When it comes to Venice, I think of the old adage, “Those who do, do. Those who don’t, talk about it.”
If you hear someone say that Venice is terrible in the summer, that it’s overrun with tourists and it smells bad, ignore them. They fall into the latter category.
Venice, in the summer, is amazing.
Although, the naysayers may be right – in a way. When we visited Venice on Monday and Tuesday, there were hordes of people. Piazza San Marcos was hardly visible, but for the frenetic movement of t-shirts and street-vendor parasols and flashing cameras. All of my photos have people I do not know in them – and they’re not Venetians in gondolas, either. So yes, tourists are everywhere, until you get a bit deeper.
We took a water shuttle along the Grand Canal to arrive at St. Mark’s Square. The Canal was enormous; sea-foam in color, it was filled with water traffic and high waves. The public Vaporetti were shuttling people packed in every square inch of the vessel across to Lido, Burano, or Murano islands. From my view, it looked more like a pond than a canal- a true lagoon.
When we got to St. Mark’s Square, we arrived at a party. A bride and groom were in the square with some of their guests, dancing. The music was pulsating, and dancers in saris were twirling around partners in casual Western dress. The energy was palpable. I put my video camera in the air and caught the happy couple as they turned in circles along with the drum beats and their guests. And then I looked closer. Hare Krishnas had hijacked the wedding party.
Our own party – my husband and I, and two other couples we’d connected with on our cruise – had reservations at Osteria Oliva Nera at 8 p.m. We broke from the crush of people and strolled away from the waterfront in the restaurant’s direction. Soon, quieter streets – and even quieter canals – rose up to meet us, and with them the boutiques that locals visit when they want something beautiful and perfect. Around each corner, a beautiful piece of jewelry hung in a window, the clear brightness of Murano glass at the center. Fantastic shoes, with an equally fantastic price tag, alternated with the Venetian baubles on display.
It was just about dusk, so there was a beautiful shadow highlighting the cobblestone streets. Gondolas and small speedboats docked along residential canals, swaying gently against the languid tide. The gondolas were a uniform black, and the boats a myriad of grays and blue. The stone houses along the canal, some gray while others brightly painted, were mostly dark, their shutters closed from our view. A few, though, were open to the night; green plants and flowers grew out of them in pots, a soft glow from a lamp revealing high white walls. My flat jeweled sandals clapped slowly as they walked along these romantic streets, while my eyes were turned to the windows. I’d hoped to catch a glimpse of the city’s soul.
After a few wrong turns and two trips over the same small bridge, we stumbled upon the restaurant. Osteria Oliva Nera’s charm was in its outdoor seating. Under a faded yellow awning, the diner could enjoy people watching in this tiny square that was unlabeled on tourist maps. Although we were early by a half-hour, our party had already arrived and we took our much-coveted seats in the fresh salty air.
The first course, served by the owner, was fresh seafood risotto that tasted of sea and butter and all good things. With it, I’d ordered a crisp, cool glass of local Fruili, which was bright and complemented the tastes on my plate. A veal chop and fresh salad followed; I drizzled a healthy portion of olive oil on the latter. Along with all of the flavors of Venice, I drank in the sights that were just a step away from the table. People of all nationalities and styles of dress passed by us; some walking their dogs while others chattered loudly into their white iPhones.
Above us were apartments, their shutters thrown open to let in the evening sounds. As I looked up at one in particular, I thought, “What would it be like to live in this magical city, in that apartment? To let the activity to come to you? Would I keep my shutters open all of the time, to absorb that energy? Or would I grow tired of it?” And in my mind, a fictional character had begun to develop.
Back at our own little party, the conversation was that of new friends getting to know each other over the family dinner table. We cleaned our dessert plates and finished the meal with a sip of icy, homemade limoncello delivered with a flourish by the owner. That sweet-sour flavor reflected all of our feelings at having to leave this amazing city for the evening. As a memory, though, we were presented with a small souvenir bottle of the restaurant’s olive oil, cradled in a branded burlap bag.
The next day, we’d have four hours to enjoy its hidden corners – and some gelato – before our cruise ship would depart. Those four hours would never be enough. Venice, it feels, is a city that you need to live in to fully absorb. We did our best, though, exploring the city through our stomachs. Lunch was taken outdoors again, in another restaurant recommended by a fellow travel blogger. We skipped dessert in lieu of a deliciously composed tiramisu in another square, and then wandered more until we found ourselves at St. Mark’s Square again. If any place was made for wandering, Venezia was it.
On the final water taxi trip, my husband and I were seated behind a group of pensioners from New York. They were debating on who was going to call back home. After a brief discussion, a tall, white-haired gentleman took the phone and dialed.
“Helloooo? It’s Venice calling,” he said into the phone. I imagined an elderly woman back in Long Island responding, “Who? Who is it?”
Again, but louder: “It’s Venice calling! Venice, Italy!”
More silence. Then, “No, not Dennis! Venice!”
We collapsed into silent giggles behind them.