Jane and I have just got back from a five night break, split between Verona, which was new to both of us, and Venice, which I have long contended is my favourite city in the world. Jane hadn’t been there before and I was a bit concerned that my overwhelming enthusiasm for the place was not going to be matched. We are both prone to being a bit contrary, and I wrote about how I felt when I visited one of Jane’s favourite places last summer – Aberdovey.
However, I needn’t have worried. As soon as we came out of Venice’s Santa Lucia station and Jane clapped eyes on the scene of the Grand Canal and medieval churches and palaces laid out in front of her, she instantly fell in love. In fact she remarked that she felt that she had just landed in a painting – a great observation.
So why do I rate this place so highly?
Decrepit … and all the better for it
The place is falling apart. But one thing I’ve consistently said about this city since I first visited around 20 years ago, is that the decrepitude adds to the beauty of the place. Let’s face it, if a bit of render is falling off a wall in London or New York, you’d instantly want to tell the owner, the government, ANYBODY to hop to it and get it fixed … it’s lowering the tone of the neighbourhood, for goodness sake! But, due to a combination of the vast funds that would be needed and the uber-tight restrictions on restoration and repairs, it doesn’t get done in Venice. But you know what? I love it just the way it is.
One of a kind
This isn’t just another Italian city. I love Rome, Florence, Verona and we are planning to visit others soon too. I also love Tokyo, Lisbon, Vienna, Vancouver and Hanoi – not to mention our own London and Edinburgh. But which other city on the world is built on a million petrified logs, sitting in a lagoon? Which other city requires you to carry two maps in your head – one of waterways and one of paths and bridges? Which other city has not expanded its physical perimeters in a thousand years? Which other world-famous city doesn’t have a single car in it?
The population of Venice is shrinking, but you don’t have to look far beyond the hordes of tourists to see real Venetian life. And, of course, ‘normal’ Venetian life is all about the waterways. We saw refuse collectors, police, ambulances, taxis, buses (vaporetto), DHL ‘vans’ and even a hearse. But all with a hull and an outboard, naturally.
And sat in a quiet piazza in San Polo enjoying a spritz one early evening, we saw a woman in her twenties and a friend wander into the square accompanied by a young girl of five or six on her bike. Realising, like kids do, that she was soon to be ushered up for bedtime, she did a couple of laps of the piazza, to make the most of the dying moments of playtime. A final call from her mother and the three of them went into a house on the square. A house that was probably 600 years old and that will have seen more history than we could possibly imagine. But that was just normal life. Maybe that little girl visits ‘regular’ cities and wonders where all the canals are?
“La Serenissima” – the most serene – is the adopted tagline for Venice and its former empire. This was a city state built on pillars of diplomacy, justice and prosperity. Venice was a liberal republic (another reason for it being my favourite city), universally accepted by its citizens, who, no matter their class, seemed to get along well, united by the devotion for the territory they lived in. Even when dealing with foreign policy affairs, Venice preferred to avoid conflict and disputes, preferring mediation and peace. This seems in stark contrast to Britain’s colonial past.
And although Napoleon finally ended the rule of the Doges, when you spend some time in Venice, it’s so easy to imagine it in its heyday. When coming to a blind corner of a street, you almost expect to bump into a 17th century merchant coming the other way. After all, he would recognise the place as well as he did then.
Glamorous and romantic
If you are here without a lover, that’s fine. The place just oozes glamour. An espresso in a piazza, a spritz in the sunshine. Art, culture, classical music. Teak decks and roof terraces. La dolce vita in La Serenissima. Perfetto!
However, if you’re here with a special someone, I defy you to melt a little. Wander the little streets, stop on bridges (I have a particular penchant for bridges as explained here), watch the gondolas glide silently by, share a glorious gelato.
This place is special. REALLY special.
If you fancy exploring Venice, take a look at our favourite guidebook for a short break, by clicking here.