The main reason I wanted to return to THE MOST TOURISTIC TOWN IN ITALY, EVER was to have a gondola ride. When we went in 2015, we simply could not afford one. It was a huge let-down to me that I don’t think my husband then realised. Going for my second and his third time to Venice was not really a priority for Callum, but this gondola experience was pretty high on my bucket wish-list.
The first time we went, Venice was our first Italian city and it was exactly how I imagined Italy to look and feel. Being there in April meant there were less tourists and the restaurants that were open were good quality. All the photographs I took had a vintage filter and reflected my gooey-eyed first-timer love of the place.
This time, Venice was SO crowded, SO hot, SO bright. Having bad meals was kind of a regular occurrence, which was so disappointing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good restaurant or not. The tourists will come regardless. Many a tourist-trap place did we see. Also, having a drink in Piazza San Marco is too expensive…for us Aussies, anyway. One simple Aperol Spritz was running at about 14-16 Euros. That is about $25. So, for two of us to have a drink, it would cost about $50. That’s just too much. It was disappointing. Don’t get me wrong. We did enjoy the sights and sounds of Venice…
…but, Venice has many rules about where you can and cannot sit. Where you can and cannot drink a beverage. And so on. I got quite crabby about all the stupid rules. I suppose I was too hot to deal with rules and I just wanted to relax and enjoy the views with a cold beverage and that’s that. I was gently reminded by Callum that we encountered this ‘no-sitting’, ‘no-drinking’ issue our first time, too. I was perturbed then, as well. Geez, didn’t Venice get my memo?? Basically, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1987) and the city council implemented a campaign in 2017 called ‘Enjoy Respect Venezia‘ which does list several rules, including not sitting in heavily visited areas. These rules include bans on being topless, swimming in the canals, littering, and feeding the birds. I suppose…the rules aren’t stupid. They are put in place so that the thousands of us visiting can enjoy the charms of a very small place. I did so wish I could just sit down, though. I didn’t see the harm in that.
So, to make myself fall in love with Venice again, our second day I got up at 5:30am and was out the door at 5:58am. There were more people outside than I expected but still hardly anyone. I enjoyed the cooler air and the soft morning light. I got to wander around without worrying about bumping into anybody. I looked around at things joyfully. I took a deep breath. I enjoyed the silence and stillness of the place.
When I was approaching St Mark’s square, a small Italian man spoke to me. He asked me something in Italian and then switched to English. He commented on the fact that he observed that I had walked for some time before taking a photo. This made him happy because it meant I was taking time to really see the place. He said that everyone just snaps pictures without knowing what they are taking pictures of…that everyone just hears that Venice is where they should go…cheap flights land in Venice so they get a lot of tourists who come without any idea of why the place is special. He thought it was interesting and unique that I walked for 50 meters, saw something I liked, stopped to compose a photograph, and snapped just one picture.
I felt sort of flattered…I was the first person he had seen in ten years who had done that?!? That he normally sees everyone snap, snap, snapping away without regard? I found it flattering, as I said, but also hard to believe. While I do share the opinion that the days of phones and readily available high-tech cameras causes even the most practised photographer to be a bit snap happy, I do also believe in artists and the ‘eye’ and getting up early to see things in the early light…and I just can’t believe that his observation was a unique one.
I smiled readily but kept a wary mind. In fact, I started to get a weird vibe from him and tried to remain polite while keeping my distance. But Lorenzo wanted to tell me things. He followed me a bit and told me that the pandemic meant that for once in his lifetime that he could remember, Venice was just for the Venetians. He told me that only 50,000 people live in Venice and that every single day they are crowded by 150,000 tourists, so there is no air to breath. I later checked these statistics, and think he was exaggerating a bit. It seems about 55,000 residents live in the historic centre of Venice, and that about the same amount are daily tourists. These numbers are still astonishing. Can you imagine your city’s population doubling every single day due to tourists?
When the pandemic hit and travel restrictions were in place, Venetians could enjoy their city that was dreamt and planned for them by their ancestors. Lorenzo wanted to give me a history lesson on the basilica and that’s the moment when I started to get the feeling that he wouldn’t leave me alone and that he wanted money. I tried to walk away and when he asked me my name and where I am from. He wanted to know if I could speak French. He wanted to know why I was back in Venice after seven years when there are so many other, nicer, places to visit. I have half-wondered that myself.
But I was keen to see this place in its busiest season. I am glad we came. The area is much lovelier and more agreeable in the early morning when the sun is just peaking over the spires of the basilica, when the square is empty save for pigeons and the odd photographer or two…ones that don’t get approached by Lorenzo’s and given compliments that may or may not be true. Lorenzo eventually got the hint and left me to my wanderings and photography.
After this encounter, I was approached again by another man who asked me if I had noticed any open bars. At 630 in the morning. I chuckled and shook my head. I found my way to the Rialtro Bridge where at a nearby cafe I bought a deliciously fresh croissant with custard cream inside and strolled effortlessly up and around the famous landmark. I found a friendly cat. I said ‘Ciao’ to a few locals, who smiled at me. I helped an elderly couple take the much-coveted people-free photo on the bridge. It was a beautiful morning. I fell in love with Venice again.
Later that day we went to yet another art gallery: the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia. Every six or seven years Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ is displayed there. Callum thought it was there all the time and figured I would want to see it. It wasn’t there…and I got a sneaking suspicion we had been to this exact gallery the last time we were there. So, we saw some more art. It was grand, amazing, and very repetitive, literally. We did get a bit ‘arted out’.
We left for a coffee and came across Pauly the Painter (@paulythepainterhove) for the second time in as many days. He is an artist from England whose style and ambition to paint outdoors I very much admired and envied. I spent some time chatting to him about his work, complimenting his style and also bravery–to paint so large in a place where thousands of people will come by and judge him, and in the heat of Venice in July! Wow! I always try to talk to artists when I see them. Anyhow, check out his work.
Aaaand……at the last possible moment of our daylight hours in Venice, we finally got a gondola ride. It was as magical and enjoyable as I could have imagined. We got to be in quieter canals and peek in windows of passing restaurants and hotels. The light was dimming and yet we could see plenty. There were fewer people having a gondola ride, as they were all eating their dinners. As we glided along, taking tight corners with the most practised panache, with a sudden flourish, our handsome gondolier propelled us into the Grand Canal to see the Rialtro Bridge once more from the water. I gasped with surprise and pleasure—we had not expected this. The twinkly lights of all the hotels and restaurants glittered and reflected on the water, the air was warm as a kiss, the laughter of relaxed tourists musical, and a joyous feeling enveloped us. Worth every one of those 100 euros, in my opinion.
My final verdict? Venice, a special and beautiful-at-every-turn kind of place, certainly not to be missed by any globe-trotter. Especially before it sinks. Choose your season wisely, budget for the Aperol Spritz and gondola ride experiences, leave after two days. Go somewhere a little less touristy afterward. That’s how to love Venice.