Always, when we are going to a city for the first time, we leave the idea of covering any major attractions, at least not on the first day. Just wondering about more or less aimlessly, stopping here and there for ice creams or coffee or, my favorite, just to sit in a park with a small bag of fruit bought at the nearest shop.
Venice becomes very Venetian from the first second you look around. We arrived with a train that brought us from Conegliano where we’re staying with our Servas hosts. (What a blessing to have somebody to help you buy train tickets, show where to park, show you which train to take both there and back – when you are stressed and on the move, such people are your saints and saviors – so, Alessandra, thank you). Where was I. Ah yes, Venice train station. Thanks to the ungodliness of the hour at which we woke up today, it is only eight in the morning, which is, I should say, great: the sun is merciful and the crowds are thin.
The first thing I came to realize was that I didn’t have to worry about my children crossing paths with motor vehicles on the roads. It’s kind of obvious if you give it any thought but it’s also nice to let the universe surprise you like that every once in a while.
Next stop: breakfast. TripAdvisor comes to the rescue, and we order at a tiny Bacareto Da Lele, which turns out to fulfill all the promises: the very “un-touristy” looking locals are friendly and the little sandwiches are melting in our mouths. In fact, we came back for seconds. Twice. A little bonus: the embankment with the steps green of algae had to double as our beautifully set breakfast table and comfortable chairs. A nice way to get a full serving of local exotics in 5 minutes’ time.
The city itself is of course like nothing else I’ve seen in my life, with the passages and houses planned in “mad hatter” style, tiny little streets opening to a canal and with the smells and the sounds of life happening on floating vessels.
Closer to the city’s heart, the sun is higher and the river of tourists is much stronger already: you don’t have to ask how to get to St.Marco, and not because a sign on any corner will tell you. Just relax and the crowd is already carrying you on its sweaty shoulders, no need to worry or resist.
A gondola ride: pricey? Yes, very, but worth it – say what you want. Just getting in touch with this side of history – however conveyored, mass-produced and plastic-wrapped it has become – it is a pleasure for the whole family. The boats (privately owned by the drivers) are works of – maybe not art – but very precise craft, with their black lacquered bodies, unique shape, skewed to one side to allow the gondolier to safely stand on the opposite side without tilting the boat out of its course. The elegance of the boats and of people doing their job seemingly effortlessly are unbelievably attractive. The manner of paddling without lifting the oar out of the water, steering and propelling with the same oar, the way the gondolier uses the walls of the buildings as additional steering aid, how they bow to the lower bridges – just enough to not hit their heads – and of course the centimeter precision of maneuring around each other, canal corners and other vessels – all these details leave a mark in memory. At first we thought about just taking a “traghetto” – a simple old gondola that just takes you across the Grand Canal as transport, just to be able to say we actually were on a gondola ride, but I’m glad we went for the honest trip.
The streets and embankments are narrow enough to not let too much sun into the city, so it is easy enough to move around. As soon as you get to the very center, the square in front of the St. Marco – that’s where you get fried like a piece of bacon. Do bring a hat and lots to drink. The queues to the Basilica and to the clock tower are scary-looking, but manageable, so we pay the due to the tourist side in us.
Food: even places in the main tourist streets seem offering real deal, we find one and leave happy and content.
A “vaporetto” – Venice equivalent of a town bus, but in a shape of a tired oily river boat – brings us back to the station at the end of this long day and we are looking for the train back to Conegliano. Again – thanks to good Servas people I for once know which trains I can take.
What can I say – beautiful. I am looking forward to returning in, say, autumn, to steer around the tourist craziness.