After having spent 3 lovely days in Verona, Valerie and I headed for La Serenissima – The Most Serene Republic of Venice.  My expectations were extremely high – Venice was once the pearl of Europe; a city of wealth, decadence, music, masks, painters and Carnivale. The city was a living work of art which we expected to love at first sight, but it turned out that Venice, unlike Verona, was a city we had to learn how to love.

The Grand Canal as seen from Rialto Bridge:

Piazza San Marco:

The courtyard of the Doge’s Palace with the grand Saint Mark’s Basilica in the background:

When we first stepped into Piazza San Marco, it was sheer, pure hatred at first sight, and we instantly regretted having come in the first place. From every direction we were being swamped by tourists, and we realized quickly that the Venice that once existed had now been transformed into a ridiculous theme park of visitors, of souvenir stalls, of gondola rides for €80 and D&G billboards covering the facade of the Doge’s Palace. I was prepared for Venice being touristy – but I had never in my life expected that 90 % of its people would be foreign visitors, while the remaining 10 % would be either elderly people who hid behind closed shutters, or commuters from the mainland who came to Venice for the sole purpose of serving the tourist industry. It seemed as if the locals had been wiped off the surface of the earth, and that Venice in reality would be a ghost town had it not been for the heavy tourism. Perhaps I was naive to believe that Venice had still retained some of its integrity, perhaps I was dreaming of a place that existed only in my mind, but for me Venice seemed to be a place completely devoid of any genuine culture or real spirit.

(Me despairing over the sight of the Mont Blanc billboard on the facade of the Doge’s Palace. The art historian in me wished to throw herself into the canal):

Valerie and I, despite our initial disappointment, decided to set out and hunt for the locals and youngsters. We needed to see if this reputed marvel of a city still had a heart and soul, because we refused to believe that there was nothing left for Venice to redeem itself. In the dark hours of the night when the tourists and their kids had gone to bed, we began our search, and the redemption came in the form of our young, Tuscan waiter by the name of Andy. After dinner he offered us a glass of Limoncello on the house, and asked us if we wanted to meet up with him at his favourite local wine bar where young Venetian locals hung out. We were thrilled by the prospect of meeting real Italians in this city of seemingly all other nationalities, and hidden in the midst of the eerie alleyways that is Venice by night, we found Andy’s wine bar – a lively place full of young, hip Italians with enough spirit to fill the whole city. It was a fantastic evening, and we began to realize that Venice still had a soul – if we just looked closely.

Venice grew on us even further as we kept seeking out its more remote areas and outlying islands, but what made me realize that I wanted to come back to Venice was the Baroque Opera Concert on our last night. The singers and the orchestra were all dressed up in Baroque attire, and I was moved to the brink of tears by the beautiful music. Especially hearing “Il factotum della città” live was a fantastic experience, and suddenly I was able to envisage Venice the way it must have once been.

Venice managed to sneak its way into our hearts in the end, and we now have a new dream: To come back for Carnivale in gowns and masks.