«       »
September 23rd 2008 by Tina
The Venice of Italy

Posted under Italy

Dubai is touted as the Venice of the Middle East; Udaipur in India and Suzhou in China are each referred to as the Venice of the East; and St. Petersburg, Russia is known as the Venice of the North. We had finally descended upon the Venice of Italy, eager to unlock the secrets of its charm.

Meander through Venice in the morning and you will find the city still asleep, its tangle of narrow walkways, canals, arched bridges, and piazzas all but deserted. You’d be hard pressed to find an espresso bar open before ten. Morning in Venice is cool, quiet and peaceful. You feel a certain intimacy at this hour, as though you have the city all to yourself.

Walk through Venice at lunchtime, getting lost in the senseless maze as you follow your nose toward the tantalizing aromas of fresh baked pizzas, pastas and bread wafting through the lanes while trying not to succumb to the temptation of the gelato shops before lunch. The tranquility of morning has been trampled by a parade of tourists, moving through the narrow alleys like ants on a wall. Water taxis, ferries, and the quintessential Venetian gondolas maneuvered by burly, tattooed gondoliers in striped shirts navigate the canals. Almost everyone you pass is holding either a slice of pizza or a gelato cone. The outdoor cafes and fine restaurants are full of holidaymakers, indulging in three-course lunches and bottles of wine. Around every bend in Venice is a beautiful photo opportunity, especially the bridges where pretty painted buildings and the sparkling canals form stunning backdrops.

If you allow yourself a few hours of aimless wandering or if you (like all first-time visitors) get lost in the labyrinth despite your map, you will inevitably happen upon the two most marvelous and most famous places in Venice: the Grand Canal and Piazza San Marco. The Grand Canal is quite possibly the most beautiful street in the world. Snaking through the city in the shape of a backward letter “s”, the canal is the city’s lifeblood. It combines all of the best elements of Venice’s fairy tale perfection – stunning architecture in the form of more than a hundred 14th-18th century palaces; waterside restaurants; the picturesque Rialto bridge and, of course, the gondolas. The canal is also a major artery of commercial transportation. You cannot drive a car in this canal city; everything is by boat from the postal service and police patrol to passenger and commercial transport. The city seems to have been laid out by a hopeless romantic with no regard for practicality or pragmatism. From a logistical perspective, it makes no sense. From the perspective of a goggle-eyed aimless wanderer with no agenda and an appreciation for art, it makes all the sense in the world.

If the Grand Canal is Venice’s lifeblood, then the Piazza San Marco is its heart. Step into the vast, crowded, pigeon-infested square and your gaze will immediately center on the magnificent Basilica di San Marco. Venice’s cathedral – built on the plan of a Greek cross – showcases the Byzantine style in all of its glory with five bulbous domes and dazzling gold mosaics both inside and out. The dim, cavernous interior and the marble floor that has rippled over the centuries together create a dizzying effect. Across from the basilica, the top of the campanile affords a bird’s eye view of the piazza and the best panoramas of the city.

The rest of the Piazza San Marco is like a large pot, bubbling with activity. Two eighteenth-century cafes dot the square with elegant tables, their patrons entertained by lively, tuxedoed string quartets. The “music and service charge” at these lovely venues is six euro per person on top of your sixteen euro cocktail. Flocks of fat pigeons converge on every scrap of bread and pizza crust that hits the pavement while seagulls soar overhead, stalking pigeon prey. We happened to witness a dramatic kill that incited gasps from the startled pedestrians. Standing in the bustling Piazza San Marco, you get the odd yet comforting sensation of being in the center of the world.

Stroll the streets of Venice on a crisp fall evening and the city reveals its third personality. Restaurants are bathed in an alluring, incandescent glow and their warm interiors are a welcome respite from the chill. You feel inclined to sip wine and linger over dessert. Many of the restaurants elicit a cover charge per person on top of the price of your meal, which is decidedly annoying, but it’s Venice so you pay it, however grudgingly.

On our last night in Venice, my beautiful and gainfully employed little sister treated us to dinner at one of the expensive and pretentious restaurants on the Grand Canal in view of the Rialto Bridge. With the moonlight sparkling on the water, we savored juicy Chianti over courses of meat, seafood and pasta. It was the perfect exclamation point to Venice, where we indulged in more gastronomic tourism than any other kind.

The truth is that the magic of Venice is no hidden secret. At first glimpse, the glimpse you get while lugging your bags through the picturesque streets and across the Grand Canal to your hotel, you instantly understand Venice’s rightful place in art and literature. Ever looked at a beautiful painting in a museum and imagined yourself folded into the scene? Venice is that scene – around every turn is a painting – and walking through paintings is a surreal experience. It is no wonder that so many cities want to be Venice. After three amazing days in the senseless labyrinthine canal city that somehow makes perfect sense, I know one thing to be true: There is no Venice like the Venice of Italy!


2 Responses to “The Venice of Italy”

  1. Bear Mom on 23 Sep 2008 at 7:37 am #

    Sounds like you all truly enjoyed Venice. I wish I could have been there.

    Of course, it would have been much better to have a little furry Lenasaurus with us too. We miss you.

    Hugs, Mom

  2. Jolynn on 23 Sep 2008 at 8:20 am #

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading about Italy, it brings back a lot of memories for me. Thank you for sharing with such beautiful words and expressions.