There are so many places in the world that I haven’t yet visited but would love the chance to see. So, it feels a bit frivolous to want to return to places I’ve been. Yet, there is a destination I dream of returning to again and again: Venice.
A tour of Italy was RF’s and my first big international excursion together. We had taken a number of road trips by this point, short and long, including a couple across the US border from California into Mexico and Washington into Canada. What is it about being overseas that seems so much more significant? You’re committing yourselves to the full stint together – no escape hatch. Without smart phones or much in the way of local knowledge, you’re dependent upon one another to break language barriers and chart your way around. Of course, I have discovered over the course of our many trips together that the more RF and I have to lean on each other, the better we fare. Italy was no exception.
I’m pretty certain that one could spend a lifetime touring around Italy and not see the whole country. Every city in every region is unique. Yes, some architecture, cuisine, and customs overlap – but it’s like a massive series of Venn diagrams. One element of a town matches the city to the north, another the people to the south. So, while this intricate cultural chain may link Piemonte to Sicilia, Turin is nothing like Palermo.
Our itinerary flew us into Milan and out of Rome, with stops in Venice and Florence along the way. Each city, we discovered, distinct from the next, with incredible adventures at each stop. At a local restaurant in Milan, a plump old Italian woman in a well-worn apron tsk’ed at our dinner selections and pointed right back at our menus indicating what we should order. Mamma knows! It was the best meal of our trip. We arrived in Rome to find the city heavily armored – Polizia on every corner. Without regular internet or news, we had no idea that this wasn’t the status quo, that we would awaken to streets packed with a million (yes, literally) peace marchers. No doubt, a profoundly surreal experience. But Venice. Neither mamma’s meal nor massive march could match our experience in Venice.
Arriving at the train station after dark, though not terribly late (it was mid-February), we hailed a water taxi to our pensione booked by phone just minutes earlier. Oh, how we like to fly by the seat of our pants! Cruising down the Grand Canal in the late evening was pure magic. From the boat, I couldn’t stop looking up, peering into window after window of the mansions rising up out of the water to either side. Every wall was covered in glamorous jewel-toned fabrics, lavish chandeliers sparkled from hundreds of crystals, and gilded draperies framed a long series of ceiling frescos, each one as ornate as the next. Quite simply, dreamlike.
It took less than a day for us to extend our time in Venice, a nice benefit of seat of your pants planning. We lost ourselves time and again amongst the maze-like brick-lined alleyways, peering in windows of homes and shops, stopping to rest our feet in cafes or at yet another magnificent view. We took in some tourist sites, the Peggy Guggenheim collection, but mostly we just soaked it all in…thankfully, without getting soaked. Winter can be wet in Venice. Plenty of platforms arranged throughout the city hinted at the commonality of flooding, but we lucked out with cloudy but dry skies. The sun even shone long enough to dramatically set for us as we once again toured the waterways by taxi on our final night.
For the most part, the singular events weren’t particularly notable, and yet every minute was remarkable. Our experience wasn’t about the doing, it was about the being. That feeling of simply experiencing this ancient sinking city. Knowing that so many had come before us, but that perhaps not many will follow. With aging foundations and rising seas, it’s hard to predict how long this magical city will last. So, yes, despite the many other destinations on my list, I often dream of returning to Venice.