The minibus leaves us at Fusina Terminal. I have no idea of where we are and I can’t find any reference point to orient myself – but that’s fine. In fact, I’m setting out to explore the Venetian Lagoon in the best possible conditions: with no expectations, nor preconceptions. On a sunny Saturday morning of June.
We get on board and the boat quickly leaves the pier. Soon mainland disappears and all around us it is just water and sky, the thin line of the horizon emerging out of the haze like a mirage.
I feel like I’m entering a different world, moving through a delicate ecosystem with its own set of rules – a world made of invisible and potentially treacherous roads and yet immersed in a peaceful atmosphere.
I want to know more.
I go down below deck and ask Gianluca, the captain, permission to enter the bridge. He’s a down-to-earth guy, the kind of guy you can tell straight away that he’s not afraid of hard work. In his amusing ciosotto accent, Gianluca tells me of his past as clam fisherman and how fishing in the lagoon has changed and diminished, forcing many fishermen like him to reinvent themselves. I sense a hint of nostalgia in his voice, but no grudge. Surely his life has changed, and yet – thanks to tourism – he still is there where he most feels home: in his lagoon, steering his boat.
While steering us safely through ship canals and around shallows, Gianluca warns me not to be fooled by that calmness: the Lagoon can be dangerous, especially when the Bora blows. That is hard to imagine while looking at the flat sea in front of us, and yet I believe him. Still waters make me wary, they’ve always had.
Slowly the scenery changes. Moored fishing boats, wide suspended nets and several palafittes (which people here call casoni) come into view. On the horizon I glimpse a strip of land. We’re approaching Chioggia.
We get off in the hot silence of midday and are welcomed by Roberto, one of Gianluca’s friends. He’s by no means a tourist guide, he just loves Chioggia and Gianluca has asked him to show us around. As if we were long-time friends, Roberto first invites us all to stop at his place for «n’ombra de vin» (a “shadow” of wine). Then – pleasantly numbed by the fresh white wine – we all set off to explore the city.
Streets in Chioggia are narrow and buildings seem glued to one another. «The narrower the street, the higher the risk of brawl» Roberto tells us. In his opinion, this forced promixity is what often causes the infamous baruffe ciosotte, common scuffles also described by Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni, in his 1762 play Le baruffe chiozzotte (Brawling in Chioggia).
Everywhere I look, I see bright colours, blooming balconies, laundry out to dry, tangles of electric cables: Chioggia has that messy beauty that captivates for its authenticity.
When I reach Canal Vena, I stop in my tracks in amazement: the resemblance with Venice is undeniable.
Nevertheless, in Chioggia you find a completely different atmosphere: slower, more intimate, more authentic.
Unknown to mass tourism, Chioggia has preserved what Venice seems to have lost: its personality. Whereas Venice does sometimes feel like a chaotic theme park, in fact, Chioggia still has that small town atmosphere. Here life is slow and there are no tourists around. Sure it is a bit sad to see restaurants and shops half empty, but locals don’t really seem to mind. The truth is – Roberto confesses – that locals love to keep Chioggia all to themselves and are happy that it stays out of the main tourist routes. It’s not a matter of provincialism or narrow-mindedness though, but rather a healthy instinct of protection.
An instinct which, to be honest, I understand and can relate to. While from the bridge I take one last picture before heading back to the boat, I wish for Chioggia to stay loyal to itself. With its canals, its odd chimneys and its laundry waving in the sun.
And don’t you dare call it “Little Venice”.
Date of travel: 15th June 2013
This day in the Venice Lagoon was courtesy of Elite Club Vacanze, in collaboration with Jolly Camping Village Venezia that has been our home for the week-end. The motorboat tour was provided by Alisei Service. Regardless – as always on this site – views and opinions are mine and mine only.