To my young and naive self, Venice epitomised romance. Gondoliers singing romantic songs in the sunset, candlelit dinners at the side of the sparkling canals, bohemian artists, musicians and writers, pretty little streets; so much to delight the senses. I could barely contain my excitement when my husband announced that we were off to Venice.The day finally dawned, visions of the romantic time ahead of us swimming around my head, my newly practised Italian rolling off my tongue – well I could ask for a table for two, order a drink and say please and thank you at least.
We crammed on to the vaporetto (Venetian water bus), the cool air of the water providing a welcome breeze in the hot sun, and headed straight for St Marks Square. Venice suddenly just hit me. No other way to describe it. My senses, instantly aroused with the hustle and bustle, street musicians, throngs of people, heat and most of all the smell. This wasn’t the romantic notion I had nurtured all these years. In my romantic dreams the canals were sparkling blue and not at all smelly, there weren’t hordes of tourists, there weren’t pigeons everywhere and the associated mess that goes with them adding to the putrid canal smell and most of all, it wasn’t so hot that instead of looking bohemian-chic Italian, I looked like a hot, sweaty English tourist.
Disappointment hit with force and I sat on the edge of St Marks square, my bemused husband wondering what had happened to instantly quell my enthusiasm.As I sat there, however I began to look properly, the other parts of Venice I hadn’t previously considered coming into focus. The stunning intricate architecture and grandeur of St Marks Basilica, the little streets leading off the square, the vibrant atmosphere making the whole place buzz with an intense electricity, the passionate arguing in fast Italian, the flowers adding colour, the rhythm of the boats weaving their way in and out, through the canals and over the lagoon, the other islands ready to explore.
I suddenly felt revitalised and excited. Here was a whole new angle to the romantic dream I had once held about Venice, and to my adult self it looked so much more thrilling.Once more enthused and excited we dived into discovering Venice. The opulent magnificence of the ornate St Marks Basilica and the Doges Palace, the gondoliers in their black and white striped tops and caps, the busy Rialto bridge over the Grand Canal, teeming with boats of all shapes and sizes, the bustling and the crowded Rialto food markets, loud with fast and furious Italian. We spent many hours in the hot baking sun exploring hidden churches, little side streets with quiet empty canals, intricate carvings on buildings, little squares (campi) and narrow alleys (calli), and discovering colourful little oases in unexpected places, window shopping in expensive little boutiques, listening to the gondoliers singing, street musicians playing Vivaldi with intensity and in doing so we discovered the true Venice, that is romantic and passionate in its own unique way, vibrant, alive and an assault on the senses. You don’t just ‘see’ Venice, you ‘feel’ it with intense passion. It made me feel alive, thrilled, awed and overwhelmed. I can’t wait to ‘feel’ Venice again.