On Getting Down with the Locals, finding Invisible Cities, and My Secret Room with a View…
Venice, Venezia, Capital of Northern Italy’s Veneto Region, lagoon city of water, stone, glass and gold
– the Great Star of the Mediterranean.
Everybody who steps onto that sacred isle are instantly captured by her beauty, her romance – her skyline bristling with antique towers, delicate spires, twisting bridges and heavenly domes.
And those canals – a man-made jungle of ancient and meandering streams – the gonderlieri – and of course those invisible cities that live beyond the water…
Venice has been the subject of obsession for me since I was a child – forever I dreamed to walk through those medieval streets, touch those crumbly Baroque masterpieces with my bare hands, breathe the aria d’oro, and drink in the beauty of such mythical places as Piazza San Marco… the Grand Canal…
…and the Bridge of Sighs.
I’ve always dreamed of living, and breathing in the pulse of Venice.
Last year, I had the fortune of living in Venice for a while… to eat and get down with the true Venetians, dance in empty squares at midnight with a dear friend, beat locals at endless games of chess and cards, sit for hours and muse by the edge of rippling canals… watching the tourists flood by. I even went on a crazy adventure house-hunting one time that lead me into all sorts of hidden parts of the city you’d never find in any guide books.
In Venice, I dreamed my dreams and my dreams became reality…
When I decided to start travelling a couple of years ago, Venice was pretty much the first place I went to – and I’ve not been able to stop going back since. Once you give in to her passion, allow yourself to be seduced by her siren call, you will forever be a prisoner of that great city… unable to truly leave in your mind. Unable to ever forget, the sound of her voice, and the beat of her heart.
And, like with her people, Venice’s blood is a blood of many colours…
I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to walk into a busy coffee house, full of tourists being told to sit down and wait to be served at tables, and to walk straight up to the bar and order yourself a quick espresso, in Italian, confidently and smoothly, and then only be charged a euro, when the couple of Asian girls next to you are being charge thrice the price for the same satisfaction. I’m sorry people, once you’ve lived in Italy, you know that Italians don’t sit down at tables to drink coffee – and if they do, it’s only when it’s their regular coffee house, they know the owners, and are probably over the age of 60. As soon as you walk into a bar and sit down waiting to be served, or worse – stand by the till nervously – you’re gonna get the full tourist rate. And you don’t bloody deserve that!
Next time you’re in Italy, walk into a little coffee house (choose one full of Italians if you can), feeling good and comfortable about who you are (always), move in purposefully, lean over the bar and enunciate “un caffe” quickly and clearly.
Ain’t no four euro coffee gonna be coming your way after that…
Oh, and one other tip for my friends from across the pond – please don’t say “por favor” – like you’re in Madrid or something. You’re in Italy!!! Speak Italian not Spanish! You may as well just throw your euros into the bloody air…
Last time I was in Venice, I decided not to stay with friends, but to book myself into my secret little hotel again…
Hotel Canada Venezia has become a home-from-home for me. I’ve stayed here a couple of times now. A non-pretentious hotel a few minutes walk from the Rialto Bridge, yet just away from the main drag on a small square next to a church. A historic Venetian house, complete with the necessary crumbling walls, church bells in the morning, and even the hotel porter, with his little bow tie, look as though he’s been there since the days of the Doges…
Oh yeah, did I mention I was a Doge in a past life?
Book directly with the hotel, not through an agency, to get the best price.
Don’t expect wifi and flat-screen TV.
I asked for the smallest room – I like to travel cheaply where possible. You could choose youth hostels to save money but I prefer solidarity – better for my creative juices. I think you only really need a bed, a notebook, your camera and your open mind when travelling… the rest is up to fate.
Speaking of fate, you can imagine my surprise when they put me in the biggest room in the hotel! “This was the last room we had,” said the porter, giving me the keys to room no.9. I couldn’t believe it. I even checked the fire plan – it truly was the largest room – prepared for a family of six. I gladly accepted, and then slept in a different bed each night… of course.
I just ran around in this huge room for the first few hours, totally naked, singing, dancing – having a great time! Who needs a TV or wifi when you’ve got this view…
Gosh I was so impressed with that place. I woke up to the bells of St. Mark’s every morning, and spent many an hour sitting on one of the window sills, smoking alone, drinking wine – watching the Venetians in their medieval houses across the little, narrow canal (no cars here) – and gazing fixedly at the black waters ripple five stories down beneath me at night time, as the noise of Venice slowly silenced all around… I smoked so many cigarettes on that window ledge, watching the stars, dreaming my little Venetian dreams…
Having seen many of the sights of Venice before, I mostly wandered this time round – as far off the beaten path as I could – searching always for those hidden gems, those areas without all the tourists and tour guides, the pockets of Venice where the Venetians actually still live, eat, drink coffee and shout down from their high-up windows to other Venetians on the street below.
Whole communities of people – not large by any standard – but still living and breathing the same Venetian way of life that’s existed for hundreds of years. Often, I was the only non-Venetian in sight… blissful after the chaos and mess that is St. Mark’s Square.
No-one seem to mind the wandering vagabond.
“Wiser-tourists” trying to get away from the busy areas always seem to head to Cannaregio, the Jewish quarter – but don’t waste your time. Cannaregio is just as touristy as Rialto these days. The only way to escape is to go down, beneath the skin… to search, and, sometimes, to let it all come to you…
I spent a whole afternoon sat on a jetty by the Grand Canal reading, a panama hat on my head, wearing my 1940’s high-waisted trousers, dangling my feet in the water, watching the boats go by, the clouds roll on, and the tourists taking my photograph.
I made a friend too – so I took his portrait!
Dashing little fellow, eh?
Unlike the passing tourists, taking my picture from a safe few meters away, then leaving without even a smile, this little guy was brave enough to come right up and meet me head on.
He, like me, wasn’t where the rest of the crowds were; he didn’t care to act like a sheep. He, like me, was on the edge of the civilised world, intriguing to the rest of his race, a little misunderstood perhaps, and most definitely happily lost…
I saw the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen in Venice – I took a boat to one of the neighbouring islands, sat with my back against a church, and watched… and breathed… and lived each second of that sun moving down in the sky.
Only in Venice.
Okay, so I’ll let you into another little secret – the cafe in the Museo Correr – it’s on the first floor, has great views of St. Mark’s Square, but without the price tag. You will pay like 2 euros for a coffee… rather than 18! I often go there to write love letters and things, as the main post office is just round the corner.
Here’s me posing in the cafe on my first visit –
I did, however, get told off one time for opening the great big windows and standing on the balcony overlooking the square, so don’t try it. I got told off about three times… What can I say? …I’m a slow learner.
Something else I love to do when in Venice is get down to the Lido – you’re constantly surrounded by water in Venice – and yet you can’t get in it! And, if you’re anything like me, you love to swim, right?
The Lido is only a short boat ride away, and it’s the perfect place to escape the heat and humidity of the crowded city. Only don’t try swimming in April – I have – and I was laughed at so much by all the Italians watching me (on land, of course) because it was soooooooo cold.
But one of the things people get rightly annoyed with in Venice is the tourism. Well…
Firstly, I’ll start by telling you now that like with a lot of Italian cities, in Venice you WILL get ripped-off, taken-advantage-of, or fooled into spending A LOT more money than you need to if you don’t keep your wits about you, and know how much a thing costs/ how much you should be paying. Italians know how to run a business, they ain’t silly, and a group of clearly-American-and-slightly-naive-girls-or-boys waving euros about is easy prey for a cafe owner, a gondolier, a market seller…
and especially for the street gypsies! (of which there are many. Always).
Look a bit similar?
I’ll let you into a little known secret – the gypsies that hang about the streets of Venice are under the control of a mafia – they pester tourists all-day, everyday for their precious euro, and at the end of the night they reconvene and nearly ALL the money goes to ‘the Pimp’ – the poor souls that spend all day on the streets, come rain or shine, hardly see a dime! So when you see that skinny, begging lady with the sleeping newborn baby, know that baby has been drugged to sleep all-day, with a woman who’s doubtfully even its mother, all in the name of making money. It’s sad, really sad. And, unfortunately, nothing can be done about it. Try to give these people food – I have! – and they reject it, even though they carry signs saying they are homeless and starving to death!! They only want your money – a chocolate bar is no good to the mafia. I was even ambushed by some of these gypsies when I lived in Rome…
Yes, in Venice, tourists are everywhere, and so are ‘the hounds’ – but with a little savvy you can quite easily weave in and out of ALL the tourists traps and rip-offs… and all the mindless guidebook trails (that means money-belts, sun-visors, ‘selfies’, socks and sandals too).
It just takes a little charm… and the dare to walk into the unknown…
Now, on my most recent trip to Venice, on the very last day, I decided to take it easy. I had to get to the airport that night to catch a flight over to London, to then catch a flight four hours later over to Athens (long story). So, anyway, the last thing I wanted to do was run around the city all day on a crazy, unplanned adventure that would take me into parts of Venice that I’m sure no mere tourist has ever been…
Not that I’m like any other tourist.
But, sometimes, life takes over – and, in places like Venice, you just learn to go with the flow…
Read how I got beautifully Lost in Venice here.
Visit canadavenice.com for bookings and further information.
all enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Magical Venice !
Magical indeed! Such a place… Thanks for commenting.
This is beautiful James~
Thank you, Tammy X
What a beautiful, amazing, starry-and-splendid soul you are. And the timing of finding your soothing, healing and more-than-inspiring words is uncanny…it was the exact nourishment needed. Completely! I am extremely thankful – and know and hope that you’ll keep flowering, singing, bursting through life’s unnecessary walls with ever-present grace and splendor. What a wonderful you you are xx
Linda, THANK YOU! I am humbled beyond words, touched and inspired. Travel and sing – need I say more?? So glad to have touched souls with another kindred on the journey. God bless you. Here’s to Voice, and life’s great song. JXX
Thank you for stoping by and in return giving me the opportunity to discover your fabulous blog. I can’t describe in words the joy I felt discovering you story, the beautiful photos, the adventures logged herein with creativity. This particular post spoke to me on a deep personal level, because Venice was always the City of my Dreams, until one day it became a reality. I have felt many things that your describe in this post and find myself connected to your experience. Eagerly, Looking forward to reading more!
All the very best for your travelling adventures!
I am so glad to read this! Venice is where it all started for me – the place that taught me I really could go to these legendary places… dream my reality. Thank you for coming on board. To the Stars, my friend! JamesX
Crazy beautiful pictures and tips well taken note of. Thank you man!
Crazy beautiful pictures and tips well taken note of. Thank you.
James My Darling ! You Are Truly Blessed With Inner Visual and Outer Visual… You Are Certaily Seeing With The Eyes Of The Soul…
May God Bless and Guide and Above All Protect You On Your Life’s Journey…
Many Blessings …
In Trust and Faith Move Forth…
Your Destiny Awaits You
Andrea, I love that! “Seeing with the eyes of the soul…” I feel that. Thank you for your message, and your well-wishes – so kind. I’ve been reading your book! I feel your heart in your words, so open and honest. You speak truth! I salute you, one VERY inspiring lady. J x
God knows I love Venice! How lucky to be able to do so much in such a beautiful city! Loving reading through your blog. Maisie 😉
Thank you, Woodland Lady! J x
I was in Venice for a day and it was so memorable!! I have photos but none as great as your photos. Loved the story!!
Thank you, dear! I have to say I’m very pleased with my Venice photo collection – I just find the place so visually inspiring. Glad you enjoyed the post – here’s to many more years of memories in Venice … ! for you, and I…
How marvellous… Great pictures, and lucky you – to have that large hotel room all to yourself as well as going flat-hunting (plus getting lost) in Venice!
Angelina – you are one of my favourite bloggers so I am complimented indeed. And, I know – couldn’t believe it!! How much luck can this English guy get?? Cheers 🙂
Oh how I wish to go to Venice now… to be alone in Venice. Lovely reading!
Thank you, Lindsey! Glad you enjoyed it. J x
and I love the way you move though a place with a sense of the spiritual, and the earthly. You have found the balance, James.
Thank you, Roger, for your heart-felt comments. I do, yes, think it’s important to find that balance between earth and spirit. Being too grounded keeps you in one place… and I like to move around!
Wonderful photos. Classic pictures of Venice. And great story! Looking forward to following this.
Good luck. Roger.
Thank you, so much. J x.