We took our trip to Venice on a spur of the moment, having returned home from Los Angeles two weeks earlier we had a pot of money left over and holiday blues. In hindsight this was probably a mistake; still recovering from jetlag and with a lot of work to catch up on it wasn’t the smartest idea we have ever had!
But we booked none the less and within days were jetting off for a trip filled with culture, heat and unfortunately illness. There were some truly amazing silver linings that made it worthwhile in the end!
Venice, Italy: An Overview
Before I get into the adventure itself, I will give you a brief rundown of things to do before you book as well as some information about travelling to Venice.
- Currency: Euro
- Best Time To Travel: Outside of the Summer Months (Ideally Try to Book for Spring/Autumn)
- Food: Incredible Traditional Italian Food
- Budget: ££/£££
- Public Transport: Good Bus and Train Service, Connecting Venice and Surrounding Areas
- Positives: Rich in Cultural History, Excellent Food, Relaxed Atmosphere and Great Ice Cream!
- Negatives: Sweltering Heat with No Air Con (More on this Later), Beggars, Scams and Tourist Traps
The last thing we highly recommend before you travel is to grab yourself a Revolut card, this has proved invaluable throughout our recent travels and there are so many reasons why it is a must have that we have created a separate article about it!
Departure: A Flight from Hell
As mentioned, we booked our trip last minute, this meant that we had a limited selection of flights for our budget and a limited availability for departure locations. We opted for a cheap and cheerful Ryanair return flight package that we assumed would be okay due to the short flight time from the UK to Venice. We also opted for a local airport (Stansted) for ease and convenience.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t have been more wrong. The cheapest route to the airport was via a First bus service that runs through both pick up points (Basildon for me and Chelmsford for Izzy). Our flight was booked for early departure at approx. 6am from memory and we decided to catch the midnight bus and make use of the airport facilities and give us ample time to check in (bear in mind our recent experience of airports was Gatwick and LAX).
The bus journey itself was extremely pleasant, we had co-ordinated our times perfectly and as the bus pulled into the Chelmsford terminal, Izzy was waiting with her suitcase and a warm and happy smile on her face. The seating was very comfortable and the aircon hummed lightly keeping us cool on a very warm June night. The bus was relatively empty with just Izzy and I and a few other late-night travellers who probably envisioned an early check in and a bit of airport shopping as well.
Also, First have kitted out their premium airport bus well, free WIFI is available throughout the trip as well as multiple charging ports for your iPhone or Smart Phone. The journey time was relatively quick at just over an hour and much cheaper than booking a taxi or paying for airport parking.
We arrived at Stansted at just after one in the morning, full of excitement and ready to begin our adventure to Italy. This excitement was short-lived.
We walked into Stansted Airport expecting to be met with a busy bustle of travellers that would contrast the relative silence of our bus journey. Instead we were met with a dismal and unwelcoming sight. Stansted Airport is not a good tourist airport and the best way for me to describe it is a few large interconnected hangars with nothing at all to do.
Surely, they have some facilities? Well, don’t bank on anything being open overnight, Stansted completely shuts down during the night and we couldn’t even check in and make our way to the departure lounge. Instead we were locked out in the front foyer with nothing but an overpriced M&S store and a cold concrete floor. The seats had been taken by travellers trying to get a bit of sleep before their morning flights.
This was to become our first mistake of the trip, I suggested we too try and get a bit of sleep and with no seating available opted for a bit of the floor tucked away from the other travellers. Both of us were tired and honestly, I was still feeling a bit of the residual jetlag from the return flight from Los Angeles. Sleeping on a cold, hard floor is not conducive to good sleep.
We both manage what can best be described as a broken nap and while away the boring hours before the check-in gate opens.
Check-In Stansted Airport
Eventually, and to our elation, the speakers announce that the check-in gate is open and we lazily pick ourselves off of the frigid floor and look at the boards to find our gate. Stansted it seems services predominantly Ryanair flights and at first it is a little difficult to discern where we are meant to be. Then I am hit by pain in my gut. The first indication that something isn’t right. I brush it off and we make our way through check-in. All relatively simple and not much security to clear which is the first and only positive of using Stansted.
Clearing check-in, Izzy looks tired, and my stomach pains are not only persisting but they are getting worse. Could it be the overpriced prawn sandwich that I had bought from M&S? Who knows, but as we make our way down the long corridor to the departure lounge I realise that regardless of whether the prawn sandwich caused my discomfort, it wasn’t going to be staying in my body for long.
The unfamiliar salty, metallic taste washes into my mouth and I realise I need to find toilets and I needed to find them NOW! I don’t even manage to communicate this to Izzy who looks perplexed as I dash into the toilet to the right of us. In the complete silence of the corridor with its echoing effect there is no mistake about what is going on in that toilet cubicle. After retching and heaving in a heap on the public toilet floor (thankfully it had just been cleaned), I clean myself up and walk light-headedly with water still streaming from my eyes and am greeted by a red-faced Izzy who is both embarrassed by the unseemly noises she had heard and concerned.
Assuring her that I am okay, we make our way into the departure lounge which comprises of no more than 20 shops and has very little variety. Some are drinking already at the airport restaurants, I don’t blame them. Anything to dull the pain of Stansted airport. Given my condition though, it is water and a flapjack for me. We sit and wait tiredly for our flight to be announced. My gut is still not right, I am sweating and I really don’t feel well. I hope that the flight will be good.
Ryanair (The Worst Airline I Have Ever Been On)
Fortunately, it wasn’t too long until our flight was called and we made our way to the departure gate. With flying, I am normally very fussy about the quality of flight, Ryanair happened to be one of the only airlines that would get us to where we wanted to go and at a seemingly too good to be true rate. There is a reason that Ryanair is so cheap, the flights are abysmal.
My problem with Ryanair is 3-fold;
- Allocated seating for the sake of gaining additional revenue. Ryanair allocate seats to all passengers; these seat allocations are deliberate to ensure that if you’re travelling with people you WILL be split up. You can then pay an additional fee to be sat with your booking companion/companions. This is a disgraceful practice and shouldn’t be allowed, if you want to generate more revenue then charge more for your flights Ryanair!
- Aside from the cynical and calculated ploy by Ryanair to tax travellers who want to share their flight experience in the same row, the actual flights are fucking horrendous. Airplanes are crammed with seats and I genuinely had more space on my bus ride to the airport than I did on the flight. Given the dangers of prolonged inaction associated with flight it is a wonder Ryanair get away with this. The plane was packed full like sardines in a can.
- I just compared the bus ride to the flight, it is also worth noting that Ryanair’s fleet look like they are a flight away from the salvage yard. By comparison the First bus was modern and up to date, and the plane looked like it belonged in a museum. Worn out, knackered and it wasn’t just our plane, the whole fleet in the airport looked disgraceful and not in flightworthy condition. Just what you need when you consider that lump of tin is going to be propelling you through the air.
I could gripe about just how dreadful my Ryanair experience was, reeling off an endless list of things that would dissuade you from using them. But instead I will keep it simple, if you want to fly budget with at least a modicum of dignity, DO NOT FLY RYANAIR, there are plenty of budget airlines out there that may cost a little more but can only be infinitely more accommodating than the disgrace that is Ryanair.
Our Hotel (Things get REALLY Good)
I am sweating, my stomach is still turning uncontrollably and I am stuck in a middle seat with some fat snoring man spilling over and encroaching on my personal space. I try to close my eyes to block it all out but to no avail, this beast of a man is simply too loud. I know I can’t be sick on the plane, I am certain of it, that conviction gets me through the flight without a repeat performance of the airport toilets.
For the most part I am lucky enough to catch glimpses out of the window, the plane flying at relatively low altitude, I can make out the crests of the Alps below. The mountain range soon makes way for stunning lush green countryside and as our plane makes its final descent I am reminded of previous trips to Italy and remember just how beautiful the country is.
The plane descends further and narrow tall trees line dusty brown straight roads. Shrouded in a vibrant green with the occasional yellow from crop littered fields.
Touch down. Complete relief overwhelms me as I anticipate getting out of the hell that has caged me for the last hour and a half. We file out of the plane and then follow suit down a dim corridor, a stark contrast to the blazing heat on the runway. Shuffling along, dragging the burden of our luggage we make it through to the EU check-in point. Something I will miss with Brexit is the expediated security checks for EU travellers.
Me and Izzy then file out of the shed of an airport we have landed in (Treviso) and listlessly make our way towards the taxis. I am exhausted and I think Izzy is beginning to feel the strain as well. Added to her discomfort is the Italian sun which is unrelenting and bakes everything. I like hot temperatures, Izzy on the other hand prefers cooler climates.
I am sure the Italian taxi driver has inflated his fare price, unbeknownst to him, with the price of the £ against the € it actually seems cheap to me. We spend about 5 minutes trying to explain where we want to go, neither Izzy or I speak much Italian and it became clear the driver wasn’t an English speaker. That is something you will notice in Italy, some people speak English really well, and the remainder don’t speak it at all. There is no middle ground, no partial English or an attempt made by the Italians to communicate in English.
You may think, well why would they? They’re Italian, after all. Well; the same could be said for the French or the Germans except they actively try to engage you in English. In fact, I was surprised at how well the Germans spoke English (but that is another trip for another blog post!)
Villa Patriarca Hotel
We were staying in a pleasant and very quiet town called Mirano on the outskirts of Venice. Mirano is classed as a town but is far from the typical overpopulated town you find in Britain. Instead its population is probably around 10,000 to 20,000 and you would be forgiven for thinking only 500 people lived there.
I will go into a lot more detail about Mirano a bit later on! You won’t want to miss that.
Our taxi ambled lazily into a courtyard of a large Italian villa that didn’t look dissimilar to convent or nunnery. Aside from the placard at the front, you wouldn’t be immediately aware it was in fact the hotel Patriarca. We even asked the taxi driver if this was the right place to which he did his best to assure us in Italian that we had indeed arrived.
We paid our fare and then walked into a large stone reception room. The ceilings were high and there was the unmistakable sensation of air conditioning. For a few moments we basked in the cool air before going to the reception desk which is tucked away on the left. A friendly Italian lady greeted us in fluent English and informed us that our room wasn’t quite ready but we were welcome to go and sit by the pool and they would send for us the moment it was ready.
With little in the way of options and too tired to even care, we made our way out to the pool area. It was at this point we became acutely aware of the noise. From the moment you arrive in Mirano you will have a constant drone of crickets (at least that’s what we thought they were). It was quite hard to discern what was actually causing the noise, it was like the static that can be heard under powerlines, except it was a steady noise and it was everywhere. For the first few days it will likely irritate you, after a short time you become accustomed to it.
We didn’t have any expectations for the Hotel, and given our journey thus far it is safe to say that if we had any expectations they would of likely been not great. With that being said we were completely blown away by the hotel, the villa was large and spacious and the décor was clean and rustic. The pool area was heavenly, out in the open sun with the water partially heated.
Tired we dropped our bags by the pool chairs, laid back and absorbed the sun. The ambient noise of the crickets (or whatever they were) seemed as at home as we felt. Yep, a freelancer’s life is a tough one. It is in these moments that I reflect on my life, my work, and feel incredibly blessed.
Coming up in Part 2
- Our story continues with some unusual and unanticipated surprises
- More on Mirano and the lovely Hotel Patriarca
- The first of two day trips to Venice
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