Venice, through the eyes of a Zimgirl

Hello All, 

This post, about the beautiful Venice, is a piece by my friend and fellow travel blogger, Goitsimang Makanda! You can find her witty blog on WordPress here. I am sure you’ll enjoy this post and it’s colourful pictures as much as I did!

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Venice is one of those cities that I’ve spent years drooling over the pictures and reading travel blogs about. Its waterways and bridges have long been plastered on my Pinterest boards. I just had to see it in person and my 27th birthday presented the perfect opportunity for a cultured weekend break.
Venice is a marvel of engineering, perfectly situated across a group of 118 small islands, separated by canals and linked together by bridges. This city of water is nothing short of a dream land.


I arrived at midnight and even under moonlight, you could still appreciate Venice’s untampered beauty. I stepped off the ferry and was confronted by the breath-taking beauty and romance of the city. Under the moonlight, the buildings were gleaming, standing tall in their ornate grandeur. It felt like I’d stepped back in time. The city is oozing with character and authenticity. There is no pretentiousness. I completely fell in love and our walk through the narrow lanes to our hotel filled me with so much excitement. I couldn’t wait for the sun to rise so I could see the city in its full glory.

I booked to spend 3 full days in Venice. The spontaneity in the way the trip was planned meant that I didn’t know what exactly I was going to do or see till I got there. Luckily, the owner of the gorgeous guest house I stayed in was more than happy to drop her pearls of wisdom about all things fabulous in Venice. This invaluable local insight, in conjunction with the help of the Get Your Guide app helped us make the most of our time there.

So, instead of boring you with how we woke up every morning and had breakfast on a terrace overlooking Venice’s tiled roofs and gorgeous canals, I thought I’d just give you a breakdown of the highlights. 

1. The three-island tour.

I usually HATE organised tours. It’s that feeling of being a herded sheep I cannot stand. But this one was so worth it due to the limited time we had.We used the Get Your Guide app to book the tour and it was perfect. All the tour company did was to drop us off at the location and then they told us what time to come back, so we were free to wander, marvel and explore. 

First, we visited the Murano Island where famous Murano Glass makers can be found. There we had the opportunity to watch a glassblower practice his craft, followed by a tour of the workshop gallery, showcasing breathtaking glass items made by the Master Glass Blowers. It’s amazing what you can do with glass, from the fluorescent coloured chandeliers to the grand floral mirrors, each petal and leaf painstakingly crafted in glass.

Next, we went to the island of my dreams. Burano. Imagine a rainbow just exploded and covered all the houses in bright happy colours. That’s Burano! The houses on this island are an eclectic mix of broad and vibrant colours. Every single house was the backdrop for a stunning picture. 

The last island was Torcello, which had some of the coolest bridges I’d seen in my time in the region. Torcello also had historical churches which are well preserved and I enjoyed the best fast food I’ve ever had there! 


2. The Libreria Acqua Alta

As an avid reader and lover of bookshops and libraries, I couldn’t leave Venice without visiting the Acqua Alta library. It was everything and more. The eclectic mixture of books was a reader’s dream. What makes the bookshop so unique and special is the presentation of the books. In the centre of the store, you find a gondola packed with books and as you walk about the store you will also find bathtubs filled with books. My favourite pastime is sitting in the bath with a good book. I have so many water-stained books at home so seeing this literature filled baths made my heart smile. 


3. The Gondola

“You can’t go to Venice without going for a Gondola ride” – That’s what everyone back home was saying to me when I told them I was in Venice. Personally, I didn’t see what the hype was about, it’s an overpriced ride on a long boat seeing the exact same sights I can appreciate by foot. But anyway, peer pressure got the best of me and I gave in. We found an experience deal on the Get Your Guide app for €27. 

I’m glad I had the experience. It was the perfect goodbye to this incredible city. Everything looked so different when gazing from the water. It was very peaceful and serene as we floated through the canals. The views were spectacular, including our hunky gondola driver (I’m sure that’s not what they are called?)! What they say about Italian men is true! Phwoaaarr!!!


 4. Getting Lost in Paradise

The super cool thing about Venice is that it’s a pedestrian-friendly city. There are so many picturesque and narrow alley ways and bridges connecting different parts of the city that it’s easy to get lost exploring. In almost every square you find something new. A cluster of unique shops or cafes, or my favourite, old grand buildings and churches with the most amazing doors. I loved wandering into the residential areas, seeing the clothes hanging up high and seeing native Venetians go about their day. They must feel like fish in a bowl. Tourist eyes peering into their private courtyards with vulgar curiosity. I’d have loved an opportunity to go into one of their homes. 

Now, before you start thinking we are uncultured – we of course also visited St Mark Square. How could we not? 

It was as incredible as the guide books said it was. 

I easily can rave about the beauty of Venice all day long but I must highlight at least one thing that annoyed me: Venice is EXPENSIVE!!! Getting food, particularly in the more central parts, is costly. Every restaurant seems to have an obligatory 12% service charge (but I must say the service is top notch, everywhere I went I felt welcomed and the waiters were consistently attentive) and an extra charge, ‘Coperto’, which is basically a charge for you sitting down. The mistake we made was going to eat in St Mark’s Square, as its more central, it’s pricier. I suggest eating at around lunch time as the lunch menus are cheaper. On a positive note, the food was incredible, I can still taste the mouth-watering carbonara I had on my first day. And the Bellini!!! OMG, that was incredible.

Oooooh and the freaking pigeons. OMG! Now everyone who knows me knows I have a profound phobia of winged creatures. The St Mark’s Square area is infested with the flying rats and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw people having them perch on them as they posed for pictures! One particularly distressful episode was when I was happily enjoying my Lasagne on one of the terraces and the woman on the adjacent table decided it was a good idea to start feeding her bread to the already obese pigeons. They were flapping all around my legs and almost gave me a heart attack. So, if you’re like me and you hate pigeons then avoid eating around St Mark’s Square.
 Other than those minor annoyances, Venice is spectacular and I highly recommend you go. 

Trieste, Italy – Vista to the Adriatic

It’s pretty obvious that I love Italy. I mention it more than a few times in this blog. However, I have only been to the South of Italy which I write about here. Trieste was my first trip to the North.


First of, I should say it was a work trip and as such I had very little time to explore but I did do some wandering and eating of course.

Trieste is a sea side town on the coast of the Adriatic. Being in Trieste was a bit of a jolt to my system as the only experience I have of Italy is of the South which is a bit less urban. Trieste felt like a thriving little city with the buzz that comes with being in a city. Like the South, it toptogrpahy undulates and in the area I was based, near Piazza d’unita, we were encompassed with hills on one side and the stretching Adriatic on the other – authentically Italian. 

Speaking of Piazza Unita d’Italia, it is one of the tourists sights in Trieste. It is the biggest Piazza I have ever seen, it is a sprawling expanse that strategically faces the Adriatic. Piazza Unita is apparently the biggest square in Europe located by the sea. The Piazza is a hub and is decorated with restaurants and shops so you can spend some time here. 

I don’t skimp on making sure I eat well in a new place and Trieste was definitely not any different though I was so busy. In fact, because I was so busy it was even more important that I ate well. I have 4 recommendations from my short stay in Trieste of places to definitely visit, one I have never been to myself as it was closed when I wanted to but it comes hughly recommended. 

  • Grom – An absolutely amazing gelaterria located in the shopping centre of Trieste. It is bucket-list calibre ice cream. If you are in Trieste go to Grom. I hear there is also one located in London, so I don’t need to go to Trieste to enjoy Grom….

  • Barottolo – A pizzeria serving delicious pizzas, pastas and even other more English dishes such as steak and chips. The food was really good and affordable. We went there twice in the space of 2 days – that says a lot.

Gnocchi and shrimps

  • Sante – This restaurant came highly recommended by certified foodies in the conference I was attending so I was understandably disappointed that I missed this spot. Doesn’t open on Sundays, hence why I didn’t get a chance to eat here. 

Venice is about an hour and a half away from this town so you can definitely come by Trieste and wander in the fantastic Piazza Unita which is a perfect vista unto the Adriatic. 

Views from the Piazza and unto the Piazza…….

In the Piazza

Across the Piazza

Ship stays the night at Trieste


Ciao!

Taormina – Sicily’s Gem

Whilst I was in Italy, Reggio Calabria, I took a ferry over to Sicily, of course. You can see Sicily from the shores of Reggio Calabria, it beckons you and you have little or no choice but to ferry yourself over.

Life through my Iphone 865

Outside Taormina Giardini Station

Sicily is a large island and I only got to truly visit Taormina. I asked my friends back in mainland Italy – “Where would you suggest someone who is short on time go in Sicily?” – and every single person said Taormina.

Life through my Iphone 879

The journey from Reggio Calabria to Taormina is fairly straightforward and very scenic. I took the train from Messina to Taormina Giardini Train station. The train journey was mostly by  the beautiful Mediterranean, which had islands, great and small, jutting from its depths. It was breathtaking. The train ride in and of itself was a great experience. I hear the bus from Messina to Taormina offers even more of a scenic route!

Once at Taormina Giardini Train station, which is the most majestic train station I have ever alighted at as its background is the sea, the easiest way up to Taormina is a cab or a bus.

Life through my Iphone 882

Taormina Giardini Station

When I say the easiest way up to Taormina is a cab, I do mean it when I say “up”. You are literally spiraling up to the hill top town, farther and farther above the sea. There are unconvincing safety nets separating the cars climbing up to the little town from the seas below. This is both frightening and beautiful, beautiful because this results in clear, unobstructed panoramic views of the sea and even the famous ice-capped Mount Etna.

Life through my Iphone 870

Up and up into Taormina

Taormina may be small but its packed full of treasures. It felt like nothing I have experienced, it was so perfect that it felt I was in some fantasy film or book. It really is the stuff of dreams and hopes. You do feel that you are hundreds of feet high up as you can see the world far down below. Up in Taormina, you get a clear view of the intimidatingly massive active volcano, Mount Etna.

I found Taormina to be quite contradictory in the sense that it is a very stylish obviously tourist town full of all kinds of luxury and independent chic shops but also built atop centuries of architectural masterpieces and intimidating natural wonders. It’s alot of everything in high concentration.It didn’t take me long to see why it was so vehemently suggested as a must-see by my Italian friends. It is small enough to do in a day but full of excitement that you will leave feeling both fulfilled and curious as to what details you might have skimmed over or what beauty you might have overlooked. That is how packed full it is. And I definitely have to return as there where key things I didn’t experience such as the ancient Greek theater, called the “most dramatically situated Greek theater in the world” and the beach by the aptly named Isola Bella (beautiful Island).

Life through my Iphone 877

Piazza IX Aprile and the singing men

My two definite favorite experiences were the Piazza IX Aprile on Corso Umberto and the Garden of Villa Communale. Both have absolutely stunning views (no surprise). The Piazza is at the end of Corso Umberto and is a pleasant surprise as you come from the narrow street full of shops and restaurants unto this wide square with its checkered shiny floor, an old small chapel on your right and the sea to your left, hundreds of feet below. You can contentedly sit in the Piazza for hours, armed with gelato, without a care! When I went, there were a couple of men singing in the Piazza and these two adorable little girls where dancing round the square happily, the breeze from the sea in their hair. Perfection.

Life through my Iphone 875

Walking into Piazza IX Aprile

Taormina is quite expensive, so do be prepared to splash out a bit on restaurants and hotels. However, there are a few hostels which are really cheap accommodation if you are on a budget. Though you can do much in a day, I would suggest around 3 days for a thorough in-depth but relaxed experience.

Taormina for me was the most surreal place I have ever tread my feet. The combination of the town’s altitude; the consequent views, the people and  the food makes it a gem.

 

Italy – Calabria

There have been two places on the top of my must-visit list for some years now and Italy was one of them. I think Italy is a must-see for many people. It’s a well publicized destination and has the element of romance and pizzas working for it. I saw no Gondolas or Colosseum but what I did see was equally beautiful!

I was in Italy for three months in a small seas-side town called Locri in the region of Calabria. Italy did not disappoint, if anything it further captured me and drew me in deeper, I want to see more of Italy than I have.

 The people here, in the south of Italy,  have a strong sense of identity and often see themselves as very different from their northern counterparts. Most people did not speak any English as expected,so I had to pick up Italian pretty quickly and was able to have light conversations in Italian by the time I left.

Life through my Iphone 885

Promenade, Locri

Now Locri is surrounded with lush rolling hills (perfect for hiking) with the sparkling Mediterranean at its doorstep (perfect for swimming). Surrounding villages are houses built on and into rocks across the hills and getting through involves rides through winding, tiny streets leading higher and higher above the Med. I lived about 5 minutes from the beach, which was mostly deserted as it was a bit chilly when I went. The chill didn’t stop me from throwing myself into the sea several times though. This part of Italy truly takes your breath away, exquisite raw beauty is the norm here. To top it off, there is gorgeous food everywhere, from mouth-watering pastries and pretty little treats to legendary pizzas and delicious appetizers. I believe the single thing I ate the most during my three months in the South of Italy were these mind-blowingly delicious ice-cream sandwiches –  gelato spooned into brioche rolls. I couldn’t stop devouring them in large quantities.

I really liked the feel and “vibe” in Locri, the people were very friendly despite my horrible Italian and the fact I was probably the only non-white person for miles and miles. Surprisingly, in Reggio Calabria or simply Reggio, the major city in Calabria, the people though friendly on communicating with them, stared A LOT. When walking down the busy high street during passegiatta (Italian informal custom of strolling up and down main streets and socializing, usually Sunday evenings), I literally stopped traffic. It was a strange experience for me as this was the first time I was in a place where people weren’t used to seeing Black tourists. Sadly, a lot of the Black people in Reggio where refugees or people seeking asylum;  they were poor and did menial odd jobs, I was obviously a tourist and as such a rarity.

Life through my Iphone 840

Locri – my morning jog route

There are quite a few ruins and archaeological sites to visit in the area, many dating years before Christ. My favorite little town in the area was Gerace, which is absolutely stunning, and is, unsurprisingly, perched on a hill. The windy streets, the little cafes, the old castles and the panoramic views of the sea made it feel heavenly.

Life through my Iphone 851

Castle ruins, Gerace

Life through my Iphone 786

View from the top, Gerace

Calabria was good to me. There were moments when I felt it was all too good to be true. But it was true, I had the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of this place for three months and it was a lot of beauty to behold.