12 DEC 2018: As we made our way north through Italy, we were well aware that the days and weeks were slipping by and that we had to keep an eye on the calendar to fit our final itinerary into those days. We wanted to have enough time to see something of the Italian lake district and to visit a niece in Milan. But we also had Venice on our list - an incomparable city that I had visited back in the sixties, but that my husband had never seen.

Venice. What can one write about a city that has been lauded in literature, art and music through the ages and via film and photography in our modern age? A city unlike any other. A brief column cannot do justice to this destination, so I will leave its history and the long list of ‘things to see and do there’ to the many guide books available. Instead I will tell in my own words of our own experiences.

As everyone knows, there are no roads in Venice. Situated on an island, it relies solely on watercraft for its existence. Boats bring all visitors and all supplies to the city, whereupon the visitors must rely on their own two feet - or another boat in the shape of a ferry or one of the famous gondolas - to get around, while porters with trolleys take their deliveries on foot to the city’s stores, restaurants and hotels. If you should need an ambulance, a special boat will whisk you as quickly as it can through the canals to a mainland hospital.

We were travelling, eating and sleeping in our motorhome, so of course we had to stay outside the city. It was early March and we could find only one campsite open, but it turned out to be perfect. We could just see the fabled city across the lagoon from the waterside site we had chosen, large freighters slipped almost silently past us headed for port and we were virtually alone. A short walk took us to a ferry that provided an hourly service into Venice itself, a trip that took about half an hour. Last boat back to the campsite was at 6 p.m. Miss it and we would have had a problem whose only solution would have been a very long taxi ride around the mainland coast.

We spent our first evening watching the sky change over our famous destination, a destination that we would explore over the next four days, spending our time visiting not only Venice but taking the ferry to two islands in the lagoon. So, bright and early the next morning, off we set in comfortable shoes.

Our days in the city were spent walking to see the major sites and soaking up the atmosphere. There are piazzas, pedestrian streets and myriad alleyways. Even in March there are lots of patios open for coffee, drinks and lunch to be enjoyed in the cool spring sunshine. There are also lots and lots and lots of people. The crowding of Venice with so many visitors is well documented in various media outlets, including this one. The number of people who actually wish to live in Venice itself is dwindling, while the docking of massive cruise ships is a problem for various levels of authority. Of course, we did not expect to have Venice to ourselves. We too are tourists. We are part of the problem. And, most certainly in Venice, it is clear - tourism is a problem.

The famous gondola ride, seemingly so romantic and serene, is anything but these days. These beautiful craft crowd the canals, people in them trying to change places amid much hilarity, as they pose for photos and selfies. There are long line-ups to embark and disembark. The efficient ferry service that circles and crisscrosses the city is invariably very crowded with a lot of pushing and shoving for positions on the rail for photographs. The famous bridges are should-to-shoulder people.

And then there’s cost. A coffee at one of the famous restaurants in St. Mark’s Square will set you back nearly $14. In spite of this mild shock, as this was a once-in-a-lifetime visit for my husband, we did consider treating ourselves to lunch in the famous Harry’s Bar. But when we arrived we found it was cramped and overcrowded, it does not provide a view and the ‘greeter’ was far from welcoming … obviously we weren’t famous. A brief glance at the menu revealed exorbitant prices. We beat a hasty retreat, left the tourist hot spots and found a pleasant restaurant with a patio in a quiet area of town. There we enjoyed a small luncheon that was fairly reasonable in price. On ensuing days we took a sandwich! (We also felt vindicated when we ‘googled’ Harry’s later and discovered the biggest rating category was ‘terrible’.)

My apologies … all this has been somewhat negative, which is unfair to such an unforgettable destination. In my next column I will give some details of the sights we enjoyed, including two visits to nearby islands. Venice is unique (a word I try to avoid, but here it is apt). It is unbelievably beautiful. The change of light on ancient buildings and canals is breathtaking. It is full of famous art treasures and exquisite churches. I believe it should be on everyone’s wish list. But, if you can, go soon, before floods from the rising sea levels and floods of visitors cause it to sink away, leaving merely a fabled dream city.

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Ann Wallace

Ann Wallace is living a writer's dream currently writing of her adventures as she and her husband sail their boat around Europe.

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