The loud chatter of an American couple dragged my attention back to the dregs of my espresso, bought to combat the fatigue of a very early flight to Marco Polo airport. The smoke of a hastily rolled cigarette danced in the breeze, over the heads of those passing, and dissipated over the canal. I chucked a few euros onto the table and wandered along the street in no direction in particular.
Buildings tried to reach each other as the streets became narrower and narrower. I continued down alley after alley in a series of increasingly frequent episodes of déjà vu. I emerged from the mouth of a street that I would have placed very good odds on me having emerged from before, and was quite taken aback.
Stretched out before me was the beauty of the Grand Canal. Boats of various shapes and sizes glided through the water, ferrying others through the maze of waterways. I stood there and watched for some time, not just at the canal, pregnant with passengers, but also at the vast Rialto bridge. This huge structure connects the San Marco and San Polo districts of Venice and provides a thoroughfare for the huge swathes of tourists, taking the opportunity to use the shimmering backdrop of the canal as the perfect setting for their glamorous holiday photos. Romantic couples secure their love forever through the medium of a brass padlock, clipped onto the bridge to add a sense of permanence to their fleeting tryst in Venice.
I retired to a restaurant, that wouldn’t break the bank, alongside one of the smaller waterways. I sipped a glass of aperol and nibbled on a small dish of olives when my train of thought was shifted from my aperitivo. A gondola approached, punted along by a large lunged chap who very enthusiastically serenaded the couple sitting below, politely smiling at each other.
This image of a gondola propelled by a gondolier in striped t shirt and straw hat unconsciously enlivens the romantic within even the sternest of hearts, something about bobbing down any stretch of water in Venice seems a deeply appealing thing. I wonder whether the Veritas rubbish collectors feel the same.
I finished my dinner, paid the cheque, strolled back to the edge of the water and having no particular plan, decided to follow it indefinitely. Wandering up and down streets, over bridges big and small I soon lost the initial canal, but it didn’t matter, I picked waterway after waterway at random until I became hopelessly lost. I emerged from the mouth of a particularly dark and narrow street into St Marks Square, a wide open marble forum. Eerie in the darkness, the majority of tourists having left and worryingly devoid of pigeons, I crossed the square and trudged through the square, accompanied by the imperious architecture. When lo, I reached the Riva Degli Schiavoni and the sea was in view.
Venice has peculiar relationship with water. It’s characterised by its dependence on water, it’s what makes it unique, but also threatens to envelop it as the city continues to sink. My stay in Venice was unequivocally enjoyable, a perfect mixture of culture and canals.
Runner up at the Senior Travel Expert travel writing competition