Stranded in Venice… there are worse places to be!

Venice's Grand Canal, taken from Rialto Bridge

I HEARD there was a bit of snow here last week? Didn’t quite manage to see it though. While Lyme Regis was blanketed in one of its heaviest ever snowfalls, I was enjoying my own winter wonderland on holiday in Italy.

After a frantic few weeks launching the LymeOnline website and newspaper, I was looking forward to a a short break to enjoy the sights, architecture and of course the food of Venice – Queen of the Adriatic.

But I got more than I bargained for, jetting off just as Storm Emma hit the UK.

My schoolfriend Phoebe and I always keep an eye out for travel deals, and when Hays Travel of Sidmouth advertised a bargain trip to Venice several months ago, we jumped at the chance.

“It will be cold”, as everyone kindly pointed out, but Italy had long been at the top of my wishlist and Venice in February was far better than no Venice at all.

That was long before the impending ‘Beast from the East’ hit the news – not that I gave it much more thought when the dramatic weather reports did start to roll in. I was off on holiday and my only concern was how many jumpers I could fit into my hand luggage-sized suitcase.

Phoebe and I set off from Bristol Airport last Tuesday, shrugging off any warnings of a “spring snowfall”. It never snows it Lyme Regis anyway, we thought.

Picture perfect

We arrived in Venice late at night and, as we hopped off the boat just around the corner from Piazza San Marco, our own flurry of snow quickly started to fall. It just added to the magic… finally, I had made it to Italy.

All travel tiredness dissipated and, having weaved our way around Venice’s narrow streets to find the hotel, we quickly dumped our bags and excitedly headed out to explore in the snow. It was picture perfect but eerily quiet; most bars and restaurants had already closed and the winding streets and canals were deserted.

No late-night pizza as hoped, but we agreed that could wait til tomorrow.

Basilica di San Marco in the snow

Snow had settled the next morning but it didn’t seem to put anyone off. The streets were back to bustling and we spent the day sightseeing and trying not to slip over. We took in the Basilica di San Marco, Ponte di Rialto and Ponte dell’Accademia (the latter sadly encased in wooden boarding for renovation), and hunted down the best spots for fresh pasta and pizza.

On our first evening in Venice, we headed to Campo Santa Margherita, a popular area with students where we hoped to soak up some of the nightlife after our quiet arrival the night before.

Having enjoyed a few cocktails and glasses of wine, we were brave enough to explore the Venetian barcari scene – casual wine bars where locals enjoy traditional tapas dishes, known as cichetti. I’d read about them in Russell Norman’s cookbook ‘Polpo’ – the only holiday research I’d managed to find time for – and had decided it was a must-do.

Heading off the tourist trail

Phoebe and I quickly realised we could only string a few Italian words together, so we didn’t have much idea of what we were doing or ordering (the resulting dinner being quite an odd selection of dishes), but we always like to try a little local culture, rather than strictly sticking to the tourist trail.

Besides, looking out for a good bacaro or back-street restaurant can save you a lot of money against dining at the tourist hotspots in Venice, and we became a little more practised over the coming days.

Burano, a small fishing village off Venice, known for its colourful buildings

The next day we caught the water bus to Burano, a small fishing village known for its lace-making, art scene and photogenic, colourful buildings.

I imagine the locals were rolling their eyes at the silly English tourists as we boarded in the bitter cold, snow still falling. After a 40-minute boat trip and a few quick photos, we had to cut the walk around Burano short and quickly dipped into a restaurant, warming up with a steaming bowl of seafood pasta.

The weather had worsened in England too and our flight home the following day was looking less and less likely by the minute. Having spent the day obsessively checking the news at home, we headed back to Venice to make the most of whatever time we had left in Italy (that means more eating!)

We were halfway to the airport the following day when we found our flight had been cancelled and Bristol Airport closed. The next few hours were spent queuing at the EasyJet desk and we were eventually booked onto a flight to Gatwick two days later.

Couldn’t believe our luck

There weren’t many complaints though, after the excellent Hays Travel arranged two nights of free accommodation at another city centre hotel, and we couldn’t quite believe our luck after we headed back across the water and arrived at the Hotel Montecarlo – literally a stone’s throw from Piazzo San Marco.

Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta to Go – not your ordinary fast food!

We hadn’t eaten all day, so we grabbed a quick bite at Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta to Go – a buzzing takeaway spot that came highly recommended and did not disappoint – only to find the hotel was offering free afternoon tea when we returned. Well, who can turn down free cake? (The diet is back on now, I promise!)

While Lyme residents spent the day sledging on Bumpy and even skiing down Broad Street, the snow in Venice had already melted and was replaced by flood boards to help pedestrians get around, as rain and a high tide hit the city centre. Mum says bad weather follows me around!

As a news editor, it can be frustrating when you’re away and you know something exciting is happening back home. You naturally want to get stuck in, taking photos and reporting on events, especially when it’s something so unusual – and I’d definitely never seen snow like it in Lyme in my 29 years.

I think Dad must have missed me a bit too, as he was sent out with the camera to fill our Photo Gallery with snow pictures.

Poignant artwork

But who can complain when they’re in Venice? We took shelter from the rain in our new favourite bar, Caffé Vero, and finished the day by toasting to our extended holiday with a limoncello.

Our extra day in Venice gave us another chance to explore the sights, including the Lorenzo Quinn sculpture ‘Support’ – giant hands rising from the Grand Canal, installed at the Ca’Sagredo Hotel last year to draw attention to climate change and rising sea levels.

It couldn’t have been anymore poignant, with such heavy snowfall back home on what was supposed to be the first day of spring, and the streets of Venice getting wetter and wetter throughout the week.

On a lighter note, we browsed gift shops selling Murano glass and Venetian masks (I’d hoped to buy one for our upcoming Cancer Research UK Masked Spring Ball in April, but unfortunately couldn’t fit it in the case!), and were delighted to stumble across delicious treats at the Nino & Friends Chocolatier.

Finally, we decided we couldn’t go home without splashing out on a traditional gondola ride; gliding under the many bridges of Venice’s picturesque canals made for a serene end to our winter break.

And not a flake of snow in sight…

A long day of traveling home started with a 5am boat trip back to the airport the next day (by this point we felt like pros) and, after landing in Gatwick, we were pleased to see the train services were almost completely back to normal after the snow.

By the time I finally made it to Lyme Regis, the sun was shining and not a single flake of snow remained in our garden, as if it never happened at all.

Are you sure you didn’t make it all up?

Woodmead Halls
About Francesca Evans 2542 Articles
Francesca grew up in Lyme Regis and has worked in community journalism in the area since 2011, having gained a First Class Honours degree in journalism and her NCTJ qualifications at Southampton Solent University.

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