In addition to visiting Greece in November, my dad and I also spent two days in Venice. I found it to be a rather surreal and odd city, with its labyrinth of narrow streets and canals, endless stone buildings and streets with little greenery, and many many tourists (yes, even in November). This may be a cliche, but it does indeed have the sense of a once glorious, now dying city. The grand ducal palace that is now a museum and the ubiquitous mask shops give only a hint of the vibrance that Venice once had. I knew very little about Venetian history (how did I miss this in school? Or was it that it was not taught or only glossed over?) before visiting the city; I had no idea that for several hundred years Venice, as a city-state, was a very powerful naval power, controlling seas and land all the way to Turkey. I can only imagine what Venice was like during this time: a flourishing city, full of merchants, composers, artists, priests, and the wealthy; a busy trading port; opulant costume balls during carnival. Now, the only people walking through the streets are tourists, the buildings are decaying, and the gondolas are there only for the tourists. While we were there, the high tide flooding occurred, which fills St. Marks plaza (as well as many other low-lying streets) with about a foot of water. This just heightened the sense of the decaying city, as this did not used to occur: the islands are truly sinking.
I am not sure what people “love” or find “wonderful” about Venice (phrases more than one person has used in reaction to the fact that I went there). I certainly found it interesting and thought-provoking. The maze-making part of me appreciated the labyrithine streets and canals, and I enjoyed window-shopping at the beautiful mask shops. Perhaps it is because I am not a big-spending tourist: beyond the few things to visit, it seems there is little else to do in the city but eat at expensive restaurants, shop at expensive stores, and take expensive gondola rides. I, on the other hand, was content to eat at take-away pizza shops, make only two modest purchases, and watch the gondolas from the bridges.
Being non-stereotypical tourists (keep your eyes out for a separate post about that), my dad and I like to seek out the places most tourists do not go. For example, when we went on a walk from our hotel one evening, we purposely walked away from the touristy area, and came across the mostly deserted streets of a Venice neighborhood where people actually live out their regular daily lives. This gave us a different perspective on the Venice of today (but still one that contribued to my impressions of it as sad and decaying). We also visited the Jewish Ghetto, where there is a small museum and several synagogues which you can take a tour to visit. This was one of my favorite parts of our stay in Venice: I always find it interesting to learn about how Jews lived and kept their separate culture within the dominant culture. I also learned some interesting facts: Venice is where the term “ghetto” comes from, and some (perhaps many) Venetians lived out their entire lives on only a couple islands of Venice. This last fact was incredible to me, as the entire city is quite small. It is not so apparent today that it is actually made up of many small islands, as there are plenty of bridges over the canals. In the past there were only one or two bridges between a given pair of islands, and thus each island was more isolated.
Two days was definitely sufficient for Venice. I am glad to have seen this unique city, but it is not a place I would feel a strong need to return to.