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Updated: 10th September 2015
I always knew it would become somewhere special from my very first visit, by the fourth time it had taken a slice of my heart.
Those waterways had taken me through two relationships, beautiful sunset moments, fierce arguments and solo solitary wanderings. Those little details which ignited an Italian passion in me.
But whether I was there in love during the summer crowds, skipping solo over flooded paths in winter or camping on the mainland because I simply couldn’t afford the prices one thing was always true when I left: Venice still called my name and I would still whisper back ‘Amore’.
I wanted to write a Venice travel guide but it wouldn’t do it justice to list all the sights, instead, I will list how it made me feel.
However you arrive at a destination can start your emotions rolling in so many different ways. If money allows then touching down in Marco Polo airport and being whisked by boat to the water-steps of your hotel the magic of those canals will deafen your senses. You might fly into the smaller airport at Treviso, where a quaint town and fine gelato takes you wondering it is small back streets before being served the main event.
The train could glide you along the bridge, the water glistening around as your excitement builds to find a land with no traffic. But even if it’s a local bus, with the rain being fought against by the windshield wipers – you still know Venice is waiting under water for your arrival.
The charm of getting lost in Venice as you hunt down your hotel, or a converted monastery to call home for a few days (see: We Crociferi review), may feel like hell in summer. The chaos of those crowded streets sinking under all those footsteps, the beating sun making you squint at the red road signs as your map becomes a confusing trail of lines.
You might have skipped that when you were whisked from the airport, it might be a small rental on the mainland you find yourself at first. You might arrive on a crisp winter morning to a peaceful set of waterways that day-trippers haven’t touched yet. But in the madness of that heat and the crazy crowds, it is hard still not to feel the magic of Venice envelope you hard and start to take you on its journey.
That Venice travel guide you cling onto in your hand becomes absolute, the need to grab a Prosecco, rest and watch the characters that animate the streets takes over.
The waterways where gondolas glide can become an expensive indulgent, a shriek of ‘I didn’t ask to buy the boat’ or a special occasion wrapped up at dusk. The public bus ferries may miss the stripped top drivers and the intimate setting but the views are the same, the magic of sunset sending the whole city into a golden hour of beauty.
The history of each door and landing strip setting your mind on fire. They become reference points when you’re lost, memories you’ll cherish and hours of walking along to nowhere in particular.
Priceless moments can come at a price andas you enjoy your first espresso looking out on the Rialto bridge you know what that means. But it’s not just the coffee or the bridge you are there to lap up, it’s the old man who stumbles by and looks at it with love, still, after a lifetime of being there. It’s the hurried Italian conversation that passes by as day-to-day business continues.
It’s the very essence of what Venice is. You realise the worlds most expensive coffee can still, somehow, become priceless in itself.
Art speaks louder when it is hidden within art, the city itself can stand alone as a gallery but whether it is the canvas and paint or sculptures and glass you can delve into a history as much or little as you like. The galleries make themselves prominent, the artwork shrieking out to be perved upon.
Landmarks become more than a photo shoot and beg you to come back for more. The sun might have set on that square or that church, your camera firmly unable to capture the magic. But when the water floods around you, your chair sits above it in the middle of St Marks Square and the day comes to an end it’s that last lull of a band, the distant hum of busses departing and then the real beauty of it can be seen. Your tripod and DSLR nothing but a distant memory.
Daylight or not, your eyes will still dart around taking it all in.
Look down, look up, look further than the tour guides. It’s so easy in any destination of ‘must sees’ and ‘must do’ to dash amongst the crowds, miss the artist quietly sitting and reading, not take in the roof tops in all their beauty. Forget to scan the walls of history and art around you.
Take it slow, take it in. Let that tour run on ahead, let the bells of the church ring loud whilst you stand still. Look for that small alley complete with your perfect pasta and savour the moment. You don’t feel like Venice is sinking then, you feel like your swimming through the pool of paradise.
Where ever you dine or wine you’ll find your own moment. Perhaps Harry’s Bar, home of the Bellini might not suit your dress-code, the busy cafe culture might not be your cup of, well, coffee. A slice of pizza out a small window might become your staple diet or that black squid risotto could have you coming back each night.
The small squares with their little bars and windows, where locals and tourists set their playground together. Aperol Spritz served in a plastic cup lets you wonder those squares, a communal bar with a community feeling. You’ll find your favourite watering hole in Venice it is just a matter of looking.
Those narrow streets will replace any need for a map. Your confidence will grow because you just don’t care how lost you get, you want to get lost, you want to feel consumed by those pathways, you want to discover that next art-deco wall, shop or barista that the guidebook hasn’t recommended.
You’ll want to find your Venice, the Venice that calls your name years after you have left.
The underdog neighbours which subtly pull you towards them might not have the fame of this city but with a weeks pass on the waterways you can’t help but be drawn in. Burano where little glass sweets are purchased as gifts, the colourful houses of Muarano which light up even the most dark of days.
The beaches of sands that engulf the slightly forgetting resorts in winter in Lido. Life on the water is good and here your next surprise is just a short boat trip away.
Wherever you stay on this magic land be it the expensive hotel or the small guest house, the Venetian charm and design inside may be different but the world outside is still there. In the black of night whilst this city sleeps slip out onto the cobbled streets and enjoy the calm.
Your Venice travel guide will become your thirst for a small spot to call your own, it will not be written on sheets of paper.
It’s been two years since my last visit but all it takes is a glimpse of a photo, a glass sweet in a shop or a mask to catch my eye and I hear it again. Venice calls my name and i’ll whisper Amore.
I can never forget the magic moments it left in my heart.
How did Venice make you feel?