The highlight of my travels so far has been my 8-day stay in Venice.
I enjoyed every single waking moment.
And while I really wanted to write about my experiences, I hesitated because I didn’t have the words to express myself properly.
How do I explain the fluttering in my stomach when I walked out of the train station and saw the incredible beauty of the Grand Canal in front of me?
How do I describe my feelings as tears streamed down my face upon seeing St. Mark’s Square, after 26 years?
How do I write about the intense feeling of joy of being alive and being surrounded by such exquisite beauty, about finally being able to live in the moment and appreciate everything around me, about feeling the happiest I have in my life?
I really can’t. At least not in the way I’d like to. I’m no D.H. Lawrence, Henry James or Robert Byron.
Every day, I walked with my late grandfather, who was often either cranky or depressed – except when he spoke about Venice. The last time I saw him, 26 years ago, his eyes would light up as he took a puff of his unfiltered Players, and I would see him return to that far off place, sitting for a coffee in St. Mark’s Square, his eyes watering as he tried to describe its beauty. He lived in Venice for one year in the 1920s.
I really didn’t get what he was trying to say. I had visited Venice that year, went to St. Mark’s Square, saw the Rialto Bridge and bought a tacky wooden gondola with a plastic gondolier.
But this time, I “got” it. This time, I experienced Venice, slowly, patiently, calmly and without a map. I stayed in a residential area, Canareggio and didn’t visit the tourist spots until my third day.
My Venice was filled with the sounds of water lapping as the oars of a gondola cut through the water, the cries of seagulls, a hundred pigeon wings flying simultaneously in the air, the voices of lonely gondoliers trying to find a passenger willing to pay 100 € for a one-hour ride, a classic guitarist who played in front of my local church, La Madonna del Orto, every afternoon, the clanging of bells outside one of the many churches, the thumping of suitcases on the streets, the babel of languages heard at every corner.
My Venice was also filled with the sounds of hundreds of mosquitos buzzing in the night, every night, waking up several times to thwack the latest bug until the next bite.
Each morning, I would open the large doors of the convent where I was staying and simply soak in the view of the canals: the weather stained buildings with brick or marbled facades, the palazzi with balconies and arched windows. I loved watching the play of sunlight as the buildings were reflected in the water. And every night, watching the colour of the sea change as the sun set.
Each alley was a treasure hunt, a constant find: hidden gardens, an ancient shrine, a gelateria, a gondola repair shed and even a pop up museum.
Of course, there were other sights as well: tacky Murano glass shops, endless Pinocchio paraphernalia, tourists taking selfies, pigeons eating garbage and the famous gondoliers with their striped shirt, black pants, straw hat, texting or blowing bubble gum as they took tourists around the canals.
I didn’t get a chance to taste everything I wanted in Venice – my eyes were bigger than my stomach – but I certainly did eat my fair share of pasta and fish. I can still taste the salty freshness of a large platter of assorted fried fish that I had on my last night in Venice.
I miss those breezes of salty air, that first morning espresso, the bags of fresh fruit from the Rialto market and those rare moments of silence, when I felt like I was the only person around. I wonder what my grandfather missed about Venice.
Before arriving, I had visions of sipping an espresso in St. Mark’s Square in honour of my grandfather, but at 8.50 €, I chose gelato instead. I think he would have been happy with gelato.