One of our friends wanted to know if two days was time enough for Venice. I laughed. That is more time than we had in the city on our first visit nearly three decades ago.
Even then, when leisure travel was the prerogative of the extremely wealthy, and we were certain we would never ever step outside our country if we missed this opportunity paid for by R’s employers…even then, I remember feeling distress at the way we were doing it. A frantic race to tick off as many countries in a little over two weeks as humanly possible. A quick tour here, a gondola ride there, an hour for lunch and a wander, and then off to Lido to our hotel for the night, then off again next morning to the next city on the list! My enduring memory of Venice remained that of terrifyingly giant flocks of pigeons and smelly canals.
So I returned. Alone. Spurred by the stirring travelogues that I had devoured since. As I dragged my little suitcase past Harry’s Bar, teeming early evening with teenagers in jeans slung precariously low, and onto Calle Larga XXII Marzo heaving with tourists of every race and colour, I juggled excitement and apprehension.
I dumped my bags in my single room that must once have been the original owners’ kennel, (I exaggerate of course, it was actually quite lovely but really, really minuscule!) and since I hadn’t consumed anything resembling real food in over ten hours, I hunted down Alfredo’s for a steaming carton of fussili that I wolfed down on a bench nearby. Hunger sated, I headed back to the chaos of Piazza San Marco.
The pigeon population seemed diminished and less aggressive than I remembered, the non avian visitors not quite. Having resolved the dilemma of eating dinner alone in a restaurant on my first evening, I walked around for a bit and ended the evening with a double scoop of gelato and espresso.
I returned early next morning, to an eerily empty square. The rain had stopped and the light was still too flat for photos, but it was a moment of solitude I wasn’t likely to forget. Nor was I ever going to forget the next sixty minutes inside the basilica, listening to a whole ensemble of priests conduct high mass. An additional bonus? An uninterrupted few minutes all to myself to feast on the glorious scenes inside!* I should have sneaked some photos, but I couldn’t bring myself to ‘sin’ so soon after such a spiritual experience.
On my way out, the line for the 9.45 entry through the main door was already snaking halfway down the piazza and the vendors were setting up shop. I walked across to the Museo Correr for a quick visit and to book my place on the fascinating tour of the Torre dell’ Orologio**. How many of you are aware that the moors atop the clock tower wear no underwear?
By midday I escaped through the Merceria (main street leading from beneath the Clock Tower) and spent the rest of the day exploring the back streets towards Rialto, ending at the Gallerie dell’ Accademia on Dorsoduro for an intense dose of Venetian art, stopping along the way for espresso or lunch or spritz as I pleased. And more gelato of course. Dinner that evening was delicious Cicchetti at Cantinone–già Schiavi on a street behind the gallerie. Later, I walked back through Campo San Stefano and hung around to watch locals out to enjoy the last few hours of sunlight.
The Secret Itineraries*** tour of the Palazzo Ducal the next morning was far too Casanova intensive, and the hour and a half inside the claustrophobic prison cells equaled less time for the main palace after. But my feeling was that of relief when I was done with the overwhelmingly opulent Palazzo, and could return to those enchanting streets. I was checking out this afternoon and shifting to a relatively palatial accommodation on neighbouring Santa Croce, in anticipation of the hordes that would surely be descending on San Marco on May Day.
I walked back all the way another evening, and on impulse decided to ascend the campanile. And from that highest point of vantage on the island, buffeted by cool, clammy winds that foreshadowed more rain for the night, I gazed upon all of Venezia beneath my feet…all the way up to Lido on the East and the Istrian coast beyond, and far ahead, the mainland. A defiant sun, in a last hurrah, burned the rain clouds a vivid orange and the lights in the piazza came on one by one just as the moor on the right struck two-to-eight.
A young girl who had her camera pointed straight ahead, squealed in delight when I suggested she look down. Then the bells went off, startling both of us and drowning the faint strains of the orchestras down below in a thrilling crescendo and I smiled at the joy on her face.
“How long are you here for?” I asked, as we stepped back into the elevator.
“Two days. Off to Florence tomorrow.”
“Was that enough time for Venice?”
“Not by far!!” And with the supreme confidence of the very young, she declared, “But I am coming back next year with my sister. For a whole week!”
“I am back” I laughed. “Just a few decades later than I intended”
* The Sanctuary(€2), Treasury (€3) and Museum (€5) only open to the public at 9.45. I returned on another day to visit these. The interior of the Basilica is floodlit briefly at 11.30 am daily except on Sundays and holidays. I never made it back at that time.
** 50 min long guided tours in English: at 10.00 and 11.00 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and at 14.00 and 15.00 on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
***I booked the Secret Itineraries Tour here. They seem to get sold out pretty fast.