From storybooks and fairy tales to poetry and plays, the city of Venice has been a poignant source of inspiration for writers, artists and story tellers alike and after years of living vicariously through beautiful paintings, photographs and films of the city, I finally made it to the city of canals.
As I was slowly wound around the buildings and through the canals in my elegant wood-paneled boat, I was immediately overcome by the slightly pungent and off-putting smell wafting from the calm waters of the canals. However, I was soon distracted by the myriad of colours – blue, dusty pink, beige – that adorned the walls of the buildings towering over me. From first glance, it became clear to me that Venice was a city of juxtapositions. While the crumbling façades of the buildings told a story of centuries past, their sparkling interiors boasted of modernization and development.
The next few days passed like a dream and I came to understand what Marcel Proust meant when he wrote “When I went to Venice I found that my dream had become – incredibly, but quite simply – my address.” I am not sure I can find a more apt description of the city.
After days of endless walking, eating and exploring the city, I honed-in on what, I believe, are essential experiences for any traveler visiting this dreamy city.
One: Wear your walking shoes and set off down one of the many tiny, winding streets. This is an amazing way to discover some brilliant restaurants, cafes and shopping kiosks. I was able to get my hands on some amazing paintings at a fraction of the price than those being sold in the more commercial areas of the city. A good way to find your way back is to ask which direction the Piazza San Marco is and just head in that direction.
Two: Take a gondola ride. This is possibly the most clichéd ‘must-do’ experience but a trip to Venice without this iconic experience would not be complete. I actually feel that a gondola ride is the best way to soak in this old city. Slowly meandering down the canals of Venice in a gondola gave me the perfect opportunity to admire the beautiful architecture and actually see how the local Venetians live. From the garbage-man collecting rubbish from his boat to residents getting into their boats to do their daily chores, it was fascinating to see how the locals live.
Three: Sit along the Piazza San Marco with a gelato, Nutella crepe and an espresso. Piazza San Marco is the perfect place to people-watch, especially if the weather is good. In peak season, the square is littered with tourists, giving it a lovely vibrancy. You will see children running around, a musician playing his guitar in a corner and lots of pigeons cooling themselves off in the fountain. One word of caution though: It is best to sit along the stairs directly opposite the Basilica San Marco or in one of the restaurants or cafes along the square. My sister and I were abruptly chased off by the Italian police when we tried to sit on the grounds of the square.
Four: Admire the beautiful architecture of the Basilica San Marco and the beautiful view of the Piazza San Marco from the top of the Basilica. The Basilica San Marco is absolutely incredible from the inside, with its gold-gilded pillars and ornate carvings. On the top floors of the basilica, beautiful Italian sculptures are kept on display and as you step out onto the balcony of the Basilica, a stunning view of the square and the sea await you.
Five: Take a boat ride to and explore the island of Murano. As you step off the boat, you are hit with a riot of colours. Each structure is painted a vibrant red, yellow, peach or green and as you walk towards the centre of the island, you are treated to quaint cafes in tree-lined courtyards, where you can enjoy a delicious bite of pizza and lemonade. While you are on the island, don’t forget to check out the Murano glass shops and pick up a souvenir.
As I left Venice in my water taxi, I am sure I left a piece of my heart in this beautiful city and I cannot wait to go back to get it.
Here’s to my Italian summer…