My Venetian Love Affair
If ever there was a city that stole my heart away and gave me delirious jitters to speak of it would be Venice. There are few places I’ve explored that were truly magical, Cinque Terre, Meteora, Greece and perhaps the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, but Venice ranks first among them. Its bewitching flare has brought me coming back for more. So when I told my friends and family that I was returning to Venice once again I was met with the usual, “why not go somewhere new?” But as with so many great love affairs I had my reasons.
A big reason that drew me back was my desire to experience the magical gondola ride. Call it touristy, as tourists are the only people you’ll see queuing for a ride. Or call it cheesy – especially when it’s you and other tourists enjoying this romantic ride, but for me it was one of those bucket list worthy experiences I needed to check off. Another reason I was drawn back was to seek out the charming tucked away Libreria Acqua Alta, a hidden treasure for any book lover. And lastly I wanted to wander its alleyways, meander over some of it’s over 400 bridges, seek out its forgotten churches and just simply soak in the enchanted atmosphere of this floating city solo.
As soon as I opened those doors of Santa Lucia train station and saw my love again, its green water, stunning buildings, and the authentic Venice aroma, I couldn’t help but pause and smile on this, the most picturesque of cities. Even with the mass of tourists I wasn’t discouraged, how could I blame them? I made my way over to get a vaporetto biglietto (water bus ticket). Normally when I arrive in a city the first thing I want to do is quickly get to my hotel to dump my bags and start exploring. But for some reason, maybe it was the magic already setting in, I slowed right down and instead of grabbing a ticket to the stop closest to my hotel I instead chose the long route and stopping near San Marco’s Square. Then before I got swept away I made sure to grab my biglietto for the airport ferry for when I would leave in a few days.
No matter how cramped the conditions are on the vaporetto my smile remained as we headed down Venice’s Grand Canal. Already I was snapping photos, not the easiest of tasks carrying my belongings, but I couldn’t resist. Venice has got to be the most photogenic places I’ve ever been; around every alleyway, across every bridge and even the mundane things like door knobs and white linens hanging out to dry against the backdrop of colourful buildings are eye catching and beautiful. I slowly made my way over one bridge than another, passing by the hauntingly striking Bridge of Sighs, and into San Marco’s Square where there seemed to be a buzz, more so than normal. Standing in front of the Basilica, mouth agape at its glittering details, I slowly spun around, with my baggage in tow, I couldn’t help but notice the quiet. The square was an innately different place from the last time, 8 years ago, I stepped into it – no cooing, no pigeons and no guys hawking bags of corn pellets feed them.
Making my way down the narrow pathways that are Venice’s streets I finally made my way to my hotel, San Salvador Hotel. I nearly missed the turn down the darkened alley save for a green sign leaning against the wall with an arrow beckoning me. I buzzed up at the intercom and as I opened the door I stopped dead in front of the steep narrow stair well. I couldn’t help but laugh and think, thank goodness I pack light. I heaved my bags up the stairs and was greeted by the most lovely and welcoming of ladies, “Buon giorno! Come stai?” After dumping my things and freshening up I was eager to head back out. Before I left the lovely lady at the desk mentioned that I should check out the Palio delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare down at San Marco, a regatta and parade. Ah, that’s what the buzz was about. I quickly headed back to the square just in time for the parade where the four Maritime Republics of Genoa, Amalfi, Pisa and Venice have a parade around the square, all dressed in medieval garb, some with drums or horns others with flags. I was front row to witness this awesome cultural event, where of course once Venice followed through last everyone cheered, the excitement was electric.
The following day I was up and out early for my morning caffè and pastry in the campo (square) near my hotel, Campo San Bartolomeo. Afterwards I headed back to San Marco’s Square to ascend the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica, Campanile di San Marco. On this clear morning the 360º views over Venice were astounding! I couldn’t believe it, but I felt like I was falling even more head over heels in love with Venice. I had never seen it from above before and she was magnificent with her winding canals, terracotta roof tops and stunning buildings. I could pick out some of the iconic ones like the stark white dome of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore.
I then set off in search of Libreria Acqua Alta, one of Venice’s amazing bookshops. Winding down alleyways, over bridges, I turned left into a small campo and there spilling out of its doors were books, old postcards, and I knew I’d found it! Wandering in past a pretty black cat, I was welcomed by the sweet aroma of old books and an adorable older gentleman, the propiteer who had created the wonderland 13 years ago. As we spoke about his shop, of which he was evidently proud of and made sure I checked out every nook of his creative space, with his full sized gondola full of books, the garden, the ‘fire exit’ with a sign to jump out into the canal outside the door, and the infamous staircase of books, showing their weathered state, he encouraged me to take to the stairs, ‘they’re safe’, he said. At the top of that enchanted staircase was another stunning view of Venice’s canals. Before I left he warned me about the Casanovas in Venice, in a very fatherly way. I said, “they’re everywhere.” To which he responded, “it is tradition here,” and then with a wink of the eye, “if beauty was a flower, you would be a bouquet.” We both smiled and I said, “grazie,” and was off. Only in Venice!
I spent the remainder of the day wandering in search of some of Venice’s over 100 churches, choosing many of the less popular ones. In near empty campos I found stunning simple to striking churches, many in which I was the only visitor. There’s something rewarding to wander an empty, old church alone, with only the echo of your own footsteps to be heard. I must admit I’m not a religious person but wherever I travel I seek out churches as they’re full of beauty and do bring me a sense of peace and tranquility that is intrinsic to religious buildings. Later that evening when I got back to my hotel and was sitting writing I was awarded a beautiful sound coming through my window from the ristorante near by, the melody of K Sera Sera on accordion, I stopped and neared the window to quietly sing along. A great way to end another magical day in Venice.
My last day was to be a full one, the day before I purchased a ticket to the opera for my last night on a whim, and it was also the day of my Venice walking tour and gondola ride. Again I headed out early, this time towards the Rialto Bridge and over to the market. Window shopping was made a tad difficult with the throngs of people on the bridge, but I must say Venice, along with Paris, probably have the best souvenir shopping, with their signature carnival masks, tons of knickknacks and stunning jewelry made of Murano glass. Over in the market I browsed the plentiful food stalls from fresh fruit to meat and even spices. It was a buzz with locals and tourists alike. I grabbed a tall refreshing cup of chilled fresh fruit for €2, a great and delicious way to beat the heat.
That afternoon I met our guide for the walking tour, a beautiful, petite young lady who had studied in Venice, fell in love literally and figuratively and remained. We wandered through new and exciting neighbours where I saw the stunning external spiral staircase in Palazzo Contarini del Borolo as well as one of Venice’s four leaning towers, turns out Pisa’s isn’t the only one there are a total of 10 in Italy.
Then came the moment I’d been waiting for, and dare I say one of the, if not the, most anticipated experiences of my entire 3 month adventure – the gondola ride. Along the tour I’d met two amazing couples, one from the US and one from Australia, and while awaiting out turn in line we had struck up a kinship for this magical city and ended up taking the gondola ride together. It left me nearly speechless, seeing my beloved Venice in a whole new light, from waters edge, watching our, dare I say HOT! gondolier maneuver this long boat through such narrow canals, and finally getting the chance to sit in that black beauty on a surprisingly comfortable red, Venetian pillow – I was beaming! I honestly couldn’t stop smiling. Bucket list – gondola ride √
Afterwards I had just enough time to grab some delicious pesto for dinner, head back to the hotel to get cleaned up for my last night in Venice and my first Venetian opera. In the small, quaint theatre of Scuola Grande di San Teodoro I took in I Musici Veneziani which included some of the most talented maestros of Venetian birth and culture with music by Mozart, Offenbach, Verdi and Puccini. I was mesmerized by these talented singers, their arias gave me goosebumps and the astounding orchestra reverberated in my bones. At times I laughed, got chills and even teared up. I couldn’t have chosen a better way to end my Venetian love affair.