Today I want to share about my first real solo travel experience, back in 2001. The previous year I had already flown across the world from New Zealand to the United Kingdom and established myself in London with a job and a flat.
In April 2001 I bought a £20 flight to Venice, with the intention of exploring northern Italy before making my way down to the south of France and then back to London over a six-week period.
So there I was in Venice, getting lost while trying to find the hostel I had booked and eating bad pizza at a touristy café. I went on to discover a whole new inner world of travel dreams.
Once I had navigated my way to my hostel (this took at least an hour of confusion) I set off to see the sights of Venice, guidebook in hand. After wandering about San Marco for a while I felt overwhelmed by how beautiful it all was but also overwhelmed by the heat and the tourist masses. I felt excited but exhausted and alone. Was this what travel was like?
According to my guide book the Musee Correr offers outstanding views of Piazza San Marco, extending as it does across the whole south side of the piazza.
The views did not disappoint but it was the contents of the museum that really fired my traveller’s imagination. What I found there made me think not just about travel but about the written word in connection with travel.
The collections of the Museo Correr cover the art and history of Venice. Its origins are in the massive collection of art works, documents and objects bequeathed to the city by Teodoro Correr. A bit like the British Museum being founded on the collection of Hans Sloane. Collecting was big in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Correr’s collection was of pieces that reflected the history of Venice and when he died in 1830 he left the whole lot, along with his Grand Canal palace and money to look after the collection and make it available to the public.
The early 19th century was a perfect time to be collecting in Venice. After the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797 many noble Venetian families were in dire straits and having to sell off their valuables. So what is there to see in the Museo Correr?
Sixteenth century maps of La Serenissimo, showing the city’s early development around the Rialto and slowly extending beyond the edges of the island. Venice had no classical past of its own so it is hugely influenced by antiquity and by the Byzantine era.
Terrestrial and celestial globes created by Vincenzo Coronelli, who was the cosmographer of the Republic and lived in the Franciscan Convent of the Frari.
Many, many atlases – synthetic representations of the world and universal knowledge at the time – displaying the broadening understanding of all known space. The library of a great family in the 18th century could not be without an atlas, both for geographical information and to celebrate Venice being one of the great European maritime powers.
Paintings showing lines of galleons – the Venetian fleet sailing out of the lagoon and off to war and conquest. Walls filled with Turkish and Russian shields, bounty of one of the last great admirals of the Venetian fleet. Francesco Morozini conquered Peloponnesia and ultimate became the Doge, or ruler, of Venice.
Travel is presented here as an undertaking of the human spirit. The tradition of pilgrimage, the development of navigation techniques and the thirst to explore new lands are all part of this desire to make journeys.
Here amongst the hundreds of books and maps describing navigation and voyages, I considered how the act of writing begins as a journey beyond the distance of space and time. Here I could see examples of the beginning of a new descriptive style of writing, a connection between travelling and the written word that would bring different lands alive to those at home.
Departing the Musee Correr I started to realise that there is something compulsive about walking about in Venice. In the warm soft air there is always another bridge, another canal, another piazza with boys playing football.
I found my way down the little lanes, across bridges to a quiet canalside. There I sat down, opened my notebook and began to write. They were stumbling, awkward lines, but it was a beginning.
By Natasha von Geldern
Will you share your first solo travel experience with me?
If you’d like more information about visiting Venice see here.