Where is Venice?

Where is Venice? Geographically speaking, Venice is located in northeastern Italy. It’s an island made up of smaller islands and shaped like a fish. It also sits closer to Slovenia and Austria than to Rome, the Italian capital. But most people know this, unless they are thinking of Venice, Florida, which lies in the Gulf of Mexico and is nothing like a fish.

The original Venice, the one permanently on the brink of sinking into the Venetian lagoon, is in Italy. Its physical location ascertained, it is relevant to mention Venice is more than just a place. Sure, it has buildings and bridges and shops, but there is something about it which betrays its finite borders. For lack of a better word, let’s call it magic.

Venice Italy

Venice can be many things for many people. It’s home for a few, chimera for some dispersed dreamers, tourist trap for the masses, an embracing maze for those willing to get lost in it. One aspect stands irrefutable: it is one of the most beautiful cities ever created.

The precariousness of its amphibious nature makes it even more striking, infusing its corridors with an impression of impermanence and decay all the more enticing for the city’s apparent lethargic reaction to the gargantuan swarm of tourists continuously mapping its piazzas and bridges. It seems lazy even when bustling with people, a condition shared by any place seemingly stuck in time.

Underneath the haze of photographic flashes and multilingual queues there lurks also a dangerous, whispering side. Shadows and reflections have always been companions of nightmares, and Venice lends itself to ambiguous chiaroscuro (as memorably seen in Don’t Look Now). It makes perfect sense that it’s renowned for its Carnival festivities, where the donning of masks further exacerbates the disorientation already present in its very foundations – for Venice is a siren of a city, singing almost imperceptibly, but entrapping only those who recognize its song.

Venice Italy

Throughout its messy history, Venice has been mostly prosperous. As wealth begets decadence, it comes as no surprise it now stands as a funnel through which many vapid sightseers enter and are promptly discharged. Day trips are quite common, and most crowds are still found at the notorious Piazza San Marco. Since Venice is a pit stop on many cruise liners’ routes, a shaky photo is quite often enough to satiate our need the check items off a list.

However, there are still many (oh so many!) who don’t mind to freeze in the Winter cold, waddle during the acqua alta or sunburn in the summer heat for a chance to climb St Mark’s Campanile or visit the Basilica. Although thoroughly worthwhile sights, they are continuously overrun by sightseers, together with classics like the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto Bridge or the Doge’s Palace.

For those only embarking on a day trip, Venice may be remembered only as a chaotic labyrinth of towers, trinkets and tourists. Truth be told, there are too many sites to feasibly visit in a day, so if you’ve only got a few hours to spend, why not try and check the things people will ask you about? If you’ve been to Venice and are asked “Did you go to Piazza San Marco?” and answer “No”, then you really haven’t been, right?

Venice Italy

Venice Italy

In the end, to each its own. Given the possibility of spending a few hours trying to find your way in Cannaregio or standing in a queue to the Basilica San Marco, it’s perhaps fair to assume most will do the latter, especially given that the first option will probably not get them back on the boat in time and they’ll be left stranded in a Renaissance microcosm of canals and frescoes.

Once departed, the day-trippers and site-checkers will be left with an incomplete vision of Venice. They’ll perhaps recall the hassle of the masses, the rudeness of the waiters, the pervasive rip offs, the smell of the canals, the elbowing to get the right shot at the Bridge of Sighs – all things endemic to Venice. But there is so much more…

Get lost. That’s the advice most commonly uttered by those who’ve succumbed to the numerous charms of the Floating City. It’s still the best advice to follow. Even if only staying for a weekend, check the famous sites early in the morning or late in the evening (it’s still baffling how the Piazza San Marco can change from almost deserted at 7 am to a maelstrom of feet by midday). The rest of the day can then be spent wandering around.

Start anywhere and it’s likely you’ll end up somewhere unexpected, often in the middle of a small piazza exchanging looks with an elderly lady and a stray cat who seem to not have had a visitor since the days of Bonaparte. That is one of the misconceptions about the City of Water – it’s not stuck in time, but is instead beyond time. The present can become the past at the turn of a corner, and again the present on the other side of a bridge.

Venice Italy

Even in the peak of August it’s possible to meander unfettered through hidden streets and alleys, and if able to do it for a few hours it’s easy to settle into the serene lull of the serpentine city, until you become a ghost, climbing another bridge into the Jewish Ghetto, appearing in front of the Scala Contarini del Bovolo, crossing Cannaregio, San Polo or Santa Croce, hopping to and fro between La Giudecca and Zattere, until it’s suddenly dark and you stumble upon a quiet restaurant where the prices are reasonable and the wine goes down smoothly, and you stay there for a while, finally leaving for your hotel and realizing you have no clue of where you are. If so, keep walking. You’re bound to find your way – as you have to wish to be lost, you must also wish to be found.

Around midnight, in one sultry Spring evening, I once drifted into a small piazza where a few Italian couples were dancing the tango. They were young and old, good and so-so dancers. But it felt like a dream. Astor Piazzola was playing, bodies were swaying, wind was softly rustling through new green leaves, children were out roaming, way past their bedtime, looking at parents and siblings sashay, and I was absolutely entranced. That was my first night in Venice. I have since returned, apprehensively, almost fearing the illusion would break. It did not, and I fell in love all over again.

Venice Italy

But the question remains: ultimately, where is Venice?

Inside one of the main tourists spots of Venice lies an artifact which perfectly embodies the magical duality of the City of Masks. If you manage to escape the crowds (again, go early or late), pay a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and stop in front of Magritte’s Empire of Light. Between water and earth, reality and fiction, dream and nightmare, light and darkness  – this is where Venice is.

Its sisters, or perhaps more appropriately distant cousins, are New York and Tokyo, in a sense that the blunt force of human presence has led to the unexpected creation of an organism with a life of its own, where the mundane is shared with the mysterious, and where myriad stories flowing through streets and walls keep a separate world humming both below the surface and above the ground. If you stop and listen, it is possible to experience the enchantment of a city hanging on a tale.

Venice in August from Lunaguava on Vimeo.

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22 Responses

  1. Hi! Thanks for sharing this on the #sbtc chat. We’re going to Venice for the first time at end Oct, and are staying in Castello; 3 full days & 2 half days. So excited! I couldn’t see your photos as my mobile Internet v poor lately, but I can imagine 🙂

    • Lunaguava says:

      Hi Susan! You’ll love it, I’m sure. I’ve always found it easy to avoid the masses descending upon Venice on a daily basis. Even in the summer, I could walk through corners of the island with not a person in sight. Basic tip: go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to appreciate the most famous sights. The rest of the day, just meander about. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find 🙂

  2. Ohhh we were there back in 2010, it rained the 2 days we were there. We almost could not get out of outr hotel! I said almost… we just were soaking wet. I need to go back and see this place again without the rain, as you have it here. Thanks for linking up , I added this to my #SundayTraveler board.

    • FW North says:

      Hola Sarah-Jane! Yeah, I’ve been lucky to always see Venice in the spring or summer – although we once saw a tremendous storm sweep the city for one day. You should definitely go back and visit in the sun – the colors are (even more) stunning. Good luck and safe travels with the little donkey!

  3. You have such a way with words. I feel like I’m there with you getting lost! I have yet to go to Venice, but I really want to. I fear that the vision I have in my head would be completely different from the reality. But if its anything like the images you’ve captured then I think I’m good.

    • FW North says:

      Hola Adelina! Thank you so much for your kind words. Venice can be many things to different people – but I feel that, if one is really ready to embrace its charms, the city will be generous. Again, I’ve always visited around or during peak season, and as you can see from the video, which was taken in August, there is beauty and quietness waiting in every season. Just don’t go to Piazza San Marco at midday and expect to have a good experience 🙂 Good luck and I hope you are one day able to fall in love with Venice as well. Safe travels!

  4. Jess says:

    ‘Magic’ sounds about right! I love how you managed to find moments when the city looks so quiet and peaceful.

    • FW North says:

      Hola Jess! For all the stories of chaos and swarming crowds, I’ve always found it extremely easy to bask in the sunny solitude of Venice. It’s quite simple: visit the main sites in the early morning or late afternoon, go explore during the rest of the day. The first time I visited, I had to go out of my way to see the other tourists, and actually headed out to Piazza San Marco around midday to see if all the tales were true. They were, and I promptly retreated back to one of the many quiet corners of the city. The following day, around 7am, I had the whole Piazza to myself. Thank you for stopping by and good luck!

  5. Excellent post – it’s challenging to write about the place so many before you wrote about; however, you manage to give a new perspective and your own tone; love it! We live close to Venice and go there few times a year. Hate the hustle & bustle; cruise ships are just too many. However, we love small, side streets that are still not so crowded. Also, love searching for another bàcari where we can nibble some cicchetti with a glass of wine.

    • FW North says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Frank! You’re a lucky man, living so close to one of my favorite places in our world. I second your dislike of cruise ships – they’re ridiculously out of place, and endangering Venice’s fragile status. The greed of a few is slowly destroying what is precious to many. I’m also with you on the cicchetti with wine – wonderful way to idle an afternoon away 🙂 Good luck and safe travels!

  6. Just love this post and these images of Venice! Ready to head to Italy sometime soon and check out Venice for ourselves but you have done a great job here inspiring everyone to visit this beautiful city at least once!

  7. Emma says:

    Gorgeous words and pictures. We have visited many times, and I think one of my favourites has to be in the winter when it is devoid of tourists, and you get to see the real thing… 🙂

    • FW North says:

      Hola Emma! I’ve never visited Venice in the winter – must change that at some point 🙂 Thank you so much for visiting and good luck!

  8. I was in Venice for 2 days in 2012 and while very hot and crowded, I still fell in love with it. I desperately want to go back in the winter though. Even though I wasn’t there very long, I can say it is one of the best cities to get lost in. I just walked the streets without looking at the map. It’s pretty impossible to actually get lost lost here.

    • FW North says:

      Hola Ashley! Glad you also feel in love with the sinking city. It really is one the best places to get lost in – but, as you say, lost lost is pretty impossible. I’ve tried it a few times though 🙂 Thanks for visiting and good luck!

  9. Tim says:

    It is an amazing city Venice and you captured it well with your photos. I fell in love with Venice in the 80’s when I was a tour guide there. Great place. Thanks for the memories.

    • FW North says:

      Thanks a lot, Tim! Venice must have been amazing in the 80’s – hard to imagine it without the massive cruise ships passing by San Marco… Good luck and safe travels!

  10. I’ve been to Venice several times. Each time we go we try and spend a few days. It’s a wonderful city to “get lost” in, like you said. Every aisle and corner of the city has something exciting to see.

  11. I love this! I was so anti-Venice before my first trip to Italy. My sister talked me into including it in our itinerary and I’m so glad we did. I completely fell for the city. I do agree that the best way to see Venice is to just get lost. I’m also proud to say I’m not a site-checker and that I didn’t even go inside Basilica di San Marco 🙂

    • FW North says:

      Hey Francesca! Glad you enjoyed Venice – it’s one of those places which people either love or hate. Thanks a lot and good luck!

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