I arrived in Palermo, Rome and Florence with long lists of things I had to see, but in Venice the only things on my to-do list were “see the San Marco cathedral” and “enjoy the atmosphere of Venice.” So instead of rushing from one historical sight to another, I spent my three days there wandering around the city, admiring the handsome Venetian architecture I came across, getting lost both willfully and accidentally. It was a relaxing change from my previous weeks in Italy, when I felt like I was wasting my time if I wasn’t on the way to a cathedral or museum.
Unfortunately, there was still a massive tourist presence there to stress me out. Like all the major tourist destinations in Italy, Venice’s awesomeness has led to an influx of tourists, which has canceled out its awesomeness. The major sights in Venice were even more saturated with picture-taking tourists than those of Florence and Rome. My hostel was located close to the city’s main tourist artery, which was packed from the earliest hours of the morning to the latest of the night.
In the course of my wanderings, however, I discovered that the eastern portion of the city is almost completely free of tourists, so I spent a lot of time there. Judging by the amount of laundry hung out to dry, it is where the locals live.
My hostel in Venice, the Residenza Santa Croce hostel, was unlike any other I’ve stayed in; I would hesitate to even call it a hostel. When I checked in at the address given at hostelworld.com, the owner gave me a key and pointed on a map to where my room was. There, I shared what was basically a single-bathroom studio apartment with five other people. There was no kitchen, no internet, and no area for hanging out. There are very few affordable hostels to choose from in Venice, and that was the best I could find.
Yet, it wasn’t as anti-social as I feared it would be. The first two nights, I shared the room with some friendly Belgians, one of whom was in a punk band that had toured America and played in Cleveland. On the last night, their beds were taken by some American college students studying abroad, and we played Gin Rummy and War (which I hadn’t played in years, and hopefully will not play again for years).
I’d planned to visit the San Marco cathedral the morning of my departure, but when I arrived there I learned that it didn’t open until 10:30 that morning. So, I could only admire the outside of the cathedral, which shows a lot of Byzantine influence (and even, I believe, some plundered Byzantine artwork) due to Venice’s sacking of Istanbul, the first city I visited on my trip.
Instead of taking a train directly to Nice, my next destination, I decided to stop in Milan to spend the afternoon there. I’d considered spending a few days in Milan, but I decided not to because I heard from a few people that it is expensive, unpleasant, and industrial. I booked a train that arrived there at 2:30, and one that left from there to Nice at 9, leaving me enough time to see the city’s gothic cathedral and da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Although the area around the train station (which was built by Mussolini’s government in a sort of fascist-Art Deco style) was full of homely skyscrapers, the neighborhood by the cathedral consisted mostly of charming 18th- and 19th-century buildings beside clean streets in a grid layout. I walked through a beautiful park that was around, and inside, the imposing 15th-century Sforzesco castle.
Milan’s cathedral was beautiful, but full of tourists who were being rudely loud while a service was held inside, taking pictures even though they weren’t allowed to. I walked to the church that is home to The Last Supper, but I was unable to see see the painting because a reservation was required. I thought the church itself was interesting, though.
I decided to get one last meal before leaving Italy, so I stopped at a restaurant on the way back to the train station. Despite Milan’s reputation for high prices, the meal I got there was only 9.50 euros including a coke, which is less than a similar one would cost in Rome, Florence and Venice. I didn’t know what it would be when I ordered it, although I guessed correctly that “patate” meant “potatoes.” It ended up being pretty good.