Venice captivates all who fall under her spell. She is the goddess of all things romantic and mercantile. She represents a lost world, a last link with a vanished history.
The city rises from the lagoons of the Adriatic, the colours of her stones faded with history. From San Marco to the Rialto, Canareggio to the Giudecca, Venice is the unique Grande Dame of all cities – serene, stately, faded, grandiose, avaricious, capricious, beguiling and magical.
She casts her spell and draws the world-hardened traveller into a forgotten world of wealth, intrigue, romance, and death. Painters, poets, priests, and pirates from all over the world have all been seduced by her. She has drawn them in, expertly and delicately robbing them of all sensibilities.
The canal waters lap the ancient palazzi today as they have always done, and now, when the midnight silence lends her the eerie aura of a ghostly mirage, can one truly be transported through history to a place which will long outlive all that visit her. The rising tides of the sea itself are encroaching on this most captivating of cities, in a vain attempt to reclaim her beauty for itself, yet Venice remains. And so do the tourists.
Getting a room in Venice in summer is about as easy and cheap as booking a non-smoking table for two at Nobu at the last minute. Like a beautiful blonde baring her body on the beaches of Cannes, cameras seem to snap at the passive beauty of the place constantly. The cafes are crowded with Americans asking for burgers; the gondolas full of overweight Americans in shorts, and the shops are full of Americans buying those little ceramic Carnival masks. There are, in fact, so many visiting Americans that not only does a Disney Store scar the ancient passages of the city, but there is a McDonald’s as well, for those who prefer a beef patty and some fries over classic northern Italian cuisine.
The Piazza San Marco is arguably the most beautiful and (most photographed) square in the world, and it is easy to imagine hearing the echoes of the tortured souls whose lives ended in the cavernous cells of the Doge’s Palace beside it. Every church, every stone and well has a story in Venice that you can listen to if you pay close enough attention, but most people just read a guide book.
The city is Italy at its finest. The Cipriani is one of the last hotels on earth that will not allow under-dressed people to stay there (Patsy Kensit must have made Liam Gallagher really scrub up when they were there). Fine chocolatiers, pastry shops, and fashion houses like Armani and Prada are discreetly tucked behind ancient facades. The few people that actually reside in Venice are courteous, generous and always seem to give the impression that they know the art of living better than anyone else.
And yet…I heard some absurd remarks in my time there.
“Dude, this is just like Disneyland!” one teenager shouted to another as they emerged into Piazza San Marco.
“Hmm, these buildings have seen better days,” one woman commented as she looked up at a charmingly crumbling faÃ¯Â¿Â½ade.
“There’s not even a beach here,” disparaged an older man as he gazed out to the Adriatic.
No matter how much disrespect she is paid, no matter how overcrowded and under-appreciated, Venice will rise above it. She always has.
Trains, planes automobiles and buses are all easy to take from Venice. From the airport, Marco Polo, Venice can be reached by hydrofoil, taxi or bus.
The currency is the lira, which comes in denominations of 100 000, 50 000, 10 000, 5000, 2000 and 1000. US$1 is worth about 2000 lire (check exchange).