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The Wonderland of Venice
The Wonderland of Venice
By Tony DeLorger © 2013
When you step out from the train station in Venice, as I did, you are confronted with a fantasy world, a world so different and unique it reminds me of a movie like 'Dinotopia', where imagination has gone wild. Sure, we all know about the canals, gondolas and the like, but Venice has much more, and apart from a rich history can offer the traveller experiences unparalleled by any other tourist destination.
Apart from the obvious: buses, cars and bikes being replaced by ferries, private launches, boats and even canoes, the buildings are a mishmash of styles and influences. The architecture is both inspirational and varied, with typical European facades, wrought-iron balconies with flower boxes. But here the past has left its mark, with Romanesque, Arabic and Georgian window frames and doors, domes and mixed roof lines with exquisite churches and cathedrals in both Gothic and Renaissance styling. St Marks basilica is breathtaking and the famous square immense.
Like all Italian cities, the age of the buildings leave many looking worst for ware and in many cases grubby. But you find yourself forgiving this oversight because of what resides within these walls on narrow streets and canals.
The Grand Canal is the lifeblood of Venice transporting everything in and out and to and from, the canal like a highway carrying every product imaginable to shops, businesses and services. Hundreds of canals wind their way through the city, laden with commercial boats, ferries, tourist boats, private boats, gondolas, row-boats and canoes. The Grand Canal is like peak hour in daylight, hundreds of vessels weaving their way to their destinations with rarely an accident or collision.
As you make your way along the canals, you'll pass under endless stepped bridges and see private washing hanging on wire racks below 2nd and 3rd story windows, quaint shuttered windows with flower boxes, residents peering out onto their watery world, puffing on cigarettes. Most ground floors are flooded to some extent and when the tide is high even street walkways can flood. But for the Venetian, this is normal every-day life.
The streets themselves are cobblestone and almost all of them are only two meters across. Piazzas break up the tunnel-like streets, offering cafes, restaurants, the odd statue, fountain or public drinking spout. Everywhere there are endless street traders offering their wares: souvenirs, toys, sunglasses, leather bags, jewellery and the like. The commercial streets are crowed to capacity, row after row of tiny retail shops beautifully lit and presented, offer just about anything including the famous Venetian glass products in such beautiful colours and designs, the shops are hard to resist.
But it is the life itself that inspires you, the restaurants and cafes, gelato shops and the Italian love of food and wine that sets the mood for a unique experience in a surreal world with such a rich and vast history.
I had a profound experience in Venice, having managed to get myself lost for around 7 hours. Impossible you say? I can't quite believe it myself. I was taking a few things back to our apartment in the north of Venice near Madonna Dell' Orto. I took a wrong turn and ended up further south and easterly. The problem was this. The map I had was small and I couldn't see the street names, even with my glasses. On top of that, I had no cash on me, intending to be gone only a half hour or so.
In Venice, the streets are narrow and the buildings high. There is no seeing the sun and getting a sense of where you are, therefore difficult to know in which direction your heading. A lot of guesswork is all that can be done. Additionally many streets, particularly in the residential areas,
can go round in circles or simple dead end or come to a canal without any bridge. I remember one area, I passed a piazza maybe four times, trying every direction to get out of the area.
So I had a little adventure and saw parts of Venice that perhaps others would not. Eventually with the help of a half dozen locals I made my way back, with a lost toenail and a huge blood blister on my heal to show for it. It took me 24 hours to recover from my ordeal.
What I will never forget about my week in Venice is the sunsets, the gondolas and the sweet sounds of church bells in the mornings. If you want to experience a city like no other, then Venice is a place worth discovery. With its elegance, grit and down to earth Italian living, it should be at the top of your travel list.