A city that’s on everyone’s must-go list, though few know why. I’m ashamed to say that I have always wanted to visit the city of Venezia, despite knowing very little about it. However, at the end of my sixth week in Italy I had the chance to go so I took it.
I ventured there alone, and was hosted by someone I met via Couchsurfing. He was an older man (Andrea) who seemed a veteran couchsurfer, and was more than willing to show me around the city. He picked me up from the train station and immediately let me know he had the whole day planned out. We first went to his home outside of Venice; he lived in a small village (Dolo) known for its high-end shoe factories. He made us lunch (grilled salmon, pasta with white cheese, tomato with mozzarella and vinaigrette, and white wine to drink) while we listened to old soul and blues music. [Though this was a simple lunch at his home, it really set the mood for the rest of this very short trip. His taste in music, how naturally he prepared a meal of pasta and wine for lunch (that would be considered “a fancy dinner” in my home)…the ambience of it all was romantic without the romance. Much like Venice.]
After lunch, we drove to Venezia. As I said before, I knew very little about the town, so I had no visual or cultural expectations before going. In addition, there were no specific places or landmarks I wished to see so I was as happy to follow Andrea as he was to lead the way. Due to my lack of knowledge about the city, everything felt surreal. Andrea preferred to take me around the areas less inhabited by tourists, so I was able to observe Venice’s true personality. Simple and serene….there were no grand buildings or bright lights. The tiny canals, the small alleyways, the winding paths…it is a maze of beauty and history that would inspire even the weariest of artists. [I am not a history major, nor a literary enthusiast, but there were times when I had to stop in front of a building so that I could admire all its cracks…to me, they seemed like battle scars born from stories yet to be told. I would also look into the windows to see what they reflected…imagining all the people that have passed by them. Were they from Venice? Were they visiting? What lives were they living? I felt like I was in a dream…wandering around some old wonderland and admiring all its timeworn buildings.]
Eventually we ventured to the more touristy areas, and though most popular landmarks can give off a very commercialized feeling, the crowds did nothing to hinder the centuries-old beauty of the city. From Rialto Bridge to the Piazza San Marco, Venice is not lacking in awe-inspiring scenery. The gondolas floating by, the color and contrast between the old and the new buildings, the music of a nearby beggar playing the accordion, and the multilingual chatter of the tourists…I couldn’t help but think that this is the kind of experience that poets and musicians write about.
As the sun went down, the lovers came out and one only had to turn to one direction to see couples in a deep embrace. And why wouldn’t they be? Standing at the bridge and watching the lights bounce off the water while gondolieri sang to their final passengers, I felt as if I was in a romantic movie, blending into the Venetian background while the co-stars expressed their love through kisses and starry eyes. Eventually, walking along the cobblestone roads under the dim lights down the narrow alleys, even Andrea and I succumbed to the amorous atmosphere and locked arms while wrapping up our night.
After a day of long walks, pictures, and aperitivos we drove back to Andrea’s home where we drank tea, ate chocolate, and watched TV. It was a very uneventful day, though not in a bad way. My impression of Venice was not breathtaking, in the sense that it had a very familiar feeling. I felt as if I could be at home in this tiny town. Even the tourist destinations were simple and serene. I appreciated Andrea for showing me the town from a local’s perspective rather than from a traveler’s perspective. And I appreciate Venice for opening its arms to us strangers. Though we may never come to completely value the whole history upon which the city was constructed, my hope is that the experience will leave us a bit more cultured and more appreciative of historical beauty.