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Why visit Venice?

Why visit Venice?
20 July 2016 0 Comment

Have you ever been in love and silly with it? That exquisite, all consuming love that you know is not deserved because the object of your love is cold, arrogant and indifferent to your feelings. You know that of course, but still you love. That’s how I feel whenever I visit Venice. The object of a worldwide love, and often undeserving!

People say Venice is dirty, the canals are on the nose, it’s full of tourists and God knows it can be a rip off – just try having a quiet, little drink on San Marks Square! It may come as a surprise, or for some, an assurance, to know that people have been saying the same things more or less for 500 years. Its lure however is irresistible, and its beauty is quite simply bewitching and if the light is just as Monet once painted it you fall in love all over again.

For the record, the Serene Republic of Venice (Serenissima) is not a happy place today. The locals grumble more than a tightwad visitor and modern Italy’s supremely distracted collection of politicians and bureaucrats may inadvertently have sounded the city’s death knell! The seas are rising due to global warming (although many of the same politicians would have us think otherwise), and the city has sunk due to subsidence – Venice risks becoming uninhabitable. At last and after more than 30 years and millions of dollars spent on plans, designs and schemes of one type or another, the Italian political fraternity finally decided upon a project to save this unique city from the ravages of the sea. Work on Moses began in 2003 and it may just be coming to a successful conclusion as the world holds its breath in the hope that at last, the city might be spared.  But will it be in time? Every ten years or so, Venice presents its population list and the news is glum indeed. Since the great flood of 1966, the population of Venice has dropped from 121,000 to 62,000 residents and most of those today are complaining about the irreversible changes their city is suffering, from too many tourists, to the ever increasing high cost of living for the locals; you know the stories. At the time of writing, in the last 100 days St Mark’s Square has flooded 40 times. Records show that between 1900 and 1910, St Mark’s Square flooded on average, 9 times a year. During the 1980’s it was 40 times a year and it’s getting worse! Perhaps it’s time to have that romance with Venice now before it’s too late!

So while the city may be disappearing before our eyes, a visit to the place, unless money is of no consequence, requires a little planning. First rule of thumb is to stay away from the Grand Canal, the Rialto and St. Mark’s Square. Noisy, expensive and always crowded, although a visit inside St. Marks itself is a traveller’s rite of passage and must be seen to be believed. But you don’t have to stay in the most expensive part of town and besides, you are no more than a 30 minute walk away from just about anywhere you might base yourself in Venice. If however you must have that view of the Rialto from your bedroom window, try the 3-star Hotel Marconi. It’s a little faded to be sure, but hey, so is Venice! Ask for a room with a view of the Grand Canal and visit with somebody special and fall in love all over again.

I have affection for western Venice that takes in the quarter’s (sestieri) of San Polo and Santa Croce. Throw in the Jewish Quarter and for me a wander through these parts of Venice reveal a true local character, with a surprising amount of open spaces and tree’s! It’s a wonderful patchwork quilt of history, which sits benignly next to freight yards, the prison, and the Rialto Markets – an institution here since the Middle Ages! The artistic highlight of Santa Croce is to be found in the Scuola di San Rocco. Founded in 1478 the Scuola was dedicated to caring for the ill, especially those suffering from the plague. Inside is one of the most important cycles of painting in all of Italy; not for nothing is it called Venice’s Sistine Chapel! Over a 23 year period Tintoretto, who like Michelangelo worked alone and without assistants, created this visionary cycle of paintings. An awesome collection of work by one artist that totals 54 completed masterpieces that kept him busy up until 1585.

Accommodation is ways a major concern in Venice and one that will chew into your travel budget! In the Santa Croce quarter the Al Sole Palace – tel: 39 0415232144 is worth the effort to find. The very popular Sturion – tel: 39 0415236243 in San Polo requires booking in advance. A recent find of mind is the relatively new Ca’ Pisani Hotel – tel: 39 041 2401411 which is a very comfortable 4 star hotel in this part of Venice and whilst It’s a splurge to be sure, it’s not outrageously so. Its modern interiors with superb wood inlays are a stylistic breath of fresh air in this beautiful, but sometimes tawdry town.

Eating is fundamental and more so when you travel through Italy. However, Venice has a long, very long tradition of serving up overpriced, poor food. An insult really to the rest of Italy! So whatever else you do in Venice set some time aside to eat at Antiche Carampane – S. Polo 1911 – tel 0415240165 (it’s closed Sunday evening and all day Monday). So the service is slow and at times downright rude. But it’s here you will eat real Venetian food with an emphasis on delicious seafood dishes. It’s a nocturnal hangout for a variety of local characters that gives the place a seaport dive feel. Does this relate to its name perhaps? In Venetian dialect, the word for prostitute is Carampane.

At times Venice can be as tired as are the Venetians, who come to life only to prey upon the never-ending line of tourists to their city, or so many guide books would have us believe. And yet we still come? Travelling from all around the world to visit the greatest and most beautiful man made stage ever built. The city will lift your heart and if you are a little careless, break it! Because all of us want to be able to say, “I’ve been to Venice.”

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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