To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius. Alexander Herzen
I’ve travelled to Venice twice. The first time I was only 19 years old and I remember Venice as this wonderful dream. At the time I was studying art, so everything I saw was an inspiration. I’d sit on one of the small bridges overlooking a canal, with a sketch book in hand, and watch as the gondolas plied past. I was also spoilt for time, a full week; days where I could get lost in the charming laneways, or gaze inside churches and cathedrals, or sit and watch the gondolas on the Grand Canal.
I had expensive coffee in the Piazzo San Marco, while watching the pigeons foray for crumbs; I heard gondoliers singing, exuberantly gesturing for emphasis; and I gazed up at the Bridge of Sighs, where convicts apparently had their last glimpse of Venice before imprisonment.
Venice is one of those places that will always draw you back. My second visit was many years later, just after I’d visited Carcassonne in the south of France. At a time, I was almost penniless and I really needed to get to London (to find work). Instead, I caught an overnight train to Venice, arriving in the morning. I knew I could only stay for the day, before boarding another train that night. But I thought it was worth it, for just another glimpse of this wonderful city.
And then, I had one of those moments where fortune smiled down on me. I met a couple of women on the train. They were from Australia and had overheard my accent. We chatted about our plans and then, out-of-the-blue, they invited me to share their hotel room. It reduced the cost for them and made it affordable for me to stay a night in Venice.
This is one of the things I love about solo travel. You hear a familiar accent or you begin a conversation with a stranger, and within minutes you realise you’re kindred spirits. These are people that you might stay in touch with, or are equally likely to never see again – as was the case with these women in Venice – but the memory of that time lives on forever.
So, once again, I had ample time to get lost in Venice. And this time, instead of sketching, I took photographs.
“If you read a lot, nothing is as great as you’ve imagined. Venice is – Venice is better.” Fran Lebowitz