We'd almost thrown it in as an afterthought, a stopping off point on the way back from the Dolomites. Well, after driving all that way, it would have been rude not to call in on Venice.Even so, I had this image of a smelly, grubby place, with rip-off prices and pushy street traders selling plastic gondolers and fancy-shaped bottles full of genuine canal water.
But I was wrong, gloriously wrong Right from arguing whether we'd paid enough for the train ride across the lagoon (we had, with change from ten Euros and we still couldn't believe it) to the freshness of the streets and waterways as we ambled around the city. According to superstition, the day was bound to go well, it started off with a pigeon pooing on me from a great height, a sure sign of blessings…. Fortunately it missed the camera.
I was in serious danger of wearing out the camera, there was so much to look at, so much atmosphere to take in. The city has a heart and a character and I loved every inch of it. Of course it's busy, but as we put our navigational know-how to good use, we found streets and squares which were almost empty,
Our good friend Steve had recommended we head for the Jewish Ghetto where the 16th century Jews were allowed to live – though were forbidden to enjoy the lavish lifestyles of the Christian Venitians, such as the use of marble for their buildings. The ghetto's small and houses a moving Holocaust memorial, a few shops, and Gam Gams, a kosher eatery which buzzes with life and attitude. We were squeezed into a small table next to a couple from Miami and of course struck up a conversation over my chicken soup and Noel's cous cous.. Like most Americans, they were 'doing' Europe, a day in one country, a few hours in another – though they missed out France completely.
St Mark's Square is the city's most famous landmark. All publicity photos show an empty square, towering buildings and a few pigeons. Those photos must have been taken at dawn, because we couldn't see a square inch of the ground. People were everywhere, long snakes of tourists led by guides with umbrellas, queues for the church, the museum, the Cornetto seller, toilets, queues for queues. Shouts from godoliers touting for business, waiters inviting wealthy tourists to sit at the tables where prices were rather too expensive for our pockets and mothers calling for lost children.
The heat of the day forced us to return to our air-conditioned room, but we agreed we'd definitely go back to this wonderful city.