Venice! Ah, Venice! Goddess! Venus! Mother to the serene lagoon and claimer of the hearts of all those who spend quality time trying to unveil her magical secrets.
Venice is not exactly as the books say, but how could she be, since she shows herself to each visitor differently? She understands that every single person wandering around on the streets, over the bridges, and on boats has a different expectation, a special time in history that he or she would like to revive – not to mention those who are keen on following the tracks of such illustrious Venetian citizens as the desired and powerful, yet honest courtesan, poet, and probably the first feminist of all times, Veronica Franco, or the adventurer Giàcomo Casanova, or perhaps the traveller Marco Polo, the musician and composer Antonio Vivaldi, and the painter Titian.
As the days of the pharaohs are for the Egyptians and those of the philosophers for the Greeks, the most exciting time in Venetian history was undoubtedly the mid-sixteenth century. Why? Think of the beginning of the lucrative book-printing business, the healthy and productive artistic and literary scene, the plague that ravaged the citizens, the war against Turkey, the liberal doges who were much ahead of their time, and also the famous, beautiful, and cultured courtesans who turned the heads of even foreign kings.
Unfortunately, few capture the soul of Venice today, because 80% of the tourists spend no longer than one or two nights in the city, let alone those who don’t even spend the night. Venice, the Venus, stamped these tourists as lazy and empty for being so easily satisfied by only taking a couple of shots of Piazza San Marco and its Basilica, of the Palazzo Ducale (just from the outside), of the Rialto Bridge, of one or two channels with gondolas for which they are unwilling to pay for a ride completing the scenery, and finally of the Grand Canal – all in a period of six to eight hours.
My dear readers, running between major tourist attractions and buying souvenirs on the street in a hurry is definitely an unsatisfactory way to pay Lady Venice the respect that she deserves! Even if she looks it, La Serenissima is not a theme park. She is far from being a kind of Disneyland. So please, do acknowledge that Venice is a rare jewel, a living proof that humanity has little developed over the years, and also keep in mind that this is a city that offers a history lesson on every corner for those who show a genuine interest and possess at least a shred of imagination.
Venice is more than the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge. She is also Burano, Murano, Torcello, and the Lido. She is also such lesser-known districts as Cannaregio and Castello. She is the solitude lost in the maze of tiny and deserted streets free even from the intention of being invaded by less-educated tourists in a rush. Venice is, nonetheless, also her backyards with secret gardens, and she is still the home and the pride of the original Venetians.
On the subject of Venetian urban myths, she is cleaner than her reputation; her waters are greener than the photos; her ice-cream is less tasty than you might expect, despite its fame and abundance; her paper-maché masks sold on the streets are cheaper-looking than one would like to admit, but the ones sold in fine shops are more elaborate and therefore more expensive than those the average wallet can afford. As for cuisine, since Venice is also a mother, she tries to offer a little of everything to indulge her children’s different food and drink preferences. It is possible to find fabulous single pieces of pizza there, as well as awful and overpriced tourist traps and exquisite restaurants for an elite clientele.
It is necessary to spend at least four to five days in Venice in order to enjoy it truly. Travel tirelessly around the Grand Canal aboard the vaporettos, which are the city’s water buses. Visit the main museums and mansions. Attend a free Baroque concert right before nightfall at the Querini Stampalia Foundation. Buy fresh fruits from a street kiosk. Drink several espressos sitting outside in a café while you observe the pedestrians passing by a superb and wonderfully charming church without even noticing it. Witness the grand aquatic traffic of the Grand Canal from the staircase of the Santa Maria della Salute Cathedral. Feed the doves at the Piazza San Marco. Get lost in the maze of streets without cursing them, and at the end of a full day, finally lie down in bed with a book about Venice or about some of its distinguished residents. Your body will probably hurt a bit as a result of so much walking, especially if you aren’t used to it in your daily life, but your internal and external smile will certainly be wide and visible since you will know that you did this extraordinary city justice.
As for gondola rides, well, they’re actually extraordinarily expensive, but worth every bit of it! Leaving Venice without a gondola ride, with a typical gondolier wearing the traditional striped t-shirt and straw hat, with or without the serenade, must be a frustrating experience. Hence, when in Venice, put aside around 100 to 200 euros for it. A stay in the city would not be complete without a gondola ride and without taking at least one good-quality mask home.
When getting aboard the Allilaguna, the boat to the airport, you won’t have anything to be sorry for because you will have seen, felt, and inhaled Venice as you should’ve – without tension, without haste, and without historical or social disaffection.
After a high-quality stay in the blessed La Serenissima, you’ll say: “Thank God that not everything is like it looks in photos and in the news.”
Luciana B. Veit