Within moments of stepping off the train and facing the city of Venice, I knew that I would need to return.
This is going to start to become a problem, at some point: every new place I travel to has me wanting to come back. And then there’s France, which seems to call me back every time. I’m beginning to wonder when I’m going to have the time in my life to do all of the traveling I feel like I need to do.
But back to Venice. My mistake- and it feels like a big one- was that I didn’t bring a good camera. I’ve said it already about this Italy trip: this was not ‘typical traveling’ (if ‘typical traveling’ can even be defined). I knew I would get to see Italy on this trip, but my focus was so far away from the touristy stuff. I did just a bit of research about Florence, and even less for Venice, and figured that I would just learn things on the way.
And that was the benefit of being with an Italian on my trip, I didn’t have to worry about transportation or finding my way around the cities. I had someone to point out the highlights and make sure I saw the “must-see” things for a first-time traveler to Venice and Florence.
But the drawback of traveling this way was that I didn’t prepare like I might have. I debated about bringing a good camera, and really considered lugging around my film camera and a half dozen rolls of black and white film, but I decided against it. I just couldn’t quite get into the spirit of sight-seeing on this trip (at least, not in the days before I left, when I was deciding what to bring).
In the end, of course, my very first thought when I was in Venice was, “I need to come back here with my camera and take some black and white photos.”
Venice, in some ways, was even better than I’d always imagined it to be. It was a place that I always suspected I’d get to, and it held an almost mystic-power in my mind. Maybe because the city is so incredibly unique: a network of canals and dead-ends and no cars and stairs that lead straight into dark water. And when I was there, it felt mystical, especially at night. I loved walking around the streets and ending up in what felt like forgotten corners of the city, far away from the crowds of tourists. It was eerie and spooky and I felt like I stepped back in time.
Even the New Year’s celebration felt other-worldly. Sure, there were masses of people, most who had been drinking, a lot who were acting foolish. There were tourists and people holding out their cameras to take selfies (me included) at every opportunity. There were discarded champagne bottles underfoot, lost gloves littering the square, elbows jabbing into my back.
But it was also magical. A dozen different languages were spoken around me, people ran arm in arm through the streets, many wearing masks covered in gold, covered in feathers. I saw a cat pass by, later a zebra. I was delighted by it, and also spooked. A mask conceals what is really there and it added to the mystery. Whose eyes were staring at me? I can only imagine what Carnavale is like, the annual festival held just before the Lent.
We were sitting in a small bar drinking a café on New Year’s morning (well, a doppio for me), at a table in front of a window that gave us a full view of the canal outside. Every few minutes, a gondola would float past. I know that this is how Venice works: outside that bar’s window was a straight drop to the water. No sidewalk, no street, just water. The building is sitting on a wooden platform held up by wooden planks driven into the ground, all submerged under the water. I understood this before I went, but it was another thing to see. It was pretty incredible- Venice really is a floating city. (I almost floated right along with the city when, in an attempt to take a photo, I slipped a bit on the wet stone of a stair that led into the canal. Otherwise, no close calls with the water).
For me (and I would imagine, countless others), the best thing about this city was to simply wander around the streets and climb over bridges and notice the small details and get a little lost. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a city where I’ve been so inspired to take photographs (well, maybe Paris, but even so, that is saying something).
So I’m not done with Venice, not by a long shot. We have a date (time, to be determined): me, the city, and my camera.