Venice Adventure: Solo Travel and the Lure of Italian Culture - Maureen Mai's Photographic Journey

Maureen Mai Photography Maureen Mai Photography

World in Focus: A Travel Photographer's Journey

Welcome to "World in Focus," Maureen Mai's visual travel diary. As a seasoned travel photographer, Maureen captures the essence of diverse cultures and landscapes worldwide. This blog offers more than just photographs; it's a journey through vibrant streets and serene vistas, inviting you to see the world through Maureen's lens. Perfect for photography lovers, travelers, or anyone captivated by the world's beauty, join Maureen as she shares her extraordinary snapshots, bringing the planet into a new perspective, one photo at a time.

Venice Adventure: Solo Travel and the Lure of Italian Culture - Maureen Mai's Photographic Journey
Venice Adventure: Solo Travel and the Lure of Italian Culture - Maureen Mai's Photographic Journey

Written and photographed by Maureen Mai


Venice, you make me want to learn Italian!  

I can't tell you how many times my mother and I have wanted to visit Venice. It would have been an epic journey, just the two of us making beautiful memories together. Yet, the time was never right as my Mom was often working and could only take her holiday in August, which was not the best time to visit Venice as it was hot, humid, and overrun with tourists during that month. Mom has since long retired and can no longer journey back to Europe. But life somehow finds a way. 

One day, opportunity knocked. Although I was nervous about traveling to Italy alone for the first time, only knowing a few essential words in Italian and not knowing anyone in the country, I immediately summoned the courage. I jumped at the chance to tour Venice. I had never been to Venice, but I had visited other areas of Italy, such as Rome, Florence, and Pisa. How would Venice compare? Well, Venice did not disappoint!


Rialto Bridge at sunset

Once I exited the Venice airport, I hopped into a local taxi. Thankfully, the young male taxi driver spoke some English. I gave him the address to the hotel, and he explained that he could only take me as far as the water taxi as there were no cars allowed in Venice. Water taxi? What about my large suitcase and carry-on? I felt relieved having downsized from two bags to one specifically for this trip. As a travel photographer, I often pack my supplementary camera equipment in my luggage and keep my expensive camera and lenses safe in my carry-on. But as I transferred to the water taxi, the friendly boat pilot smiled and whisked my luggage onto the boat with no problem, leaving me to find my seat and relax as I enjoyed the boat ride all to myself. I snapped many photos along the way and marveled at the Venetian architecture and the charming bridges. In no time, I arrived at the waterfront door to the hotel. I quickly learned that Venetian hotels have two entrances: a waterfront entrance for the water taxis and a pedestrian entrance with easy access to the thoroughfares. 


Le Zitelle (white church)

Venice has a personality all its own. There was a positive energy of excitement in the air. It was the week after Easter, and Venice had plenty of tourists. The weather was crisp and cool, starkly contrasting with Singapore's hot and humid weather I had become accustomed to. After freshening up in my beautiful hotel room, I immediately found the confidence to explore, one of my favorite things to do. How can I come all this way, after all these years, and not take full advantage of discovering Venice on foot? I'm jet lagged, but I don't care. With my trusty Sony A1 camera strapped around my neck, I soon found that the walkways of Venice were like a maze. Should I go left or turn right? Would I get lost again, like I had during past trips? How would I find my way back to the hotel? I remembered to take my hotel address and hotel telephone number with me. I'll figure it out somehow. I always do. Nothing was going to stop me from experiencing this adventure.


View of Saint Mark's Bell Tower

As I walked through the footpaths, over countless footbridges, and through one courtyard after another, I carefully noted the signs and curious storefronts along the way. I tucked these images away in my mind, using them as landmarks for my eventual return to the hotel. I passed many tourist shops, small fountains, and statues until I found a fantastic shop named Ca' Macana, which sold exquisite Venetian masks. Some of these masks were featured in Stanley Cubrick's final film, "Eye's Wide Shut." I carefully selected my souvenir, a beautiful musically themed eye mask, a memory of this fantastic shop, and tucked it away for safekeeping. As I continued my journey, the fragrant smell of pizza and pasta filled the air. But dinner would have to wait. There was so much I still wanted to see before nightfall.

Amazingly, I stumbled across the famous Rialto Bridge, the oldest of the four bridges along Venice's Grand Canal. I paused atop the bridge to enjoy the setting sun as the boats and gondolas passed underneath. It was magical. I captured one of many favorite photos of Venice at this spot. The journey to Venice was already worth it. On the way back to the hotel, I retraced my steps and stopped at a pasta shop serving a large selection of pasta. I returned to my new temporary hotel home and enjoyed every delicious al dente bite.


The world-famous Rialto Bridge

The following day, I left the hotel with my full camera gear to capture the famous Saint Marks Square at five in the morning. Was I dreaming? Am I here at this historic sight? How often have I read about this location in books and seen it in movies? I found the perfect location and set up my tripod. I had already dialed in my starting manual camera settings the night before. A time saver for sure, as the sun waits for no one. The square was almost empty except for a few workers who had already arrived to clean and prepare this famous square for the day's activities and the visiting tourists. I carefully chose my angle to maximize my photo composition and started cautiously snapping photos with careful intention. I had researched this location before the trip, so I already knew how I wanted to capture this shot. Once satisfied, I moved to the next area to caption the row of blue-covered gondolas at sunrise. 


Saint Mark's Square with the Basilica and the Bell Tower 

The sun had now risen, and the tourists were eagerly starting to arrive, many taking their photos as selfies. Satisfied with my productive photo shoot that morning, I slowly began to return to the hotel. But I wasn't finished yet. Not by any means. I walked through many winding, narrow alleys to satisfy my curiosity until I reached another waterfront dock and found this magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute view. Where was everyone? How was I the only one here? And the light was just right. I was happy to have discovered this beautiful photogenic location. Later that day, the allure of the breathtaking view beckoned me back to this enchanting location. I eagerly settled in at a café, immersing myself in the local culture with a delicious prosecco and pasta lunch. With each passing moment, Venice was beginning to feel like home.


View of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Between my dawn and dusk photoshoots the following day, I indulged in a leisurely gondola journey along the entire stretch of Venice's Grand Canal. As we glided through Venice's labyrinth of canals, Patrizio, my gondolier, became my guide into the city's rich tapestry of history. With a blend of enthusiasm and broken English, he unfolded tales that seemed as timeless as the waterways we traversed. Patrizio spoke of Marco Polo, the intrepid explorer who ventured far beyond these shores; Doge Enrico Dandolo, the venerable crusader; and the legendary Vivaldi, whose Baroque melodies seemed to echo in the air. He painted vivid images of Titian and Canaletto, Italian masters whose brushes captured the soul of Venice. And, of course, there was Giacomo Casanova, the infamous adventurer and lover, whose spirit seemed to linger in the very heart of this enchanting city. At that moment, I wished I had picked up more Italian before the trip to enhance my communication with this guide.


Venice at sunrise.

Post-gondola, I sought warmth in a cafe with a cup of hot chocolate. There, nestled in St. Mark's Square since December 29, 1720, was Caffè Florian. To my delight, this wasn't just any cafe but the storied Caffè Florian, renowned Europe's oldest cafe. Historically, it was a melting pot where Venetian aristocrats mingled with diplomats, traders, fortune seekers, writers, artists, and the city's everyday folk. Even now, it's not uncommon to share the elegant rooms of this coffee house with famous faces from the realms of film, art, politics, and business.


Saint Mark's Basilica 

Then came the moment for souvenir hunting. Eschewing the high-end designer stores, I explored local shops, acquiring an assortment of elegant Venetian silk scarves from Trevisan and beautiful table linens from the Fabris fabric store. I also found a cherished Italia Venezia grey sweatshirt, a perfect ally against the chilly mornings. The highlight of my souvenir collection was a set of Murano glass creations from Zora of Zora Forever Gallery. Zora is an enchanting artist renowned for her exquisite Murano glasswork, and her husband graciously shared the story behind Zora's art. They even presented me with newspaper clippings featuring the shop's history, adding a personal touch to my visit.


View from Ponte dell'Accademia (bridge along the Grand Canal)

The warm encounters with the taxi driver, the water taxi pilot, Patricio the gondolier, and the lovely couple at Zora Forever Gallery deepened my desire to connect more fluently with Italians. Their hospitality inspired me to learn Italian, and I started using language apps to improve my skills. By my next Italian adventure, I aim to be more proficient in Italian, reciprocating their efforts to speak English with my attempts to converse in their language, enhancing the richness of my travel experiences.


Gondolas at sunrise

My trip to Venice was filled with sunrises, midday wanders, glorious sunsets, and fabulous dinners with good Italian wine. By confronting my fear of solo travel, staying well-prepared, and visualizing a successful journey, I opened the doors to the unparalleled beauty of Venice. This adventure gave me unforgettable memories and some of my most treasured photographs. The sense of achievement from this photographic expedition has enriched both my global travels and my artistry. This journey in confidence-building reinforces a vital truth: By venturing into the unknown and embracing the possibilities, one can experience extraordinary experiences and discoveries.


View of San Giorgio Maggiore (church)

As my understanding deepened, my mission became clear: to create and carry home new, vivid memories of Venice, sharing them not just with friends and family but with the world and, most importantly, with my Mom. Sitting at the kitchen table with her, I unfolded the tales of my travels, each photo a window into my journey. It was as though she had been by my side in Venice, experiencing every moment vicariously through me. While travel might not be possible for her, life had beautifully orchestrated a way for her to explore Venice through my eyes and stories. 

Ciao bella Venezia!

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