Venice was our last stop on the Italian leg of the trip. We arrived by train, and emerged from the station straight onto the banks of the Grand Canal. Fully embracing the nature of the city, we hopped on a waterbus to our (super) apartment in the Dosoduro, south of the main centre.
We arrived in the peak of Carnival so things were especially busy. To try to skip the worst of that, we tended to hustle out of the door pretty early, fortified by pastries and coffee from the bakery under our apartment.
Thus, while St. Mark’s Square is normally completely rammed — but get there before 9am, and you can just about convince yourself that you have the city to yourself.
Once it starts to get busier, you can duck into one of the ornate cafes for a (admittedly stunningly expensive) decadent hot chocolate or coffee, and watch the world go by.
The Basilica of St. Mark is probably the most mosaic-y building I’ve ever seen, a monument to God and Byzantine plunder in equal measure.
When you’re in Venice, or reading about the city, it doesn’t take long before you hear about its rapid population decline —down something like 2/3rds in the past 50 years, and shrinking ever further. The gondoliers will tell you all about it. What’s left is overwhelmingly focused on tourism. There’s certainly something of a theme park or film-set vibe. On the “real and gritty” to “fantasy land” spectrum of cities we visited in Italy, Venice is certainly at the other end from Naples; even Rome, its absurd story-book wealth of vistas and sites notwithstanding, felt much more real. And certainly, people like us lining up to visit aren’t exactly helping the situation.
So, sure: touristy and rather kitsch. But what a beautiful, atmospheric, memorable place Venice is. It felt like every lane and courtyard and square and canal was worth stopping to see.
And when you add in sunset, you really struggle to stop snapping photos.
Venice was the favourite stop in Italy for both boys. For four days, they could dash through winding lanes and over bridges with no vehicle traffic to worry about, seeing the rubbish collection and food deliveries all happening by barge. It was all too short a trip, and I have no doubt we’ll be back.