To try to find something that has not been said already about Venice is hard. It’s beauty and charm, are more than apparent. The aqua maze that the visitor is presented with is in itself quite staggering. The 400 hundred or so bridges that span this cornucopia of palaces nestling in a sea of dreams covering 118 individual islands has been a lure for many a writer, painter and filmmaker over the years.
We were here to celebrate M’s Birthday and a significant wedding anniversary. We had visited before many years ago, so that first glimpse experience eluded us. I clearly remember goose bumps the first time we came, arriving by train from Florence itself no slouch in the beauty department as we alighted that hot spring morning and the whole ballet of Venice unfolded, we jumped into a speedboat and were off.
This visit was by plane, so after the short seven minute walk from the airport to the water’s edge we set sail on one of the boats that take you to Venice stopping along the way, giving us diminished company but affording us better views at every stop. This was late at night and even at midnight when we finally docked at San Marco the experience was even more invigorating. There were a few late night strollers content with their own thoughts and the lapping of the waves. We were in our own kind of heaven, untouched by anything except the total abject beauty of this city of mystery. The Venetian Gothic architecture somehow taking on a new form in the moonlit sky, influences of Ottoman, Byzantine and Moorish Spain played shadow games with our expectations.
A short walk to our hotel, The Pagenelli and we checked in. We had travelled with only walk on hand luggage, this gave us the freedom to walk without the help of a porter or trolley. The view from our third floor room was stunning even at night. In the morning we were to discover a view that looked like a moving Canaletto. All of life was going about its business on the Grand Canal. We were directly facing the San Giorgio Maggiore Church. The sun was high in the sky and nothing could have made me happier than that view right then, the glistening water with gondoliers punting their happy passengers around the lagoon and down The Grand Canal for their own individual journeys of expectation and discovery.
We had no real agenda for this trip having covered most of the bases last time but as our stay was to be short we had imposed one rule: no queuing. This is a brilliantly simple piece of advice I’d pass on to anyone visiting Venice. You could spend your whole time there in some sort of waiting experience. There is so much to see just wandering around that you just don’t need to see all the famous sights as prescribed by the guidebooks.
Getting lost in Venice is something that is inevitable and extremely enjoyable. The place is a complete warren of back streets, canals, piazzas and bridges that you can see you need to cross but can’t get to, just wonderful. We ambled around most of the morning getting used to the temperature. It was pleasantly warm in the early 70’s F. The washing hanging form upper floors has its own visual poetry you can work out whose load is on the line. A string of striped shirts, probably a gondolier’s house, a line of hoodies definitely a teenager. All of life is there in these washing lines.
Afternoon tea was in order so off to The Florian. This is the restaurant that charges you six Euros for just walking in and sitting at a table. Why? Well, they have a small orchestra playing outside and that is what you are paying for. It might sound a rip off but I don’t think so, we sat in the old tearooms in the shade, the band playing outside was just far enough away to make it a pleasant background sound. Served with aplomb and in silver pots the tea was perfect. This is the oldest existing eatery in Venice, Lord Byron used to drink here so we felt in good company. The vast windows afforded us a perfect view of St. Marks Square.
After a few hours we headed further down into Castello, which is less touristy and home to many working Venetians. I had heard the food was better value so we settled at a small restaurant. Enjoyed a nibble or two before the pizza and pasta came. The food was all the better being served by an Italian who corrected my poor attempts at speaking his language in a school ma’am way. But nothing could destroy my mood in fact it made us laugh.
Then a curious vision occurred, at the end of the road where we were eating a giant and I mean giant cruise liner came into view, towering over all the buildings. Turning in the Lagoon it seemed as if it was going to engulf us. Everyone just stood and stared at it. Tragic and incongruous, I really don’t understand how a world heritage sight allows such an aesthetic travesty. It soon passed away and the gawping crowd continued with their evening. The wine flowed a bit more and we soon forgot the aberration and moved back up to the San Marco district.
We had never visited Harry’s Bar and had heard horror stories of lengthy queues. Well I guess we were just lucky but we walked straight in at 10pm on a Saturday evening and sat at the bar. The measures here are legendary. I watched as people ordered their favourite cocktails and was fairly shocked to see no jiggers in use. The bar tenders just pour a lethal amount of what you’ve ordered into the appropriate glass and hand it over. My kind of place. We hung out there for an hour or so and enjoyed a refreshing vodka martini (too long there could prove unwise!) then headed off to The Hotel Danieli, about three minutes from where we were staying. Here there is an altogether calmer pace of life. In the corner a pianist was quietly tinkering the ivories, the plush banquettes and armchairs beckoning you to relax in them. Yes, this was a quiet haven with impeccable staff serving quality nibbles that were a meal in themselves as well as delectable drinks. Another hour passed as we watched the world that is ‘Hotel Danieli’ pass by.
The next day was all about getting on and off Vaporetti and moving out of our comfort zone. This proved to be such fun. The stops are not very far away from each other and a complete run of The Grand Canal is an essential Venice experience. We hopped on and off most of the day. Finding by accident behind the Peggy Guggenheim Collection the gallery quarter with hand made glass, oil paintings and sculptures to enjoy. M found a wonderfully dexterous Italian leather bag that can be a rucksack, over the shoulder bag as well a short handbag. It was one of those moments where she realised that she needed one only after seeing it. Who could deny her this little luxury on her birthday holiday?
Lunch was near The Rialto Bridge. Much of the enthusiasm that lured us to the riverside table soon diminished. All the energy is put into getting bums on seats not waiting the tables. But still, no matter, I enjoyed a couple of Spritzes, that Venetian aperitif that seems to taste at its best in Venice. The simple wine based combination of Prosecco, Aperol a slice of orange and a dash of soda with ice is the perfect pick me up after a morning of walking and to get you into the mood for lunch and it looks so pretty with the sun shining through it.
Lunch was great, I had wanted to eat a big plate of pasta and so I did. My spaghetti carbonara was fabulous. The pasta was fresh and the sauce creamy with plenty of bacon. An hour or two passed by as we took in the ever-changing vista of The Grand Canal. I could watch it all day.
As our time drew to a close in this most beautiful of cities we wandered back to our hotel to collect our luggage and sip another Spritz before it was time to leave. Our final boat journey to the airport was at sunset. This is another thing I would recommend always leave a place of such elegance as the sun goes down. It left us with lasting memories that I know will only be replaced when we return, which we will of course, of that I can be sure.