Emerging from the station into the bright Venetian sunlight, we found ourselves in a chaotic blend of people, boats and water.
There was English everywhere and crowds, both things we had yet to see in Italy. There were also people from a huge range of places, speaking so many different languages, all standing around looking lost, even the Italians.
And the roads were made of water. This shouldn’t have been a big surprise – we were in Venice after all! Yet, the whole effect was somewhat surreal.
Somehow, the city combined the stunning, the fantastic and the mundane. We stayed in an old mansion, built in the 18th century and still owned by the same family. It had ridiculously high ceilings, Persian rugs, huge Venetian glass chandeliers and wood paneling. I felt like I had strayed onto a movie set, especially when I walked outside and saw the canals, bridges and gondolas that made up our “street”.
We quickly got lost in the crowds. And then it began to drizzle. The madness was exhilarating and overwhelming and when it rained everything was wet, and canal water was everywhere! Getting lost was exciting. We found churches, shops, alleys, canals… and then they disappeared again.
During the day crowds picked up, and dispersed a little in the evenings. Everything was multilingual, bright and not quite real. Some remarkable scenes from the trip stayed with me: watching football in a pub, then stepping out and finding ourselves in this surreal setting. Or sitting in a Jewish restaurant by the canal and watching people go by, and seeing a man in a delivery boat stopping briefly to pick up a beer.
It rained a lot while we were there. Hours passed and the narrow streets ended suddenly at canals again and again, and the city felt closed in and claustrophobic. Walking in alleys at night didn’t feel safe (even though it was), and there was a sense of heightened anxiety as people wandered around, lost in the dark, maps in hand. We all cast huge shadows as we walked around in circles, and even small people could seem threatening from a distance.
But St Mark’s Square was a glimmer of light in the darkness. There was a jazz band playing, laughter and happy people gathering. The clouds cleared and Venice shone in all its magic, and it was amazing!