I like to refer to my mom as a “combat dietitian.” As for me, I’m called a “brat,” a title I proudly accept. Some people think that to be a brat means to grow up in boxy beige communities surrounded by barbed-wire fences. On the other side of the fence, the civilian world imagines us marching to school, surrounded and surveilled by uniformed men with guns and German shepherds. I won’t say that all of this is untrue, but to be a brat also means to travel the world, and to develop pride and independence and an open mind. It means adapting to all kinds of scary and unfamiliar situations. And for these lessons I am eternally grateful. But by far the greatest gift the military has given me is a healthy sense of adventure.
You might say that in my 20 years as a brat, I’ve traveled a lot. You’ll find stamps in my passport from 19 countries and five continents. I intend to write a history of these travels in the near future, but I’d like to start this blog with a city very dear to my heart: Venice, Italy.
My trip to Venice was the first that was completely my own. My first sweet taste of solo travel. It was December 2013 and I was spending the holiday season with my combat dietitian mom at her duty station in Germany. The beautiful thing about Germany (other than being well, beautiful) is its central location in Europe. Itching for an adventure – preferably low-budget – I clicked around RyanAir’s website for the cheapest last-minute trip I could find. The travel gods smiled upon me with 8 Euro ticket to the low season in Venice. Just a couple days later, I was off.
After a short afternoon flight, a long sleepy bus ride, and a freezing late night Vaporetto trip, I had arrived at my destination ready for some winter fun (after a clif bar dinner and a good night’s sleep, of course). What followed was a short but emotional journey, as solo trips often are: refreshing, quiet, exhausting, lonely, reflective, cold, confusing, liberating, inspiring.
I had my first hostel experience at the Generator Hostel Venice in Giudecca for a cool 10 Euro per night. I got way more than I paid for. My bed was one of 16 in an immaculately clean and quiet dorm-style room. Not only is Generator cheap and practical, it’s incredibly stylish as well, contrasting the historical bones and exterior with the young and fresh interior, fully outfitted with a cafe and bar, funky but comfy furniture and kaleidoscope of colorful lights. As for the service, check out this adorable response I received after posting a thank you note on my Instagram. Generator Venice, you will definitely be seeing me in the next future!
After indulging in a 3 Euro breakfast feast of espresso, bread, jam, cereal and fruit, I headed out into the early morning mist and jumped on an uber-convenient and affordable Vaporetto (water taxi) with the morning commuters. First stop: Murano, an island of the Venetian lagoon famous for glass and jewelry. As a poor college student, I had little interest in the expensive jewelry shops, opting instead for a free walk around the island. The artfully constructed glass sculptures did not disappoint.
Stop number 2 was the colorful nearby island of Burano, known for lace and color. Again, I was content to jaunt around the island taking in the beauty of the brightly painted homes. Below is my favorite, a forgotten brick building, royal blue and temptingly vendesi (for sale).
Another of my favorite Burano scenes. Did you know that Pisa is not the only city with a leaning tower?
I returned to the hostel in the afternoon and turned in early my first night, but I was still so exhausted that I overslept until 9AM the next morning. The beauty of solo travel is that my tardiness inconvenienced absolutely no one (except my worried mother, who insisted on checking in by text at least 5 times a day). I hopped back on the Vaporetto and sailed towards the main island.
Venice is a surprisingly walkable city. I spent hours on end weaving through the alleys and wandering over bridges with no set destination in mind. A note to fellow travelers: I recommend comfortable shoes and frequent coffee breaks.
My favorite spots on the main island were the Jewish Ghetto and an intriguing vacant building called La Scuola nuova di Santa Maria della Misericordia. I learned very little of its history, but the mystery only added to its allure.
Of course, no trip to Venice is complete without a little retail therapy. Shoppers flock to the historic Rialto bridge for trinkets, masks, leather goods, postcards and jewelry.
I walked and walked and walked, taking the advice of fellow travelers who told me to wander and to not worry about getting lost – indeed, one cannot leave Venice on foot.
After walking the entire island, I headed back to the hostel to rest my aching feet and relax. I enjoyed a bottled bellini in bed while writing postcards and sorting through pictures.
For my last day, I headed to the beaches of Lido. The Lido di Venezia is the place to be in the summer months. It is home to the annual Venice Film Festival and its streets are lined with restaurants, hotels and casinos. In December, the beaches of the Lido are as lonely as a vast expanse of desert sand. It was a perfectly peaceful cap to my whirlwind trip.
Firsts are special. Because of that, Venice will always be in my heart. I admit, I was timid. I ate supermarket food for most of my meals to avoid the double awkwardness of the language barrier and eating alone in public (my justification: supermarket food is wonderfully gentle on the wallet). I kicked myself for not reaching out to the fellow travelers in my hostel, saying no to drinks at the bar to wind down in bed writing emails and reading. But Venice was full of small victories, too. For example: I had two (short) conversations in Italian. I navigated a winding city with only my wits, my feet and a light backpack. I ate real Italian pizza and sipped on smooth ciocolatta calda. I found peace in the early morning solitude of the lagoon. I wrote a stack of postcards and sent them all. I even returned home with enough money in my bank account for a second trip, which of course, I took.