I Ate Baby Octopus Head: Trip To Venice

Trip to Venice: Getting there.

The last time I was in Italy was back in 2012. I went hiking Mount Etna as a part of a group tour. I very much liked the places I visited then –  Palermo, and where Etna is. I still remember the still blue water in the beaches of Palermo. 

If I wasn’t part of that group, I would not have gone to Italy. I was always intimidated by Italy and Italians. Not just Italians, I am intimidated by Spaniards, and the French as well. To me, they don’t seem particularly welcoming. Or I just think that I am somehow inferior to them. I don’t feel safe there – but that’s on me.

This time, I wanted to visit Italy for only one reason. I wanted to get out of the UK. I was stuck in Birmingham for about 3 months and a bit. And post lockdown, Italy is one of the safest countries to travel.

I opened up the Kiwi app on my phone and searched for flights to Venice. The date is Jul 8th, 2020. And as I always do, I am unsure to do this trip. The whole situation of the virus scares me. But, since easing the lockdown in the UK, there are a lot of crowds, groups of people gathering here. Without masks in close proximity, not that I am sure masks really work. I think it is more of a false sense of security but still security nevertheless. Just on the off-chance that they do work. 

So, traveling to Italy doesn’t make much difference. If I were to fly I would still be exposed to fewer people than the streets of the UK. Now that the bars and pubs are open again, everyone is causing trouble, flouting rules. I only have to deal with the Airport people and hopefully, the flights have better measures when it comes to controlling this virus. 

Where should I go? I have always wanted to visit Venice. From the Netflix show, Marco Polo, I have grown an interest in Venice. And also I remember vaguely seeing the canals in some of the Bollywood movies I have watched. 

After much confusion and anxiety, I booked my flights to Venice. It cost me about £80, one way.

I am a bit worried about the time I land there though, it is like 9.30 PM in the evening. But there will be sunlight as it is summer now. Still afraid of traveling to new places, even after traveling a lot since 2013, that’s 7 years now.

After researching ways to get to Venice city center from the airport, I quickly realized that Venice is mainly a walking city. And there are no cars, but only water buses and water taxis.

I wrote to my Airbnb host, ‘what is the best way to reach the apartment’? Hoping that he would suggest a cheaper way to reach the apartment.

‘Take the Aeroporto shuttle bus’, he replied.

This is good because I don’t want to spend £120 Euros from the Airport to Venice’s Piazzale di Roma for a taxi. It is the main square where the buses and trains stop. No further movement in from there for a motorized vehicle.

It was rather a long journey from Birmingham to Venice. I’d booked a train to Edinburgh and then a direct flight to Venice. It was much better than going to Luton and then flying non-direct.

I wanted to check out Edinburgh too. 

Venice apartment

After landing at the airport, I made my way to the shuttle bus stop. It was rather quiet at the airport.

But, for the next shuttle, I had to wait for another hour. A nice guy suggested that I take another company’s bus which was in the next ten minutes.

No hassle, I was able to buy the tickets using a ticket machine at the bus stop. And the bus arrived and I got on.

It dropped me of Piazzale di Roma. I crossed over a bridge and came across the main Santa Lucia train station, but I hadn’t realized yet that it is the train station yet. 

Google maps told me that I had to walk a bit, for about 2 minutes to get to the apartment. And the hosts had given me a picture of the entrance to the building to make it easier.

I am so happy with the looks of this apartment. I have arrived.

The apartment in Venice was top notch. The most impressive thing was its shower system. It shined an array of different colors – rosa, aqua, and several others, a hammam setting, a steaming mechanism. The bedroom was spacious, a fully fitted kitchen with dishwasher, so I didn’t have to wash up. There was also a walk-in closet, a huge one. 

Looking out of the window from the living room and in the bedroom, I could see an inner court garden, and the railway station at a nearby distance, about 500 meters. It was that close. It was at this time I realized the building that I walked past earlier was the train station. Surprisingly the noise from the railway station was blocked out by the windows. I could only hear the blowsonce in a while.

I quickie learned that Venice has mosquitos after the first night. It was n’t a bother much, I spotted one or two. They did not wake me up from sleep or leave bite marks.

Walking around the first day and attempting to vlog 

I want to start a youtube channel. For that, I need to deal with the fear of talking to a camera in public.

I tried that today. It was difficult in the beginning, but I quickly remembered that people’s attention spans are very short. They would sometimes look and then in two seconds they would be looking somewhere else. 

I got over that pretty quickly.

I had no direction. I don’t know the basics of vlogging. But, I had my camera and I could press record, and that is what I did.

I shot the water traffic under the bridge, I shot the walls, I shot people walking.

And I saw the signs of San Marco square. And decided that’s where  I would head next.

On the way, there was this Italian lady who engaged with me in conversation. She talked about the job market, and tourists, and her job and Venetian masks, etc. 

I saw this man with these two funny looking dogs, poodles – I think and asked him if I can take his picture.

“Quickly!” – in his Italian accent – and with a big smile, he said  – ‘I am in a rush’

“I will make it quick”, I said.

But I panicked, I was still learning to take pictures in manual, and it was set to video, but I recovered. I quickly made the settings and shot this picture.

Guy shouting at me and the old lady

Unlike the lady, I mentioned earlier and the dog person, there were two other characters who threw me off my game a bit. There was this guy sitting on a bench shouting words at me in Italian. I didn’t know what he was saying or was it at all directed at me. 

After that encounter, as I was closing in on San Marco’s square, I stopped to take a picture around a street corner. An old lady looked at me and shouted something, I only heard ‘tourist–and some other bit’ – I assumed she was not very happy with tourists. 

It bothered me, both the incidents, even though I tried to rationalize – what people do is because of their own emotional reaction to stimuli. They react to their own opinions and thoughts and have little to do with me. Although a fact and technically right, my mind is irrational, I am irrational – I was bothered.

I continued walking. 

Rialto bridge

I came across this bridge, I didn’t know what it was or its name. But there were people taking pictures of it, on it. Then I doubted, is this Rialto bridge that I read on the internet, that Venice is famous for? Maybe this is it! – and it was that.

I climbed the stairs.

I could spot a few people there. It was n’t crowded, but still people were gathering around the middle to get a good picture. I wondered if the people are here from abroad or they are just from within Italy. Italians traveling from one place to another. I could hear what sounded to me as Italian. 

Some pictures were taken, some videos were shot. I continued talking to the camera and got more and more comfortable vlogging. 

I continued walking.

San Marco Square

Next thing I know, I was at the square. On the way, I observed that there were a lot of small shops on either side of the streets. It was a pretty sight, cute little shops – selling, jewelry, Venetian masks, etc.

At the square, there was this church. Because I have no special interest in history, I did n’t know what it was and I hadn’t read upon it.

It is a famous Basilica. 

And the square was big. 

I  started vlogging again, describing what I am seeing around. As I was getting ready to talk more, my battery died. 

Lesson learned: Always remember to charge your camera batteries.

Irritated and Exhausted I called it a day

At this point, I was irritated. It was scorching hot. I wanted to lie down. So I called it a day and walked back to my apartment.

The next day, I did not want to go out at all. So I stayed in. I guess, my anxiety kicked in, and I wanted to retreat into myself. 

It is that, or I was genuinely tired. I can never tell. If I have to ask myself such a question, I think the answer is that I was hiding.

Though I have noticed that, these days, even when I am anxious, the recovery time is much better. Instead of hiding for days and weeks, it is only a day now or a couple of hours. Before the angst of doing nothing kicks in.

And being in the lockdown and barely going out of my home, back in the UK, I had very less contact with people at that time, and it adds to that anxiety perhaps.

Booked a food tour

Towards the end of the ‘hiding’, the worry of not having seen places when I am here in Venice kicked in. I am here, and I should see places. Record some videos. Do something. That is what has been going through my mind.

So I thought, joining a tour might help. Where I don’t have to plan anything, but just follow along, sink in for a while.

I headed to the Airbnb experiences section on the app and looked for all the things on offer. I found a food tour there. It was reasonably priced, not overcrowded, I could only see only two others were joining. I had to make sure that the tour guide was practicing social distancing guidelines. 

I booked the tour. 

On the Tour

The first day, I had gotten myself lost in the alleyways of Venice. Which can be a good thing, if you have the energy. But certainly not when your feet are tired, there are blisters on your feet because I could n’t be bothered to have a good pair of walking shoes. 

So I decided to take an alternative route, avoiding the snake-y streets. Sticking to the north of the Grand Canal, passing through the Cannaregio neighborhood and reaching the Meeting point that way. 

It was a more or less a straight line without any turns.

We were to meet at a statue for the start of the food tour.

The guide had promised to be holding up a sign for the tour, I could not spot her. So I went around the block and I came around to the meeting point again. And still no one. I had to ask a couple who was standing there if they were too waiting for the tour. 

They were.

Not a great start, I thought!

Eventually she arrived, a few minutes later.

Review of the tour

The tour covered 5 places for various snacks – I think, from what I can recollect. I was hoping to have a happy stomach after the tour. But it barely did that. 

There was not much food. But more talk about Venice, and the history. 

Come on, it is a food tour! And not a tour of the city. I felt a bit misled. I did not want to listen to her talking – so I went on and took more pictures and videos of the places around..

Though I got to go to these restaurants, street food stalls, it felt more like a promotion of these places. As she, the tour guide was eager to promote to us their business cards. 

I am much more interested in the food, lady!

We tried Cicchetti with meat, a whole baby octopus with its head, cod mash with corn sticks, some bakery, and a Gelato.

I have to say, I only liked the Gelato and the sweet things from the bakery.

One highlight of the tour was a quick stop at the local fish market.

The vendors in the fish market did not want pictures taken inside, so here is the outside with a veggie market.

We ended our tour at the Gelato place. 

I decided to spend some time with a fellow tour member for a couple of hours.

Bye-bye Venice. To Florence

I was ready to leave Venice. Somehow I failed to see the charm of this place. Yes, there are Canals and boats and small streets. But this place is made for tourists. And you can see it. There was no charm of “the Italian way”.I did not want to see people hustling others for overpriced drinks and food.

I guess if you come with a partner, you may enjoy this place. And you have to like all the pretentious things that this place has to offer. All the useless Instagram photos.

I am happy about the sites themselves – the grandiosity of St Mark’s square and the Rialto bridge. The Basilica. To think that these places have been, here for a long time, fills my heart with wonder and an appreciation for life itself. 

Ok enough about my experience, here are some tips for you.

Words learned: 7

  1. Trattoria: An informal, less formal than an osteria and more formal than a ristorante – a middle child of the fancy.
  2. Osteria:  An informal eatery where there are fewer options on the menu. Originally a place where wine was served along with simple food. This is where the locals, wind down with a drink after work. 
  3. Uscita:  Exit.
  4. Ingresso: Entrance
  5. Treno/treni: Train/Trains
  6. Buongiorno: Good morning
  7. San: St. (Saint)
  8. Bacari: A wine bar

Foods  Tried: 5

  1. Baccala: Cod and fish
  2. Buranelli: A typical doughnut-shaped biscuit, comes in the shape of an ‘S’ too.
  3. Moscardini: Baby octopus with head intact
  4. Gelato: Italian frozen dessert. Not ice cream and tastes better than ice cream.
  5. Cicchetti: small tapas-style potions served in bars
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