shopping and food, Venice proved to be an enjoyable experience.

Melinda Looi with a view of Venice behind her.

ON the morning of Feb 18, I arrived at Marco Polo Venice Airport. To my joy, it wasn’t raining and was even a little sunny!

I took a bus for €7 (RM31.44) to the Venice bus station, the closest station to my hotel at Fondamenta Di Cannaregio (I found myself experiencing culture shock due to typically long Italian names that are very hard to pronounce!).

The hotel was supposed to be within walking distance from the bus station, but the fact I was lugging around two suitcases holding a month’s worth of belongings didn’t make walking easy.

As some of you may know, Venice is full of steps and bridges; there is very little smooth ground which means rolling suitcases is difficult unless they are very light.

With my back problem, I thought it would be safer to simply take a taxi boat (which cost me another €7) that would drop me off much nearer to the hotel.

Unfortunately, a new problem presented itself: I couldn’t understand the map! So I approached a guy who worked at a restaurant on the street and asked for directions. He said I needed to walk to the back of the street I was on, take the last bridge and I’d find the hotel.

His directions sounded simple enough so I forced myself to cross the bridge, suitcases in tow, which proved to be a workout. When I still couldn’t see my hotel, I once again asked for directions from a man with a push-trolley, who appeared to be a delivery man.

After deciding how much it would cost for him to carry my suitcases, he told me that we needed to cross the bridge and walk a few streets away. To my disbelief, we ended up at the same spot where the taxi boat had dropped me; and I spotted the hotel at the end of a back alley!

After all that walking and suitcase lugging, I was sweaty and warm; I made a mental note to reduce the layers I wore daily.

After checking in and dropping off my bags, I immediately left the hotel once more to resume my adventure. I hadn’t a clue where to go but it wasn’t difficult to figure out … all I had to do was to follow the swarm of tourists to get to commercial and tourist attractions.

Following this strategy, I arrived in a shopping area with branded names that everyone is familiar with as well as local products like Venetian masks, Murano glass, jewellery, leather goods, sweets and yummy cookies. Although the area was quite small, there was something to suit everyone’s taste in this busy market.

I have always loved shopping for vintage items, and Venice proved to be paradise! My only regret was not being able to share the dreamy environment with a good friend. But, no worries, if my loved ones couldn’t be with me, I would take loads of photos so I can share with them later.

On my first day itself, I took over 400 photos … and realised I’d run out of camera memory if I stayed here too long! I took photos mainly of the architecture … it amazed me how well they have maintained their old buildings while preserving the designs. Over the past few weeks I’ve been in Europe, I have started a collection of pictures of doors and in Venice, there are thousands of doors – antique and artistic.

After the tourist attractions, I walked all the way to the Piazza San Marco (San Marco Square) which has a beautiful Cathedral and clock tower as well as the Museum Venetian, Museum of The Risorgimento and so on.

The buildings were just so elegant, I couldn’t help but wonder how people who lived such a long time ago could create art in the form of architecture that continues to be beautiful. Every single building and house in Venice looks as if it has its own history and a story to tell. Everything about this beautiful city (even the bridges that wore me out!) has been a source of inspiration for me.

Unfortunately, my luck with the weather didn’t continue; it rained on and off the entire second day in Venice, washing away my plan to take a leisurely gondola ride. Although these gondolas are more touristic today (as opposed to being the chief means of transport for centuries), they still serve as traghetti (ferries) over the Grand Canal. They are also used in special regattas held among gondoliers. For tourist rides, they charge a fixed rate of €80 (RM360) (but one sweet gondolier offered me €60 – RM269.55 since I was alone). As I wasn’t keen on riding alone, and it was raining, I decided to wait until I return to Italy with family or friends to experience this lovely mode of transport.

Eating in Venice is not a problem, given the huge number of restaurants, cafes, pizzerias and bakeries and, to my surprise, seafood restaurants too. I must say, the choice of seafood was extensive and very fresh.

In the mornings, the streets are filled with seafood stalls, and there is also a famous fish market, Mercato di Rialto, near the famous Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto), the oldest of four bridges spanning the Grand Canal which separates the districts of San Marco and San Polo. You can take nice photos of the canal from this bridge.

At the end of a long day, I had baked scallops for dinner … it was much lighter than my first night’s meal. On the first night, I had ordered a pasta at a restaurant, but the waiter was very friendly and wanted me to try more (the Italians love to offer nice food!) so I ended up having a second main course – a baked fish with potato and mussels. Not wanting to disappoint the waiter and chef, I somehow managed to wolf down 98% of my plate.

Although the waiter continued to offer me dessert and an espresso, I really had to refuse him as I could barely stand up by this time! After my adventures with delicious European food, I’m going to need to cut down when I get home. Luckily, I have spent so much time walking that it helps to burn away the fat. Although I loved the city, two nights in Venice is quite enough.

Onto my next stop – Milan! I’m taking the two-hour train which cost US$78 (RM256) on discount; it usually costs US$85 (RM279) per one-way trip. For details of this part of my adventure, don’t forget to read my column the week after next.

Before I sign off, here are some tips for those who plan to visit Venice:

> Bring hand-carry luggage or a backpack; pack light or pay high fees to a porter to carry your suitcases!

> When it comes to choosing accommodation, stay in a centrally located hotel or one that is close to a taxi boat stop.

> Wear comfy shoes because Venice entails a lot of walking!

> Don’t visit in the winter, there’s too much rain.

Till the next time, ciao bella bello!

Award-winning fashion designer Melinda Looi tries to marry consumerism and materialism with environmental consciousness. She believes her greatest creations are her children.

Mel’s Place is a fortnightly column by Melinda Looi for The Star newspaper.

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