Day trip to Venice, Italy

Day trip to Venice, Italy

I almost couldn’t contain myself with excitement as the train approached the Venice Santa Lucia station. I’m finally gonna see Venice with my own eyes?! The romantic, quaint, picturesque Venice I’ve been dreaming of visiting? I got off the train and walked slowly but eagerly to see the city I’ve always daydreamed of.

It’s not hard to understand why someone would be excited to visit Venice. It’s a city where you can easily get lost in but in the best way possible because walking around is such an adventure in itself. And it seems every house/building you pass is vibrantly photogenic in its own way.

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From the train station, my friends and I took a stroll all the way to the centre of the city, making pit stops by attractive back streets, bridges and gondolas. Our train arrived at about 10 in the morning which meant that we got to see Venice in the morning light – peacefully beautiful.

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From the station it took about 20 minutes to walk to Rialto Bridge where we crossed the Grand Canal and strolled further centre. Whenever I visit a new city I usually (always!) have Google Maps in hand but I decided I wanted to get lost in Venice amongst its rustic Venetian houses. So to my pocket Google Maps went and mind you, we did get lost. We had to put all trust to the street signs leading to Piazza San Marco and it wasn’t easy! (If you don’t have a lot of time, I don’t recommend not using maps!) Venice is notorious for being tricky to navigate.

Getting lost means finding unexpected places, however. I suppose in between the back streets and the alleyways is where you find the quintessential Venetian homes, complete with the colourful laundry railings out the window.

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After a few turns and misturns, we finally reached Piazza San Marco where the Basilica di San Marco sits beautifully next to the Grand Canal.

IMG_6913A short walk from the piazza is the famous Bridge of Sighs.

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Bridge of Sighs

Legend says back in the day, prisoners would sigh getting their final sight of Venice on this bridge before being taken to their cells – hence the name. This spot is definitely one of the most photographed part of Venice so it gets quite crowded here but nevertheless it’s worth stopping over and just having a look for yourself.

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Walking along the canal, you’ll find many restaurants with waiters doing their best to lure you in. Menu prices in this area are inevitably more expensive so we decided to stray a little further away. In one of the back streets we found fairly priced pizzas and pastas in a restaurant that promised we didn’t have to pay service charge – just what four tourists with a budget wanted to hear! I’m not gonna talk about the restaurant because let’s just say, it didn’t make the highlights of my trip.

The highlights include however, the gondola ride! Overpriced, a tourist trap – some people would say. It is pretty overpriced especially if you’re on a budget trip but I think it’s a must when visiting Venice for the first time! A 30-minute gondola ride with a gondolier dressed in stripes and a fancy hat costs a whopping 80€! We had to get tactical – there were only four of us and a gondola can take up to six people. After a brief look around, we scouted a French couple who looked like they were up for a romantic gondola ride. We got little lost in translation but in the end they were persuaded and jumped on the gondola with us. 13€ for the ride – not so bad!

Boy was it a sweet ride! 30 minutes were over and it was time to get back on land. I remember feeling so happy that I instigated a group hug with my friends.

More strolling and more photo taking later and we started making our way back to the station, passing by souvenir shops. Venetian masks are definitely a thing here. A nice Italian man selling embroidered goods asked for my name. Why? – I asked. “I will make you something” he responded as he sewed on ‘Allana’ on a piece of paper. I couldn’t have asked for a better souvenir!

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It drizzled for a few minutes but it didn’t make Venice look any less appealing. Nearby the station is a Burger King that definitely didn’t look like your typical burger chain. That’s Venice for you! It was time to go home and I’m pretty sure I left a piece of my heart in Venezia. Here’s to another visit soon!

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Getting to Venice: I took a train from Milano Centrale and booking early from trenitalia.com, you can get a ticket from 20€ one way. The train ride takes about 2 hours and a half.

Getting around Venice: Since Venice is surrounded by water, the only way to get around is either by foot or by water. There are water taxis for those not eager to walk. I recommend this website for more information.

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Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Let me jump straight to my first non-introductory post and talk about this colourful compound of villages in north-west Italy. Perhaps you’ve seen those small pastel houses all cluttered on a coast from a photo on Instagram and dreamed of your next holiday. Well a couple of years ago, I did exactly that. The first time I saw a picture of this place online, I was smitten. I didn’t automatically pack my bags and jet off to Italy but I took a mental picture of those dreamy pastel coastline and archived it in the ‘Someday’ box I have in my head. A few more photos on my Instagram timeline later, I learned exactly where this previously unnamed little village is. Cinque Terre – Italian meaning ‘five towns’.

As I reached the end of university, I wanted to reward myself with a holiday and what other place could I have possibly chosen? I did my research online, saw an affordable holiday deal, grabbed a few friends and there I was. I must tell you, I wasn’t here for a week, or even a few days. I was here for a day but it was enough for me to be as infatuated as I was when I first saw a photo of this little place.

From Milan Centrale, my friends and I got on a Trenitalia train that took us straight to one of the villages – Monterosso. It was a 6 AM train and the journey lasted just under three hours – sounds like a pain but when you have as much excitement as I did (and my friends, I hope) that was nothing. It also helps that you get to watch some scenic Italian countryside landscapes during the train ride.

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You can take a direct train from Milano Centrale to Monterosso

We arrived in Monterosso at around 9 AM and it was quite the perfect time – gentle morning sunlight, light warm breeze…and no other tourists! Monterosso is not the most ‘Cinque-terre-esque’ village out of the lot (it doesn’t have many pastel houses scattered all close to each other on the coast like on the photos) but it does have a nice beach with colourful umbrellas to take shade under.

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While you wait for the next train you can pop in this lovely terraced cafe for a sandwich and a coffee!

Now we only had a day in Cinque Terre so I planned an itinerary that entailed we only had a couple of hours in each village. A few beach photos taken, a little dip in the sea and we were off to catch a train to the next village. Next stop: Vernazza.

We arrived and I got more excited because Vernazza is one of the most picturesque villages. From the station you are welcomed with the colourful houses. I knew Vernazza looks good from above the hills so I dragged my friends and hiked to the top to catch a glimpse of the beautiful views. You can only climb up to a certain point for free and then you have to pay a small amount to enter the hiking routes. After hiking, we settled down the harbour to relax with a gelato.

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Vernazza from above

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Below, Vernazza has a nice harbour where you can relax after all the hiking and maybe grab some aperitivo!

Next stop is Riomaggiore – another one of the picturesque villages. Now this one is pretty iconic and in this village you will find the ultimate photo spot that definitely says you are in Cinque Terre.

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The iconic Riomaggiore coast

From Riomaggiore station we walked the village town, up and down the hills, absorbing the vibrant colours.

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The hot weather called for a gelato – and a photo of the gelato of course!

While researching online, I knew I wanted to end my Cinque Terre visit in the last stop – Manarola. Here is where you find the quintessential Cinque Terre picture (the headline photo).

From the station, you walk a few minutes through a tunnel and arrive at the town centre. Find the coast and keep walking further away from the centre, turn around and voila! – the uttermost picturesque village of Manarola.

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Out of the five, Manarola holds a somewhat bigger spot in my heart. Perhaps because we spent the most time here or simply because for me, it is the prettiest village. The pastel colour palette the houses are painted with and the blue shade of the sea make a dreamy picture.

Up the hill there is a small restaurant called Nessun Dorma where you can lounge and sip some vino while admiring the view of Manarola’s coast. Coming here, I was expecting the menu prices to be crazy high but a pleasant surprise – they were the same as in an average restaurant.

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You can relax and drink some wine at the Nessun Dorma restaurant

A couple of glasses of wine and some giggles later, it was time to catch the train back to Milan. The sun had just started to set down and the sun rays somehow showed the village in a whole new colour. I wish we ended the day with the sunset over the coast but well, it just makes for another reason to go back!

Getting to Cinque Terre: Book trains online on trenitalia.com where tickets to Monterosso from Milan become available 2-3 weeks before your chosen departure date (TIP: book as early as possible to get cheaper tickets – one-way tickets cost 19.90€ when booked in advance)!

Getting around Cinque Terre: The easiest method of getting around Cinque Terre is by trains. One train journey from one village to another costs 4€ and timetables are displayed at the stations. I was actually pretty surprised at how reliable these trains are – they come pretty frequently and take only a few minutes to get to the other villages. You don’t have to book train tickets to the other villages in advance because they are the same price as when bought on the day. Of course if you’re more adventurous there is an option to hike from one village to the other but these hikes are not easy – at least from what I’ve read online. (TIP: validate your train tickets using one of the validation machines dotted around the stations to avoid any fines!). We didn’t have the time to fit the fifth village – Corniglia into our itinerary but this village is also well-connected from the other villages. Perhaps next visit!