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Why I fell in Love with the City of Many Names

Venice.

The City of many names, ‘Masks’, ‘Bridges’, ‘Canals’ and, of course, ‘Water’. Little did we know that she would capture us in her net.

She waited there, sitting pretty in the becalmed waters of the Adriatic basin, patiently. Waiting, for our train to pull in. As soon as we set foot on to the little island, we knew that we would be in for a treat.

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I’m not one for wanting to be swamped by tourists, or to follow the next sheep. And I think that’s why Venice had never really been a place I wanted to visit. Everyone knows it smells funny, and didn’t you hear, the canal’s are really dirty? And so, from an age of being aware of wanting to travel, my mind never dared entertain the thought of Venice.

It was a combination of meeting Cecilia (my lovely Violin teacher) who told of wonderful tales from her time living in the Floating City, and Peter’s urge to satisfy his travelling curiosity. With two people in my life singing her praises, I couldn’t really justify my ‘no’ on third hand stories. I had to see for myself.

And so, even though it was raining for our first 10minutes of having arrived in the Queen of the Adriatic, we could feel that there was a certain charm dancing around us as we went in search of our little apartment, just as the light was fading. But it wasn’t until we had said our fond goodbyes and watched her disappear back into the horizon, that we truly felt the full effect of visiting such a majestic place.

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Venice had made and broken our dreams at the same time. She’d let us believe that they could be something special, but crushed them when we realised we had to leave her behind.

There are so many reasons why this beautiful City changed my heart and why I fell in love, but in a nutshell, I think they boiled down to these elements of Venetian life:

Tranquility

You don’t necessarily realise until you’ve left Venice, just how serene, tranquil and calm she is as a City. It’s easy to take for granted that it’s a city of boats, pedestrians and…, well, that’s just it. Boats and pedestrians. There’s absolutely no need for cars, trams, motorbikes or pushbikes. Which means it really is one of the safest cities to be a pedestrian in, that is unless you have an aversion to water and are scared of potentially falling in the drink! Ok ok, when you’re walking lazily by the Grand Canal, you might notice the buzz of the boats, but it’s a nice gentle noise which just reminds you that you’re on a floating city.

After Venice, we left for Rome to continue our little Italian trip and it was here that we realised just how beautifully clean Venice smelt. In contrast to Rome, there was no smell of two-stroke engine fumes, instead it just felt and smelt like being by the seaside. There was a salty freshness in the air. This might have been because we didn’t visit at the height of summer.

Community and Kindness

Before setting off on our trip, I’d read and heard a lot that Venice especially was becoming overrun by tourists, and especially those who come by cruise ship. There’s been numerous articles that hint of Venice loosing it’s native population and that there’s not much keeping them here. This saddened me a lot and so I was fully expecting a very touristy experience, struggling to see the original communities and being swamped with tacky shops, tourist scams and expensive tourist prices. But mostly, it wasn’t like that at all.

Even though there was a plentiful stream of tourists around, we didn’t have to wander off too far from the main street to find a passage or alleyway which was just as lovely but as deserted as the other was busy. And the best thing about these streets was the strong sense of community. We saw so many people walking past each other, having little conversations about their dogs, the weather or their neighbour next door. And in fact, something I absolutely adored was that people would have a conversation with each other, then one of them would walk off a bit quicker and even though they were a couple of corners away and out of sight, they were still talking to each other!!

Buying a Coffee / Brioche

This might seem like the most simplest of things but oh how the Italians make this a special time of the day. We ducked into a couple of coffee shops on our walks throughout the day and it was just lovely to get the hang of how they do things over there. Instead of waiting at a counter to order and pay for your drink before finding a place to sip it down, you instead order your drink at the bar where a lady will then make it, whilst she’s doing this you pick out your brioche of choice (oh my goodness, they are immense) and then take in your surroundings, people watch and enjoy your coffee… making sure you eat your brioche as daintily as possible…. Then you pay! You don’t get a receipt or a tab, the ladies just trust that you’ll tell them the correct thing and in some cases, they remember anyway.

It was amazing how trusted you felt with this system, a little change in the order of doing things and the customer feels treated totally differently. Whilst in these little coffee shops, we felt that sense of community again. Everyone clearly knew everyone. The coffee shop didn’t have endless streams of employees, just three or four, and they were the same people each morning which meant that there was clearly a good rapport with the usual customer, postie or policemen (who were regularly to be seen drinking coffee!).

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A Working Waterway

Peter and I have been to a few cities which have large rivers flowing through them, we live in one to start with – Oxford. Obviously London has one, Paris too. And of course, Venice. But what sets these cities apart from cities such as Florence and Rome, is that their waterways are utilised. But what’s more with Venice, the canals are a vital system throughout the City to keep it ticking.

As a tourist, it’s great to observe how things such as collecting the bins has had to adapt to incorporate the water as a means of travelling to and from each area to collect the Venetian’s rubbish. Even DHL deliveries use boats, and the complexities of unloading a new washing machine is a sight which Peter and I made sure we watched on for a fair while!

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Black & White Photographs by Peter David Grant

So what was it that I loved?

I think for me, Serenissima is the only place that I’ve felt so totally safe, calm and completely at ease with myself and I think this has to have something to do with the fact that the nature of the City inevitably leads to a slower pace of life. I know that we were on holiday and we should be relaxed etc. etc. but I believe that going back to a quieter life, away from trains, cars, and motorways really helped to keep me in the present moment rather than furiously looking forward to my next stop. I felt incredibly relaxed and so lucky to have visited such a wonderful city.

All my preconceptions of Venice were completely and utterly broken on visiting the City. We literally cannot wait to visit again, hopefully not too far in the future!

FYI – a really interesting read: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-death-of-venice-corrupt-officials-mass-tourism-and-soaring-property-prices-have-stifled-life-in-10251434.html