Chris popped the bottle of champagne, poured it to the brim of my dinky plastic flute, and smiled.
We clinked glasses.
Maybe kissed, I don’t remember.
But I do remember standing at the edge of the boat, sipping champagne, lost to ancient maritime tales and stories of courtesans.
We were celebrating Valentine’s Day in the most romantic (and thereby cheesiest) way that’s humanly possible: a trip to Venice.
And originally, part of me wasn’t that excited for the holiday.
Of course, I had always been interested in Venice. How could you not? With its car-less roads, intricate masks, stunning architecture, and historically unique form of government, the city seems too fascinating to exist. The week preceding our trip, I re-watched A Dangerous Beauty, a Hollywoodized tale of the Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco, who was tried for witchcraft in the late 1500’s. My interest in the city was certainly piqued.
But I never viewed Venice as more than a tourist destination. A weary place smothered in artistry to lure people, lacking in authenticity. Beautiful, yes, but too touristy to appreciate.
To be fair, this depiction of Venice has been perpetuated for many years. In Sarah Bakewell’s biography of Michel de Montaigne, she states, “Venice, one of their first major Italian stops, confirmed [Montaigne’s] fears about overpopular tourist destinations” (227).
When was this, you ask?
In 1581. Some famed Renaissance paintings had yet to dry, and even then, people viewed Venice as a touristy city, a fate I doubt it will ever escape.
And although I felt grateful to be traveling, and excited to experience life in such an iconic place, I doubted I’d develop any personal connection to Venice.
My first night did little to change this impression.
It poured. Fat splatting raindrops drenched my shoes, leaked into my tights, and froze my feet. I saw little of Venice from beneath the shade of a hundred black umbrellas ushering this way and that down seemingly identical narrow passageways. I was freezing, exhausted, drenched, and determined to plaster a smile on my face. After all, we were in Venice for Valentine’s Day, and only bitches complain in Venice on Valentine’s Day, even if your fingers have gone numb. So I bit my tongue, and we survived our first night. Any burgeoning complaints were sedated by delicious pasta and heady red wine. Still though, I had yet to actually see Venice.
The next morning, I awoke to Chris pulling me out of bed.
Now, Chris is a morning person. Not just an, ‘I feel slightly more energetic in the morning,’ morning person, but an, ‘I sing in the shower because I have so much damn energy,’ morning person. I am not. I find this ludicrous.
So when he woke me up and dragged me off the soft bed towards the window, I refused to open my eyes in protest. “I’m still sleeping.”
“Just open your eyes.”
I opened my eyes and gasped. For the first time, I could see Venice – a glaze of red rooftops, distant mountains, haunting shadows in the bends of green canals, and a sense that something ancient and waiting lay beyond the veneer. I may have even dressed more quickly than Chris that morning.
We spent three days wandering the sinuous streets, losing ourselves among the pillars and lanterns, doorknobs and statues, each carved with meticulous attention to detail, often with fish or tridents, quietly proclaiming pride for their unique, maritime city.
Everywhere we turned, the scent of plump tomatoes and oregano seemed to follow, so at night, we savored thick slabs of mozzarella, pastas, and more wine.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, we luxuriated in the Ruzzini Palace Hotel, which felt close enough to the central sites, yet far enough to feel secluded.
While exploring, you can’t avoid the Piazza San Marco (or St. Mark’s Square), a vast arena where locals used to gather. It houses buildings essential to the Venetian way of life, including the Basilica di San Marco (or Saint Mark’s Basilica), and the Doge’s Palace.
Both sights were breathtaking, and well worth the wait.
In the Basilica, I felt as if we had entered a golden world. Religious mosaics adorned high curved walls, and flecks of gold dusted the cathedral from stone to stone, ceiling to earth, in unparalleled opulence.
The Doge’s Palace was a slightly different story…
Some of you may know that I’m currently in the process of attempting to publish a YA fantasy novel I’ve written. The book is only the first in a long series, and as I continue writing, I enjoy looking for inspiration in places I visit. Paris, for instance, played an important role in characterizing one of the main magical cities.
And although I’ve admired and appreciated various places I’ve seen this year, Venice was one of the few to truly inspire me. Luckily (and miraculously), Chris actually enjoys talking about these weird magical worlds that exist in my head, which meant we spent the majority of our time in the Doge’s Palace not really paying attention. We did, however, find the palace a trove of inspirational decorations. A lot of enthusiastic pointing and whispering occurred as each new corner seemed to reveal a hidden aspect of my story.
“What about that weird stone thing for that scene?”
Or, “Do you see this character having that sort of crown?”
Needless to say, I was lost to imaginings.
At first, I thought we must have had a rather odd Venetian experience. I barely remember the Doge’s Palace. I remember the feeling, and small corners and curves of statues that prompted me to hover awkwardly in the middle of a grand historic court room, taking notes in my journal for one obscure scene in the fourth book. But after our visit, I needed to look up all the historical information on the palace online.
However, I’ve actually come to believe that we had the quintessential Venetian experience, for Venice exists in its own microcosm of life, beyond perception, yet somehow real. No matter how creative you see yourself, it is a city for you to think, dream, and feel inspired.
I may not remember every detail of our trip, but I know it inspired me more than I could have possibly predicted.
But without a doubt, my favorite part of the weekend was our private boat ride through the city.
And now we’re back to the beginning. I had my glass of champagne in one hand, Chris’s hand in the other. The green water glimmered below, lapping over eroding stone steps, now barely visible, nearly lost to time.
We watched as our boat approached crumbling, uneven red brick walls with laundry lines stretching between buildings, and linens flapping in the wind. We had entered Old Venice.
Our boat took a left, and began to drift back towards our hotel. We refilled our champagne flutes, clinked glasses again, and stood to watch the boats circling the harbor, just beyond the edge of the sea.