I don’t remember to have ever made Venice a priority on my see-the-whole-world list. The rumours that the city was in reality not as charming as its fame went and that the water stank might have subconsciously put me off. Or was it the clichéd image of lovers cobwebbing the city and proclaiming to be madly in love in gondolas that turned my thoughts from it? Whatever it was, Venice and I did not seem to click. Ryanair changed that for me by displaying a round trip Brussels-Venice for 30€. I was immediately seduced.
Week-end in Venice in mid-November it is! I wake up at 3 am, have no coffee leaving it as something to look forward to when reaching the airport and give it some gas. The lack of caffeine and a worrying sense of orientation typically assigned to women cause me to actually lose my way to the airport by taking the wrong exit. Tricky considering that I also largely deviate from the requirement to be at the gate two hours before departure.
But, as all independent and self-assured travellers, I count on myself to always find my way, anytime, anywhere. Fact! Ok, add a spell of luck to that, too. I make it on time for the boarding: one hour and 20 minutes till Venice and ready for take-off.
The weather in Treviso is surprisingly worse than in Brussels, usually hard to beat: it rains heavily, the cold gets to your bones, and the heavy grey hanging in the atmosphere is amplified by a strong, unfriendly wind. Not the magic place I expected.
From the Treviso airport to Piazzale Roma it’s a one-hour trip. There you are finally delivered to the city…and what a majestic one it is. Even under the heaviest of rains, Venice is still one of the most delightful sights I have ever laid my eyes on. Go off-seasons to avoid the crowds, though: the less people per square meter, the more you connect with the place.
Venice is very easy and pleasant to explore. To begin with, there’s no traffic. Not in the streets, that is. Here, the traffic has been placed on water: there are water buses, water taxis, ferry-boats, gondolas, all-size boats, all floating around and trying to avoid one another. Upon seeing my very first vaporetti station I almost drowned in fascination. After one day of hopping on-and-off, though, this became as casual an activity as taking the bus on land.
In spite of its famous water transport, flooded Venice is best explored on foot. Its great charm resides in its narrow and very narrow streets, bordered by very old buildings which withstand renovation. The visual shabbiness creates the perfect environment for a magic leap into the past. Venice does not belong to this century. Nor should it.
Walk the streets and you will be plunged back in time. The houses are small, some garnished with mini doors in guise of entrance. They all differ in size, shape and colour at every corner. The beauty of Venice is the possibility to get lost in it. I do not mean that you will never find your way back – it is very easy to orientate in Venice. But it creates a unique labyrinth-like experience to enjoy and play with.
Take one street and forget where you are or where you want to go next. Hesitate between turning right or left, take one of the two and then find yourself blocked in your errand by a wall or a closed courtyard. Turn around and try another street to see where it goes. Some literally end in water. Try the game somewhere far from the horde of tourists in the dim lights of the evening, with the rhythmical sound of your footsteps on the stone pavement and a moving shadow on the wall. Leave the boat to the sleepy lovers; Venice is a playground to roam on foot.
After a full day of rain, the Piazza San Marco is a sparkling pond under the Indian summer sun. People queue up one behind the other on the walkways that have been set up to keep their feet dry. Others put on colourful waterproof boots and walk the Piazza carelessly, feet in the water. Venice welcomes everyone. Culture, art, architecture, luxury shops, a lagoon with islands, all gathered to piece together a splendid fraction of Earthly paradise.
With its (too) domesticated pigeons and sparrows that are bold enough to pick up the cookie crumbles straight from your coffee plate, the illuminating sun that blinds you when reflected by so much water, the drops of rain that make the water from the canal shiver and the gondolas look sad when anchored, Venice has unexpectedly become my favourite city in Europe, by day and by night.
Why visit Venice:
- The city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in its entirety.
- It is Europe’s largest car-free area.
- It is a unique venue: 177 canals and 409 bridges (says wiki).
- Famous for its masks and carnival (watch out for the crowd, though).
- It is probably world’s most popular and romantic place where you can finally declare your flame in a gondola or go as far as propose (if you really must). Then maybe you can take a flight to Los Angeles, get drunk and get married to close the deal.
- Sunday is particularly charming when the bells from St Mark’s Basilica shake the city.
- You can buy Venetian/Murano glass objects (if you can afford it).
- Here’s your chance to drink a very expensive coffee with a view and share your very expensive cookie that comes with the expensive coffee with the pigeons and sparrows that will inevitably land on your table.
- Because the following people lived here: Marco Polo (a famous explorer after which 50% of Europe’s pizzerias have been named), Antonio Vivaldi (if you like the seasons) and Giacomo Casanova (the most notorious self-declared hypersexual Italian of all times).
- It inspired Shakespeare to write “The Merchant of Venice”, thus making sure to sour the life of any student in literature throughout the centuries.
- It is a 1600 year-old city with a wooden foundation, built and maintained on water by very complex technical systems – a man-made wonder that is likely to sink one day. To avoid this, the Italian authorities might want to collaborate with the Dutch – they, of all nations, know a thing or two about how to tame the water.