Venice is remarkable. It has a romantic allure that tops the charts for places to see in the world. The idea of a city on top of water, with canals for roads and little cobblestone footpaths lined with window displays, and festivals like Carnevale and Il Redentore; bring 12-20 million tourists here per year.
Piazza San Marco, Grand Canal, Saint Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge, Dorsoduro, San Giorgio Maggiore, Murano, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Santa Maria della Salute; whatever your interest there is so much to see.
You may remember my 40 before 40 list. Illness followed by an operation stopped us from getting to Italy like we planned. But life has a wonderful way of bringing opportunities when you least expect them. We had a very successful first year with English for Success and to celebrate our year to come, we came to Budapest Hungary and on the way stopped in Venice. Long overdue, we make our way to Hungary as I haven’t been back in two years. Moving to Europe and the convenience of easy travel was among the reasons we moved here in the first place. Setting up our new life took time, and now that there’s a moment to breath, coming for a visit over the Christmas break topped our priorities.
Angelina and I had the flu, the kind that moves deep into your lungs that comes with a cough, like a 30 year 2 packs of cigarette veteran. Although the sexy low tones, and singing Christmas carols might be worth a cold, going on vacation with a sick little girl is not always fun. I pulled her out of school a day early to have an extra day of rest before we hit the road. Her and I slept most of the day, and I visited the doctor for antibiotics which she thankfully didn’t need. Alfonz finished his big test for TESOL, and we packed up our life into the van to make the 1700 kilometre journey to Hungary with the two day stop in Venice on the way.
We felt like Gypsies with boxes of wine for our family, four large suitcases packed with all our winter clothes and all the extra stuff we probably didn’t need. I wanted to get a much as I could in the van just in case. It wasn’t an overly prepared trip; I hadn’t the energy to organise before hand, instead I took everything.
Along the way I listened to my French recordings and read from a French book I bought at the gas station; a teen novel about first love. I was just happy to understand most of the words; a little accomplishment after three years in France. I had it in my mind that this trip would be so relaxing that I could learn French in Budapest. But life is never that simple.
Angelina ran a high fever from Capestang to Venice, and we needed to stop often. There is only so many movies the children can watch on the 10 hour road trip (and that’s the halfway point.)
Yet, Daniel and Angelina were angels. Finally, we parked the car at Mestre European car rentals just on the outskirts of Venice, where they have secure parking. We grabbed our “Venice” bag with a mix of clothes just for our two days in Italy and walked the block to the nearest train station.
It took us 10 minutes to arrive to the watery islands of Venice and cost 5€. It was dark by 4:00 on one of the shortest day of the year, December 18th, and by moonlight we reached my dream destination; Venice.
Once at the end of the line, we had to take a water taxi across to Venice itself which cost 7€/person. 6 years-old children and under are free, which Angelina could pass for, but we paid the full price. It felt a privilege to be there, after all, and I was working on my karma. With Angelina sick, I needed all the powers that may be to work in our favour for a good visit.
After 10 more minutes to the other side, our host Olimpia took us to the apartment that she rented to us through AirBnB. We quickly settled into our beautiful modern two room accommodations and hit the ground running to find dinner and explore. We found a new energy being there, and the kids loved how the entire city seems to float on turquoise/grey waters.
We walked down little cobblestone paths, twisting and turning between three story stone buildings. Little bridges connect each section, bigger bridges pass over the Grand Canal. It was everything I had seen in the photos and read in the books but also so much more. The smell of the entranceway of the building hit me, a mixture of damp, old library.
Will the city stand the test of time and the newest problem of climate control? Or will the city sink into the abyss like the lost city of Atlantis? When the high waters come, the rubber boots come out. Such is life on the islands. One solution is to build a protective moat around Venice with floodgates to regulate the waters.
The city of Venice is built on millions of wooden stakes driven into the sandy ground under the water of the marshlands. Over the years the wood has petrified and stands as strong as stone. On these, wooden platforms were built, and the buildings on top. This was in the 5th century after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, barbarians from the north were raiding Rome’s former territories. The Venetian population escaped to the nearby marshes, and found refuge on the sandy islands of Torcello, Iesolo and Malamocco. In between these islands they built their city and connected them with bridges and waterways. The wood for this was brought from the forests of Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro and transported via water.
Venetians are lucky. What an extraordinary place to live. No cars, everything arrives by boat and people with dollies move the merchandise from one end to the other. Their roads are waterways. Their parking lots, ports.
The buildings are magnifique. The texture of the stone buildings against the dark grey/blue canal waters seem an architectural feet. The reflections of the buildings and the sky above is a photographer’s playground. Fog floated over Venice our entire stay, and added mysterious aspect to Venice.
As I looked around and tried to take it all in, I noticed that everyone was dressed in their Sunday best. Perhaps for Christmas or because they felt, as I did, that we are in a very special place. Sporting our best leather shoes and formal winter coats, we arrived to an elite party, where you stroll along streets, peek into designer stores, browse the markets and dine in quaint cafes. We walked hand in hand, buying little things along the way; sampling the Venetian life.
118 tiny islands make up Venice, and the lagoon, the marshlands and Venice as a whole are all a UNESCO World Heritage site and is protected. The floating city is home to about 60,000 but the commune with the mainland is home for nearly 272,000 residents.
We did all the normal things that people do in Venice, but mostly we walked around taking photos, visited the Cathedral and the different neighbourhoods. Venice is the most beautiful city I had ever visited in my entire life.