We are in love with Venice. We can’t help ourselves.
The last time we visited was three years ago — pre-pandemic. It’s like we’ve been on a very long interstellar voyage. We’ve been looking forward to getting back to Venice for so long and through such strange territory, that we worried that we’d burnished our memories out of proportion to the real place.
We needn’t have worried. Venice is as seductive as ever.
We’ll try not to ramble on too much about our beloved. Just a few vignettes…
Each time we’ve had the good fortune to visit Venice, we’ve stayed in the districts of San Marco and Dorsoduro, near the Grand Canal and not very far from Piazza San Marco. These areas are filled with all sorts of shops, caffès, restaurants and beautiful vistas, canals, piazzas, and churches. (map)
In past years, the pedestrian passages, some of which are no wider than two shoulders, have been crowded to the point of gridlock. This year, the shadow of covid has reduced the number of visitors, maybe by half. That still leaves quite a few people. As we stroll — and Venice is all about strolling — every corner opens to some beautiful building facade or enticing boutique. We walk around smiling.
Venice might be our happy place, but for some of our friends, it’s nice and all, but not that special. For them, it’s too many people, sudden bad-water canal smells, junky tourist shops.
During today’s walk, I think I understand that perception a bit more. We chose a long walk from the Piazzale Roma, which is the terminus of car and bus access from the mainland, to the neighborhood where we are staying, near the Academia Bridge. Our wandering route crosses little bridges over the canals, winds amid old picturesque buildings, pops in and out of piazzas, and mounts and descends the famous Rialto Bridge. Very Venice. But for most of the route, until we approach “our” neighborhood, the shops offer piles of tourist junk, most of which was surely not made in Venice. There are so many of these shops, one pretty much like the next; they obscure the underlying beauty of the place. This particular stroll taught to choose our routes carefully, and to be conscious about what to look at and what to ignore.
Murano is like a great big outdoor mall for artisanal glass — that happens to be about 750 years old. Seductive. Intoxicating. Overwhelming.
There are so many shops that we have to perform a kind of triage as we look in the shop windows. The clowns help us. The creepy glass clowns, that is. If even one glass clown figure inhabits a shop window, for us, that’s a “Oh, no, keep on moving.”
Toward the end of our glass-shopping day, we stopped in a shop where we had bought some drinking glasses a few years ago. The saleswoman was of good humor once we explained that somehow we had been successful finding things for ourselves but we still needed to find some glass presents for our friends. Good sales person that she was, she took our comment seriously and started prompting us with ideas for what we could buy. Actually, we had already fulfilled our gift list, so the conversation morphed into light chatting. We didn’t find anything that we wanted to buy so said, “Ciao.” She accompanied us to the canal-side walkway. We stood together in front of her storefront, from which two glass clowns stared at us. Mike said, “Since we’re good friends now, can I ask you a question?” She nodded. “Do people really buy these clowns?” She replied seriously, “There are collectors!” When we expressed our surprise, she said, “Yeah, I know. People either love them or hate them.” We made subtle faces that screamed, “We’re in the hate camp.” She scrunched up her face: “Me too. I don’t get it!” (Apologies to any clown figurine lovers out there. But just know that there are fine glass clowns waiting for you in Murano.)
Real life on the canals
To celebrate our long-delayed visit to Venice, and careful liberation from the worst of covid confinement, we splurged and chose an apartment rental right on the Grand Canal.
Before I tell you about the fun of sitting next to the canal and watching the real Venetian life go by, I’ll reveal a couple little challenges: stealthy mosquitoes and canal aromas.
This was the first time we had stayed in a place so close to the level of the canal, only about a meter and a half above the water. At the doorway from the living room to the little terrace / dock along the canal, we found steel channels along the lower parts of the door frame. These are the guides for barriers that the owner has to install when the canal level rises during storms and spring tides. Thanks to climate change and the inexorable subsidence of Venice, these barriers are ever more necessary.
In the doorway, we also noticed a retractable roll of insect screening. We were visiting in October, not summer, so we didn’t think much more about that. Until the mosquito scouts ear-buzzed and ankle-probed. Then we also found a drawer full of mosquito repellent.
But out on the little dock, the mosquitoes weren’t so much of a problem. One evening, I pulled a terrace chair out as far toward the canal as I could. I sat and watched the boats come and go, and the sunset light shift on the palazzi across the canal. I have to admit I was more than sipping a glass (or two) of Prosecco. I started to feel a little queasy. That’s curious; I can handle my Prosecco. Then I realized that in the calm evening, the pretty canal water was emitting noxious sewer-y fumes. I tried to ignore it … without success. I have to say something to any of you who are thinking, “That’s what everyone says — stinky Venice, filthy canals, gross!” Maybe; but this is the first time after a half-dozen visits that we’ve experienced any foul odors. It’s kind-of our fault: we were hanging out just above the water along the main watery boulevard of Venice.
Despite those little distractions, the architecture, the work boats, the vaporetti are a joy to look at.
Our first evening in Venice, and quite a disappointment. In tourist-focused Venice, you have to be watch out for problem restaurants. Our review:
Overpriced, under-flavored, skimpy portions, outrageously priced wines. Lots of style, attractive ambiance, pleasant professional service. However, there was more pretention than good food. Not worth the price even if it’s such a nice location facing the Giudecca.
But it was pretty…
Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2018 Campo Bastiglia
Versus Meridianem, Murano
A little break from shopping. Splendid setting by the water on a sunny day.