It was 108 degrees when I arrived in Venice. The airport was seemingly average, but as soon as I stepped outside the Grand Canal was in front of me. Boats and water taxis floated by. Opposite me was a beautiful domed building, a bright turquoise color, and it complimented the light glinting off the water in the mid-afternoon (extreme) heat.
We boarded a water taxi with our suitcases in tow, trying to squeeze our way between the locals and the tourists.The captains drove the boats, but there were attendants standing by the entrances who would use rope to the taxi to the dock as it approached. Whenever someone stepped on and off the taxi the whole thing would shift and knock against the pier. Everything was just like a trolley or a subway system in big cities, except it was on water.
I liked the way Venetians moved. They moved like the boats did, never in too much of a hurry, but always with purpose. No one was lazy, they just weren’t rushed. Boat drivers would wave to each other as they passed by, giving each other knowing nods and smiles. Men worked shirtless on docks, and tourists stood fanning themselves.
From the canal you could tell which buildings had begun to sink. There were some that seemed in danger of flooding. If you opened the door, either water would rush in, or it would be tempted to. The buildings all had a dilapidated look about them, but they were still beautiful. I think maybe it was because the whole city looked that way- nothing was out of place.
You could get lost on the streets, everything looked similar. Big landmarks served as markers, but even those were hard to find. They weren’t streets so much as they were alleyways. Little shops lined them, a canal would flow through occasionally, and eventually you would either make your way to a plaza where a landmark would await, or back to the Grand Canal.
Piazza San Marco was beautiful in its symmetry and in its history. The church was unfortunately under construction, so photographs were limited, but imagination sufficed. Nearby, the Doge’s palace stood opposite the prison, and the two were connected by the bridge of Sighs. It’s interesting that these two vastly different places were so close in proximity. The white brick was beautiful but blinding in the intense heat and light.
Near the hotel there was a church that stood at the end of a plaza, lined with vendors. Some sold paintings, depicting scenes of Venice, canals, churches, and gardens.
While Venice doesn’t have much soil and open space many of the homes had rooftop gardens and patios, overlooking the grand waterways.
Not many native Venetians still live there, most live on islands nearby, and commute in to work. It’s also a sacred place, I saw many signs that in English read, “No Mafia, Venizia is sacred.”
Of course we had to take a ride in a gondola, a rite of passage in Venice. The gondoliers all knew each other, and ours, Lino, told me that there are two main groups of them, but they all work for the same company. Some wear black and white striped shirts, some red and white. They would wave at each other as their gondolas glided by each other. Lino said he had never fallen off the gondola, but did manage to hit his head on the bridge once. The gondola wove in and out of the canals, and as we passed I recognized alleyways I had walked.
The sun began to set as we rode onto the Grand Canal, and after our ride came to an end we found a small restaurant with a dark red interior lit by candles and ate pasta and drank peach bellinis.