By Caitlin Kelly
Unless you’re arriving via ferry, cruise ship or private vessel, it’s a rare city you can approach and leave by water.
Venice is one.
I arrived from Rovinj, Croatia by high-speed catamaran, ($100 one way, a 3.5 hour journey), cruising into Basilio, where our passports were examined and stamped.
I’d been to Venice before — for my 21st birthday (also alone) and a few years later on my EU fellowship.
I booked into a gorgeous 40-room hotel in San Marco, Hotel Flora, with a tiny perfect garden, with pink tablecloths and vines overhead.
My third floor room, facing the courtyard, was lovely — even if the shower stall was so small and narrow I couldn’t bend over to pick up the soap!
I only gave Venice three days this time because — exactly as I feared — it was a madhouse.
I have never, anywhere, seen as many people in so small a space.
If you’ve never been there, Venice’s streets and alleyways are very narrow and the city is made up of 118 islands, so you’re sharing that space going up and down small, narrow stone bridges. If there’s a river of humanity, many of them stopping to take &*&%#@@# selfies everywhere, you’re stuck. Literally.
It was also extremely hot — and while Venice really offers unique and extraordinary charms (no cars! no trucks! no sirens!) — it also has very, very few trees and little shade as a result. It is a city of stone.
(When you arrive at the airport to leave you think — what’s that green stuff? Oh, right, it’s grass!)
Murano glass, a Venetian specialty
In my three days, I went to the Ca D’Oro, a magnificent 600-year-old mansion filled with art and sculpture, with many, many Madonnas. It has a wide terrace facing the Grand Canal so you can watch the world go by.
One of the best things to do is simply closely observe all the maritime traffic — because everything, (garbagemen, couriers, groceries, building supplies, police), travels in Venice by water. Every building has a dock.
Then, of course, there are the famous gondolas, sleek black 35.5-foot wooden vessels operated by gondoliers in striped shirts, skilfully poling their way through the canals. The ride is 35 minutes for 80 euros, ($91 U.S. dollars) or 100 euros at night. I’ve yet to take one, though — I had more fun photographing them.
There are gondola stands — like taxi stands in vehicular cities — where you can book one.
I spent most of my time taking photos and hopping on and off the vaporettos, the water-buses with regular routes.
One morning, I headed to Piazza San Marco, and stopped to admire a sketch and the oils a woman was about to use to paint the famous church. As I usually do, I asked permission before snapping her photo, and we started chatting.
Of course we had a friend in common…who lives, as she normally does, in Bermuda. Small world!
The woman suggested I flee the crowds and visit the island of Giudecca, which I did. It’s purely residential, with a few small cafes and food shops. It was silent, the only sounds the squeaking of a swing as a small child played on it and the singing of a caged songbird. I wandered its streets, while suspicious old women looked dubiously at me and my camera. I had a very good lunch there at Majer — great pastries, coffee, wine — in a lovely, elegant setting and not crazy expensive.
It was heaven!
I also visited the Naval Museum, since Venice has only survived thanks to its maritime prowess. Loved it! It’s housed in a former factory, an enormous brick building, and filled with fantastic examples of earlier boats, from the huge gilded vessel used by kings and princes to humble barges and fishing boats.
I’m really glad I went back to Venice (a logical next stop as I headed back west within Europe, and from where I flew to London, my final stop.)
But I admit — I was so worn out from heat and rude, pushy tourists I fled to the airport hours early, and gratefully sat in air-conditioned silence. It was a good decision, as the airport had — only two weeks earlier — opened a handsome new wing, with a glass roof and plenty of natural light. It was clean and spacious and I had a great chat with a woman from Calcutta.
I’m eager to return to Venice but in October or November, which everyone there said is a much less aggressive experience. The city has only 55,000 residents — and millions and millions of tourists.
Said one weary hotel staffer: “People have no respect for our city. We feel like pandas.”