Monday, 9 July 2012

The Magic of Venice

After two previous trips to Italy, which we had thoroughly enjoyed, Jules and I finally made it to Venice. We had interestingly heard so many mixed reactions to this tourist hot spot over the years with previous visitors criticising such things as it’s commercialism, packed streets, the rip off prices, the graffiti, smelly canals and even the run down conditions of its buildings. So with some degree of apprehension, we arrived by boat into this unique and historic city, only to be immediately ‘blown away’ by so many wonderfully clich├ęd sights! As we would discover, all of the things they had spoken about seemed to be absolutely true, but this was Venice after all and in the height of summer it was just a stunning place to be and all could be forgiven!

Wisely, Jules had organized accommodation in a small hotel in the Dorsoduro district, which is noted for its university and large student population, but more importantly it was a nice distance from the tourist trappings of the St. Marco area. From here we could easily walk over to the wooden Academie Bridge for one of the most picturesque city walks that you could ever hope to experience. As we strolled to the central square, we were frequently tempted to stop at the numerous Murano glass shops, galleries or gelati vendors that lined the route. However, the thing which stopped us in our tracks the most was simply the scenery … Bellisimo!! As we passed over quaint canal bridges, there always seemed to be a scene worthy of the best glossy coffee table book that just had to be photographed. Craning our necks in all directions, it was hard not to look like a tourist, but thankfully with thousands of others doing exactly the same thing we didn’t appear entirely out of place.

Of course the magnet that draws the people from throughout the world is St. Mark’s Square and at any given time there appears to be thousands of tourists milling around admiring what is arguably the most picturesque piazza in Italy. The sight of the Basilica, Bell Tower and Doges Palace are familiar images that have provided the subject matter for literally thousands of memorable paintings. It seems that at some stage, just about every artist of note has visited Venice over the centuries and found inspiration from this truly unique place.

One of the most unexpected features of Venice that we had not anticipated was its quietness. In a place that relies entirely on its countless waterways for transportation, there is a peacefulness that has long been forgotten in our car dominated cities. No noisy engines, beeping horns or screeching tires, no smog, no traffic lights, just walking or boating … simply wonderful! There was something so intrinsically appealing in sitting at the waters edge, watching the boats (of all shapes and sizes) move leisurely up and down the Grand Canal. Of course, the famed Gondolas still provided the most romantic way to slowly navigate the narrow canals and remain as popular as ever.

On a summer night Venice really comes into its own, with countless piazzas and laneways filled with outdoor bars and restaurants with just the sounds of good conversation, laughter and the clinking of glasses and cutlery. On one of the days we were there, the university graduation ceremony was held, so that evening was particularly celebratory. Yet on any given night we found the atmosphere equally as happy and relaxed. As we walked out of a local jazz club on our final night, Jules and I reflected back on the appeal of Venice. Sure, in the height of summer we had seen it in its best possible light, but despite its age and obvious trappings of tourism, it still provided a special piece of magic that for us as seasoned travelers was quite unexpected.

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