La Serenissima is as enchanting and alluring as any guidebook or travel magazine could tell you. We recently spent a few days exploring, and subsequently getting lost in her network of alleyways, canals and bridges which really is as fine a way as any of getting to know the city. We walked through lanes that you could hardly believe led to a turning so suddenly small they were, or ones that crossed yet another bridge, or even sometimes dead-ended into a canal. I was charmed by the terracotta-hued buildings with paint gently peeling off the walls as they succumb to the saltwater and humidity, giving an air of graceful ageing to the grand palaces and humble homes.
Yes, there is a concern that the sea will finally consume it, with the annual floods and most recent aqua alta besieging the city. Or that the influx of mass tourism will squeeze the life out of real Venice with ever rising property prices and locals selling out. Or the effect of cruise ships on the sea beds around the island. But go a little deeper and true Venice is still there, especially in Cannaregio and Castello where life goes on as usual and you get to experience the true charm of the place.
Life on an island as unique as this does take some getting used to. I read Nicoletta Fornaro’s blog Naturally Epicurean before going and basically immersed myself in a local Venetian’s view of life and her beautiful photography. In one article she mentions how grocery shopping requires one to visit several different places or markets to get everything you need, which requires planning as you will be lugging home lots of heavy bags on foot.
G and I also remarked how different it must be to have to transport equipment to a work site, having seen construction workers with trolleys waiting for the vaporetto (water buses) in the morning. And how most residents probably wouldn’t require a standard driving licence, as you wouldn’t have a need for cars. The vaporetto are the work horses of the canals and they ply them all day long transporting people to and fro like clockwork. The traghetto cross the Grand Canal from one side to another, cutting short what would otherwise be a significant walk. And the skilful gondoliers take willing tourists for a short tour round the waterways.
But island living has its particular benefits – fish and seafood as fresh as you can get it being a particular highlight of our trip. A quick stroll through Mercato Rialto revealed fish so fresh it was stiff with rigor mortis still, scallops in their beautiful fanned shells, mantis shrimp, sweet local clams, goby fish, squid and octopus. Some of these we enjoyed in their many incarnations through the local cuisine.
Our stay also coincided with Carnival, and although it was cut short with recent health concerns there was enough spectacle on the street to enjoy gazing at. Locals really went all out in dressing up, parading around the streets and posturing for photographs. Masks galore and bouffant ballgowns recalled a masquerade of days gone by.
If you hear the siren call of this wonderful city, heed it. She has a way of getting under your skin and staying there. I for one will definitely return.