Travel

Venice: The allure of Italy’s most unique city

Posted on February 2, 2019

If you ask me, a good portion of Venice’s appeal lies in that fact that it seems so unbelievable. Here is a city that regularly floods, seawater gushing out of canals and covering sidewalks, creeping under doorways to invade homes and businesses. Here is a city of islands knit together by over four hundred small bridges, a city where water replaces streets, where boats replace cars, trucks, scooters and bikes. Here is a city that seems hostile towards the very old, the very young, the disabled, the distracted, and anyone who has to pull a wheeled suitcase for any distance at all. And yet, here is a city that is completely captivating and totally charming, even – or especially – in the middle of winter.

Most cities, even truly ancient ones like Rome, still feel to me like they’re firmly established in the twenty-first century. It doesn’t take much – a few cars go a long way towards setting a sense of time. Venice doesn’t really seem to exist in any particular era. The low-slung, bluntly boxy train station is definitely not ancient, and the wide and busy Strada Nuova with its touristy shops and chain restaurants advertising tourist menus and take-away coffees couldn’t be anything except modern. But as soon as I stray from these areas by even a couple of streets, time falls away. The laundry hanging to dry everywhere and gondolas sliding through the canals feel timeless – at least until I spot a gondola with selfie sticks protruding from every possible angle, a sight that brings me fully back to the twenty-first century.

Venice shows its age, but it does it in the most graceful, captivating way possible. Colours are softened with time and salty sea air into mottled pastel tones. Stone looks as smooth as silk. Doorways sag, rooflines droop, entire buildings lean towards the canals. A startling number of bell towers are not just slightly, but extremely crooked. If I think about the city’s underpinnings – wooden pillars driven into the silty lagoon floor hundreds of years ago as the foundation for all these buildings, walls that are attacked by waves, tides, seaweed and barnacles every single day, and bridges that are crossed by thousands of tourists each month – it’s impressive that the city is still standing at all.

What’s also impressive is the casual, elegant way that Venice puts hazards directly in front of an unsuspecting wanderer. Most cities seem to do a decent job of protecting residents and tourists alike from unnecessary dangers. Venice, on the other hand, is full of sidewalks running alongside canals, dark and narrow streets that dead-end directly into water, doors – even in hotels – that open into water, and slippery stone steps leading straight down into the canal. I spotted numerous life preservers attached to walls and doors, and even a long knotted rescue rope dangling into the canal beside a set of particularly algae-slicked steps.

I have to wonder: how many tourists walk directly into the canals each year, so distracted and overcome by the city’s otherworldly beauty that they forget to watch where they’re going? How often do people topple into the water after a long and wine-laden dinner or even just fail to notice where the sidewalk ends and the canal begins while walking at night?

Venice at night is incredibly atmospheric, but it’s also incredibly dark – the kind of inky, close darkness that I usually associate with being deep in the countryside. There’s something vaguely disconcerting – but lovely – about standing in the middle of a city and hearing nothing except the sound of rain hitting the canals and waves making soft kissing noises as they lap against boats and buildings. Where else in the world does an after dinner stroll take you up and down countless bridges, past boats bobbing gently and through a tangled web of tiny nonsensical streets with (at least during the winter) hardly a single person around? Venice is so unique that it almost feels unreal.

I always wonder what it would be like to live in Venice. At what point would it cease to seem charming to have packages delivered by boat, garbage collected by boat, a new washing machine delivered by boat? Would it get tiring to have to criss-cross a multitude of bridges – stairs going up, stairs going down – just to bring home some groceries? And at what point does someone learn the city’s labyrinth of streets so well that they stop coming up against watery dead-ends every few metres?

After even a few days in Venice, going anywhere else is jarring. It’s strange to see cars again, and asphalt and cobblestones instead of turquoise water. It’s easier to actually live in Rome – or anywhere else, for that matter – than in Venice. But it’s infinitely more interesting to imagine living in Venice, the city that manages to be both entirely improbable and very real at the same time.

Share this post: Pinterest Facebook Twitter

Comments on this post

Sarah 2 February 2019 at 8:20 pm

Absolutely in love with your pictures.

Georgiana B 3 February 2019 at 11:15 pm

Love this post! The photos are wonderful and you’ve described Venice so well!

Mitchell 12 February 2019 at 2:25 pm

What do you need to live there in terms of paperwork. I am from the States.

    Sara White 26 February 2019 at 4:47 pm

    Mitchell, you’ll need to get a visa from your local Italian consulate. The exact paperwork needed is really specific to the kind of visa (work, student, etc) you’d need – the consulate’s website is usually the best place to begin to find a list of all the documents you’d need to begin the process.

Barbara H 12 February 2019 at 3:55 pm

A lovely, heartbreaking piece of work. Thank you.

Leave a comment

Recently Written

Life  |  Travel

Homeland

The day before we leave, the temperature hits forty degrees Celsius and the humidity is clammy and close, inescapable. My suitcase gapes open on the living room floor; the fan whirrs continuously and stirs the air into hot, useless, frantic gusts. I sweat as I fold a jacket and sweater into the suitcase. Outside, the asphalt has gone soft and gummy from the heat. The cicadas in the trees along the river are screeching relentlessly, and the air smells faintly like garbage. I love Rome, but I have also never been quite so glad to escape Rome. Arriving in Vancouver is a...

Life

Two wheels

I didn’t really mean to become a cyclist. It just sort of snuck up on me, stealthily, until one day I was encased in skin-tight spandex and attaching my feet to the pedals with a pair of those special and deadly cycling shoes that simultaneously make riding a bike so much better and also so much scarier. It all started this winter, around the time when I began dating my boyfriend. He had a stack of bicycles leaning against the wall in his apartment and a pretty serious passion for cycling; I asked questions, curious, and perched experimentally on one of...

Life

Here, again

So. Hi! I think you’ve all realized by now that I’m not very good at actually writing in this thing. I have a lot of partially-completed posts lurking on my computer, fragments and half-paragraphs and sentences that sounded like the start of something when I jotted them down but didn’t turn into anything. And for a while that bothered me, because I wanted to write, and I wanted to schedule it out and outline a neat list of topics to follow and, basically, blog like a proper blogger should. But actually? I don’t think I really care about that. Isn’t there...

Travel

Bold and stark: The colours of Burano

Burano is a strange kind of place. If you search for photos of it, you’ll mostly come up with shots of ultra-saturated rainbow-hued buildings bathed in golden sunlight and girls in sundresses twirling cheerfully in front of doorways. Any maybe it’s like that during the spring or summer, when it’s warm enough that your lips don’t feel numb with cold after a few minutes of wandering around – but I was there in winter, mid-January, the deepest part of the season where sundresses and warm sunlight felt like a long-lost memory. So Burano, a tiny island in the Venetian lagoon, felt...

Food

Winter isn’t over yet: A warmly-spiced cookie recipe to keep you cozy

The wind is blowing hard today, a cuttingly cold wind that slices its way down through the narrow streets, slamming shutters back and forth on their hinges and ripping leaves and twigs off plants. The sky is brilliantly, deceptively blue; it looks like a perfect nearly-spring day until the wind gusts again and tips over a parked bicycle while sending a stray plastic bag flying through the air. “Senti che tramontana”, remarks an older man at the market as his scarf whips out behind him. The tramontana is a cold wind that comes from the north, from somewhere cold and snow-covered...

Travel

Venice: The allure of Italy’s most unique city

If you ask me, a good portion of Venice’s appeal lies in that fact that it seems so unbelievable. Here is a city that regularly floods, seawater gushing out of canals and covering sidewalks, creeping under doorways to invade homes and businesses. Here is a city of islands knit together by over four hundred small bridges, a city where water replaces streets, where boats replace cars, trucks, scooters and bikes. Here is a city that seems hostile towards the very old, the very young, the disabled, the distracted, and anyone who has to pull a wheeled suitcase for any distance...

View more posts
Show me posts about...