Venezia: Travelogue (October 16, 2012)
11 November, 2012
Venice in the autumn loses none of its magic and charm to the impending frost, as one might imagine. In mid-October, it is as sunny and happy a place as ever. And if you arrive there by train, as most do, you will be instantly hurled into the wide, hearty embrace of its city life. This is because the exit of the Santa Lucia train station is right at the mouth of the Rialto bridge, one of the huge bridges that straddles the Canal Grande, the latter of which throbs with the traffic of taxi boats and water buses at all hours of the day and night.
In a city that leaves no traveller ungeographically challenged and lets no one leave without a few hours of hard mental guesswork, you will find what will seem like a hundred little rivers and a million more misleading alleys with no bridge awaiting your arrival. In other words, you will get lost. This is a rite of passage. Accept it. Then you can move on to enjoy the lights and colour and excitement of the myriad little shops that line every inch of every street and make for fantastic window shopping on your way to somewhere else.
And if that somewhere else is the Basilica di San Marco, I would highly recommend you visit it just before sunset (or earlier if you want to get in before it closes). Around that time of day, the earthy reds and oranges of the setting sun reflecting off the domes and the statues of the basilica––combined with the panorama of the buildings across the river glittering in the receding daylight and the romance of having five-piece orchestras serenading the public from the terraces of the restaurant-lined square––can only amount to an extended moment of peace and bliss befitting of the city on water: forever a memorable part of your trip, you can count on it.
A traveller I met elsewhere in Italy described Venice as a Disneyland, and I can see how this could be so: totally organised for tourists and financed by tourists, Venice is bright lights and romance and one of the most hyped-about cities in movies and daily life alike. But if you took away all the exciting little shops and you took away the tourists and their money, you would probably find a very different mood: gondola drivers out of business because no one else can afford their over-inflated fares; housing shells with residents who prefer the comfort and affordability of Mestre, on the mainland; shop owners boarding up and likewise returning to their homes on the mainland; and a cold, wet city with frustrating, maze-like alleys and streets with no name. You would probably need a lot of good humour and imagination to keep the romantic spirit of the city alive.
So Venice without tourists––such as in the wintertime––is probably an atypical experience if you are expecting Disneyland. But Venice in the autumn, I promise you, delivers. It is magical. It is mystical. And it is memorable.