Venice – a city swelling with history, character, cuisine and culture.
I always knew that I just had to go to Venice. The moment came, immediate in its clarity, after reading the novella Death in Venice by Thomas Mann. It’s the story of a travelling writer, dispirited and depressed, who travels to Venice and in the swarming sensuality of the city, becomes infatuated with a young boy who seems to serve as both his muse and a reminder of his flailing youth. The story seemed so alive, so erotic and electric, that I believed that Venice must be a city of magic and memories, and I wasn’t wrong.
To kill the romance a little, I did decide to go with my brother but we get along like a house on fire.
The most important first step is knowing how to arrive. You can fly in directly, but there is something quaint and irascible about seeing Venice ebb and throb toward you from the water, a city sprung up from the depths and precariously on the verge of teetering back under it. Indeed, Venice is almost a mythical, mythological city much like the fabled Atlantis. It’s as if you could blink and the city would be gone, only ever a mirage.
Italy is an expensive country but you can easily grab a deal at a cheap hostel that retains a sense of European charm and spend your days gallantly getting lost. With its maze of narrow, winding alleyways and corridors, Venice is secretive and startling, throwing up new treasures. It’s a great place to people watch and very inspiring for those with artistic inclinations. It’s beautiful just to sit by the canal with a bottle of wine and some bread and watch the world go by.
My most memorable experience was boarding a gondola, watching the gondolier slice the waters whilst singing luscious Italian melodies, craning and cranking us down charismatic canals and beneath bridges and boosting us out onto the main river beneath the sunset until the water sparkled with moonlight. If you can afford it, take a day time and a night time trip, one with other passengers and one just you and a special someone – both trips are disarmingly different and reveal the versatility of Venice.
Italy is synonymous with eating. Gorging on pizza and pasta is par the course. There are a myriad of restaurants and eateries everywhere you turn, priced at various ranges for every kind of traveller however if possible, visit a restaurant far back from the main streets, where the real Italians eat. You have to stand, but you are served course after course of small, sumptuous dishes which will expose your taste buds to tantalising new textures, however unpronounceable they may be! If you enjoy visiting Churches, ensure that your shoulders and knees are covered, as the protocol is still traditional. Ferovia train station is perfectly positioned to fling you anywhere you want to go. We made the choice to see Verona, the fabled city of Romeo and Juliet. One of my favourite films is Romeo + Juliet and it’s breathtaking to see Juliet’s balcony and other sights from the play.
Vaporetto (water taxis) will ferry you from place to place as you enjoy gelato and purchase stunning, handcrafted masks. If you want to escape the claustrophobia of small spaces, head to the lido, a sprawling, serene and sultry beach, forever immortalised by the novella Death in Venice. Lined with beach huts and fringed umbrellas that look like walking ostriches, this section of the beach is dreamlike and backed up beautifully by the Grande Hotel de Bains which was unfortunately under reconstruction at the time of our visit.
Spend some time exploring the lagoon islands of Venice, each with a profound and powerful lure. Murano is famous for its reputation in glass making, Burano is straight out of a children’s cartoon, Torcello is an abandoned marshland and Michele houses Venice’s dead. Once you get back to the throng of Venice, spend some time in San Marco square, as it contains the best of Venice; children feeding pigeons, nuns making their sacred pilgrimage to the Church and the hum of ethereal music. If money is an issue, glug a bottle of wine canal side, wander around listening to music, get artistic or play hide and seek.
Venice is the city of masked, painted strangers, random and never repeated encounters, queer acquaintances, grand churches and winding narrow corridors, a place for sneaks and extroverts alike. It’s a city in decline, in decay, that has already reached the pinnacle of its success and now lies at the mercy of the tide, and the thundering footsteps of its inhabitants and yet still, it is more beautiful and more evocative than many of our modern cities are today. It’s a claustrophobic city that throws you into relief by plunging you into a grand square at any given moment, like coming up for air in a volatile sea.
Venice has a unique and unusual charm all of its own; its citizens appeared to me like characters from Shakespearian plays, elaborately and eccentrically dressed in a way that was quintessentially Italian, poetically eyed and endearingly proud and patriotic when it came to their storybook land – the ladies seemed like ladies and the men like gentlemen. The aura that Venice emits is both gentle and magnificent, understated and sublime. The fact that the city can stand at all is a testament to the inhabitants that toiled over its creation and remains in opposition with the destructive forces of the natural world that surround it and threaten to devour it at every moment.
Perhaps it is this cloud, this looming threat of perpetual and eventual destruction that weighs heavy in the distance, particularly with regards to climate change and global warming that make the city an incredibly melancholy and bittersweet environment that makes you hanker for the old world. Vibrant and vital, Venice is an essential tourist destination.
All my love