I didn’t love Venice the first time I visited, 20 years ago. Don’t get me wrong – I thought the city was spectacular and beautiful in so many ways and I was grateful that I was able to see the city at the time, but I didn’t love it. It was another city to mark off my list during a backpacking trip through Europe. So when we put Venice on our itinerary during our recent trip to Italy, it was mostly because MOO wanted to visit this world heritage site rather than any personal desire on my part to see Venice again.
So I couldn’t have been more surprised when I realized that I had fallen in love with Venice this second time around. It wasn’t your typical love at first sight. I wasn’t struck with a cupid’s arrow or lightening bolt. Rather, it was a slow-growing sense of peace and tranquility that accumulated throughout the day, coupled with a sense of awe at this incredible city standing in the water for centuries that touched my soul and filled my heart.
We arrived by train, early in the morning from Treviso (just outside of Venice). It was a spectacular, sunny day and as we exited the Stazione Venezia-Santa Lucia, we were met with the sight of the Grand Canal. Despite the early morning, the city was bustling with throngs of tourists milling about on the piazza, collecting their bags, consulting maps and taking pictures. Tourists and Venetians lined up for the vaporetti, the local water buses. We bought our day passes for the vaporetto and as it started to move along the route, I felt an overwhelming feeling of wonder and reverence. Who built these palazzo’s gracing the canals?. What secrets did the waters and the walls hold? Who had lived in these magnificent homes and who lived in them now? I wanted to drink it all in, to capture the feeling of the place, the energy, the mystery. It was a place that I remembered from my last visit and yet I had no memory of this city I had once visited. This time, I wanted to experience the city, to be in the city and even though we only had the one day, I wanted to somehow be a part of the rhythm and truth of this incredible city.
In the end, we chose to wander through the city, mostly by foot and the occasional ride on a vaporetto. We didn’t visit the many museums in the gorgeous Palazzos. We didn’t enter many churches and didn’t make it in time to enter the Basilica di San Marco before it closed. We didn’t enjoy a gondola ride. And yet it somehow didn’t matter. It was the experience of being in this city that mattered most to me.
We browsed the fruit and vegetable and fish stalls of the Rialto markets with the local Venetians and walked on the famous Rialto Bridge. We visited local bake shops and enjoyed specialty shops that sold art and fashions and trinkets and maps. We had lunch in a quiet piazza and supper in an Osteria (a restaurant serving simple traditional Venetian food) with locals. We wondered about the woman sitting in a window reading a book. We discovered a floating fruit and vegetable stand housed on a boat. We watched as a bride and groom in traditional carnival masks greeted their guests outside the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). We navigated the throngs in Piazza San Marco to find MOO’s cousins who she was meeting for the first time. We explored the shops that featured famous Murano glass sculptures. But mostly we wandered along and explored the streets and bridges that were not featured in the guide books; the quiet, peaceful canals off the main waterways. MOO learned something of her heritage from Resa and I took photos of twisting streets and canals, occasionally surprised by a gondola gliding silently around a corner carrying a couple holding hands, smiling happily. A wizened, white-haired woman watching the pedestrians below her window smiled at me and held her hands in a gesture of triumph as I walked by and took her photo. As the sun began to fade and we made our way back to the train station, I realized that this beautiful, mysterious, serene city had captured my heart and I was in love.