A walk through the past
On our last trip to Venice…in fact, on the day of our departure…we met a woman. She was small, and in the States probably would have been uncharitably characterized as “frail”…but her eyes were alive. We were standing at a vaporetto stop, bags in tow, awaiting the slightly depressing trip back to our car that meant noise and diesel and Italian drivers in our future. But for the moment, with no vaporetto in sight, the usual Venetian peace reigned.
Anyway, the woman started talking to us. In flawless English, of course, which seems to be some sort of birthright among Venetians. For she was, in fact, a Venetian. Not from one of the famous merchant-oligarchist families whose names litter the rolls of The Serene Republic’s history, but a Venetian all the same. As she conversed, she revealed how upset she was that she had to join us on the water taxi system. It seemed that, in the course of fleeing a robbery, some inconsiderate lout had knocked her to the ground, necessitating a trip to the hospital where she was advised to limit her walking.
“I’ve walked everywhere since I was a little girl,” she said, resigned and with the barest hint of a pout. “But I’m going to start again as soon as I can.” She was 81.
A walk through the present
And so, rather than buy multi-day passes that allow unlimited vaporetto travel (something we did on our previous trip), we determined that we were going to walk when and where we could on this visit. The problem, of course, is that any path between points A and B in Venice is, unless those points are one of about four major landmarks, impossible to navigate without an excellent map and frequent stops for repositioning. Which can make a simple-seeming stroll a rather time-consuming slog, especially when one approaches the teeming throngs of San Marco or Rialto. On the other hand, a dedicated vaporetto rider probably saves little or no time between waiting for boats, waiting on boats, and the necessary walking to and from stops (which aren’t all that easy to find without a map, either).
But what finally decides the argument in favor of walking is that street-level Venice is something that really cannot be missed. Just as visitors to New Zealand must be counseled to get in their cars (or on their hiking boot-clad feet) and do the long journeys themselves, because the country’s majestic scenery cannot be properly enjoyed without frequent stops that aren’t possible in a packed tourist coach, so too must visitors to Venice be reminded that despite the innumerable great sights and remarkable historical venues, the supreme quality of Venice is the city itself, from narrow blocks to jagged courtyards, from angled bridges to quiet canals, from hidden paintings to back-alley produce stalls. Tourists who hop the most efficient routes between a half-dozen must-see monuments, pausing only to buy a mask or some (Chinese knockoff) glass on either side of a cheap storefront slice of pizza miss everything that makes Venice so compelling. Add in the sometimes problematic dining situation, and it’s no wonder so many tourists have a skeptical view of the place. Well, their loss.
And so, today, we walk. And walk. And walk.