The Floating City: A Weekend in Venice (Part 3)
The morning after is the dread of the night before. Sitting upright can undo all the goodwill and happy memories, as your head collapses in on itself and you decide teetotalism is the only sensible option. Fortunately, I avoided living death for another morning. Unfortunately, one of my friends did not. Fortunately, Italian culture allows for slow mornings at a coffee shop, so we found a small café and feasted on croissants and espressos. Unfortunately, we had an appointment at the opera house, so we didn’t have long to groan about it before we had to drag ourselves away again.
The sun was out, which confused us. Could we truly have a day where we weren’t soaked for the entire time? For the moment, it seemed so, and we decided to make the most of it. The streets were fuller than we’d seen before, which also meant we finally witnessed the worst part of Venice: tourists. The streets were full of foreigners, four abreast in some cases, making everyone behind them wait to pass. They were loud, obstructive, well-intended visitors, and it made it that little bit harder to get around certain parts. I realise it sounds rather contradictory to lambaste them when I was one myself, but the contrast with previous days was so severe that I can’t help but comment on it. Alas, the tourist stream is what we had to follow, but it took us past some fun shops. The most notable was a chocolate shop that coerces you in with free samples of limoncello truffles. They were exceedingly good, in fairness, and a rolling chocolate fondue in the window added to the spectacle, but whether the shop was full due to interest or a lack of space on the street outside is up for debate. All I know is I’m glad we were pushed inside.
Once we arrived at the opera house we were told to wait in the lobby for the tour guide to arrive. The chandeliers were pretty, and the rococo style was a nice contrast with the rest of the city. The colour scheme reminded me of an old hotel, however; pale orange and white borders. I split off from the main group whilst they were talking amongst themselves and decided to do some independent exploring. Around the first corner was a very impressive sight: the opera house proper. The stage extended back far further than one would expect and was filled with people working preparing for the next performance. Spotlights illuminated the cherubs on the ceiling, and paint gave an illusion of a domed roof. A hundred lamps marked a hundred boxes, all with gold leaf and Roman wall paintings which added to the ostentatious décor. There was almost too much ornateness for me; it felt like an elaborate set from one of the operas more than it did an opera house. Ultimately, it was pretty, but not exactly to my tastes.
Afterwards we went back to San Marco, and I was able to view the plaza during the day for the first time. The piazza was exceptional for its size alone. When the rest of Venice is a series of backstreets and alleyways squeezed between narrow houses, it was quite a relief to have some breathing space for a change. It also allowed us to feel the sun for the first time in days, and as we walked through the piazza and dodged out of photographers’ frames, I thought how great a day it was to take in all the sights. A slight sea-breeze on our faces, the Campanile overshadowing us, the Tetrarchs huddling by the Doge’s Palace, and granite pillars holing Saints Mark and Theodore aloft was a very cool moment. It finally sunk in that I was in Venice. THE Venice! Some people dream of visiting but never do, and here I am on a long weekend walking around like it’s no big deal.
During our walking (endless walking) we lost one of our friends, so us that remained got lost too out of spite. It ended up being the best decision of the trip. Not only did I get to have some cherry and yoghurt ice-cream, but we ended up in what must have been the art district. There were lots of tiny studio/workshops attended by artists whose work was created in the backroom. They weren’t very busy, and there were almost no tourists either, so it ended up being another quiet moment on the trip. As the day drew on, we rounded off the one corner of the city, around the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. The Venetians certainly had a eye for location; perched on the end of the sliver of island, the grand basilica was quite a sight. Huge metal doors barred the main entrance, and a walkway under the ground-level buttresses allowed for some light chiaroscuro as we walked underneath. By this time the sun was drawing low, and we were quite fatigued, so we headed home to get ready for dinner. Thankfully, our friend had made it home independently, and once we’d had a moment to rest and get changed, we left again to find food.
One of us knew a good fish restaurant not far from us, so we decided to go there. I should say at this point that I’m not partial to shellfish, despite growing up in Hastings for a time. As it was, I made the effort, and ultimately, I ate more clams and mussels than ever before. I refused to eat the prawn however; I despise them. We had the sweetest waitress I have ever met. She was so happy to serve us, but kept apologising for her poor English (which was better than most English people’s). In the bathroom they had a framed note which read ‘I used to be a pretty picture, but someone stole me ☹’. I think I preferred it that way. Post-post-modern toilet art.
On our way back, we passed a square that for whatever reason, had decide to become the party square. In Venice this was an unusual sight as not many places were open too late, and certainly not with loud music and patrons spilling out into the streets. In any case, one quick dance with a magnificently-moustached man, and so ended another day in the Floating City.