Daydreaming in Venice
Recently I took what will hopefully be the first of many trips to Italy, and I was left in total awe of the country’s beauty. Venice was my first stop and although I only spent two days there, I was instantly captured by its magic. During my visit I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was happily lost in a dream – the buildings, the landscape, the salty smell of the air and the beautiful, lilting Italian accents together made the experience seem surreal.
From the moment I arrived at the airport, Venice was unique to any other city I’d visited before – the easiest way to the city center was via ferry. But it turned out to be a very slow-moving ferry. I had to ignore my growing impatience as the trip pushed an hour and a half, and I began to feel the effects of my 6am flight from London. Luckily, I was entertained by the captain and crew dancing along to disco classics, so my first glances of Venice were accompanied by Whitney Houston’s voice and a dance performance – perhaps calling it ‘dance’ is going too far, let’s call it a performance of middle-aged men moving somewhat in time with the music. Slow pace aside, the ferry turned out to be a fantastic way to see a few of the outer islands that together make up the city. So the slow, but entertaining, journey was well worth it.
Venice averages 70,000 visitors per day, so even though it’s crawling with tourists, you still feel as though you’re having an authentic Italian experience – the power of its beauty, culture and history, is impossible to ignore. The city is built on a shallow lagoon, across 117 islands which are interconnected by 177 canals and 409 bridges – it’s like a maze of small islands, bustling canals, tiny alleyways, arched bridges and cobblestoned streets. The historic center, which is where most of the main attractions are, is entirely car-free; so travel is via footbridges, public ferries and – of-course – you can take one of the city’s iconic gondolas. The ferries depart every few minutes, and gondolas are available all over the city, so it’s no trouble to get around without cars. In fact, Venice is Europe’s largest car-free urban area, and has remained high-functioning regardless of this fact. Although it can take a little more time to get around, like the residents, you adapt to the change fairly quickly, and the absence of vehicles only helps add to the magic of the city.
Anyone who visits Venice immediately discovers why it’s protected as a World Heritage Sight. All of its main tourist attractions can not be missed: St. Mark’s Basilica, Piazza San Marco and Basilica di San Marco, as well as the Grand Canal. But I found my most enjoyable time was spent just walking around the streets and soaking up the atmosphere, stopping for panna cotta gelato, shopping for the city’s famous Murano glass, admiring the intricate details of window frames and tiled church floors, and just generally being lost in the beauty that surrounded me.
At night in my hotel overlooking the canal, as I looked through the photos from my trip thus far, I realized that a lot of Venice’s beauty lies in its imperfections. The city is one of the most notable examples of elegant decay; the idea that some places become more beautiful as times passes and the place slips into a state of decline. Venice is crumbling into the lagoon that it is built upon, but I don’t think anyone can argue that the waves lapping over disintegrating pontoons, crumbling building facades and mould-stained stones aren’t all made more beautiful by their decay. And this landscape has inspired, and been home to, some of the world’s biggest dreamers – writers. Renowned author Italo Calvino described the city perfectly by saying:
The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
I can not begin to imagine a city more beautiful or more magical than Venice – though I’m sure it probably exists somewhere in the world. From the moment I arrived until the moment I left, I was under a dream-like spell that was only broken when I boarded the train for my next stop – Florence.
I hope one day to return and smell the salty sea air while wandering the cobblestoned alleyways of Venice – my favorite city, to date.