Italy – what’s not to love about this alluring European country? Steeped in culture, history and tradition, this is one place that keeps me coming back for more. Why? There are many reasons, but perhaps the biggest draw is that I can rely on her to charm me, to sweep me off my feet, striken by her crumbling beauty time after time. And let us not forget the food – the glorious, glorious food! Every time I sink my teeth into a crispy cannoli, I have died and gone to heaven. Perfetto! To me, Italy is the epitome of the Europe that once was. Old world opulence, enormous power and wealth, struggle and strife are woven into the fabric of today’s Italy. And, no city serves as a better reminder of a majestic, lavishly wealthy past than Venice.
No, I am not trying to step on Rome’s toes here. The magnitude of the empire’s wealth and power is without question, but the Venetians deserve a spotlight, too. Behind the commercial facade of romantic…and, ahem, outrageously expensive… gondolas and their operatic-singing Gondoliers, you’ll find a city desperately hanging on to the story of its past. Literally. Every building, every bridge, every piazza is marked by the passage of time. Crumbling plaster in a rainbow of jewel tones gives way to lackluster brick and structural wooden beams. Weathered bridges are stained with green moss, and street tiles are loose and cracked. A once white-framed window with its graceful curves is chipped and slightly dull. And, as if the obvious wear and tear wasn’t enough, this manmade canal city made up of several islands is sinking.
Yet, Venice stands proud. Like a peacock flashing his most impressive plumage, Venice is alive with color and splendour. Getting lost in the labyrinth of canals and unmarked streets is a delight. There’s almost no point in taking a map; getting lost is a guarantee. But that’s fine by me because this is one of my favorite places to simply wander. I need time to take in the smallest detail when I’m here – the frosted pink glass in the lanterns of Piazza San Marco, laundry drying on the line in a quiet canal alley, the reflection of water on a bridge as it glistens in the afternoon sun. There are the iconic stars of every guide book, too – the majestic Rialto Bridge, the true grandness of the Grand Canal, and the ornate Venetian masks that are on parade even when it’s not Carnavale season. Venice may be old, withering, and even sinking, but I think this makes its beauty all the more romantic and quintessentially Italian.
The great news is that all of this can be seen in one weekend. Venice is quite a small city. But, I don’t want to rush myself, of course. It’s not the Italian way. So, I find a small cafe to refuel with a caffè machiatto midmorning. Later on, I relax in a traditional osteria enjoying a spritz and quality time with great friends. What might have started as a quick bite to eat turns into hours of wining and dining on simple Italian dishes made from the freshest ingredients. Did I mention how much I love Italian food?