Venice is heralded as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. And for good reason. Gondolas glide quietly down narrow canals. Crumbling bricks, whimsical foot bridges and doorways draped with roses, clematis and wisteria adorn winding alleys. Lavish palaces and baroque facades sit proudly in elegant decay. Yes, Venice’s romantic and poetic energy is definitely unrivaled.
Venice is special. Venice is captivating. But to fully love Venice, it is essential to step off the tourist path and probe a bit deeper. Of course, spend time in majestic Piazza San Marco, the sight of Venice. St. Mark’s Square is Venice’s most famous plaza, and it is often full of pigeons, hordes of tourists and sometimes water when the city floods. Walk along Rialto Bridge and duck into a few Murano glass stores. Snap photos of the gondolas: Perhaps even ride in one. Then get out of St. Mark’s Square. Get far, far away. (Well, about as far away as you can get on an island.)
Actually, we got completely and utterly lost. But it was wonderful to see the other side of Venice, the private side where men wore white undershirts with overalls and laundry fluttered overhead; where women sat on wooden balconies observing the streets below and the gentle lullaby of water against edifice was not subdued by tourist commotion.
The labyrinth of Venice is full of dead ends, curves and pathways that lead straight into the canals. There are no roads and no cars are allowed on the island. Even some of the alleys are so small that we were forced to walk single file.
We paused for photos, perched along the canal and dangled our feet over the edge (no, not actually in the water!), dipped into local cafés for a few cappuccinos, and a bit later, we found happy hour at a bacari.
Though I enjoyed sightseeing the city’s hotspots, especially taking in the incredible vastness of St. Mark’s Square, I found Venice to be most appealing when explored in this manner, when the popular city was stripped of tourist groups and the tourist sights.
Naked Venice is the Venice that appealed most to my artistic soul. I yearned for my sketch book to capture the incredible atmosphere. My journal entries were longer, the pages filled with rambling thoughts and daydreams. It is understandable how Hemingway, Proust and Browning were inspired by this mythical and magical Venice.
My early morning runs also revealed Venice’s vulnerable side. I ran along the canals, traversed piazzas and circled small, tree-lined parks. I laced up my shoes long before the cruise ships arrived, when the air was still moist with the evening’s heavy fog, vendors were sweeping their market stalls and the sloping rays of sunlight turn the canals into masterpieces of watercolor.
Then, in the late evenings was when Romantic Venice truly came alive. Lovers meandered hand-in-hand, pausing to embrace under street lamps while the melancholy souls whistled Venitian love songs. Lone gondolas carrying honeymoon couples sliced through moonlit canals…dip, dip, dipping their oars in a rhythmic dance. Aaahhh..to be in love in Venice! Maybe someday!