How To Get Lost In The City Of Bridges.
First published in the Arabian Airlines in-flight magazine July 2017.
There will always be days in Venice when tourists seem to outnumber locals by at least two to
one, especially in July and August. But, don't let the crowds daunt you... they will always come, for it is an insatiable magnet for international and European tourists alike, as this is a
city that once seen, is never forgotten!
That's the beauty of Venice – it never ceases to enchant and seduce.
Nvnqvam Derelicta, meaning: never abandoned, is etched deeply into one of the walls of the Doge's Palace is, given its history is the perfect metaphor for the city.
This, the most charming of Italian cities is spread across a group of 118 small islands, located in the shallow Venetian lagoon separated by a confusing maze of canals linked by over 400 bridges. The lagoon, and parts of the city have deservedly been listed as a World Heritage Site.
Water has always been central to Venice’s economy given that it provides the means for transport of most of the goods and people within the city. When Venice was its own city-state, pollution of the water was one of few crimes punishable by death and, even today, water is considered sacred as it is vital for the city’s existence.
As one local put it, “Venice is best seen from the water”.
During the middle ages, the surrounding soils were dredged in order to raise the marshy ground above the ever-rising tides and the network of canals were built; today, those same canals have effectively become the ‘streets’ of Venice. A number of motorized water buses or vaporetti, ply regular routes along the Grand Canal and between the city's islands carrying hundreds of thousands of commuters and visitors each day. These days, the only gondola still in common use by the Venetians are the traghetti, which cross the Grand Canal at various points of the water system without bridges. Those with a romantic bent, however, can hire Gondolas on an hourly basis which, for many, a trip to Venice would not be complete
The city itself can be a bit of a maze for the first-timers, and getting lost in its myriad of stunning lanes and alleys is almost a given. The Venetians will tell you that if you don't get lost, you're not doing it right!
Even with your phone's trusty GPS system, the meandering streets of the city will often beat you. But, getting lost in this city has its own magical appeal, as there's no better way to explore Venice than starting for one destination and ending up in another! However, always remember that getting around the city is relatively easy as the public transport is well organized and on the whole, very efficient.
One of the best things about Venice is that you are always just a bridge or a lane away from yet another magical surprise. Turn a corner and wander down a quiet lane and you will find yourself in a secret campi (square) replete with a handsome Gothic Palazi ( palace) in a neighbourhood alive with cosy trattorias, full of locals enjoying the last of the evening light.
European cities, Venice is home to a number of jaw-droppingly beautiful
cathedrals and basilicas replete with stunning architecture. Standing in the
middle of the magnificent piazza San Marco is an experience in itself as Napoleon famously referred to it as, the "drawing room of Europe". Housing St Marks Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, once Venice’s political and judicial hub dominated by the splendid Torre dell’Orologio, a clock tower built between 1496 and 1506 which completes the
picture and makes this square one of the most beautiful in the world.
I recommend exploring and savouring the city simply by walking its streets purposelessly, instead of following the directions of a guidebook.
A small church, a a tiny art gallery or an out-of-the-way cafe can be found in the most unexpected corners, you just have to be on the lookout.
Another thing that gives this city its charm is undoubtedly its food and, I have to say, the cuisine is truly delicious! Certain foods are decidedly Venetian, and you will find that the locals take great pride in them. While you are here, a ‘must try,’ is the squid-ink spaghetti. Do try the risotto with prawns and zucchini, along with the marinated sardines sourced from the surrounding waters. Risi e bisi (rice and peas) and pasta e fasioi (pasta and beans) demonstrate the Italians' expertise of fusing vegetables and starch.
If you're looking for somewhere for a meal that's a bit special in the $US 65 per person range, head for Alle Testiere an ever-popular seafood restaurant near Santa Maria Formosa, which seats just 22 people in a single, soberly elegant dining room. The food is simply sublime!
Antiche Carampane This bastion of Venetian seafood cuisine is reinforced by the fact that it is almost impossible to find, situated as it is a narrow lane just south of San Polo between Rialto and the station. But persevere, as this upmarket, family-run restaurant delivers time and time again.
But no visit to Venice would be complete without at least trying the world-favourite Tiramisu, first concocted in nearby Treviso and reworked by the Venetians.
Venice is a city of magical dreams and after you depart is a place that will stay with you long after you have reluctantly left.