Venetian Sojourn

Gondolas on the Grand Canal

I spent last week in Venice and would like to write about it, but what can I say that hasn’t already been said times without number? As part of my reading for the week away (although, somehow, the world is so pressing in Venice, it’s hard to devote much time to intellectual pursuits) I took a book ‘city-pick Venice’, one of a great series on different cities, and in it there are extracts from more than sixty different writers. People ranging from Henry James to Donna Leon to Kazuo Ishiguro to Patricia Highsmith.

So, has it all been said? Probably, but I’m not going to let that small thing stop me!

I fell in love with Venice on my first visit nearly twenty years ago, and its magic has continued to work on subsequent visits, although this time I did panic for a while that the allure had lost its lustre. It seemed much more expensive than on previous visits, the crowds seemed worse, the sense of walking into a vast museum more vivid, and for the first time I thought Am I bothered?

I was conscious that Venice is something of a fossil, swarmed over by two million visitors a year, while only about 60,000 people actually live there. Nothing stays without development, growth and decay. If Venice changes and develops, it loses the very thing that makes it so unique and wonderful. So, is decay leading to irrelevance inevitable?

But gradually, I was captivated all over again. The canals, bridges, wonderful light, narrow calle, the sense of mystery round the next corner – a spacious square or a soaring church – the absence of cars, the changing tides, the excitement of St Mark’s basin and the lagoon beyond …

Typical scene in Venice

And then there’s always the unexpected moment –

Sunlight sets the leaves on fire

 We stayed in a light and airy apartment (booked through Views on Venice with the lovely Rachele Scarpa) near the San Samuele vaporetto stop. We learnt – sort of – to pronounce it in the Italian way as San Samwellay!

Salizzada San Samuele from our balcony

Veronese, the last great painter of the Italian Renaissance, lived in the house next door. His painting The Last Supper was judged to be irreverent and the Inquisition ordered him to change it. He did. He changed the title to Banquet in the House of Levi! Next door to that is Calle Mocenigo Ca’ Nova  – the back entrance to the Palazzo Mocenigo, which was rented by Lord Byron. Not surprising that he died at 36 when his inclination (one of many!) was to swim from the Lido into St Mark’s basin and up the Grand Canal to his front door! It was exciting to think Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley probably walked along our little salizzada on their way to visit Byron.

I’ve always loved travelling on the vaporetti (so named because they were originally steam-driven) but this time we hired a small motor boat – with a genuine Venetian driver –  enabling us to go down all sorts of canals, which previously we’d only glimpsed, as well as ones we knew well, including the Grand Canal. We peered into one bookshop called Acqua Alta (high water) which has books piled everyone – shelves, floors, baths, even in a godola!

One exciting bit was going underneath the church of San Stefano!

Our 'own' boat

 So, do I still love Venice? Yes! Is Venice an easy city? No! Does it appeal to everyone? No! Will I go back? Yes! Again and again and …

Love to hear other people’s experiences of Venice.

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  1. You’ve made me want to rush over there as ap! Thanks for the tips.
    Also well done on the great announcement with picture in Mslexia. You really are travelling now!
    Love Becky Gethin

  2. So glad to see you had a lovely time – I love Venice and like you will return 🙂

  3. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Polly. It’s strange how it works its magic on you, Isn’t it?

  4. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Becky. Glad it appealed. Despite my identifying some doubts, it really is a unique and magical place.
    Thanks, also, for the Mslexia info. I hadn’t even had time to read my copy, so I’ve just rushed to find the mention!!

  5. Jane says:

    Hi Lindsay,
    Went to Venice last year as part of our Italian holiday. Blisteringly hot, very crowded, 2 teenagers, a recipe for disaster? no… ‘the best holiday ever’ they both decided. This was followed by a day in Verona and a night at the Verona Opera festival in the ampitheatre which was amazing. How can you ever get bored with Italy? I could quite happily live there!

  6. Mo Hall says:

    Really enjoyed this. I have to enjoy these places vicariously now: how I wish I’d done more travelling when I was younger! Question though: I have heard that Venice is a bit smelly. Is that still true?

  7. Lindsay says:

    That’s brilliant, Jane. Must admit I wondered what it would be like for people with children or teenagers. Yours are obviously very sophisticated! I’d love to go to Verona, and if – and that’s a very big if(!) – my plan to go to Venice for longer next year (because I want to set some chapters of my current novel there) actually happens, it would be great to go to Verona by train. Pitch up at Ferrovia from the Grand Canal and get on the train. Wonderful!

  8. Lindsay says:

    I think Venice was probably smelly at one time – when the canals were silting up – but certainly not now. I was in Stratford-upon-Avon today, and there was a really pernicious smell hovering about the place. Far worse than anything experienced in Venice!

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