Travel: That sinking feeling in Venice

After my earlier escapades of planning a getaway for just my wife and I, I decided to return to a city steeped in cliché; one where we had some wonderful memories. So we found ourselves on a flight bound to

Venice, together with what appeared to be the whole of humanity.

Cheap flights throughout Europe means that locations that were once seen as playgrounds for the rich and famous have now been democratised to the extent that both flights and cities groan under the weight of humanity. To give this some context, Venice has a population of 55,000 and this is doubled on a daily basis by tourists. So, it’s not really surprising that it’s sinking by nearly 2mm a year.

The last time we were in Venice, we stayed in the heart of St. Mark’s Square, slap bang amongst the throb of people and right under the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica. This sounds incredibly romantic, but it was far from it. The reality of being woken by the pealing bells of St. Mark’s is akin to being sent to purgatory. The bells start at some ridiculous hour in the morning and leave you feeling totally disorientated.

Anyway, it was for this reason that I choose accommodation away from the city, and we stayed on the island of Giudecca (which also happens to have the best view of Venice as it overlooks St. Mark’s Square and is far enough from the tolling bells for the idea to remain romantic).

To get the proper Venice experience, you need to arrive via water – Venice was built to be seen from the water. The city unfurls its charms upon you long before you even reach it. As you draw closer, you are greeted by every cliché in the world, so that by the time it fully greets you, you are already sucked into a level of romanticism that is both an affectation of pretentiousness as well as a desire to suspend your disbelief and be sucked into the production of it all. It is probably this dichotomy that attracted the lovelorn 17th century dandies whilst on their Grand Tour. Sitting squarely in the centre of this overload of beauty, but just far enough away to allow cynical and critical commentary, is the Cipriani.

Bewitched

The hotel is not the newest or the most contemporary hotel in Venice, but that is not what you go there for. You go there, in the words of Princess Diana, to “arrive home”. On arrival at the dock, you are warmly greeted by Roberto the doorman. He greets every guest as if they have visited several times before, thus setting the tone for the stay. You don’t need to be rich and famous as everyone is naturally treated as a celebrity and made to feel at home.

The property reminds you of an era when Venice was the exclusive treat of the rich and famous, and films like Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) and Roman Holiday (1953) were all the rage. The hotel provides a hideaway for the wealthy, and a sanctuary for your senses.

Since it’s built in an impossibly large area for Venice, it has extensive grounds, which hide one of the few pools in Venice.

Bestruck

Swimming there is almost a cathartic baptism which, to be honest, is needed after you have explored the narrow crowded streets of the city, and been subjected to the soaring hellish temperatures the city combusts into in the peak of summer.

Surrounded by so much divinity, it’s not surprising to learn that the area used to be known as ‘The Spinsters’ and was where Venetian families would dispatch their daughters to various convents. Being a depository for young women it became a natural hunting ground for the likes of Casanova. He would spirit away these lovely young ladies for some hedonistic pleasure in the nearby vineyards. The pious and the debauched in one – a suitable metaphor for Venice.

Venice is like an opiate. It lulls you into a sense of otherworldliness. This is amplified by the need to get absolutely lost in the city of maze-like streets. It’s the only way to experience it and you never truly get lost. Instead, you are gifted with a glimpse of parts of the city you would never have seen if it was logically laid out. You soon realise that Venice is eternal and nothing but the crowds seem to change.

The Ghetto area of Venice is not on many day-trippers’ itineraries, and serves as a welcome respite from the chaos of the more touristy areas. Due to a shortage of space, the Jewish community was forced into a tiny patch of Venice and thus had to build upwards. At the very top of these aviary-like buildings, and spread across multiple residences, they built hidden palaces of worship that are flooded with light and decadently decorated. Getting a glimpse of these impossible structures provided an insight into something unique and alien, yet familiar and calming.

After a two-day sojourn, it appeared that I had finally planned something right: having truly fallen for the charms of Venice, my wife wanted to stay another night. Within the hotel, we discovered a hidden gem: the Palazzo Vendramin. This is where we stayed the extra night.

Bedazzled

Dining in Venice is interesting. There are so many different personalities of Venice that are reflected within the culinary diversity of the city, both in the ambience and the food.

The Restaurant Terrazza at the Danieli has some of the most spectacular views of the Grand Canal – perched high above it, it presents a unique panorama of Venice. The night we dined there, storms were brewing and flashes of lightening created a spectacular night time display.

The Met restaurant doesn’t necessarily have spectacular views, but the internal ambience draws you into a Venice that is magical and mystical and slightly disorientating, reminding you of the dynamic hedonism of Carnevale.

However, when it comes to food, the Oro at the Cipriani is unique. The restaurant has a beautiful courtyard attached to the main restaurant and dining there creates a feeling of secrecy and intimacy.

On our final day, over lunch, we were asked about how long we had been married and what the secret to it was. Ironically, the secret of a good marriage is a bit like the attitude one needs to have with Venice – it is what is on the inside that counts. External beauty fades; give each other space to be who you are as an individual; appreciate each other for who you are; be prepared to be adjusting; accept what you can’t change; be tolerant of each other and value each other for both the similarities and the differences.

The nature of Venice means that it will always beguile the world. It will always be brash and crazy on the surface, but by accepting that and looking beyond the obvious you are rewarded with something rather special. To quote one of Venice’s most famous citizens, Casanova, “The thing is to dazzle.” This was his secret to seduction, and Venice certainly does dazzle you.

Author bio: Anand Kapoor is a sports lawyer who also heads an NGO called the Creative Services Support Group (CSSG) and has a passion for writing as well as travelling

From HT Brunch, June 16, 2019

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First Published:
Jun 15, 2019 21:23 IST

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