Things Lost Lost Things

Venice, Italy

‘Venice, the most touristy place in the world, is still just completely magic to me.’

– Frances Mayes
Classic Venice

I have to agree with Mayes. She gets it just right. As I came in out of the railway station my heart sank a little to see the number of people attached to suitcases on wheels. It was partly timing. I could only come over the border after midnight due to the 90 days in EU post-Brexit, but the 3 and half hour drive from Croatia was a bit much after midnight. I’d already parked myself on the border (within sight of the guards) until Cinderella time so I could have a short kip early evening and then cover as much ground as possible once in Slovenia and Italy but in the end I stopped over in Trieste in the early hours and made my way to Venice early morning. By the time I got into the heart of the city it was lunchtime and clearly peak tourist time. Of course Venice must be approached by its waterways to experience it authentically but queuing for a ticket and then being herded like masked cattle into a waiting pen for the vaporetto going to San Marco was longer and more tedious than I expected. I’d advise anyone to walk slowly towards the iconic square and take the vaporetto back down the whole length of the Grand Canal. That said when finally on it, I found myself a spot at the edge of the boat and relaxed into enjoying the picturesque city glide by. Amazed.

View of Venice from the vaporetto

Endlessly photogenic, Venice is a supermodel of a city with the prices to match, a trip on a gondola will set you back €80 for 30 minutes and even a trip to the loo will cost you €1.50. All this within the constant bustle of tourists taking selfies. But if you get out of bed early you are rewarded with a quieter city in which you can even find yourself alone. The light and the ambience are gentler. The following morning I did just that. A short train ride from Mestre Station took me from my park up on an industrial area of outer Venice to Venezia Santa Lucia as the shops were opening their shutters and the fresh vegetables were being delivered by a man pulling a wooden trolley. I’m glad I came back.

Cannaregio district, Venice
Square with historic mounting steps (I think)

I mainly just wandered and I’m sure I missed things I ‘should’ have seen but I enjoyed just being. I only paid to go into one place while in Venice, a beautiful looking church that I was passing. It was in the Cannaregio district and called the Church of Madonna dell’Orto. Its name comes from the statue of a Madonna and child in the church, created by the sculptor, Giovanni de Santi but originally rejected by the commissioners and subsequently put out to pasture in the sculptor’s vegetable garden. His (canny) wife then noticed a nightly glow coming from the statue which caused it to become a site of pilgrimage. The statue was subsequently sold for a princely sum and taken into the church in 1377. By 1414 the church was granted the official use of the name the local faithful had been calling it for decades, the Madonna dell’Orto (Madonna of the Garden).

The eponymous Madonna in the Church of Madonna dell’Orto

Of course I didn’t know this when I went in and in fact I nearly left without seeing the Madonna dell’Orto properly. To be honest when I had seen it in the chapel I had thought it was from the 1960s rather than the 1300s. It was only upon asking about the glass in the church windows (the staff member had no idea) I was told about the name of the church and the statue responsible for it so I popped back to take a proper look. I can see why the commissioners of the piece took their original decision but maybe I need to return at night to fully appreciate its beauty.

I’d actually been mostly absorbed by the incredible paintings in the church’s interior, such as Cima da Conegliano’s, St. John the Baptist (1493) and Tintoretto’s dramatic Giudizio Universale (1562) and his Presentation of the Virgin (1551). I found the Giudizio Universale especially captivating and stood for some time staring at it. Tintoretto not only left the legacy of his art in the church but also his bones and his tomb lies to the right of the central alter, the ultimate busman’s holiday.

There is a gondola and a bridge around every corner in Venice and I felt the need to take a photo of nearly all of them. In fact that is the strange thing about Venice, you want to absorb it, internalize it somehow. There is something about the city that seems unreal and it will disappear when you can no longer see it.

Of all the places I have visited when I told people where I was they were often in raptures exclaiming, “I can’t believe you’re in Venice!” I’ve been to other iconic cities on this trip: Nice, Cannes, Athens, Dubrovnik, but this was the one people were most excited by. When I asked them later why, they couldn’t explain it. Something to do with that Venetian magic I suppose.

Gondolas on a side waterway in central Venice
Farewell Venice
Rialto Bridge in the evening