When I was eighteen, my best friend decided she wanted us to go to Venice. I have no idea what made her choose Venice as a destination – she had never expressed any special interested in the Italian city before and, to be frank, I hadn’t either; at the time, it was just one of many, many places on the list of where I hadn’t yet been. We spent a single afternoon planning, during which it became abundantly clear that we would not be good travel partners. After that, we never discussed Venice again, and I gave little further thought to when I might travel there.
In the years since, I have been to Rome twice and adored the city on both occasions. My apprehension about all things boat and water-related has kept me away from Venice but, I admit, after a few too many hours spent scrolling travel photos on Pinterest, I was inspired and convinced Ian that we needed to visit during our European adventure this year. I had such a clear vision of what it would be like to stroll along the canals, of how I would enjoy sipping Aperol Spritz in the sun. In my imagination, Venice was a tranquil place – and I have never been so sorry to be wrong.
When I look back on our photos, I can’t help but admire the sights we saw. Venice is as beautiful as every photo would lead you to believe. It is also crowded, positively teeming with streams of tourists wandering aimlessly down narrow laneways at a pace so slow that often, foot traffic in both directions grinds to a halt and you find yourself completely unable to move until someone ten feet ahead decides they have finished admiring whatever it was that so captivated their attention. I have never felt more invisible than in Venice. No matter which way I turned, it seemed, I was elbowed or trod upon or shoved by another traveler who was unaware of, or simply uninterested in, the people around them. I had read that Venetians are hostile towards tourists, and after experiencing the behaviour of tourists in the city, I came to understand why. There is something about the place that seems to bring out the worst in people – perhaps it is the pressure to make the most of all the beautiful sights in a city that is quite literally sinking into the sea, but it’s hard to say. What I do know is that the photos we took don’t resemble the experience we had in any way. I find it hard to reconcile them with my memories of our days there, which were mostly stressful and exhausting. I was happiest when we climbed to the top of the Scala Contarini de Bovolo, an old staircase that is often viewed from the ground but rarely visited – from there, we could see the whole city, really take our time appreciating the beauty of it, without multilingual chatter buzzing all around us and backpacks jostling us from all angles.
At the airport on our way back to Paris, I paused to reflect – normally, I loathe airports, particularly when I am on my way home, but I was genuinely glad to be at Marco Polo, because it was a relief to leave Venice. I wracked my brain, trying to think if there is anywhere else in the world that I have been glad to leave at the end of a holiday. Weeks later, I am still wondering, but I haven’t yet thought of anywhere else that has made me feel the way Venice did. There is no doubt that it is a beautiful place, the kind that is worth seeing in person. But now that I have, I will be content to admire it in photos for the rest of my life.