“All Cities of the world are,
More or less, similar to one another: Venice is unlike any other.”
—- Carlo Gordoni
If I had to choose between a city break and a country break I would choose the latter in a heartbeat. I would rather trek the mountains of Norway and commune with nature than stroll the busy streets of an overcrowded city littered with tourists. But there is something about Italian cities that I always long to discover. A country so rich in history that it reminds me a lot of some of the pages of the books I read, of ruined temples and well-preserved buildings, of vast and romantic landscape in the Tuscan region, of authentic Italian cuisine, of beautiful stretch of sand along the Mediterranean sea, and Italians relax attitude to life (La Vita Bella or the beautiful life).
This trip is one of those spur of the moment decision. The day that we plan to travel happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. Where else to spend this most romantic day than in most romantic cities in Europe- Venice. A city that is well- known for hundreds of bridges, of long and narrow canals, of gondolas and singing gondolier.
We initially entertained the idea of going on a train. There is a sleeper train from Paris to Venice. Try to imagine boarding up in Paris and then waking up in Venice? A whole different city and landmark upon reaching ones destination plus the entire journey only takes less than 11 hours (which also means that you can save for an overnight accommodation). Whilst I found going on a train an adventure it was an opposite sentiment felt by my other half. The option of going by car is something I wasn’t keen about because of the distance from England to Italy (I don’t fancy arriving to one’s destination already exhausted before the holiday even started). So we decided fly to Venice. The Venice Marco Polo airport was the easiest and most convenient airport compared to the other airports such as the Treviso International Airport. At least the Marco Polo airport is only a short bus ride towards Venice.
There is something unique about Venice the moment we arrived and joined the queues to buy our ticket for a vaporreto (or Venetian public waterbus) that will take us to our booked accomodation. Despite the bad news I read about how congested is Venice there were not so many tourists at that the time of our visit, it’s probably because we arrived early in the evening when most of the day tourists have already left. I think Venice is more beautiful in the evening when everything is quiet and mellow where only the locals and few tourists are around.
Since it was early evening, the February breeze was relatively cold as we sat quietly inside the water bus. I don’t know if it was the exhaustion that we felt after a long day of travel that all we did was sit and relished the moment as the water bus passed through major waterways, then through the narrow canals. So many things crossed my mind at that time, like what happened if there was an emergency when instantaneously my question was answered when I heard that well-known sounds of an emergency siren. Everything seemed to be ferried on a boat here, even collecting their rubbish! A completely different picture as compared to the ones I would normally see in some major cities (trains and buses for commuting to work).
The following day we were too eager to have breakfast and sample the idyllic café shops and meander around the city that we forgot to bring our map! Instead of going back to our accommodation we decided to carry on with our plans and head straight to Piazza San Marco.
The piazza San Marco is the heart of Venice. The place was already buzzing with tourists, vendors and even pigeons when we arrived just before noon. It was a joy to see the look on my kids’ faces as they happily chased the pigeons outside the Basilica. I guess the children had most fun at this place. And of course, when in Italy you can’t missed this frozen delight made of milk, cream and sugar called Gelato and, for whatever the weather and the season this favourite frozen treat always put a big smile to the children (and adults). And there are plenty of them on the streets of Venice! The shops adjacent to the piazza were also littered with beautiful displays which we as a family enjoyed viewing. One thing that always stops me is the unique and colourful Murano glass that is being displayed near the window. Some of them looked exquisitely handcrafted that I wouldn’t mind buying one as a souvenir to bring home but with the eye watering price tag I would rather keep my money and spend it for my food trip of pizza and pasta.
One advantage about Venice is that some of the many well-known attractions can be found within walking distance in piazza San Marco like the Basilica, Doges Palace and the Bridge of Sigh. For lovers of architecture, it is worth going inside the Basilica and be awed by Byzantine style architecture and interior of this church. Personally, I think the highlight of our visit was the beautiful and unique mosaic and the gorgeous and imposing altar inside. It was a sight to behold as it was all decorated with hundreds of gems and gold.
Just at the corner of the Basilica are the Doge’s palace and the well-known Bridge of Sigh. According to history, the bridge passes over the Doge’s Palace to the prisons that were built across the canal. Prisoners who crossed the bridge on their way to the prison cells would sigh as they caught the final glimpse of Venice through the tiny windows. (One can only imagine the prisoner’s sigh of affliction as he passed through this bridge).
They said that the best thing to explore a new city is by foot; the problem with Venice though is that without a map it’s so easy to get lost in a tangle of canals, bridges and similar looking facades. It’s like being inside a maze. But there is nothing more romantic than being lost in the narrow and winding alleyways- being lost can sometimes have a lovely outcome (especially for us) because it leads us to some of the quietest and loveliest places in Venice where we would be reluctant to venture that far. Luckily for us, the accommodation that we stayed was very close to Rialto Bridge and every time we got lost we just have to ask the locals how to get to Rialto Bridge.
The days that we were in Venice happened to be a very busy time for Venetian because they have what they called a Venice Carnivale Festival (an annual festival held every February). A must see if you want to experience a different Venice. According to history the carnival began in 1162 in celebration of the Venice Republic’s victory over its enemy). Around that time that we were there we saw a few elegantly dressed women in long frocks and wearing elaborate mask. The main event was held on the weekend which unfortunately we didn’t have the chance to see the spectacle because we left 2 days before the event for our next trip to Rome. But still walking around Venice at that time was wonderful; the entire place looks magical like we were being warped in a different time and age.
My favourite spot in Venice is probably the Riva Degli Schiavone, the waterfront near piazza San Marco for it has that charming symbol of a true Venetian beauty. The ornate street lamps near the canals, the moored gondolas bobbing gently in the waters, gondoliers calmly rowing and serenading their passengers- a postcard worthy scene.
On our final day in Venice my husband decided to hire a gondola (for all of us including the children) which I thought was a very sweet and romantic gesture. Although I was reluctant at first because of the exorbitant price to pay for a brief 30 minute ride but at the end I reasoned out that gondola is a symbol of Venice; it will be an enormous mistake to come all this way and miss the experience on the most romantic time of the year such as Valentine’s Day.
The ride took us to the heart of Venice, through the wide and narrow canals, beneath the quaint bridges as we admired some of the historical sites we passed along the way while being serenaded by the Venetian gondolier and I remembered how pretty the sky was that day, a vibrant cloudless blue. After the ride we had our lunch near the lagoon and then started our walk towards the station for our trip bound to Rome that afternoon. As we waited outside the station, time slowed once more as I took one last photograph of Venice. It was indeed a once in a lifetime experience which I will forever embrace in my heart.
The Gallivanting Family