Monday, March 4, 2013

My Heart Belongs to Venice

I am in love. Head over heels (this expression has never made sense to me. Isn't my head always over my feet??) with my new favorite city (except, of course, Manhattan. But my love for them is in every way different)


It was love at first site. Like a girl always dreams about... well okay. Girls usually imagine the object of their love being person... that's just a small detail. Even as I was making my way to the hostel (with only my small suitcase), I knew a love affair was brewing. This post probably reads like a person utterly captivated with its subject. I know there is no way I can properly describe everything that I love about this city, but bear with me as I try. I am no expert on Venice; I was only there for a few days. But this has been my honest experience there.

I went to Venice with no expectations. I read a lot about exploring Venice "off the beaten path," which is definitely something you need to do, but I'll get to that in a minute. What I read about Venice seemed to scorn the tourist area from the train station through San Marco and Rialto, but this area, to me, was just as splendid and beautiful as anything off the main tourist track.

The touristy main throughfare is Venice performing, and she performs as well as the best and biggest of cities. To fully experience a city you have to see her perform and see behind the scenes. The "big" streets have spent centuries becoming the attractions they are today, refining their crafts and enticements specifically for you. Venice is waiting to court you. All you have to do is let her; wander the streets to take in the beautifully choreographed display of sights, sounds, smells and tastes.

Walking through the main track is an onslaught to the sense in the most spectacular way. Many city exist to, and have their appeal due to what is inside the buildings. Venice is wholly enticing inside and out. The buildings are a stunning mix of weather-beaten, crumbing stucco revealing the brick beneath and newly, brightly painted fa├žades. All the while, the glitz and glitter reflecting off the millions of carnival masks, key chains and shiny nick-knacks give the streets sides a glowing, carousing ambiance. The sticky, sweet gelato and dessert beg unceasingly until you give in or it fades to the subtle leather wafting off the hand bags or best of all, transforms into the smell of the salty sea that permeates most of the streets while the gentle lapping of the water soothes you amid the hustle of the city.  Until the gondola driver interrupts, calling to you, "Gondola, gondola, gondola" or, if you're lucky enough, singing as they pass through the canal underneath the bridge.

Even the most touristy of areas have a way of making you feel that you have discovered something special. The cramped, quaint streets, especially the covered, dimly lit ones, make everything feel intensely personal. I felt, from the moment I stepped onto the pavement, that I was not merely a visitor, but an integral part of a dazzling community. A show isn't complete without its audience. You are, at all times, in the heart of Venice.

If you don't walk through Venice during the middle of the day in the busiest areas, you are doing her a disservice. You must allow her to flash her colors and show off fully for you, so you can appreciate the performance and contrast it with the times when she isn't performing.

The true Venice, underneath the mask is equally incredible. I have never been to a city where I could take two turns off the main road and be faced with the unparalleled  beauty of complete and utter silence. There are no cars in Venice, so one or two rows of tightly packed building are enough to block out any other sound. It's exquisite. It is Venice laid bare before you. Open and unreserved.

It's this part of the city that will show you a dad and his son in Elmo boots walking to school beneath some strangers' underwear and socks dangling from the line above and window boxes decorated with flowers, Murano glass and broken bottles. This part of the city shows you that there's more here than a carnival. It has its functionality; its soccer moms and business men racing through their busy days. In its streets, children race on their scooters and mark their growth on the fragmented bricks and stucco. It also has an abundance of old Italian women who will not hesitate to shove you out of their way with impressive strength.

What struck me most about Venice was that the part of the city that wasn't showing off for tourists was just as pretty. Or perhaps it was alluring. It left me hungry for more. I wanted to see what was just around the corner, or where that alley lead. In Chicago or even Paris, I saw a shady alley and hopped I would never have the misfortune of going down it. Venice sparked my curiosity to explore every nook and cranny. Too see everything the city had to offer.

The number one thing you need to have in Venice is patience. If you spend your time rushing to and fro, making sure you're following the right course on your map (which you won't be any way, just accept it) you will miss so much of the city. Walking from place to place is what most of Venice is about. It's the fulfillment of the adage "its about the journey, not the destination." Walk through the city slowly, absorb every detail. Stop often and drink wine, eat ice cream and eat dessert (calories don't count on vacation. especially in desserts and never ever in liquids). If you don't meander slowly down the alleys, getting lost while eating or drinking something, you're doing Venice wrong.

I was almost equally enthralled by the islands to the north of Venice, particularly Murano and Burano. Murano has the exact same feel as Venice with beautiful hand-made glass taking the place of the carnival masks. Murano so effectively capture my interest that I bought a ring and more than a few bracelets and gifts. And also some earrings. All of the glass work is stunning; the colors and glitter melted together form exception jewelry, plates, silverware, sculptures.

Burano has a different feel. While Venice and Murano feel more like cities that happen to be inundated with water, Burano feels like an island and a tropical one at that. The buildings are all freshly painted with fantastic colors like lime green, pink, lavender, yellow. Burano is historically famous for its lace making, and though I really wanted one, the impracticality of a lace umbrella stopped me from buying anything.

I could go on and on forever if I tried. Venice has been such an incredible four days. In some ways, the time has gone slowly, but in many ways it has flown by. My heart is aching at the prospect of leaving, but my bank account can't leave quickly enough. I have a feeling this will be far from my last trip to this incredible place.

 The rest of my pictures are already uploaded photos to two separate site, Facebook and Google +. If you are on Facebook, look there. If you are not, click here to Google +.


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