It was difficult for us to leave the Cinque Terre, but after three days we had to move on. So, early in the morning, we hiked down Corniglia’s stairs to the train station and crossed Italy to Venice.
I’m not sure how Laura felt, but I was a little bit afraid that, coming after Cinque Terre, Venice would be a disappointment. As we rode the train across the bridge to the Santa Lucia station I was even more afraid because I saw several large cruises docked at the edges of the city. Cruise travelers have an inherently different travel philosophy than Laura and I had assumed on this trip and, as a result, our encounters with them always seemed to be low points of our experiences. So, if Venice was filled with cruise people and tour groups, I knew that would make it a lot harder to have a positive experience.
As soon as we got out of the train station, however, my spirits began to pick up. I knew that Venice’s “streets” were all canals, but I don’t think it really hit me how ubiquitous the canals would be until I saw one, right in front of me. The Grand Canal, which runs right in front of the station, was lined with magnificent buildings and filled with boats of all different sizes. Though I would quickly learn that that specific spot isn’t Venice’s most aesthetically pleasing locale, it still made for a magnificent first impression.
Using the Venice2go iPhone app, we located our hotel and crossed the canal. I resisted the urge to start taking hundreds of pictures like the people all around us, but frankly, I couldn’t blame them. Unlike Cinque Terre, Cesky Krumlov or other beautiful places that I had learned about relatively recently, Venice was one of those places that I’d always heard about and seen in pictures. It was the kind of city that I always wanted to go to when I was a kid, but that had also seemed so beautiful and exotic that it was almost unreal and beyond the realm of possible places I could go (silly, perhaps, but that’s how I felt). To finally be there and, more importantly, for the physical experience to basically live up to the hype was really quite amazing.
After a short walk, we arrived at Hotel Dalla Mora, where we had made a reservation by email a few days before. (60 euros per night for a double with a sink, breakfast, and a bathroom down the hall.) Our room was down an alley overlooking a pretty, faintly brackish canal.
After checking in we were really happy with our hotel. It wasn’t extremely close to the biggest tourist sites, but Venice is very walkable so we knew we’d have no trouble getting around. Plus, it was in a quiet area that didn’t have many tourists around. That meant from the moment we set out from our hotel we had narrow Venetian alleys, courtyards of leaning buildings, and romantic arching bridges all to ourselves. Though the crowds in the area by our hotel varied depending on the time of day, we never had trouble finding a secluded corner or some steps leading down to a twisting canal to sit on.
As we moved toward St. Mark’s Square the crowds got thicker. Unlike Paris, however, that didn’t bother me as much. I think it was because it was easy to feel like I was a part of an age-old ritual. People have been coming to Venice for hundreds of years for more or less the same reasons that brought me there. Sure, there were a lot of tourists near the main squares, but there have been a lot of tourists in those areas for centuries. It was also surprising how easy it was to find refuge from the crowds. Much like Prague, a short walk down a narrow passage usually rewarded us with a quiet view of a moonlite canal lined with decaying mansions.