The citizens of Venice inhabit a real city. They live in real buildings. The sweepers clean real "streets", and the trash collectors push real garbage in carts. Although we experienced this solid reality, we were overwhelmed by the architecture, canals, crowds, the one and only piazza, walkways, campi (former agricultural fields for grazing livestock, San Polo being the largest) and history that make up Venice.
Venice is the world's most unlikely city: unlikely that it was built and unlikely that it survives. First settled in 452 by people who were fleeing Attila the Hun, "modern" Venice began with the completion of the Basilica of St. Mark in the 11th century. We spent two days here. We will not forget riding on the Grand Canal, entering Piazza San Marco, staying at Antico Panada, crossing Rialto Bridge and discovering new sights (and smells) at every turn.
Exiting the Santa Lucia train station, I scouted Venice's waterbus routes. We never figured out the north-south directions of canal travel, but we were soon aboard the public water taxi bound for San Marco. The Grand Canal winds through Venice switching back twice during the 35 minutes from Santa Lucia to the Piazza.
Water taxi #1 docks first on one side of the canal and then on the other. It provides closeup views of all nine stops. When we reached Salute, we got ready to disembark at the next dock. We hauled our baggage off the water taxi in a crush of people and made for the side of a building to check directions. Up Calle Vallaresso, right at Ala Napoleonica. We were standing at the entrance to Piazza San Marco: the sight of the large, lopsided square – its architecture, people and pigeons – took my breath away.
Our instructions were to head for the clock tower; I chose the bell tower – much easier to locate. When we did spot the clock tower, we walked under it into a sea of people filling the narrow street. Directions? Forget them. Street signs? Occasionally, but there aren't streets, only walkways of various widths and lengths, most of which curve, stop and start for no apparent reason.
After we registered at Antico Panada, the bellman crowded us and our bags into a tiny elevator up two floors. Our room was down a hall, around a corner, through a connecting passage to another building, up a curving staircase and down another hall – a true Venetian inn.
During my late afternoon walk, I found four, sometimes helpful signs to guide confused tourists. The "marked" routes zigzag, turning right and left, then the signs end abruptly. We always knew (too late) we had made wrong turns when the pedestrian traffic thinned out rapidly, and we found ourselves walking alone. Following the crowds didn't work; people walked in all directions.
Venice is known for Murano glass and carnival masks. We shopped and purchased several items.
We were surprised to see many people smoking on the streets, here and in Rome. To return to our accommodation, we took the long, scenic and circular route. While Bettie rested, I scouted for a restaurant for our evening meal. I found a small place down the street from our inn, to the left across Campo San Zulian, over a canal and up a street. I drew a map.
For our final morning, I began my walk watching the sweepers cleaning Piazza San Marco. The Piazza was nearly empty, hardly a human or a pigeon around – the best time to sense its history. Then I strolled along the shoreline enjoying the view across the canal.
As I look at my map, I wonder why I got lost in Venice. The Grand Canal and the smaller rios are clearly marked; lanes have names, some even run straight. On the ground, though, surrounded by five-story buildings, order disappears. Many lanes change names or have no names. Others curve, end at rios or run into buildings. Stopeggi run under buildings to connect calli. Lanes suddenly appear, the same churches seem to be in multiple locations. Relax, love Venice, and let your imagination find the way.