Just over two weeks ago I was sitting in a restaurant in the heart of Venice. This is no delusion; I really did go to Venice for three days. After last year’s bleak December it seemed an ideal antidote.
I thought I would share my Venetian tale on the blog, as I know those involved with the Past in Mind project would feel the same appreciation and wonder as I did, walking round this ancient city.
The first thing I would say about Venice is that getting lost is a prerequisite. If you accept that getting lost is part of the Venetian experience, then the myriad alley ways and squares will be jewels rather than millstones. Even when the maize is never-ending and there really seems no way out, the quirky narrow streets and tall buildings expel a wave of magic that draws you in ever deeper. All the while I was in Venice I felt enchanted by its spell.
Understanding the transport system was taxing to say the least. We’d been warned not to fork out the price of water taxis, so our first challenge was to find the right vaporetto (water bus) to get us to the island of Lido, where the hotel was. This was our first taste of being lost in Venice. Travel weary and overwhelmed by our surroundings we became entangled in the spider legs of the city. It was now dark and the small bakeries and antique shops were dangerously alluring. Intoxicating though it was, we were hungry and desperate to shed our rucksacks. When we were on the point of expiring my friend was brave enough to ask for directions in Italian, which got us on that first vaporetto to Lido. Crossing the water on the Venetian equivalent of the London Underground was where the adventure really began.
To say we were relieved when we reached the hotel is an understatement. I felt as if I’d crossed a whole dimension in time and space. But we’d barely set foot in the sumptuous foyer when the smartly dressed Italian behind the desk told us that unfortunately the hotel was closed because of a broken down boiler. It was back to mainland Venice for us. Back on the vaporetto across the dark lagoon and into the city’s maize. This is where you need some healthy reserves of stamina and a good sense of humour. If you can’t laugh in Venice, it’s a tough call.
Our replacement hotel was more basic but adjacent to the Grand Canal which made it an ideal location for future exploring. The room was right on the top floor so it meant climbing flights and flights of narrow stairs. I’ve never been so glad to sit on a bed and kick off my boots!
Weariness aside, I was totally overawed. Just treading the ground of Venice made the place come alive for me. I could picture artists and musicians thriving with inspiration century after century. There was music in the air, and it was blissfully peaceful. The fact that there are no cars in Venice allowed my ears to tune into the atmosphere. I could stand still and absorb the vibrations which rumbled through time and back.
Apart from a visit to Murano, we did not have an agenda for our holiday and that was a wise decision. It allowed us to wander through the backstreets peeling off the layers of the city until we had reached its deepest core. Each narrow street (or “Calle”) was lit with quirky shops selling items ranging from vintage curios to cakes to Designer clothes. The deeper we penetrated, the more obscure it all became. It was Venice with bed hair and no make-up. We walked for hours, often ending up at the same point of obscurity with no one in sight. Climbing back to the surface of the city was no easy task, for we kept being sucked back into its underbelly. At times it was like being in a whirlpool, going round and round in an endless spiral. Despite a couple of despairing moments when we feared we’d never find our way back to a familiar landmark, to me this was the essence of Venice and I loved it. I’d thoroughly recommend setting a whole day aside for wanderlust.
Visiting Venice in winter has untold advantages. There are relatively few tourists, prices are lower and there is no need to cover your mouth with a handkerchief. But more importantly, it allows you to breathe in the beauty of the city almost unheeded.
A tourist in winter gets a glimpse of Venice mending itself before the onset of the busy season. We walked along the waterway of the Piazzetta (adjoining St. Mark’s Square) and were treated to a feast of Venetian industry with its backdrop of lapping water, gulls and rushing wind. The sound of hammering, chopping, banging and lively chatter had a hypnotic rhythm. The lagoon was alive. Personally I would never choose to visit in summer. The thought of fighting through throngs of tourists on every street makes me shudder. I enjoyed having Venice to myself, or so it seemed.
On our final night we went for our last walk across the Rialto Bridge and into St. Mark’s Square. St. Mark’s Square was almost deserted. The Basilica was laid bare in all its glory, and I felt utterly insignificant yet filled with tremendous strength. Touching the stones and pillars was like drawing energy from an invisible source of power.
All of a sudden, the Campanile San Marco began pounding out eleven peels to mark eleven o’clock. I was momentarily disorientated, for each toll seemed to be sounding from all corners of the Piazza. With every mighty peel the intensity of the sound increased. I felt totally engulfed and found myself holding my breath. The relentless booming seemed to be tearing through the heart of Venice yet at the same time pumping life into its veins. It was urgent and deeply melancholy. After the eleventh toll there was a crushing silence, which made me gasp. The reverberations held me still. And then came the melody of the five bells, rocking backwards and forwards between raw sorrow and joy. As each bell called out to another I stood there with red hot tears in my eyes. I was caught in time, curled up right inside those magnificent bells and roaring to the world that I was alive.
I could write so much more about my introduction to Venice. Its mystery, its haunting passageways which kindle the imagination , its shadows and shards of light, its famous inhabitants inspired to peaks of creativity, its rippling canals and magnificent buildings, its hundreds and hundreds of bridges. Venice has left a lasting impression on me which I can still feel. Three days was not enough, and I am determined to go back for more.