“The fading light of day lingers on your sleeping face”…
Every Saturdays eleven years ago, I used to sit down in front of the television of my parent’s living room and wait for my favorite show, the MTV Asia Hitlist. The show used to run down the top 20 most famous songs in Southeast Asia every week. I was quite a different kid than the rest of my contemporaries. While most of the Filipino kids those days were mostly influenced by the local music played in the radio, I was heavily influenced by a mix of American and European pop and rock music; up to this day, these genres (with the addition of Latin music), became my staple of music – heavily influencing what I need to listen to motivate me on a daily basis as well as the themes to which most of my personal songwriting revolves around.
Going back to that show, in the summer of 1999, it was the first time I saw the music video of Princessa’s “I Won’t Forget You”. It was amusing just as the song itself was beautiful to me – what the VJ referred to as a new artist who hails from Spain, and with her signature hairdo which she used a band to keep her hair intact, the beat of her song meant more than what the lyrics meant to me at that time. Of course, now, every line to that song makes a lot of sense about how I see relationships nowadays; but another aspect of the song which still brings me nostalgic feelings up to this day is the music video. The plot was that she appeared in an indoor studio with her band and in it, there were interlocking scenes of her going out of the studio and skating through cities which she used to go to when she was with her lover – Paris, London, Rome and Venice. Nineteen years ago, I told myself I would visit those cities. 2 months ago, I finally went to one of them – Venice.
Two Decades in the Making
I didn’t have much preparations for this trip. All I felt was that it finally was the right time to fulfill that distant dream when I was a kid. It was indeed almost 2 decades in the making! A year ago, after one of my hiking excursions in Malta, one of my friends and I agreed to go together on a mini trip to Venice, being that we haven’t been to the city and she also loves the Italian cities. However, she wasn’t able to make it with me this time and so, another counter was added to my solo travels. I was able to book a flight from Malta to Treviso airport last winter. The rest – the budget, booking a hotel, searching for specific things to see and food to eat were all planned a few days before. Should I feel bothered? As a perfectionist, yes. I haven’t traveled solo for quite some time so there were jitters – not because of anything in particular, except for just making everything about the trip as detailed and productive. On the other hand, I told myself, “come on, this is definitely an nth time for you to go out there and enjoy!” I told myself, the least I could just do there is to make an impression of the music video of one of my all-time favorite songs. So finally, it was time to go. Woohoo!
Less on the Streets and More on the Canals
Although Venice is arguably one of the most visited places on Earth, it is quite a unique travel destination. For one, it is a group of islands which survived centuries of inundation and constant battles with the sea for it to stay afloat. Being dubbed as the “floating city”, its main artery of navigation is not through its narrow streets but through its wide and complex network of canals. In medieval times, the once-powerful city-state of Venice was headquartered on these islands and it set out from the Adriatic Sea to spread its influence to and trade with outposts as far-flung as Crimea (Chersonesos) and Cyprus.
These waterways have been the heart of the Venetian way of life, so much that boats which transport the government officials of Venice at that time, the Venetians to their work and engagement in trade, and the once-powerful navy to foreign conquests, all started and passed through these canals. It is particular to note that to appreciate the cityscape of Venice, one has to focus more on the infrastructure designs along these canals instead of the main streets. It is said that in medieval times, the most influential people in the Venetian society acquire the lots exposed to the canals and as the waterways are the “highways” during those times, it is almost mandatory for the elite to construct the grandest designs of their houses’ facade.
Campos vs. Piazzas
In most places, when people try to meet at a specific place, they usually just exchange coordinates or a specific street name. In Venice, when you do the same, it is most likely that you end up not meeting at all. This sounds strange or funny but indeed, a number of Venice’s districts have street names that are also used in the other districts. A better way of meeting up, as devised by the Venetians, was to indicate a landmark (e.g. in front of the Basilica di San Marco) or to meet in campos (e.g. Campo San Polo). In most Latin-based languages, campo is used to refer to countryside or fields. One would wonder why they use such a term in a small and crowded place like Venice (let alone that it’s quite unusual to have a field in a small island). But indeed, when the Venetians name a square as a campo instead of a piazza, it is most likely that in the past, regardless of how small the lot is, they would utilize the “campo” to plant their crops.
Moving on from campos to piazzas, the most important piazza and definitely a must-see while in Venice, is the Piazza San Marco. Located on the southern end of the left bank of the Grand Canal, the Piazza San Marco is the historical, cultural, spiritual and political center of Venice since the medieval times. The piazza houses numerous and valuable works of art that Italian (and Venetian) medieval artists have endowed the world with. One of them is the Basilica di San Marco (Basilica of St. Mark). One of the four evangelists of the Christian faith, St. Mark has historically been the most revered persons of Venice. This is also evident in the lion symbol which is depicted in flags, squares, facades and towers all across the city. The basilica has a free entrance and although you would have to queue for around 30-45 minutes during peak hours of peak days, the intricate artistic designs on the interior and the solemnity of the place amidst a very touristy feel of the piazza make the wait definitely worth it.
Afternoons in Venice can Still be Romantic Even for Solo Travelers
While it’s a known fact that Venice rivals Paris as a destination for romantic getaways, there is quite a good space for solo travelers as well and I can personally testify to that. 😛 During my first day there, the midday heat was quite strong and finding a restaurant to eat lunch could be a challenge especially in the northern district of Cannaregio and the area between the Grand Canal and the Piazza San Marco. It was pleasant to find this restaurant called Al Corner, where I bared the midday heat through a glass of aperol spritz and a plate of ravioli cacio i pepe alla carbonara profumati al tartufo (cheese and pepper ravioli with truffle-flavored carbonara). By the way, aperol spritz is a signature drink in Venice. A secret that I would like to share is that Venice is the only Italian city which considers aperol spritz as a wine/local drink rather than a cocktail. For this reason, this drink is very cheap compared to anywhere that I have drank it (in Venice, I only paid an average of 4 euros for 1 glass while in Malta, I would have paid around 7 euros). To be fair, the spritz I tasted in Venice were the second best of its kind (after the ones I drank in Strasbourg… well, perhaps, there were other factors why I preferred its taste there), but given that this spritz is way cheaper in Venice, I think I’ve drank more glasses here.
Sunsets can be really picturesque in Venice, as one could either enjoy the sun as it sets beyond the towering buildings along the Grand Canal (while eating his favorite gelato), watch it set from the area along the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and enjoy the sky turn from yellow-orange to vermillion to crimson before turning dark, or ride along the canals via the classic gondolas. I decided to do all these! After all, it’s not everyday that I could enjoy sunsets in Venice, right?
Finally, we talk about evenings in Venice. Despite being a classical city, Venice is not lacking a pleasant nightlife and some memorable experiences for travelers. If you’re in your late teens to early 20’s and you really need some hardcore partying, you can cross the opposite side in the mainland where modern clubs are located. However, the old town itself is where the University of Venice is located and in the southern districts, a solo traveler like me could definitely eat local Venetian cuisine and a few glasses of local wine or spritz and the next thing you know, you’re already conversing with a fellow traveler or if you’re luckier, with a local too (Venetians are quite good in their level of English). In this case, I would gladly recommend Hosteria Osottoosopra on your first evening in lovely Venice.
And thus, my Venetian experience ended by quoting the first line of the song which inspired me to go there – “the fading light of day lingers on your sleeping face.”