I first visited Venice about 10 years ago. A stayed for a day. I knew it was eternal love from the first moment, but I didn’t have time to go deeper. Ever since, I kept waiting to go back and now I finally have. After all this time, the memories had faded and I had sort of forgotten what it was all like. I only needed one glance and one whiff of salty air to rekindle the flame.
From the moment you take your very first step outside the train station, you walk in a movie and you forget you come from somewhere, a busy noisy city from far away. Venice is a little universe, where all you have to do is get lost.
In theory, I got there off-season, on a Friday afternoon, but the city was full of people. In truth , Venice is made up of two parts. The main streets, with their continuous hustle and bustle, with tourist that feast their eyes on the monuments and window cases, and the side streets, where the little town goes about its life, without minding the invaders, and the locals walk their dogs and chit-chat. Depending on what inspires you, you can let yourself be guided by the flow of people or you can make a left on the first alley you come upon and explore the quiet lanes by yourself.
Speaking of quiet alleys, out of the 6 neighbourhoods, or sestieri, of Venice, the least crowded are Cannaregio, on the left bank, and Dorsoduro, on the right one. We stayed in the first one, where life seems to happen outside of tourists and, if you wake up really early in the morning and the streets are empty, outside of time. It’s full of little nice bars, where you can drink and eat with the locals, for local prices. Make sure you check out the Jewish Ghetto and book a table at Paradiso Perduto. Dorsoduro gave me the impression of a little private corner of the bohemians, where art is present all over the place, from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum to the little antique shops and boutiques full of paintings and sculptures.
I won’t go on and on about all the things you should visit while in Venice, because I for one had no strict plans in mind. It depends on how long you are staying. If it’s just two or three days, like it was for us, I believe it’s enough to walk the streets and admire the city, which is a museum in itself. Since we happened to be there on the first of March, a day you can visit several places for free, we took advantage and saw Gallerie del’Accademia, a museum set in a beautiful building, with immense halls and paintings by Tintoretto, Veronese or Giorgione, Palazzo Grimani, that didn’t really impress me in any particular way, and Ca D’Oro, a wonderful palace, with balconies that offer a great view of the Canale Grande.
Speaking of the Canale Grande, make sure you take a vaporetto trip on in. And since the vaporetto is pretty expensive for a single ride, the best thing to do is by a day card, that you can use for 24 hours, and go anywhere at any time. More about the anywhere in another story.
All in all, Venice cannot be summarized or likened to anything else. I’ve been to Amsterdam and Bruges, The Venices of the North, and I loved them both, by there’s no comparison.This place lacks something and I didn’t realize it until the moment I got back on the train in Santa Lucia and started off to dry land. Cars. Yes, I have been there for two days. Yes, I heard no honking, I smelled no exhaust gases, I didn’t wait for green lights, i didn’t take photos with ancient houses while trying to avoid the eternal automatic proofs of the modern present. And still, it was only when I left that I actually acknowledged this blessed absence.
Venice is not perfect. Nor decadent. Maybe it was once upon a time. It is like a middle aged woman. You can read the extravagances of its youth on its face and on its body. She has wrinkles and flaws, parched walls, worn-out stones and bridges that were ate away by the water. Still, Venice continues to be a refined poised lady and it is almost impossible to stop her from getting under your skin and sticking to your heart forever.