I found Venice such a breath of fresh air from so many of the other Italian towns, villages and cities we had visited during our time there last summer. I didn’t find it endearing for its typical romanticism not for gondola rides, but instead for the way parts of it – both in and above the canals – were wearing away as a consequence of its surrounding waters.
When I say wearing, usually that would connote something negative. As so many of the photographs from our trip show, I was mesmerised by the action of the canal water on the buildings that stood in it. Paint worn away in a steady gradient, walls changed colours gradually as they heightened. It contrasted so greatly with the largely refined architectural masterpieces in Florence and Rome; its imperfection was blatant and unwavering.
My first impression of the city on our walk from the train station to our hotel was that it wasn’t a great representation of what Venice really was. Along the Grand Canal we weaved through crowds on streets lined with Italian restaurants, shops selling traditional Venetian masks and costume and gelaterias. Then, gradually, as we ventured further from the centre the place seemed to change. Fewer and further between were ice cream and masks and came butchers, cheese shops and tailors. The streets became narrower and the crowds began to thin.
Much like Amsterdam, the buildings bow inward and in the narrower streets seem to be closing in on you. Each and every one was different, but each so decorative. Religious icons, carved window frames and stained glass were peppered along the streets beside dates of building. I think I only started to appreciate the cultural and artistic history of the place when I was away from the craziness of tourist Venice. Whilst the buildings that line the Grand Canal are a spectrum of blues, pinks and oranges, further away bare brick begins to be exposed and nudes, greens and whites tend to make up the colour palette.
After checking in we spent our first afternoon visiting the exquisite St Mark’s Square. The square is in the typical Italian piazza design, enclosed with continuous walls and featuring a church and bell tower. It is fronted by the magnificent Basilica di San Marco. The colossal building is topped by several domes and being constructed in Northern Italy during the Byzantine period it differs vastly from the other churches both within the city and across the country. Across the front are several mosaics portraying stories from the New Testament that were installed after the Italian Renaissance. From afar the Basilica appears extraordinarily white, but upon closer inspection its facade is ornately decorated in both religious and mythical idols and sculptures in an array of colours. Beside the basilica stands the soaring bell tower and attached to that the three other walls of the square run continuously, again all in white. The walls are separated into two sections; arches and windows. Below the arches are jewellers, more gelaterias and plenty of restaurants which set up stages and have live bands play music onto the square. Underneath paint peels and again I was impressed with the lack of pretentiousness Venice possessed. It was in no way attempting to be perfect, even in the most visited parts, and I enjoyed seeing it for what it truly was.
Along from St Mark’s we walked through the shopping district. Amongst the higher end stores were some stunning glassware and vintage shops. This part of the town was particularly well maintained, as is to be expected. What I found most fascinating while strolling through it, however, was the infrequent placements of churches. Against the vast glass walls of Fendi and Hermes stood unwavering stone carved into incredible reliefs which really was such a beautiful and intriguing contrast.
I think my favourite city breaks are the ones where I don’t put myself under a strict itinerary. We had incredible weather during our entire stay in Venice and so were happy to walk along the canals watching people on gondolas, looking across at the beautifully coloured buildings and exploring the quieter parts of the city. I feel that I done and seen so much of it without actually attending anything ticketed and I found it refreshing to do so. I enjoyed finding small galleries, boarded up shops and seeing washing hang across faded walls. I loved running into dead ends, coming across gates that seemed to lead to nowhere and wandering aimlessly and often in circles trying to find a bridge to cross a canal. I loved taking the time to take notice of the newspapers covering windows to find actually they showed photographs of elephants walking through the very streets I walked on. A truly beautiful city that I would absolutely love to return to and hopefully see more.