I was about 16 when I first heard about people falling in love with Venice. I treated this and similar claims with scepticism at the time, and have continued to do so ever since. Having visited many cities since, I feel a kind of familiarity with London, which has popped in and it of my life for many years (although I doubt there is much still standing in the City centre that was there when I first visited); I enjoyed Dublin for its big-hearted charm, and I admire Barcelona as a city that I felt welcome in both when I was rich and when I was poor. But I never really loved a city. How could anyone? I was sceptical that Venice would be any different.
Whatever else you may say, there are ways in which Venice is very different from most other cities. The fact that it is on a series of islands means that the boundaries are strictly defined, so urban sprawl is not really possible; the fact that there are very few cars give it a very rare feeling of tranquility despite the crowds that throng the main streets, and the city’s close connection with the sea permeates every facet of life.
Venice has an immediate intimacy. You really do not need a map, as everything is contained within a very small area. You can, of course, follow one if you wish, but we very quickly learned that it is far more fun to just get lost in the warren of narrow streets and alleyways and make your own discoveries. You can be sure that many others have been there before you – but you do feel that your visit is somehow unique.
If you visit the city, be sure to spend at least one day taking full advantage of the city’s transport system. 20 Euros will buy you the freedom of Venice’s buses, trams and ferries for 24 hours; 30 Euros pays for 48 hours. For this you can bus in from the surrounding (cheaper) villages and enjoy the freedom of Venice’s nautical public transport system, which will take you to any of the major islands in the lagoon at will. We visited Murano for the glass factories, Lido for a day at one of the most fanatically organised beaches I have ever seen, took a tour along the main canal, and hopped from place to place on the main island when the midday heat became too oppressive. I was told that the tickets can even be used for (short) gondola rides across canals at certain designated places, although I did not see any gondoliers on duty when we looking to try this: they were probably all too busy with more lucrative trips.
It is quite easy to be cynical about Venice – for much of the first morning I found myself taking photos of gondola traffic jams – but after a few hours the city begins to seep into your soul. By the start of the second day I was eager to return, and by the end of the third day, leaving the city for the last time, I did feel that there was still so much I hadn’t seen, so much still to discover about the city. Yes, I felt a little bit heartbroken.
I have a thought in mind that you can leave Venice but Venice never leaves you. I am not sure who said that first: maybe it was me… but I do feel that I want to return to Venice one day and I do regret spending so little time there: it does feel a little like falling in love!
As always, I look forward to your comments: