Reflections on international living and travel
 

 

 

View of the canal through flowers

Touristless Venice


Venice, Italy, June 2020 - by Jeffrey

Non-essential travel between - and sometimes within - EU countries was barred for much of early 2020 thanks to the pandemic. In June EU countries agreed to open their borders to each other and within a very few days, I was in my trusty Subaru, racing towards Venice. The city was, by all accounts, devoid of tourists in June 2020 and, without the usual deluge of tourists, I reckoned Venice would be awesome. It was.

After an overnight stop in Zurich to visit my eldest son, I cruised into Venice on 23 June, stashed the car in parking garage on the periphery of the city and dragged my suitcase the kilometre or so to my hotel. This was not a good idea. The rough brick and cobblestone paths tore up one of the wheels on my suitcase and when I touched the plastic wheel to see if I could affect a minor repair, it burnt my finger. Friction can do that. Fortunately, my bag had three surviving wheels and I pushed on, carrying the bag over the rougher bits.

First Post-Lockdown Belgian in Venice

I checked in to the Hotel Abbazia - a pleasant hotel that had once been a monastery but now looks and feels very much like a hotel. Too much like a hotel. I was hoping for a more monkish atmosphere. But, the hotel was comfy and the staff were serious about Covid rules. So, I've no complaints. When I checked in, the friendly receptionist informed that I was the first Belgian they had seen since travel restrictions had been lifted a week ago. So, it seems I wasn't merely visiting post-lockdown Venice. I was representing my adoptive country. The trip had taken on new importance.

Safely checked in, I dumped my suitcase and headed back out again. My stomach was reminding me that it was well past midday meal time. I  found a decent restaurant in front of Ponte (bridge) Degli Scalzi and nabbed a table facing the bridge. Lunch was massive salad accompanied by a glass of the house white wine that tasted vaguely Tuscan.

Ponte Degli Scalzi
Ponte Degli Scalzi

 Ponte Degli Scalzi (picture) is wide enough to accompany crowds of people. Yet, while I sat munching away at my salad, few people crossed the bridge. Those who did mostly did so in the purposeful way of a local on her way to an appointment or work or somesuch. Few had the lost look of tourists.

No Real Plan

My plan was to have no real plan. Rather, I would just explore the streets and canals. If a bridge looked tempting, I would cross it. If a lane looked delightful, I would follow it. It seemed an infallible plan. It was. It worked well.

I wandered up and down narrow streets and along canals. I walked over bridges and explored squares. I entered doorways that lead to tiny balconies overlooking the canals. I took a lot of pictures (including the ones here). From time to time, I stopped for a coffee (Americano) or a glass of wine. But, mostly I walked. A surprising number of streets were empty or nearly empty. Tourists were few and far between. The voices I heard were almost always Italian. Restaurants and cafés that once would have been bursting with diners and drink-sippers were nearly empty. Bored waiters stood at their doors standing about waiting for people like me to come along and give them something to do.

Glass of wine by the canal
From time to time, I stopped for a coffee (Americano) or a glass of wine

 

The boats plying the canals were mostly carrying materials rather than people. Indeed, at the busier piers, I often saw gondoliers smoking and chatting with other gondoliers. It was rare to see one of them actually out on a boat.

If I'd brought a sweetheart with me, I'd surely have hired one of these underemployed chaps (there don't seem to be gondolier lasses) to give us a tour. But, I had come alone. So, I just walked.

Hauntingly beautiful canal scene
Hauntingly beautiful

 

Hauntingly Beautiful

The city was just so hauntingly beautiful without the crowds that it occasionally brought a tear to my eye. I wanted to embrace the beauty and pull it inside me. I wanted to hold it tight and let it seep into my soul. I think it did - a little bit.

The one place I intentionally sought out was Basilica di San Marco (St Mark's Cathedral) in Piazza San Marco. Normally, this square would be teaming with tour groups and individual tourists. The day I visited, it was rather quiet with just a smattering of people wandering the square. To enter the cathedral, I was required to don a face mask and have my temperature checked by one of those gun-like thermometers that was pointed at my head - rather as if I was about to be executed. I wasn't of course. I was let in to a relatively uncrowded cathedral and enjoyed a peaceful climb up the tower and a view of the sparsely peopled square that normally would have been packed full of tourists.

Piazza san Marco
A remarkably quiet Piazza san Marco

 

Over four days and three nights, I explored pretty much every nook and cranny in Venice. I had enjoyed innumerable coffee, wine and meal stops at quiet cafés. I never had any trouble finding a table at any restaurant. I could have stayed longer and absorbed more of the city. On the other hand, the magic of a quiet Venice danced in my heart. Her beauty was in my soul. Full with such memories and feelings, It was a good time to leave.

Driving to Venice was a spontaneous decision. And, I am so, so, so glad I made the decision. It was the most beautiful, deeply moving trip I had ever taken and a once in a lifetime experience. And, while I am sad about the pandemic circumstances that emptied the city, I am delighted that it happened at a time when I could hop into my car, drive to Venice and experience it. 

 

Quiet canal corner
Quiet canal corner

 

 

Quiet corner in Venice
Quiet corner in Venice

 

Quiet canel
Quiet canal

 

Quiet piazza
Quiet pizza

 

Empty cafés in Piazza san Marco
Empty cafés in Piazza san Marco

 

Seagull
Thoughtful seagull

 

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