Venice is the most beautiful place I have ever visited in my life. The place is magic. Its really hard to explain, and the mystique definitely took me be surprise. Maybe it was the stress of Paris lingering or simply the change in the weather, but something changed when we landed at Marco Polo airport, exited the terminal and out to the sidewalk that ended at a dock where we jumped on a water taxi that dropped us off directly in front of the Hotel Ai Due Fanali. Something came over me while riding across the water and I came under the enchantment of Venezia.
The weather was perfect. It was 3:30 pm as we sailed across the lagoon and the sin was already beginning to set to the west as we drove north/northwest to the island. We did not enter by way of Piazza San Marco, we entered the grande canal on the opposite end nearest the train station. I will never forget how it felt to see the grande canal for the first time, by boat.
I felt like I was on a movie set, or maybe in Vegas. It seemed surreal. I had a difficult time wrapping my mind around the reality of what I was seeing. It like nothing that Ive ever seen. Beautiful mansions and castles built on top of water. Each building uniquely set in its facade, a tremendous display of the rich decadence of the ghosts that built and continue to haunt this archipelago of a city.
To my delight, George (our water taxi driver) dropped us off directly infront of Ai Due Fanali (we thought we were to be dropped at the train station). So we disembarked our water carriage into the small campo separating our bed and breakfast from the canal. I was a hot mess. I could not get enough — I was babbling like an idiot who had just tasted sugar for the first time. In fact, I have video of this, as I could not stop videoing the entire scene and you see the beauty before me in the video while hearing my babbling nonsense about how awesome everything is to me. I couldn’t get over that he dropped us in front of our hotel. After reading stories about people struggling with luggage up and over the many bridges of Venice, I was extremely grateful to George for the hook up.
The hotel staff were SO nice. All smiles and helpful. Our room was cozy and quaint. We faced out toward the canal and had a nice view of folks coming and going along the water and the campo before us. We immediately hit the road to explore this glorious place. Map in hand, although the map is more of a compass than an actual guide. Pathways dead end into canals and passageways dead-end into campos that ope into 3 or 4 more alleyways so the map is kind of a tease. I found that it was best to let go of the map and let instinct lead the way. It is absolutely amazing to me that we actually found any of our destinations. One thing is true, all paths south lead to Piazza San Marco or Rialto Bridge while all roads north lead to Piazza Roma and the train station. Anything well beyond these two directions was lost to us. In fact, we spent an afternoon wandering around looking for a place called Dorosodo that we never found. I read that getting lost in Venice was the best part of visiting, and compared to getting lost in Paris, I found my wandering to be an adventure much more than a headache. Each turn reveals a new mysterious delight to take in, so you forget that you don’t exactly know where you are headed because the unexpected discoveries are all so wonderfully distracting!
We ate pizza the first night and it was DIVINE. We drank Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and it was DIVINE. Everything was so perfect, I decided I had died and gone to be with the divine because everything was so much better than I could have imagined it would be.
The next day we toured the Doge’s Palace and I learned, for the first time, the rich history of Venezia and the unnecessary tragedy of it fall to Napoleon’s rule. From the 1st Century AD, Venice was a true Republic, the entry port between Europe and the Orient, with its own language, rich in commerce, progress and decadence, the latter which seemed to destroy the city that could have been the most powerful on the continent if the people had the will to break tradition and evolve with the modern patterns when Napoleon sought to conquer in the 17th Century. C. P. Snow suggests that in the last half century of the republic, the Venetians knew “that the current of history had begun to flow against them,” and that to keep going would require “breaking the pattern into which they has crystallised.” Yet they were “fond of the pattern” and “never found the will to break it.” I am fascinated by Venetian history and now want to take a class, or at least, read a few books on it. Lets just say that this history and politics of Venice intrigued me in a mighty way and I can’t wait to learn more.
If you heard rumors about Venice is sinking, I think it was and they found a way to stop it from sinking; however, the damage caused by their efforts to dig wells that resulted in the sinking now causes serious flooding. When we visited St. Mark’s Square it was around noon and the water was high. The city has platforms at the ready to line up for the tourists to stand on and stay dry as they wait in line to visit the basilica, but the square itself was standing in sea water. It rises, not from the docks, but literally from the ground itself, from every little crack and drain and seems to seep in from under the concrete. It really is bizarre. Then by about 4 pm the water goes down again and all is dry.
Our last day in Venice we took a Ghost tour of the city with Monica Cesarato who guided us through the “real” Venice taking us to local haunts for a spritz and all you can eat risotto and bruschetta while relaying the legends and hauntings of the last 2000 years. She walked us through the first ever Ghetto, and explained how the word comes from the Venetian word “gheto” or “ghet”, which means slag in Venetian, and was used in this sense in a reference to a foundry where slag was stored located on the same island as the area of Jewish confinement (the Venetian Ghetto). (Additionally, an alternative etymology is from Italian borghetto, diminutive of borgo ‘borough’. We learned this from our tour guide in Rome, which I will tell you more about in a future post.) Monica’s tour was fascinating and at the end, she helped us navigate the “water bus” that got us to our dinner spot on the opposite side of the island from where we were staying. After dinner, we rode the “night bus” home, which was so funny to me because I kept referencing the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. Random, I know!
When it was time to leave Venice, I was ready to move on to the next destination. But now that I have returned home, Venice sticks with me in an unusual way. I have had many dreams set in Venice since Ive returned. When people ask about our trip, I tend to talk first about how much I loved Venice. I do hope to someday return. I sometimes wonder if perhaps the spirit of Venice has somehow marked me and called me as one of its own, destining me to return if at least for one last visit.
To be continued… !