I was not hyped for Venice. I booked the tour a few days ago--three hours in a bus, followed by half hour on a train before we even got there--and how good could it really be? You've heard all the superlatives -- most beautiful, incredible, unique and stunning etc. I'd heard it all too, but after three and half hours of travel even the perfect can seem disappointing. Still, all the movies and the pop culture and the travel cynicism in the world didn't mean anything when I turned the first bend on the Grand Canal.
Believe the hype. Venice is amazing.
It's a testament to human adaptability and ingenuity -- founded to escape barbarians after the fall of Rome and built on top of trees forced so deep they became petrified in the ground. A city that became so rich that art and beauty is literally everywhere you look. St Mark's Basilica (or San Marco's) (no pictures allowed) -- the largest church in a city with over sixty of them -- has a mosaic ceiling but instead of just random stones between pictures of saints it's actual real gold.
And the canals! So obvious and efficient and historically necessary and yet their presence evokes something alien -- a strange civilization that developed to use boats instead of cars. The architecture is built to purpose and aesthetically pleasing. The whole city is truly remarkable.
We took a water taxi in from the train station to Piazza St Marco. It was a long bus ride and we were all understandably grumpy. The guide understood this but shuffled us along. By the time we had reached our destination we were all grinning ear to ear. "Well?" he asked, "You like Venice? Or you think we should get back on the bus?" We opted to stay.
The weather was gorgeous and not too hot, which helped. We watched a glass blowing demonstration -- Venetian glass is a big deal -- which eventually turned into a predictable if entertaining sales pitch. The glassware was extraordinary but way way too rich for my blood. I grabbed some lunch and took a look inside the basilica. I opted to not pay extra for a gondola ride -- which I regretted as we entered the city proper -- but I suppose that's something for next time. Instead I sat at a cafe on the Grand Canal and just enjoyed the feel of the city.
We walked through the backstreets (backbridges?) of Venice, learning history with a local guide. It was informative, but a long long walk. We did get to see the Rialto Bridge however, the commercial (and geographical) centre of Venice--still bustling 1500 years later.
It was a quick visit. Just enough to whet the appetite.
Venice is special. And one day, I'll be back to see it again. Hopefully before it sinks.