I wanted to go to Florence. The most influential city to span the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe. But this destination was dismissed by my travelling companion as she had been there before and suggested Venice instead. So we booked a three day package with British Airways.
The city is a collection of well over a hundred islands, some of them tiny and strung together by little hump back bridges. Its origins reach back to the flight of Roman refugees from invasion to inhospitable wetlands. Wood platforms were constructed on top of wood stakes driven underwater and somehow still support ornate and oversized buildings standing on stilts.
The journey from Marco Polo airport to the historic city centre takes over an hour. By boat. Water taxis take twenty minutes but are not priced for travellers on any kind of budget. Better to take a water bus.
We headed straight from our hotel to take a tour of must-see Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), planning to return next day to see inside the Basilica and Doge’s Palace. And, of course, to sample the cafes. Expect queues. Even in the colder months. But our late autumn visit avoided the crowds, heat and smells of the city in summer.
The Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) beckoned so we left the square, admiring the magnificent Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower) with its astrological clock face on our way. Meandering past shops, we followed the maze of twisting, turning pathways to the Canal Grande and emerged water side near the bridge.
Waiting on the not too busy bridge for not too long, a space soon cleared to allow us an unimpeded view. For several hours, we stood near the top of its steep and stepped arch, gazing spellbound and enjoying the view of canal life so familiar from Canaletto’s paintings – and seemingly unchanged in the two hundred and fifty years since.
Gradually, the vast expanse of a greying mackerel sky above Venetian Gothic architecture either side of the canal turned dull lilac. As darkness descended, red and gold lights gleamed against slowly silhouetting boats and buildings. Shivering after sundown, we warmed up with a piping hot pizza and a glass of house red.
We stayed at the Locanda Vivaldi, the former home of the composer and a convenient few minutes drag of our luggage from the nearest water bus stop. Not suggesting our hotel should have been playing the Four Seasons on a continuous loop (there were plenty of opportunities to hear the work at venues around the city) but there was disappointingly little indication of the hotel’s illustrious former resident.
As for Florence, I fell in love with this city whilst researching the Renaissance for a paper on Philosophy and Art. Venice, too, made its contribution to the Renaissance. Here, the availability of sail canvas enabled cheaper production of paintings that were easier to transport. When improvements in oil paint (attributed to the Dutch masters) and associated techniques (represented in Venice by the Bellini family, Giorgione, Titian and Tintoretto) combined with the durability of canvas and Florentine perspective, painting transformed.
Three days was exhilarating and exhausting. There are no cars, no scooters, no bicycles. On foot is by far the most efficient way to get around – often along narrow walkways that run the length of canals and up and over one of the little bridges; along and up and over; along, up, over.
There are gondolas, of course, but at sixty Euros for half an hour during daylight hours and eighty Euros after dark, these velvet lined floating ‘hearses’ (as Mark Twain referred to them) are an expensive way to travel. And slow, particularly when convoys cause a log jam. But for that price, they can take up to six people. Or one dead one.
Had we followed my preference for Florence, we would have missed the magic of Venice. Sparkling scenes of this unreal, ethereal city took our breath away every time we stepped outside our hotel and we found ourselves whispering, ‘yes, it really does look like that’. Which is why Venice receives twenty million visitors each year. And, no doubt, will continue to do so until rising sea levels and the city’s decent into the lagoon at the tip of the Adriatic Sea make it uninhabitable – anticipated within the next hundred years.
Lyn Shear works in the creative sector; drawing, writing, thinking. Helps others to draw better, write better, think better. And to create more of what they want in life.
St. Martin’s graduate with a Master’s from Winchester. Client list has included Deluxe Media, IOD, BBC, Meridian Broadcasting, Central Television, innumerable print and publishing companies, private commissions and consultations.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for upcoming talks, workshops and projects.