I have to be honest and say that in going to Europe and knowing I was going to be able to travel, Italy was not one of the places that I wanted to go. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't turn down a trip or say no if I was invited to Italy, but it just wasn't one of the top ten places I wanted to see.
I'm glad I ignored those feelings when I found out a friend would be in Venice for a day. I figured it's better to explore a city (even if it wasn't the city I most wanted to visit) with someone than visit the city I wanted to visit the most alone.
And Venice certainly did not disappoint. Other than the gondoliers and the canals, I really didn't know anything about Venice. I got a (German) map of the city, and booked a flight and hotel a week in advance (I know, a whole week!) The hotel I stayed at was beautiful, still in the touristy part of Venice but tucked away in its own quiet square that I didn't feel like I was surrounded by selfie sticks and sweaty foreigners.
What these pictures won't tell you is just how hot it was there. Apparently sometimes Venice smells, with all that water standing in narrow areas and the sun beating down on sweaty tourists and not much wind between the buildings to get rid of the stench. The good news is that the water was clean(ish) and the air didn't particularly smell like anything. And the sky was blue, so it worked well for photos, even if it was 100 degrees.
So, my first evening exploring Venice.
San Mark's Square, seen from a few angles.
Not pictured: a billion tourists and a billion pigeons. And about five tourists chasing pigeons.
At first the canals and alleys all looked the same, and I couldn't tell one from the other. But because it's a walking city and I spent almost all my time there walking, they quickly became familiar just by sight. The "street signs" seemed useless, as I usually didn't know which direction they were pointing in the first place.
I made my way back to St. Mark's Square. I knew how to get to my hotel from here, so I started the night just doing circles, returning back to the square every once in a while, just to make sure I knew where I was.
I didn't eat the entire pizza, because it was an obscene amount of food, but when I left 25% of it, the waiter was very encouraging that I finish it, because how can someone leave a quarter of their pizza un-eaten during their first trip to Italy?
The two gondoliers? Both on their phones, but let's pretend they're writing songs or poems or something artistic, sitting there in their striped shirts.
And the gelato? A man served it to me and I said "grazie" and he told me I was good to go in terms of the Italian language. I tried to find him the next day but I had no idea where I had found him in the first place, so that was upsetting.
This restaurant behind me had a band, and another restaurant on the other side of the square had a band. They were both attracting crowds, so it was interesting to see one band having a group of clapping, dancing people standing around, while the other band had swaying, silent onlookers. We were in the quieter group, and this band played a very good version of My Heart Will Go On, much to the crowd's pleasure. Obviously I needed a selfie to prove I was there.
Hotel la Residenza was featured a list by Condé Nast Traveler as to where to stay in Venice, and though it was more expensive than some of the hostels I could find, I decided I'd much rather pay a bit more to feel safe and have a clean place to go each evening.
It did not disappoint. I even had to get two different rooms for the two nights I was there, because they were just that busy, but I didn't see many other people in the hotel at all, it was quiet and calm. The front desk clerk was helpful and happy and patient with me, and because I didn't really know what I was doing, that was a huge help.
The lobby/breakfast room was amazing. It had a grand piano, and I could only imagine that room with Vivaldi's music coming from the piano and filling the over-the-top space.
I was standing in the windows when I took the picture of the lobby, and here's the view if I turned around and took it of the square.
My first room. This photo shows only half of the room, it was HUGE. There was another bed (a twin) in another corner, a huge bathroom, and a little hallway with an armoire and a mirror. I had a smaller room the next night, but it had the same decorating, standards of cleanliness and beauty. (And after my next day, during which I walked and walked and walked, all I wanted was a bed and I didn't care at all how small or giant the room was.)
And around 10 p.m. I went back to the hotel, tired from the heat and walking and figuring things out.
But for the locals? Dinner had just started.