It's a shame. My first glimpse of Venice made me think I was in Disney World. Magical, yes. Crowded, yes. And surreal. So surreal. Disney has certainly tried to recreate the Venetian magic (and succeeded, in some way), but lacks the mystical appeal of being a real place. Sure, Venice lives off tourism. It could not survive without it. But this is a real city, created by people without power tools and the internet.
The narrow, cobblestone streets are lined with picturesque seashell-colored houses. I find myself in the shade provided by the endless vertical swathes of pink, white, coral, ivory, and yellow houses. Gaggles of people gawk everywhere, squeezed elbow to elbow between the markets of the Rialto and the Ruga where you can buy Venezia t-shirts, "Renaissance" masks, Murano glass items, and chili pepper bouquets (see picture). But when you've climbed to the top of the Rialto bridge with the other 500 people, it suddenly doesn't matter that you're not there alone. The Grand Canal is an almost indescribable sight. Water everywhere, bright colors of tall buildings, bridges in marble, shiny black gondolas with singing gondoliers, and cafes everywhere, allowing anyone to sit and enjoy an expensive espresso to top off the marvelous beauty. I shall include a few pictures in an attempt to supplement my inadequate descriptions.
St. Mark's Square, likewise, is extraordinary. After following dozens of signs leading us through the maze of alleys, bridges (all with steps), secret passages, and streets that we swear are dead ends, only to mysteriously lead elsewhere, we arrive at the square for one of the most magnificent basilicas in Europe. St. Mark's. The square itself is immense, bordered by dark, aged columns and stone buildings (old offices and Palace). We witness a parade of veterans (or something) with their flags and music, marching very slowly through the hoard of people gathered there. Making our way to the end of the square against the lagoon, we look up and are amazed to see 3 more unbelievable buildings. What are these?! A city would be proud to have just one of any of these and here, in Venice, we are at the feet of two, and see three on the horizon. Upon consultation with my Rick Steve's guidebook, I see that one is merely the old Customs House and another is a "simple" church!
St. Mark's Basilica itself is the pride of Venice and clearly shows the unbelievable wealth and prosperity that Venice enjoyed as a hub of the trading route for centuries. I heard it said that every expedition from Venice was required to bring something back for the basilica and, as a result it is a masterpiece of opulence and art, almost a vision of how glorious God must be. And that is merely from the outside! A visit to the inside remains for the next trip we make there, with my parents (soon!).
Mostly, we just wandered the streets of Venezia, taking in the old city, observing laundry hanging from a third story window over a canal, seeing a bridge go right to a doorway, wondering why the Gucci, Pucci, and Louis Vuitton stores were on (what seemed to be) an obscure alley way, shooing pigeons away from our (stealth) picnic lunch, figuring out the best way to carry the stroller over the bridges, and deciding on which of the horridly expensive trattorias to eat at. It was lovely. Magical.
And in need of countless more visits.
Here, for pictures.