Venice Has Always Been A Dream
Venetian masks, gondoliers in their striped shirts; the grandest of piazza, the reflection of a bridge over a canal… these are some of the imaginings conjured up when I think of Venice. Always on my must-see list; Venice has been right up there with Paris, Rome and New York City. Even before this trip happened, I felt like I knew Venice already thanks to those movies, images and documentaries that introduced The Floating City to me. Kent also dreamed about visiting the ‘Impossible City’ as he has called it. At long last this journey to Venice was a dream come true for both of us. Exciting yes, and then as creatives, there was also some anxiety too, about being capable of doing justice to La Serenissima through our words and pictures – when so much has been seen and said before. We must start somewhere, so read on to find out how our first day in Venice unfolds.
This Is How You Should See Venice For The First Time, However…
Many months before we booked our Italy trip, our friend Gilbert who is an Italian photographer with many visits under his belt, advised us that when it comes to visiting the City of Canals… ‘For Venice first-timers, you must enter Venice at dawn or between sunset and twilight. These are the best times, and if you can, you should arrive by boat from the sea.’ The reason is straight forward: ‘Not only will you avoid thousands of tourists, but the beauty of Venice will be your first impression, it will stay and you will always remember Venice that way.’ Well having witnessed the mind-blowing beauty of Paris in mist, at dawn on my very first trip, I couldn’t have agreed more.
Many months later, I had not forgotten Gilbert’s advice. However, when it was time to book our train tickets from Milan to Venice, I gave in to comfort and convenience. ‘The 11:34am train would allow us to have a decent sleep and enough time to enjoy breakfast before checking out. Plus, arriving in Venice at 1:59pm means good timing for our 2pm check in.’ I thought it was a smart plan. ‘Sounds good to me.’ Kent didn’t have a problem with it either. After all we would be there for three weeks, surely enough time to enjoy the scenery. So we put Gilbert’s tip to one side and decided on arriving in the afternoon instead.
Travelling To Venice From Milan By Italo High Speed Train
This was our only journey travelling on the privately owned Italo, the rest of our trips we chose Trenitalia’s Frecciarossa, Italy’s state-owned TGV. There is a two-class system for Frecciarossa – First and Second. Whereas Italo, goes for three – Club (First), Prima (Business) and Smart (Economy). Having made our way from Milan to Monterosso by Frecciarossa’s First Class and now travelling by Prima Class from Milan to Venice… to tell the truth, there wasn’t much difference.
Punctuality, tick! High-speed, tick! Comfort, tick! I couldn’t tell which company was better, really. The only thing ‘missing’ on our Italo’s Prima carriage was the space for large luggage. Unlike our First Class seating on the Frecciarossa, where travellers could squeeze their sizable baggage in behind back to back seats, this was not possible on the Italo. Luckily we were not far from our belongings down the end of the carriage; with a good view of where they belong, it gave us a sense of security.
Calling Of The Adriatic Sea
Two hours and twenty minutes had passed, I saw Kent looking out the window, saying: ‘Look! The sea!’ Yes, we were both excited to see the Venetian lagoon upon our arrival to Venezia Santa Lucia railway station. So large it’s like the ocean! This meant Venice was finally within our reach. In a thrilled mood, I almost couldn’t restrain my imagination from galloping away with me, the wish to one day come face-to-face with Venice, Queen of the Adriatic was about to become a reality.
Sunny, Breezy… A Lovely Early Autumn Day To Arrive At The Floating City
I don’t recall much from the moment we alighted the train to lining up for our vaporetto tickets. I was too busy soaking up my first Venice atmosphere. Train one moment, first Venice canal view the next on a modern transit plaza. Well no James Bond nor The Talented Mr. Ripley to be seen… just travellers, right, left and centre; jeans, shorts; T-shirts and runners. Not that I expected Brideshead Revisited sort of fancy clothing, but Italians do know how to dress. So what happened to those well dressed Venetians in their beautiful hats, colourful blazers and lace dresses or even a contemporary equivalent? As I stood there minding our luggage while Kent joined the queue for our water bus tickets; I struggled seeing beyond a lot of typically attired tourists.
Bags safely stowed, as the vaporetto pulled away from the pontoon. Kent and I realised our boat seemed to be unexpectedly heading towards the open ‘sea’ (not that we knew much about that!); though it was supposed to be on route to San Zaccaria, the nearest stop to the Piazza San Marco. Well it turned out we were on the route via Santa Marta; which meant we missed all the scenery of the Grand Canal. ‘Save it for another day.’ As Kent put it. At least this less packed ‘local water bus’ route had room for our large suitcases. Our destination, the Piazza San Marco where our first Venetian accommodation was located.
It was a pleasant sunny autumn day if a little windy. I was not yet used to seeing buildings pop up from water, so I found the sight interesting; I guess that’s what has made the City of Reflections so special, seemingly impossible and fascinating!
That’s What I Call Making An Entrance
Stepping out from our vaporetto, it was windy. Kent had his panama hat strapped to the back of his backpack. I was only a few steps behind him and witnessed a loose lace of his backpack flapping in a sudden gust. Within seconds, we heard a couple near us shouting ‘The hat! The hat!’ It alerted Kent that much to his surprise, it was his hat no longer tied to the back of his pack, now ‘gone with the wind’…
Kent wrote Day One in Venice… ‘And there it was bobbing in the San Marco basin, slowly making its way toward the pylons of the pier, dipping ever more slightly into the lagoon; we stood there in shock waiting for it to sink to the bottom, to join that ancient third pillaged column, never recovered…’ By then we were both a bit upset, as this flat top panama hat was one of Kent’s favourites. We purchased it in New York City and nursed back to Sydney! If it had not been for a Canadian couple’s enthusiasm, we were ready to give up. ‘How much was it?’ ‘Is it special?’ The lady’s husband was even tempted to dive in to save it. But then, since the hat refused to sink, there was hope. We were looking for a boat hook or something, anything long enough to help save it. Then a broom was spotted and commandeered, Kent kneeled down to hook the hat and rescued it on the first try. There was clapping and whistling from onlookers, and what a relief for us! Just like that from tears to cheers, what a theatrical entrance… Perhaps with a little humour, and a warning about the water surrounding us from the Queen of the Adriatic herself!
Everyone Is Here To See Venice Before It Sinks
Although it was a short walk from the San Zaccaria vaporetto stop to Piazza San Marco and onto our accommodation adjacent to St Mark’s Basilica. We immediately joined the crush with hundreds of tourists and walked past many souvenir stalls. Instead of being moved by the splendour of the Piazza San Marco, I was both over and underwhelmed at the same time by the seeming relentless throng of the crowd. ‘Where’s the romance? Where’s the magic?’ Altogether a bit of a disappointment. We were not alone, it really did seem everyone wants to see Venice before it sinks into the sea.
‘You only see Venice for the first time once!’ Gilbert’s advice was echoing in my head. Yes that’s right, only once, and here was my once only! I started regretting not taking his suggestions more seriously. To miss out on an amazing first impression of this beauty… what a pity! And because of that, I made a promise to myself, I would reset and make up for this missed opportunity. ‘I will “find” my dream Venice.’ Kent was there to help me too, ‘No more laziness, we have to be up and out by dawn to beat the crowd if we want to avoid this madness.’ We made a deal, we were both on the same page, we would discover the Venice of our mind’s eye we were sure still exists.
Street Fashion Venice By Kent Johnson
Just as we were dragging those 70 kilograms of luggage across the Pizza San Marco, Kent spotted a well-dressed local gentleman. Yes, at last! A gentleman of indisputable style was there standing out in a sea of people wearing clothes of convenience. His serene aura, classic attire; his dog, a cane and a cigar… and of course, he became Kent’s first Street Fashion Venice photograph!
Finding Relais Piazza San Marco
We found Relais Piazza San Marco in a humble alleyway with a help of a local waitstaff from a pizzeria nearby. Minimal signage, single wooden door, and no lift from the street to the check-in lobby. We had to carry our 70kg of luggage up the stairs. The lobby, which was a tiny room with no decorations but a desk and a fax machine. When the paperwork was done, a key was passed to our hands. We were told by the receptionist that once we reached the top floor by the elevator, there were only ‘two or three steps’ (meaning stairs), to arrive at our loft suite. Well it was 11 stairs in total, I counted, no landing, and Kent carried the bags again! It would be nice if the receptionist didn’t sugar-coat its accessibility. Anyway, Kent and I were tired after the journey and were just glad that we had finally made it.
A Suite With A Rooftop Terrace
Of course I’d seen them on the website, but I did find the matching fabric wallpaper, drapes; bed and floor covering rather funky. Then just a few more steps – mind your head, a rooftop terrace with views of St Mark’s Basilica, St Mark’s Campanile – the bell tower, right in front of you! This rooftop balcony was the main reason for our booking and we liked what we saw. After experiencing an overcrowded Piazza San Marco, at last we found a little Venetian serenity from being up here. I’ll share more thoughts regarding this curious Bed and Breakfast establishment and our loft suite in a later post.
My Favourite Face Of The Queen Of The Adriatic
The Queen of the Adriatic has many faces, my personal favourite has always been scenes of gondolas moored on the quay, with the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore as the backdrop. During our late afternoon stroll, this classic panorama was a must-see, especially as it’s only a stone’s throw from our B&B. ‘Ciao Venice, I’m here, we made it!’ I thanked the universe for fulfilling my wish to someday be in the arms of The Floating City.
Wrapping Day One In Venice
Not feeling the desire to dress up for a ‘proper dinner’ on our first night in Venice; Kent and I took a gamble on a local modern Italian eatery for a satisfying quick bite. We wrapped the day at our terrace overlooking this superb view. Our Venice re-discovery had begun already and with this scenery laid out before me, I began to feel the magic…