Stepping out of the train station in Venice is not an experience either of us will soon forget. Immediately beyond the doors awaited a waterlogged view that straightaway cemented that Venice is unlike anywhere else in the world. The stairs lead down to the canal and we could hear the seagulls screaming as we waited for the waterbuses and taxis’ to glide up to dock. Our apartment for the quick visit was towards the end of the waterbus line so we happily sat and slid along the water, taking in the Grand Canal along the way and trying to absorb the notion of streets made of water. Thankfully our airbnb owner met us at the stop and led us to our abode, as without him we wouldn’t have had a hope in hell. To say that Venice is a maze is like saying that MC. Escher’s world is a tad confusing. The narrow and serpentine roads move about like the waves on the water, constantly weaving through houses and over bridges until you find yourself completely adrift. I’ve never been more thankful for Chris’ keen sense of direction than the moments where he successfully prevented us from disappearing into the Venetian labyrinth forever. As we only had two nights and one full day in Venice we were keen to explore as much of the floating city as possible. We made our way to St. Mark’s square to visit the church and admire the aggressive and shrieking seagulls Venice is often known for. When I was younger I was rather obsessed with the classical kids collection, specifically the Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery episode. I’m pleased to say that Venice was exactly as I had envisioned when listening to the audio story. The whole city sings out in music as street performers happily litter the roads next to restaurants, expelling Vivaldi from their veins in the hopes of tips from diners. The gondolas fill the canals to the brim and we were lucky enough to even hear some melodic crooning from the gondolier, accompanied by an accordion player precariously seated on the bow. We wandered blindly for the evening, threading our way through the city over as many bridges as we could find. We somehow found the bridge of sighs, so aptly named, as it was the place where prisoners would peer out over the canal to take one last look at Venice before perishing away in the stony jails. Although we had done some research as to places to dine in Venice, due to the ridiculous way finding and hopelessness of most directions, we resided ourselves to spending the entire trip simply wandering and eating whatever it was we found on the way. On this, you can imagine our surprise when we stumbled upon one of the places we’d read about, soon after the early pangs of hunger began to ring out. We watched as fresh pasta was thrown into vats of boiling water and smothered in pesto, and we gluttonously grabbed the white takeaway boxes and returned to St. Marks Square to enjoy our dinner outside while watching the sky turn to candy floss over the water.
The next morning we woke up to a ghost town. Although not ridiculously early, we had still beaten the majority out of bed and we enjoyed the emptiness of the streets and the stillness of the water. A slightly sinister fog had descended upon the city, rendering the views obsolete and bringing about the exact air of mystery and eeriness that I had imagined when listening to Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery. We arrived at the Doge’s palace and immediately made our way inside the resplendent mansion. I can honestly say with confidence that the Doge’s palace is the most ornate, gilded, and glittering place I have ever seen. Something about it somehow even makes Versailles look a bit plain. The palace is very interesting and I feel as though we learned a lot during our visit. I’m pleased to report that it taught me all about the Council of Ten, a secretive and mysterious counseling body in Venice from the 1300’s to the late 1700’s. Since our visit, anytime there’s a mundane mishap, like a missing sock or spilled tea, I lean over to Chris and whisper quickly and dramatically “Council of Ten”. I’m a joy to live with. Working our way through the various chambers and meeting rooms, Chris and I delighted in the design and ornate craftsmanship of the palace, poking our way through rooms until we arrived at the Chamber of the Great Council. As the largest chamber in the Doge’s Palace, and one of the largest rooms in Europe, its mammoth size is impressive and intimidating. The walls are decorated with paintings of Venetian history while the ceiling shows the Virtues and Venetian heroes. Running along the ceiling is a frieze displaying portraits of the first 76 Doge’s of Venice, each holding a scroll detailing their highest accomplishment. What’s very creepy is the image of a floating black cloth halfway through the frieze, symbolizing the admonished Doge Marin Faliero who attempted and failed at a coup d’état. According to the wonderfully informative panels in the room, he was sentenced not only to beheading and mutilation but was also condemned to damnatio memoriae, meaning he must never be remembered and there must be no mention of his name. A tad melodramatic perhaps. After we finished in the palace, and Chris managed to drag me from the library and map room, we found our way to the Museo della Musica, a free museum focusing on the life of Vivaldi. After a quick slice of sun soaked artichoke pizza we admired the ancient instruments on display and read all about the tragic history of my favourite composer. I learned that he died in poverty and was thrown into a mass grave in Vienna, accompanied exactly fifty years later by a Mr. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As the museum so eloquently put it, “Both their bodies, which held the minds and the passion for the most fragile and long-lasting of arts, were piously but carelessly tossed into the same common grave. No pilgrimage may be made to the tombs of Antonio and Amadeus: the only way to pay them homage is to listen to them”. After that uplifting visit we ventured out into the sunshine to continue our serpentine path through the city. As fate would have it, we happened upon a modern art exhibition just as Chris was expressing his surprise that we had managed to visit 3 new cities without any form of modern art. Inside we were met with a really fantastic exhibit by Joseph Klibansky, which seemed in total stark contrast to all the gilded history we’d been mopping up these past 10 days. The show was fantastic and we left with big smiles, eager to continue enjoying the day. The rest of our penultimate afternoon was spent wandering around the canals, sitting by the water, and eating takeout pasta in St. Marks Square as the sun sat over the clock tower. We returned to our apartment relaxed but exhausted, dragging our tired feet behind us as the night owls drank and laughed at the nearby watering holes.
The following morning we woke at the brisk hour of 4 am, ready but not very eager, for the long day of travel ahead. As we were flying out of Milan our day consisted of a boat ride, train ride, bus ride, airplane and then tram. Despite the ungodly hour, the boat to the train station did provide us with one last beautiful view of Venice, empty and silent with just a glimmer of mystery hanging about in the air. We only had 5 hours in Milan so our plan for the day was to drop off our bags and have a leisurely lunch followed by a final ramble around the Duomo. Well that was the plan at least. The night before Chris realized that it was Milan design week so unsurprisingly our plan quickly and dramatically changed. Instead of a relaxing ramble we decided to cram in as many shows as was humanely possible. Fueled on gelato and espresso alone we power walked from venue to venue, attempting to consume as much design as was viable. It was wearying to say the least but definitely worth it, as it was an opportunity that is not likely to come up again anytime soon. So although we ended our supposedly relaxing vacation on a manic note, and our long leisurely lunch was replaced with the devouring of airport sandwiches, our final day in Milan is now an unexpectedly unique memory.
Italy was everything our 15-year-old selves had hoped it would be and it was exactly as charismatic and magnetic as I’d imagined. We ate gelato every day, saw more art and history than our brains could handle, and fulfilled a promise of exploit that was 9 years in the making.