Along the Grand Canal, a stroll through Venice

Over the centuries, Venice has gained a reputation for mystery and intrigue. The city’s masked balls are the stuff of legend, and it’s no surprise that the ‘Bride of the Sea’ is the birthplace of the legendary and unscrupulous seducer of women, Casanova. Despite its watery reputation, this enigmatic city is best experienced by walking its disorienting streets. Frequent diversions after getting lost meant we did more walking in Venice than anticipated.

Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy

The beauty of Venice is that, away from busy waterways, there’s no traffic other than pedestrians. In Europe, walking streets without the accompanying roar of traffic is an unusual experience. At night, when day trippers have gone home and the streets empty of people, the silence can be overwhelming. As you navigate through Venice’s dimly-lit web of densely-packed streets, history seems to seep out of the crumbling walls. It’s fantastically atmospheric.

That’s not to say you should avoid the water. A visit to Venice wouldn’t be complete without a few vaporetto rides – although the ticket prices for tourists are extortionate. Still, a trip down the most elegant waterway in Europe, the Grand Canal, has to count as a highlight of anyone’s visit to Italy. We saved that delight for the final day of our trip when, after a couple of days of beautifully sunny weather, it was raining and decidedly chilly.

Grand Canal and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy
Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Gondolas on the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
Gondola across the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

When the sun shone we strolled, hopped on vaporetto and crossed bridges to explore this extraordinary place. Our time in Venice coincided with the early outbreak of coronavirus in Italy, and the labyrinth of narrow canals, cramped alleyways and pretty squares were noticeably empty. Venice had been handed back to its inhabitants, even if many of them were hoping the tourists would return soon. Instead, the lack of tourists has seen dolphins return to Venice’s canals.

We left our apartment in the Cannaregio district and headed along the waterfront with views to the San Michele Cemetery island, before plunging into the lanes and alleys to reach Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, with it’s enormous church dominating the square and surrounding buildings. A solitary gondolier touted for business that had vanished overnight. We were heading to St. Mark’s Square and popped into a couple of the city’s famed pasticcerias for coffee and pastries.

In Piazza San Marco, we were confronted with the bizarre sight of an empty square. It’s normally one of the most crowded places in Venice, but there were more seagulls than people. They were still taking down the seating from Carnival, the final days of which were cancelled a couple of days before we arrived, and a few disgruntled stall holders selling tourist tat were trying to drum up some trade. We strolled in grand isolation.

The Doge’s Palace was closed so we got on a vaporetto to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute on the other side of the Grand Canal. The views back to St. Mark’s and across the lagoon to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore were beautiful. Our stroll took us through the Dorsoduro district, stopping in a few places for Venetian tapas and local wine. The popular Ponte dell’Accademia was remarkably empty of people, if you discount the self-obsessed selfie-taker who was pouting into her camera phone.

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Venice, Italy
Gondolas, Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
Venice Lagoon and Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy

Eventually, we found our way through a series of plazas to the Rialto Bridge. Another of Venice’s most famous sights came without the usual tourist crush. Standing on the bridge and looking along the Grand Canal, boats and gondolas plying their trade along the water, was glorious. Thomas Mann described Venice as “Half tourist trap, half fairy tale.” Our Venice fairy tale was that there were no tourists to be trapped.

7 thoughts on “Along the Grand Canal, a stroll through Venice

  1. How elegantly put. Thanks for the stroll.
    Stay safe

    1. Thanks Brian, I hope you’re also staying safe and healthy? No idea where this will take us, or how it will end, but for the time being we do the thing human’s aren’t very good at: staying in one place, even without an end in sight.

      1. Likewise. Walking around in circles at home… Though being retired for a few years now, I’m rather used to it. And do a lot of things at home. I do miss my usual walk in the historical centre and my morning coffee under the colonial arches facing the main square… Well, it will come back.
        Be good.

  2. I’m pleased to note you appear not to have caught Covid-19 out there and even more pleased that you seem to have had an enjoyable time in Venice. It’s beautiful but God knows when any of us will be able to go there now. I miss travel…

    1. I keep having to pinch myself, this feels like a weird dream. I’ve only left the apartment a couple of times in the past week, and only for food. I suspect on Monday we’ll be more locked down than now and won’t be able to go anywhere in Germany, never mind the rest of the world. To make matters worse, the weather is glorious.
      Venice was amazing, I loved it all the more because I hadn’t expected to go again.
      Stay safe and healthy!

  3. Lovely pictures, but I hope you’re healthy!

    1. Thank you. So far, we’re still healthy, although as the epidemic surges in Germany things seem very precarious. The San Blas Islands seem like a good idea rights now.
      Stay safe and healthy.

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