When I booked my plane tickets to the Floating City at the beginning of February, I believed I was buying myself a few days in a milder, maybe even warm climate. It seems a tropical February just isn't in the stars for me; instead I got a blast of freezing cold and relentless snow flurries.
The marshes of Venice were first inhabited in the 5th century as a refuge from barbarians invading former Roman Empire territories. The city was built on wooden planks shipped in by sea all the way from Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia, and the wooden structure still holds today because of its submersion in water - interaction with oxygen would cause it to deteriorate.
Every street and canal in Venice seems to be beautiful and worth a picture, and yes, the water really is that mysterious turquoise color. It's a true labyrinth and having GPS is a lifesaver there, but it's fun to get yourself lost as well. My entire first day was spent wandering with people from my hostel; the snow fell in big perfect fluffy gobs from sunrise to sunset. Most tourists had ducked out of the cold by mid-afternoon, so it felt like we had a ghost town to ourselves. We started snowball fights with complete strangers in city squares, admired everything we could from every angle, and were warned more than once by locals not to fall into the canals while leaning to take pictures. I think that Venice is better described in pictures than in words:
|Ponte di Rialto|
Maybe my favorite mini photo project in Venice was capturing restaurants. So many of them are situated along canals or pretty streets and are decorated with magnificent lanterns.
Speaking of restaurants: For an evening out, I'd recommend buying tickets ahead of time online for the Venice Jazz Club. The club is a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar and restaurant with professional live jazz music most evenings; you need to reserve yourself a table, and then come just for the concert or you can arrive early and eat dinner if you choose. Here and here are clips of the band playing on Friday night.
Dining-wise, I can point you toward the restaurant Ca' d'Oro for its amazing pasta arrabiata, black cuttlefish risotto, bellini, and tiramisu.
|Piazza San Marco|
|Ponte dei Sospiri|
The best part of Venice, though, is taking in all sorts of small surprises while wandering through the labyrinth, like the beautiful painted now-useless-violin-turned-useless-mini-bookshelf to the left. The streets are so narrow that you wonder how some of the shops and restaurants manage to get goods delivered to them every day; cars and even bikes are prohibited. Seeing how locals adapt to everyday life is especially interesting: for example, we discovered that their fire department operates by boat; the boats are parked just through the lit-up arches in the photo to the right.
Throughout the weekend out in the cold, the only thing that warmed me up were frequent café visits for a hot cup of...
Italian Parole del Giorno
Cioccolata calda - hot chocolate
I don't know how the Italians manage such rich and delicious chocolate, but it is not to be missed.
One final surprise before leaving was finding a small bar on our last evening full of locals with dancing and a fantastically talented live band.
|Representing South Korea, the USA, and Wales|
Before the month of March gets away from me, some of the highlights of the month in Lille included finally getting to hear a friend of mine play horn with the OPRL (Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, the only professional orchestra in French-speaking Belgium) at Lille's concert hall; the program featured Prokofiev's 5th symphony. In the same week, the ONL (Orchestre National de Lille) played one of my all-time favorite symphonies, Brahms' first, to a packed house.Finally, I got to enjoy St. Patrick's Day festivities in Lille, complete with live bagpipes, funny hats, and all.