The Enigma that is Venice

Venice seems to evoke one of two very divergent reactions in people. Some consider it the most romantic city on earth, a place of marvelous wonder, and would agree with Russell Norman when he says, “Venice bewitches. Like many before me, I have been seduced by its art, architecture, poetry, and beauty.”

Others consider it to be confusing, frustrating, moldy, and massively overrated. Most of this second group with agree with the assessment of President Ulysses S. Grant: “Venice would be a fine city if it were only drained.”

Although we planned to stay longer, some changes to our cruise itinerary resulted in us spending less than 48 hours total in the city: one day before and one day after the cruise itself. But in that brief period, we experienced glimpses of both ends of the spectrum. We experienced the magical beauty of the city in the early morning and evening light, and came away captivated. We took a trip to Burano, another island town, and discovered a photographer’s dream location.

We were also totally perplexed by a transportation system that is as foreign as any we have experienced. We discovered it is impossible to keep from getting lost, even with a GPS. And we watched them erect raised sidewalks because they knew that the following day a tide was coming that would submerge the entire Piazza San Marco Square, whose cathedral has been under renovation for months since the last killer flood. And we wondered why people continue to want to live here.

Then, on our final morning, we wandered the area around the Rialto Bridge as the city was coming to life. During this magical time, we discovered the (formerly unknown to us) world famous Rialto Fish Market, as it was being set up in the early morning. We were blown away by the size and scope of the market and by the incredible variety of seafood available. For us, the scales had been tipped, from frustrated to dazzled.

If you come to Venice and expect to have it be, and work, like other cities, you will be disappointed. When you come to Venice, you need to come ready to experience it on its own terms. You still might be disappointed. Or, like us, you might consider it a place for magical memories.