I didn’t want to go to Venice, had no desire really. My partner made the great point though that we were only a couple of hours away and that I might not get another chance for a long time. So it was with reluctance that I stepped off the train in Venice to check off an iconic city from my list for the sheer ability of being able to say that I was there. Call me jaded and spoiled, but that’s how I felt. But then it happened, I saw it and everything changed.
As soon as I stepped out of the train station I was struck in the face with the immediate and sudden presence of Venice. There was a canal, an old building and gondolas; it was looking at a postcard. Very few places have made such an instant impression like that and I was in love. But I was also late. We had a walking tour to with Walks of Italy to meet up with and a scant 15 minutes to get there. Maps were of no use; I was confused, disoriented and clueless.
My instructions said to take a water taxi to St. Mark’s but when I asked the cost and was told it would cost 70 Euro I balked. Surely this was a scam, surely no one actually pays that much for a shortish boat ride and I set out to find out the real way of getting to the iconic heart of the city. You know, the way that locals know but won’t tell anyone. But as it turns out it wasn’t a scam and people do pay that much, I realized on the 45 minute water bus ride to the Piazza San Marco. Not my best decision and while it saved us a lot of money, it sadly also left our tour guide out in the cold for more than an hour.
Not the best introduction to a new city, but those moments of disorientation are liberating and there’s nothing quite like finding your own way around a new place. Still, I was happy to be in the capable hands of a tour guide and the next few hours forever changed my impressions of Venice.
I’d always been told that Venice wasn’t real, that it’s an amusement park city kept pristine for the millions of tourists who flock there every year. That may be true, I’m not sure, but it didn’t feel fake to me, well not entirely. Sure there were more gondola drivers than tourists that chilly, foggy December day but there were also locals going to church and boating back to their island homes. I decided that I didn’t care if Venice was fake or real, I loved it either way.
Our tour with Walks of Italy (which was given to us for free) took us through the secret passages of the Doge’s Palace, an impressive monument to success and wealth and I felt like I was a character in a novel. All my life I’ve read mentions of this famously wealthy city-state, but to be there in the halls of power and to see it firsthand is something else entirely. I could imagine the traders walking up the golden staircase to meet with the power players of Renaissance Venice to see how much money they would make that day. Out in the piazza amidst the pigeons and tourists I could feel the weighty presence of the city’s glory that may be different, but which never really went away.
Venetians aren’t dumb and they have never been accused of that. For centuries they have learned to make money, a lot of money, from those who pass through their gates and tourism is just the latest incarnation of this need to succeed. Walking along the side streets, grabbing some snacks and getting slightly, but not entirely lost I began to wonder why I hadn’t wanted to visit in the first place. In my need for ‘authentic’ experiences and to see new and exotic things I had forgotten one of my own cardinal rules of travel: Places that are popular and touristy are popular and touristy for a reason; they’re usually awesome. And so was Venice, it was fantastic actually.
Comfortable in my newly regained sense of uber-tourism, my partner and I boarded a corny gondola, also with Walks of Italy who I strong recommend, for a corny gondola ride and had a corny great experience. I was happy on the water, the slightly grumpy gondolier singing more to himself than to us and other camera toting tourists floating by waving merrily. I was happy that I had found in Venice something I had momentarily lost, my sense of joy and wonder at experiencing new and wonderful places. More than snapping the photos or the ability to say that I was there, these experiences create intense and pure moments of happiness and joy and that, that is the reason why I seek them out. Like a druggie looking for his next fix, these clarifying, if not corny, moments of travel Zen are worth all of the overpriced taxis in Venice.
We bade our goodbyes to the floating city on the water, the fog rolled in as we left as if Mother Nature came out to signal the end of our visit. What began as a reluctant day trip turned out to be a wonderful experience and more than anything I remembered the basic joy of travel that may have been momentarily lost but which I gleefully found in the City of Bridges.
17 thoughts on “Lost and Found in Venice”
So glad you had an enjoyable time in Venice! It is truly a magical city. My friend and I spent a mere 12 hours wandering the small alleyways but we were captivated! After seeing more of Italy I’m still convinced there is something unique and special about Venice. You’re right, sometimes the “touristy” destinations are that for a reason (although, I would skip the leaning tower of Pisa and the Uffizi gallery next time around)!
Your pictures are beautiful. We have Venice on our list for Europe but don’t think that it would be good to do with young kids. How long did you stay? Was it long enough?
There’s no reason why it would be any better/worse than other places just because the kids will be there. We were there in total for about ten hours, it was a day trip from where we were staying in Milan. Was it enough? I mean, you could spend weeks there I’m sure and still be entertained but I was very satisfied with the amount of time we spent there. Also, going with a walking tour company for at least part of your visit helps make sure you see the highlights. At least it does for me.
My husband and I went to Venice with our three kids (boys, at the time, ages 2,4,6) and had a wonderful time. Venice is actually a fabulous place with kids…every little walk is a brand-new adventure — the different types of boats and bridges, the floating fruttivendolo, even the sanitation boat collecting trash was a source of entertainment. There are tons of campi, both large and small, and the Doge palace was a highlight with its impressive collection of armor. Campo Santa Margherita, which was close to the apartment we rented, was colorful and energetic, filled with music and street performers in the evening. And I have to tell you, it was nice not having to hold their hands while crossing every street … no cars to worry about!
I’ve been going to Venezia for 10 years now (once or twice a year) and will continue to go there…it will require a lifetime to see everything and I cannot wait to see it all!!!
Wow, I bet you have some amazing stories!
I totally agree with you, Howard!
One of my favorite cities in the world, I can never tire of Venice, even with the thoughts of jaded touristy spot, I still love it! Your photographs are amazing, especially the next to last one of the gondola!s, What talent and an eye you have for photography!
I am from Brasil and I go to Venice almost every year. I love Venice, wonderful place! I always feel joy and wonder.
I wanted to go, not overwhelmingly but enough to include it in a 17 day trip I went on in 2007. I liked it, but after 3 days I was sort of over it and I said, okay, I’ve been there I can check it off. But in the last 18 months there has been a slow burn building back up to experience again, particularly since I have a camera and a blog, which I didn’t have the first time around (just the hubby on the camera) – I see photos like yours and I know I want to go back.
I can see how three days would be too much, especially since there are so many great small towns nearby
Did you get the vaporetto that leaves near the station? The water taxi (vaporetto) was 7 euros when I took it out and around to get to San Marco. Gondole are far more, and so are some of the smaller canal speed boats (that only hold 5 or 6 people), but the standard vaporetto (50 seater) shouldn’t be so expensive… Unless I’m thinking of something different.
Yes we took the water bus or vaporetto. The water taxi was sadly much more expensive and the vaporetto took a long time to reach San Marco. That was the major problem.
I absolutely LOVE Venice. And your article reminds me of the whys.
Your photos are GORGEOUS. And it’s also great that you enjoyed your initially reluctant visit there :)
Clearly, it’s best to visit Venice in winter.
I like to see new places rather than go back to ones I’ve visited, but I’d return to Venice again. Magical place. But then, so is most of Italy.
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