It’s im­pos­si­ble not to fall in love with Venice

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - LAURA ATKINS

I AR­RIVED in Venice be­liev­ing it would reek of sewage. It didn’t. The walk into the cen­tre went through cob­bled al­leys packed with loud Amer­i­cans in san­dals and Ital­ian ladies tot­ter­ing in kit­ten heels. But it was when cross­ing the Rialto bridge that I first felt as though I was truly in Venice, with tacky gold gon­dola mod­els for sale at ex­tor­tion­ate prices, and tourists jostling for prime photo spots. How else are you sup­posed to know you’re on hol­i­day?

The canals are won­der­fully chaotic; smaller boats have to dart out of the way of the va­poret­tos as per­ilously over­crowded gon­dolas bob in their wakes. Gon­do­liers nap in the af­ter­noon shade, pre­tend­ing not to see the half a dozen tourists who turn up hop­ing to squeeze into one boat and make their guide earn his money.

The wa­ter­bus ser­vice is far more glam­orous than the av­er­age city bus but is just as crowded and sweaty, es­pe­cially in the sum­mer sun. It’s easy to let the fight for a seat dis­tract you from the turquoise wa­ter just out­side the win­dow. As one his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ment drifts out of view, an­other quickly takes its place: it seems as if ev­ery stretch of land is home to a crum­bling cathe­dral.

I couldn’t help but pon­der the im­prac­ti­cal­ity of Venice. Nip­ping to the shops in­volves clam­ber­ing into a wooden boat and the build­ings look tired and worn from the wa­ter con­stantly lap­ping against them. Our gon­do­lier sweetly told us in his thick ac­cent that the dam­age was caused by “salt­wa­ter cor­rup­tion”.

The outer is­lands of Venice have a much calmer feel. Yes, Saint Mark’s Square is im­pres­sive but the tour groups are dif­fi­cult to dodge while hold­ing a rapidly melt­ing gelato. The is­lands of Bu­rano and Mu­rano, fa­mous for lace and glass re­spec­tively, are the bet­ter bet for a quiet lunch and cap­puc­cino. Fam­ily-run shops, of­ten with dogs doz­ing in the door­way, sell lo­cally made wares far su­pe­rior to the usual tourist tat. The brightly coloured houses of Bu­rano have a car­toony feel, in stark con­trast to the ter­ra­cotta shades found on the main is­land. On Mu­rano, men slog away in the glass­works, their faces red with heat. It is fas­ci­nat­ing to see a del­i­cate glass horse born from a molten lump on the end of a stick.

Even af­ter a few days — with­out so much as a visit to an art gallery — it wasn’t dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why so many young cou­ples still choose to marry in Venice. The Float­ing City be­comes even more ro­man­tic, al­most mag­i­cal, once the sun sets and the canals turn into black rib­bons. Given the choice be­tween shiny sky­scrapers and the rustic charm of Venice, I know which I’d pick ev­ery time.

THE SPEC­TA­TOR

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