Last May, I was setting out to spend a quiet weekend at home, when I received a text message from my good friend Elisabetta, who lives in Dublin.
Hey bella, come va? We are in Venice this weekend. If you fancy a lunch and a hug, drive down. We would love to see you. Baci.
Yes, I’m that lucky. Not only do I have some great, contagiously spontaneous friends but I also happen to live only a couple of hours from one of the most incredible cities in the world. It took me about two seconds to decide. On the Sunday, I was on a train to Venice.
It wasn’t my first time, of course. As a teenager I had visited the city several times, both with family and school. Yet I was looking forward to seeing it again, as a grown-up and now that I had seen more of the world.
After about three hours, I stepped out of S. Lucia train station and found myself in the middle of yet another busy Sunday in Venice. Bridges and sidewalks were bursting with tourists and traffic in the canal was hectic, with ferries and water taxis constantly vomiting more people onto the sidewalks. I wondered how people in Venice can cope with such a massive and constant flow of tourism, all year round. I know I couldn’t. Luckily, I soon met up with Elisabetta and Trevor and immediately forgot all about the crowd. Their beautiful wedding in Tuscany the previous year seemed like only yesterday – as is ever so with good friends you don’t get to see very often.
We spent the day chatting, catching up on each other’s life and wandering around. Priceless. Needless to say, I also managed to snap a few shots with my camera.
Walking aimlessly through the labyrinth of narrow streets and small bridges, I realized that no matter how many times you visit, you can never wrap your head around how unique this city is. A city so deeply intertwined with the lagoon that you cannot tell them apart. It seems like the water is supporting the whole city while connecting and holding it together.
There is a fascinating, almost magical balance to it all.
Yet, while waiting to get a tourist-free moment on the bridge, I couldn’t help but wonder whether mass tourism could crack such a balance. Is Venice sinking under the weight of tourism? Is one of the most romantic cities in the world losing her romance?
Personally I don’t find crowds and fixed price menus very romantic. I’m old fashioned that way. Yet I still believe Venice can be romantic. If you move away from the main tourist areas, you can still find traces of the city that has inspired poets and lovers for centuries. Quiet courtyards. Moored gondolas lulled by the sound of the water. Narrow alleys. Short bridges crossing over quiet canals. Balconies that might have heard a serenade or two.
That is the Venice I’m going to look for the next time I visit. That is the Venice I would be happy to share and discover with somebody I love.
Date of travel: 6th May 2012