Sightseeing in Venice was not something I was particularly looking forward to. I’d heard stories of long queues, relentless selfies, over zealous souvenir-sellers, and coach (boat) loads of people filling the streets. I’d spent the last few days in front of a computer catching up on emails, doing some christmas shopping and organising some future marketing strategies. Each morning I’d look over the water, intrigued by what was over there, I’d already walked most of the main streets, but it was time I ventured deep into the heart of one of the most romantic cities in the world. I walked along the waterfront to the south of the city as clouds loomed over the gondalas swaying in the choppy waters.
I jumped onto a vaporetto (ferry) that took me to the start of my walking tour – San Marco. I’d decided upon a route suggested by Lonely Planet. As I marked some waypoints on MapsMe, I realised that it pretty much visited every main sight that I’d had in mind anyway. The tour started at St Mark’s Basilica where I dropped my bag into the free luggage storage facility and entered the glittering entrance.
It was 09:30 and I was surprised to not to have queued to get in, this was a promising start as St Mark’s Basilica is one of the most popular sights in Venice. I’d decided upon December to visit for this very reason and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of people inside. The enormous domes are truly awe-inspiring, adorned with 24-carat gold and mosaics from Egypt and Syria, they dazzle and create a wonderful light. I was struck with how uneven the floor was, and a few fellow sightseers nearly tripped as they made their way around the mosaic-detailed flooring. I sat in the prayer area for a while and listening to a priest talk to the small congregation in Italian, occasionally joining in with the chants of Hallelujah. I wondered what he was saying and whether it was relevant to me, what struck me was how glum they all looked as he spoke. I didn’t want him to bring me down, so I upped and left.
I headed east through the alleys and over countless bridges to the Campo Santa Maria Formosa where two gondola drivers chatted between rides.
A little further on a sign stated that I’d stumbled upon the “most beautiful bookshop in the world”. This was quite a bold claim, so I couldn’t resist a peek inside. As I entered, a man who had the presence of Jabba the Hutt and smoked a skinny cigarette advised me to “look left at the picture on the wall, it’s 3D” . I peered left and saw a dog-eared framed picture of a man that had been created in the 1980’s. I couldn’t see the 3D aspect of the picture and wondered whether that was in fact a cigarette he was smoking.
Inside, a gondola was filled to the brim with old dusty books. I wondered how long some of them had been there, and how long they would stay. It was completely bizarre, how they made any money I don’t know. 3D was obviously a theme of the shop however, with well-thumbed copies of “The Big Book of Cocks” and “The Big Book of Boobs”, both proudly exclaiming their 3D credentials on the covers. At the back of the shop, a staircase made of (you’ve guessed it) books led up to a viewing platform over the canal below.
Leaving Jabba and his books behind, I walked on to Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo and decided to enter an ornate building adjacent to the vast Basilica. Unsure of what the building was, I was taken aback by the delicate facades, beautifully well-worn red brick walls and red carpet running down the centre of the hallway. I then realised that this was the hospital. It made me realise that almost every building I’d seen in Venice was unique and could be a historical place of interest in its’ own right. I stood outside admiring the delicately carved sculptures of the hospital accompanied by a busker playing Jingle Bells on an accordian.
Over the bridge I stopped in for coffee at Osteria al Ponte, a small, unpretentious eatery on the left hand side. An impressive array of cicheti (small tapas-style snacks) lined the counter so I treated myself to a zucchini-flower, anchovy and mozzarella nibble as locals floated through ordering their first wine of the day (it was 11:15am), all to the soundtrack of Italian folk music on the stereo.
My walk continued to the Chiesa di Santa Maria Miracoli, an imposing marble structure that lined one of the countless canals.
Just off the Campo Santa Maria Nova, a painter dressed in an itchy-looking khaki balaclava, stood in the cold in front of his easel. He was painting the Chiesa di Santa Maria Miracoli in watercolour whilst mumbling to himself.
The volume of people increased dramatically the closer I got to the Rialto Bridge.
Couples gathered on the crest of the bridge taking selfies of the Grand Canal below whilst locals loaded and unloaded their wares into the boats below. Next stop was the market where fresh vegetables, bunches of dried herbs and a vast array of seafood was all up for grabs.
I watched as a seagull attempted to carry away the head of a rather large fish, rather unsuccessfully. The stench of the sea lay heavy in the air as Venetian fisherman flogged their catches of the day.
Although the walking tour officially continued to another couple of churches, I decided to just wander for a while with the hope of getting lost. This is very easy in Venice and a map is all but useless in the myriad of backstreets, bridges and walkways. No walking tour would be complete without coffee, so I popped into a coffee shop to warm up.
I’ve never been a good tourist. For all of the travelling I’ve done in my life, historically I’ve always come away from city visits feeling incredibly underwhelmed. I can appreciate architecture, beautiful cityscapes, delicious local food, and I absolutely love a good market. Despite this, I would far prefer to explore somewhere in nature, a mountain range, a lake, or a series of islands. That said, Venice is a truly unique place, with intrigue, beauty, incredible architecture and charm on every corner. I arrived a sceptic of this romantic Italian city, but will be leaving with a completely different viewpoint. “Everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime” I was told and now I beginning to understand why.