Close your eyes and imagine Venice, Italy. What did you see?
When I closed my eyes and imagined Venice before I visited there, I saw water, lots of water, and an ancient white city at the horizon. I saw gondolas, lots of gondolas, steered by men in stripped shirts as they slowly made their way down narrow canals surrounded by stone buildings with window boxes filled with geraniums (red, of course!). I saw those gondoliers duck as their small boats floated under carved stone foot bridges.
I wasn't sure I would like Venice, there were conflicting stories about the quality of the water in the canals, but felt everyone should visit Venice at least once if the opportunity presented itself. The reality of Venice was different than I had imagined it. Venice is much more beautiful than I expected.
When I heard we were taking a water taxi to our rooms in Venice, my mind immediately went back to the image of crossing a wide sea with the ancient city on the horizon. I was disappointed when our train pulled into the station in Venice and found no horizon, no sea to cross. We pulled our luggage through a small building and out the otherside into a small park-like area. The first glimpse of the Canal came just beyond the park where boats were moored.
As we approached the docks and more of the Canal appeared, I began to understand the uniqueness of Venice, the beauty there. In order to climb onto our taxi without ending up in the Canal, I was forced to pull my eyes away, but as soon as the water taxi began to back up I leaned against the back railing and drank in the scenery. There were moments when I couldn't really concentrate on what I was seeing because the amazing notion that I was actually in Venice, kept filling up my head.
As the taxi followed the twists and turns of the wide Canal, so many images that I had never seen before, but were so familiar to me, passed by. Bridges and terraced homes, old, old hotels with outside dining areas, ourageously expensive boats tied to wabblying docks, all below a blue gray sky. It was five o'clock traffic on the Canal: water taxis, bobbing gondolas filled with tourists, private boats, and utility boats, all barely missing crashing into each other, the drivers waving and greeting each other in words I did not understand, yet to my eyes, all so exotic and wonderful.
A very friendly young man met us as we left the taxi and escorted us to our rooms a block or two way from the canal. The space was nicely appointed and generous enough to accommodate the four of us, but, much to my dismay, located on the third floor. The young man carried my 40 lb. piece of luggage up the stairs as I wondered how I would ever bring it down again. What followed was an unplanned and unexpected magical evening.
As you probably know, much of Venice is packed with tourists. In an effort to get away from the crowd we took advice from our strong young man and left to find the out-of-the-way restaurant he described to us. We wandered the back streets of Venice, the less traveled, quiet cobbled stoned streets that wind through neighborhoods with no water in sight, and are lit by doorway lanterns. A few times we were willing to give up the quest for the illusive restaurant, but instead followed the lead of a fellow traveler who assured us she was closing in by using her phone's GPS system. Then, finally ...
We walked down a cobble stoned alley, quiet in the night, turned a corner and entered a beautiful, large, square courtyard surrounded by old stone apartment buildings. There, in the farthest right hand corner of the dimly lit square we saw a canvass-covered dining area attached to a small restaurant. Inside old men in white aprons tied around their waists smiled warmly and welcomed us in. We settled into a long candle lit table under the canopy in the disserted courtyard under the stars, and ordered wine and more wine, and unknown dishes off the small menu. Much later, our bodies warm and comfortable, we wandered through the quiet back streets of Venice until the streets became busier and we knew we were close to our rooms.
To be continued ...