Thursday, Dec. 06, 2012
Spevak: Enjoying the sights and sounds of Venice, Italy
By John Spevak
If Rome exudes power and Florence art, Venice exudes the pure joy of living. That was the feeling I experienced on the third and final leg of my trip to Italy this fall.
Going from place to place not on asphalt but on water creates a natural exuberance. Simply being next to water, which is everywhere in Venice, is uplifting.
And if you're not on water in Venice, you're on foot, with no cars or motorcycles to worry about. When you want to see or do things in Venice, you need to do a lot of walking -- down narrow passageways, along somewhat wider sidewalks, and through broad piazzas.
Our tour group was lucky to have one completely free day in Venice. While some people shopped (and there are hundreds of small shops in Venice), I headed on my own from the Rialto Bridge to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art.
On this day the vaporetto (water-bus) drivers happened to be on strike, so I had get to my destination exclusively on foot. According to my map, I would simply need to zig here and zag there, cross a bridge, and I'd be at the museum. As it turned out, I got lost.
I can't think of another time in my life when getting lost resulted in such a delightful experience. The sky that day was bright blue, the temperature in the mid-70's, and everyone I encountered seemed to be smiling.
I walked along broad and narrow canals, through neighborhoods where children played, past art galleries, and into wine, coffee, pizza, and gelato shops.
I didn't even mind discovering, as I reached my destination, that the museum was not open this day, which happened to be a Tuesday, the one day of the week it's closed.
The flow in Venice, whether among people walking or vessels floating, is, as the Italians say, "piano" -- slow and easy -- the better to absorb the sights and sounds and tastes of the city.
Walking through Piazza San Marco was an example of this tranquility. Anchored by the immense and beautiful St. Mark's Basilica, the piazza may be the largest in Italy. Though it was filled with people, it didn't seem congested, because everyone seemed to move with the leisurely flow.
As I walked through the piazza, I could hear music coming from quartets playing in restaurants on either side of the piazza. Many children and adults, as they walked, were eating gelato from cones or cups.
As enjoyable as it is to travel on foot in Venice, however, it's may be even more pleasurable to travel on water. At first it seems strange to have canals instead of streets. But before long, it seems natural, especially since there are many modes of water transport.
If you're in a hurry and have plenty of euros, you can use a water taxi (simply a motor boat with a small taxi sign). If you're in no hurry, you could hire a gondola. But most Venetians and visitors use, as I usually did, a vaporetto.
The vaporetto system, when the workers are not on strike, is very efficient. People go to a vaporetto stop, swipe their pass, then move onto a covered deck and wait for what I call a "water bus" -- a cross between a small barge and large motor boat. After one or two rides, I was very comfortable using it.
But the real aquatic treat in Venice is riding in a gondola. I had wondered if a gondola ride was just a cliché, simply Venetian hype. I found, however, that floating along at a leisurely pace on narrow and wide canals, while a gondolier in the back adroitly steers, is a little like floating in space.
I had two gondola experiences, one during the day and one at night. As pleasant as the day gondola adventure was, at night it was even more delightful, especially when drifting on the Grand Canal with five other gondolas, once of which had an accordionist playing and tenor singing.
As my wife Sandy and I and four of our friends slowly floated under the moonlight, sipping chianti, watching the city lights sparkle and reflect in the water, we felt we were somewhere close to paradise.
(Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)