Venice, Venice. An adventure from the beginning to end.
With a delayed flight from Paris and the knowledge that we only had about 24 hours total in Venice, we hit the ground ... er, canals ... running ... er, gondola-ing. One small problem: with no map or phone data and only our hotel's address scribbled on a piece of paper and no arranged transportation to get there, we wandered around the baggage claim area of the Venice airport until we found people selling tickets for the public water taxi, followed a bunch of tourists to the water taxi, and hoped for the best. Forethought. Who needs it.
Disembarking the water taxi, you sort of feel like you've set foot in a storybook or a movie set. It was hot, so much hotter than our pervious destinations, and boats bobbled up and down along the docks. Colorful, Italian building facades stood prettily against azure skies and water. Our first thought was: wow, this is so insanely beautiful. Our second? Holy biscotti, there are so many people.
Venice – especially Venice in the summer – is taken over by tourists. Barely any locals live in the town proper any longer, and a ridiculously high percentage of buildings are fancy hotels. In so many ways, this is certainly disenchanting. You feel like an ant being herded with armies of other ants through tiny alleyways. You hardly hear any Italian amidst the babel. 80% of the food is disappointingly lackluster. It can feel... gimmicky.
But there's magic yet. Italy can't help itself, y'know? You might have to work a little harder here to find the charm, but it's there. As you meander your way through winding pathways without signs in search of your delightfully traditional hotel, for example, and pause more than once because it's impossible not to get lost in this town. Which is a good thing.
Or, when you find yourself facing perfect vignette after perfect vignette of idyllic little bridges, still green water, and pastel buildings holding an unfathomably long history of stories and secrets.
Or, when waiting for your walking tour to commence, the overcast sky decides to finally let loose. Or, when you're huddling against vines growing on the side of a boathouse trying to avoid the downpour, and a nice coupla gondolier fellas open a wooden door to let you wait out the showers with them and their striped shirt glory.
Or, when finally it's time for your tour to begin but the rain hasn't really let up, so the three of you SPRINT to the meeting square and are utterly soaked, only to find absolute chaos there as everyone tries to figure out if the tour is still a go. So you spend much too much on plastic ponchos and a flimsy umbrella from quick-thinking entrepreneurs, and wait for further instructions obediently.
Or, when you learn about Venice's little quirks like crooked towers and peeling walls and how they name their streets and what happens if there's a fire, and...
...and, knowing the important fact that that building to the right (below) bore witness to George and Amal Clooney's wedding.
Or, when you're floating through the canals on a gondola because listen, WHEN IN VENICE, okay? No judgment! and your behind's sittin' smack on the rain-soaked, red leather (pleather?) seats, and you're looking around and wow, you're riding a gondola in Venice right now, is this real life?
Or, when you somehow stumble upon a dark and quiet, not-so-roomy enoteca and try your luck. And whaddaya know, the Bellinis (Bellinis originated from Venice, fun fact!) are lip-smackingly good and a wee bit strong! Or maybe I'm giddy because I braved a rainstorm in Venice! The pizza was scrumptious and the pasta so satisfyingly rich and hearty – now this, this is Italian food, I say. This more than made up for that "lunch" of cardboard pizza and overpriced Coca Cola at the docks.
Or, when you happen to catch some sunshine in the morning before your boat to your train to Florence and so you trudge over to St. Mark's Square and pick a table with no exorbitant cover charge and order a Coca Cola (um, still way too overpriced but what can you do. Also they put lemon in this Coke and that was where the obsession with lemon-in-Coke began for us) and you as a trio sit there and catch up on assigned readings and you journal and you write some postcards to send and you gaze bemused at the gaggle of tourists trying to get pigeons to land on their heads (MY. WORST. NIGHTMARE. Say no to pigeons).
Or when, as even you leave the town of Venice, it waves the Rialto Bridge in your face (although the front of it is under construction and covered with some sort of scaffolding) as if to say, don't forget me!
Venice is overrun by tourists, yes. But it's also full of charm and a certain je ne sais quoi that has me yearning to see it in the fall or spring when it's quieter and a bit more mysterious. Good things – nay, amazing moments and sights exist in Venice – you just gotta push a little harder against the fanny-packed, khaki-shorted, Sketchers-padded crowd, to get a proper piece of it.