Venice is an enchanting one. She is ready to cast off her veil only when you are willing to enter the narrow alleys of her heart. She frustrates you when you lose yourself into her umpteen back alleys and charms you when you find yourself on one of her “Ponte’s” overlooking the blue of her tresses. She reveals herself in even more glory in all her nakedness in the quiet nights when you are all alone with her and then it sinks in that you are in one of the most unusual and fascinating cities of the world. Three days of romancing this lady has made me a lovesick traveler for life.
My first encounter with the Venetians is when I arrive tired at 10:00 pm from the Marco Polo airport from Paris with nothing but dim lights to guide me to my B&B. Soon I realise that I am simply lost. A while later I find three drunk and burly Venetian men walking towards me. Ideally I should be on my guard being a solo female traveler, but I have no choice here. I boldly walk towards them trudging my suitcases and ask them for directions. The three look clueless. One of them accesses his GPS for directions, the other asks me if he could carry my suitcases for me and the third simply assures me that Venice is extremely safe. That, my friends is what Venice is all about. Shed your inhibitions and she welcomes you with open arms. Soon I find my destination with their help and meet my hostess Arianna and we exchange pleasantries. I am too tired for a conversation after a long day and soon fall asleep.
I wake up to a misty Venice the next morning to the call of sea gulls. My B&B is located in a quaint alley of Dorsoduro known for its young student population and overlooking a picturesque canal. A visit to the bustling Rialto market which opens every morning with the break of dawn is a must for anyone visiting Venice. That’s when you see the local populace go about their daily routines. The city otherwise is dominated by tourists and it is impressive how gracefully the locals handle the droves of crowds they receive. The market is a walking distance from the famous Saint-Mark’s square. Remember Daniel Craig chasing Eva Green in the last few scenes of Casino Royale? It’s here. The romantic bridge of sighs made popular by Lord Byron “I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, a palace and prison on each hand” is not far from here. Sure the crowds will dampen your spirits and if you come to Venice for some personal time, you need to look for it. If you have to visit these popular spots in calm and without the usual crowds, it is imperative to visit them in the wee hours of the morning when your only companions are perhaps the cleaners and the pigeons. My first day in Venice is just to get an idea of the city and to help me plan for my remaining two days.
It is said that part of the travel experience in Venice is to get lost in her streets. I do get lost a number of times and I have met a lot of people as a consequence. Take for instance the French lady whom I accompanied for almost an hour talking about our experiences about France and Italy, or the writer from Norway who invites me to a sumptuous lunch while talking about his fascination for Rajasthan and his obsession in bringing to his readers little known historical facts, or the gondolier who kisses my hand and offers me a free ride on his gondola! Even if you were not meeting anyone, how could you not be mesmerised by the colours and sounds it offers- the green-blue waters, the grey cloudy skies, the red and whites of the gondoliers, various colourful Venetian masks dangling on every street corner, classical music lilting through the winds blowing on your face and the occasional sound of a motor boat speeding by on the waters while you are overlooking over one of its numerous bridges?
A visit to the glass making island of Murano coupled with a visit the colourful Burano and aimless wanderings in the hearts of each of the islands for gelato, venetian masks, pasta and stopping by for street music for hours are what fill my last two days in Venice. There is nothing much to see in Venice and yet there is everything. You could want to make time stop right there as you watch a gondola drift past you, the gondolier waving back at you and you feel overwhelmed in human love. As Arianna, my hostess tells me that she has lived in almost every part of Italy and has visited several places in Europe but she could never leave Venice and she always keeps coming back. “You either fall hopelessly in love with Venice or you just don’t. It’s like loving a man…you can never be in between, you know” she says. Surely I had fallen in love with the city. As I started out by saying, she needs time. Give her that and she will enchant you as no other. As I drag my suitcases to the Saint-Lucia railway station for my train to the eternal city, I remember to say “Arrivederci Venezia!”