Forty-nine weeks out of the year, I’m paid to organize other peoples’ lives; make sure they are where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there. So as much as I love to travel, over the years I’ve found that I don’t enjoy planning a trip beyond picking a place to go and a place to sleep. I love to wake up and see where the day takes me. Needless to say, I didn’t do much planning before we arrived in Venice.
And truth be told, there wasn’t much time. Before arriving in Venice, we had taken a train from Florence. Two days before that, we spent five days in Rome and forty-eight hours from now we would be on a plane, Paris-bound.
We stayed in Mestre, mainland Venice. And from there, we walked to the Venezia Mestre train station and hopped aboard a train in the direction of the Grand Canal. The ten minute trip carried us across the Venice Lagoon; a charming waterway surrounded by the Adriatic Sea.
I can still remember the feeling that washed over me as I took my first glimpse of the Grand Canal. The sun shone brightly that afternoon, and its reflection turned the water an inviting shade of blue. On each side of the canal stood brick buildings, most of them apartments, adorned in salmon, terra cotta and rust-coloured hues. The canal was bustling with activity; taxis, tour boats and gondolas gliding up and down, carrying tourists from one picturesque place to another. Venice is essentially a floating city; separated by water, and connected by bridges of all shapes and sizes. The bridges of Venice are exquisite structures, combining beauty and architecture in equal balance.
Our destination was Piazza San Marco and we had two choices of how to get there – water taxi or on foot. We chose walking, believing that the one true way to see a city like Venice was by navigating ourselves through the zig-zagging streets and narrow alleyways.
Getting lost in Venice is a welcome calamity. A misadventure that guarantees with each wrong twist or turn you will wind up in a place better than the last. A dizzying maze, its streets bring together shops and scenery alike, with restaurants offering up chocolate, gelato and other enticing Italian fare.
The streets were busy, crowded even, with tourists flocking from all over the planet to experience its allure. Bellboys raced by hastily, pushing luggage carts over the uneven stones. But beyond the bustling streets, shops and restaurants are windowsills decorated with flowers or the day’s load of laundry drifting wistfully in the breeze. And that’s when you remember that people live on this crowded archipelago; where driveways are replaced by docks and cars by boats. You wonder how they can live an ordinary day life with the constant barrage of tourists, but soon remember that Venice is no ordinary place at all.
After about an hour of wandering, the shaded narrow streets gave way to sunshine and we had reached Piazza San Marco.
Piazza San Marco is a public square, home to the church of St. Mark, an ornate multi-domed basilica, decorated in bronze and sapphire. The square is also well-known for it’s thriving pigeon population, the city’s unofficial mascots. While I would never usually consider a pigeon perched upon my arm appealing, the idea of attracting a flock of this European fowl carries a certain air of Venetian charm.
Restaurants dotted the square, giving us the opportunity to relax and enjoy the view with a glass of spritz, a northern Italian drink made with prosecco and bitter liqueur, served with an orange wedge. Its bitterness makes it an acquired taste, but this libation is addictive to its admirers, ourselves included. We spent the rest of the afternoon people-watching and admiring the gondolas sway back and forth against the gentle waves of the Venice Lagoon.
We stayed until dusk and watched the sun cast its last rays of light onto the city, taking as many photos of we could, which incidentally included well over 100 pictures of canals and bridges, each with a slight variation from the last. As we headed back towards the train station, we took this picture, which is one of our favourites. Each time I look at it, it reminds me of how lucky we are to have been able to visit such a mesmerizing city.