An ode to the beauty and charm of Venice
What makes Venice magical is that she is devoid of all the ugliness of ‘development’
Venice is trash.
That’s about all I heard about Venice from the time I decided to spend my birthday week there this year.
It’s too crowded. It smells. There is nothing to do in Venice beyond a day.
Unfairly (and also unsurprisingly), much like most of the greatest beauties in the world, Venice now bears the wrath of the desire she inspires. We hate her for what we have done to her. Think about it–India is about 8000 times the size of Venice, but Venice receives thrice the number of tourists (30 million per year) than the expanse of India does in a year.
Venice by night
As a rule, I always agree with the naysayers of Venice. Do not go to Venice if you’re looking to tick off ‘major attractions’ on a one-day trip. The city simply does not work like that. Venice is not a ticketed amusement park, she is a floating jewel box. Her sumptuous exterior itself should be enough as a study in pure beauty, but once you’ve paid your dues looking in from the outside, coax open the lid to see what riches she holds within. And while you stare slack-jawed–slowly, suddenly and definitely only once you’ve earned it–the jewel box springs open its secret latch and draws you into a world so evocative, so emotional, that you will be left gasping for breath.
Always begin with a Gondola ride. Ignore those who say it’s overpriced and overrated. There is an incomparable, priceless magic to seeing Venice as it was meant to be, meandering across its canals. Make sure to walk away from the most crowded areas (Rialto and San Marco) and find a Gondolier from the inside canals. Ask to be taken around the smaller canals and smile as he proudly points out his childhood home and Casanova’s house in the same breath.
When the crowds thin in the fall, Venice begins to breathe. However, the absolute best time to visit is during La Biennale di Venezia. Possibly the most prestigious celebration of art in the world, it brings together art from 89 nations–and during the Biennale, the city itself thrums with electricity from the power of all that beauty in one place, all at once. This year’s biennale, titled May You Live in Interesting Times, includes India (which returns after eight years) as well as Pakistan, showcasing for the first time.
Renate Bertlmann’s knife-roses at the Austrian Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia
While the heavy hitters of Venice, the Dogue’s Palace, The Bridge of Sighs and St. Mark’s Basilica, all stand shoulder to shoulder at the Piazza San Marco, do also take the time (and make the effort) to venture beyond. Walk through the baroque splendour of Ca’ Rezzonico (and watch from afar as a Tiepolo is lovingly restored in the storage area), stop to stare at Virgil Abloh’s art installation at Ca’ d’Oro, which is an eulogy to Venice slowly sinking, and never leave Palazzo Fortuny where the most exquisite satins, taffetas, silk gauzes and velvets are still draped to show us how we’ve forgotten to make clothes that matter.
Virgil Abloh’s Alaska Alaska, Acqua Alta, 2019, showcased at Ca’ D’oro
Venice at night is a different kind of magic–the crowds reduce, most establishments shut and the canals begin to reflect the golden lights from the palazzos. Walk around the squares, catch an impromptu concert and visit the Ducale Palace right before closing time to have it entirely to yourself. Walking across the Bridge of Sighs (from where convicted prisoners looked out for the last time, sighing at how beautiful Venice was) by yourself is an experience you will never forget.
The Bridge of Sighs
Venice is gorgeous from any angle–its bridges, its canals and its palaces—but to see the city floating on water, from its rooftops, is otherworldly. Feel on top of the world from St. Mark’s Campanile and get a completely different, insider view of the Grand Canal from the rooftop of Venice’s luxury mall, T Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
Venice from the St. Mark’s Campanile
Stop for gelatos at every corner. Highly recommended is the debauchery of a Ferrero Rocher and Nutella double scoop. Look out for tiny, local restaurants that do not have English menus, food pictures or entreating hustlers outside–you’ll have the best food ever. Pre-book a table at the tiny, Michelin starred Il Rodotto for one of the best tasting menus in Europe (and the freshest bread). Drink tiny cups of espresso through the day at the cafes, and like the locals, always take it standing at the bar.
Tasting menu at Il Ridoto
Splurge to watch the iconic opera, La Traviata, at the spectacular Teatro La Fenice, exactly where it premiered 166 years ago. Balance the staggering scale of this spectacle the next night with an intimate concert inside the Church of San Vidal, where it’s just the music of Vivaldi bouncing off 300 year old frescoes.
Teatro La Fenice
The Vivali concert at Chiesa di San Vidal
Dive into the Peggy Guggenheim museum for a modern, abstract palate cleanser from the ornamentation of Venice. The art, of course, is priceless and show-stopping, but what touches you most of all is Peggy’s legacy of love everywhere. Young volunteers give impromptu talks on Peggy’s life on the sun dappled terrace of the Palazzo, after which you can go visit the garden in which Peggy is laid to rest not alongside a lover, but her “beloved babies”–her 14 Lhasa Apsos.
Peggy Guggenheim’s grave
What makes Venice magical is that she is devoid of all the ugliness of ‘development’. No glass fronted offices, no trendy microbreweries, no multi-level car parking lots–wait, she doesn’t even know what a car is. It’s her crumbling patina that makes her one of the greatest beauties we still have with us and as she ages, she only grows more resplendent.
And if that makes Venice trash, I’ll take it over what is considered treasure any day.
Photographs courtesy: Kaustav Dey