Today, I read the following on another travel blog, and I immediately became aware how subjective travel can be and simultaneously grateful that the very same didn't happen to me. The traveler writes: "So far I'm not the biggest fan of Venice, but that's probably just because we braved a few of its most major sights during the worst time of day to go (early afternoon), with the multitudes of crowds. I agree with Jule's statement that 'Venice loses 80 percent of its potential magic because of the crowds of tourists.'"
My introduction to Venice was completely different...
We arrived in Mestre, the last town on the mainland, on a weeknight as all the crowds were leaving the island of Venice. This was our first day in Italy, and we had decided to ditch our large pre-paid dinner in our cushy hotel to sneak a quick peek of Venice a day earlier than the rest of our group. I remember cramming a Big Mac into my face at the Mestre train station, feeling a bit disenchanted by the bland, commercialized Italy I had experienced so far. Combined with my first encounters with the admiring gawks from Italian locals, I was seriously starting to have second thoughts.
Arriving in the Venice train station, we became totally discombobulated. We had been slapped on the hand for forgetting to validate our rail tickets on the way in, and we still weren't sure if we needed to validate them on the way out, whenever that departure might be. Generally speaking, we were just confused American tourists wandering around like goobers. That's when I heard my sister mutter, "Oh...my...gosh..." and start to drift, mesmerized, toward the main set of doors leading out of the station.
Curiously, I followed. And the moment I registered what I was seeing, I was awestruck. You just can't put into words when you first encounter Venice. Elegantly decaying buildings flanking a beautiful canal like none you've ever seen, drowning in a sense of magic that just hangs in the air. There we were, literally standing at Venice's doorstep. Suddenly, the train didn't seem so important, and we followed the drawing straight onto a departing water taxi headed further into the city.
We watched the sun go down and the moon rise on that one-hour vaporetto ride to St. Mark's Square. No one said much; we were all too consumed with absorbing the massive sensory explosion. Lights came on and flooded every stunning building all around us as we slowly rode down the canal. With the bulk of the tourist crowds gone, the streets were filled with the sound of music pouring out of the cafes, a light peppering of people casually strolling down the sidewalks and bridges. Gondoliers were tying up their gondolas for the night; I can still hear the sound of them knocking together in the waves.
We finally abandoned the water taxi at St. Mark's Square, thinking we couldn't fall any further in love with Venice than we had already. Yep, wrong again. As we walked past the Doge's Palace, breathtaking even in the twilight, we finally walked fully into the massive square. Our senses were overwhelmed yet again with quartets playing Mozart, people dancing and kissing quite literally in the moonlight. For those wordless moments, we just got drunk on Venice's charm. The stars had come out in the sky, and there wasn't a pigeon or crowd to be seen. It was just her; her people, her beauty, her enchantment.
We spent another hour or two just roaming around the back canals. Whenever we felt hopelessly lost, we'd grab a gelato to munch on and everything seemed okay again. At one point, we stopped to listen to an accordion player in a quiet canal when we realized we were staring at the back side of the eerily illuminated Bridge of Sighs. We have no idea how we got there and we could probably never find our way back. But those minutes were amazing.
I fell in love with that floating city on the sea that night, but those were stolen moments. We weren't supposed to be there. We were supposed to be back on the mainland with all the other tourists, eating a huge American meal in our huge chain hotel.
I'm so glad we broke the rules that day.