I’m huddled under the awning of the Doges Palace in Piazza San Marco, trying to escape the downpour while waiting for my Walks of Italy guide to show up. I’m bitterly disappointed; my one chance to see Venice by waterway, and the rain is relentless today. I’m not paying 40 EUR for a 30-minute shared gondola ride, and for the first time, I’m keenly aware of how alone I am in a city of romance.
I see a small group forming by the tower, so I dash out to meet the guide and make myself known. There are two other older couples coming along, and it’s the British duo that befriends me first. We’re led to a luxurious boat — with inside seating, thank goodness — and I immediately covet the spot nearest the back window. I have Instagram photos to take.
You know how there’s always a middle-aged grey-haired round-bellied man on a tour who insists on asking a million pointless questions, even if the guide is clearly struggling to keep up with the language? There was one on mine. Every time I’d ask a question, he’d interject with some of his own useless knowledge, until eventually I gave up following along and decided to just enjoy the ride. I closed my notebook, cleared a foggy patch on the window, and watched one of the most gloriously bizarre cities flow past my little peephole.
I don’t know what I picked up in that time — the word “ghetto” is apparently a Venetian word, first applied to the Jewish ghetto here. You can tell which palaces are the oldest ones by how sunken their front doors are. Rialto Bridge is obscured by an ugly Diesel ad, which made me full of scorn until I realized the owner is actually paying for the bridge renovations.
We traverse the Grand Canal to San Giorgio Maggiore and its church there. It’s where I’m going to get my Instagram shot.
The wind is whipping up whitecaps on the canal, and we have a hard time disembarking the tiny boat. But inside the church, all is quiet-and-musty, like good churches do. The elevator to the top of the bell tower makes my ears pop, and the coldness is seeping in through the cracks.
Can you imagine what it is was like when Bellini lived here, before Venice became one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations?
But I did get that perfect Instagram shot.