Venice has a tempestuous love affair with the world. Millions of adoring fans visit La Serenissima each year, lured by the sirens of the Adriatic – gondolas, waterways and the dream of birds fluttering up from St Mark’s flagstones. But if three’s a crowd, then 30 000 is a crush and the combination of cramped bridges, high prices and humidity leave many swearing off the city for life.
Perhaps I’ve spent too much time squashed on the London Underground, but in Venice there’s still real beauty to be found. Yes, the sight of sweaty tourists and adverts swamping the Bridge of Sighs is off-putting, but buongiorno? The rest of Venice is as captivating as ever and it’s only a footbridge away.
Venice Beneath the Mask
My latest trip to Venice left me with just over twelve hours in this watery playground. Enough time to make the pilgrimage to St Mark’s Square, say hello to the pigeons, scramble through the masses on the Rialto Bridge and enjoy a plateful of polenta and cuttlefish served in the trademark black ink sauce.
If three’s a crowd, then 30 000 is a crush.
With a couple of hours to spare, I wandered off piste, turning right onto the Strada Nova and just drifting along. At the very first corner I found myself alone, accompanied only by the lapping of the water and my footsteps on the stone. Glossy black gondolas stood idle, wrapped up in canvas for Sunday’s day of rest. Venice may only have a few thousand true residents and an empire long since gone but behind the “I Love Venice” T-shirts people still live everyday lives.
Lines of laundry stretch along the peeling plaster and painted shutters like flags on a village fete. Tanned men in loafers drive their speedboats too fast, sloshing foam onto the brickwork that looks as though it has seen it all. There’s the sound of a baby crying and the smell of freshly baked bread.
Another canal takes me past a vegetable market, where chubby cherry tomatoes and stout pumpkin-sized ones change hands beneath the shade of a church tower. A male voice choir entertains in one piazza, while a saxophonist lets rip in another. Gondoliers in stripy T-shirts smoke and read the newspaper, their straw hats tilted to protect them from the sun.