It is a strange feeling, walking around in a town where there is not a single car. Night or day, all I hear is foot steps. My own, as I walk alone through the maze. And then I hear others coming towards me, over-taking me, and the volume rises as I come towards a small square as I cross the wooden bridges. Sometimes I may hear somebody coughing, from one of many windows in the rows of flats that surround the laneway I’m on. Rarely added to that are some music, somebody is turning up the volume while their favourite tune is playing. I come across one of the channels of waterways and there may be a small boat passing through with some delivery of vegetables, or courier, or they may be taxi boat. The roar of engine passes, and the sound of waves against the stone path echoes for a while, and slowly fades away.
People walk a lot around here. But given the small number of bridges, where it is convenient, people jump onto the vaporetto. It is literally a ‘bus on water’. It feels just like taking a bus from this block to that. Get off in front of supermarket, load the large shopping bugs you bring, and get onto the next vaporetto back.
Walking on one of the islands opposite my hotel, on the south end of islands, I realise this one is the most residential among the central islands I’ve walked on. There are very few restaurant, bar or cafe, and there is no shop. People are seen coming back from the supermarket on the island opposite (by vaporette, obviously). While on main islands you could turn into almost every narrow laneway and find a path, criss-crossing small courtyards and bridges, but on this island, the roads are straight lines, from this shore across to the other shore, lined on both side stands flats of 4-5 stories. They are decorated in the traditional Venetian architecture, but I am pretty sure inside is just a plain functional flat like you see in every other old European city. Turning into side road I walk in between flats, and dead end. I have to go all the way back to the shore of the bitter cold wind and catch the next vaporetto out. It was an island for those who live there, and even the cafes and restaurants, when they wish to go to one, are on other islands.
One morning I open the window just around sunrise time and find the city in thick fog. Things seem to move more slowly in the fog. You seem to hear less sound, of the boats, of the waves and of the footsteps. Walking slowly myself, I look ahead, and out of thick fog appear a figure, quickly pass by my side without a word, or some with a quick smile on their face, maybe I even say BuonGiorno. And then back to the thickness.
A city made up of islands, like here in Venezia, or in some tropical islands, the impact of so called the ‘development’ of human civilization is directly felt. The water level is rising, the ice in the mountain is melting, and people here are doing their best to minimise their impact on this small planet. It is not that it is impossible to run cars around here. They built a city on top of some sand and mud silts. They already have highway and train bridge coming in from the main land of Italia. But they choose not to do any more than this. By our decisions, it is possible to protect this beautiful world. It has been a kind of journey that made me realise even more strongly.
I woke up to the most beautiful day here in Venezia. The sun was shining, adding even more clearer contrast to the buildings and waves. It was as if the city was smiling at me and saying good-bye. I changed my plans and shortened my stay by one night. Sure the hotel will not refund for my final night. I will probably have to pay a bit to change my train reservations. But it was one of those things that are likely to be more important than such trivial material ideas.
Euro Night train can only be booked or changed at the train station counter, so I had to catch a vaporetto and head down there. I was hoping to check out the first regatta race of the day, the one in which the rowers wear a mask of an old woman, the one from the story not too different from Father Christmas – if you are good, she will give you a gift; if you are naughty, she’ll only give you a piece of coal. Sounds like something I wanted to photograph, from their preparation in the boat house, to the Grand Canal, and their audience. The American couple at breakfast table had told me a good spot to see their morning preparation, but I missed all that. Instead, after I finished sorting out the booking changes, I found myself walking in the San Marco square one last time, and remembered what the Japanese family was saying at breakfast table the day before – it is only one of two days in the year when the clock-work figures are moving at midday.
My friend at glassware shop liked the photographs I took of glassware and people in his store, and gave me a parting gift, put in that white carrybag with the symbol of authorised local Venetian Glass. Feeling a little lifted and rich (I know those glasswares are not cheap!), I walked right into one of the traditional institution, Florian Cafe. I am sure that most customers nowadays are tourists. I knew of another cafe that my friend told me of, which did coffee and cake really well (and cheap) but there I was, sitting by the window, reading my paperback, I was feeling ok. Well, 20 Euro for an espresso and tiramisu was pretty eye-popping (I ordered without looking at the menu but just the glass case), but it was a nice feeling and I managed to find myself a table away from the tourists (especially Japanese ones) and I was good.
Wandering about near the market and Rialto Bridge, I saw a lot of people who were just sitting in the sun, and enjoying the beautiful weather by the turquoise water. It was that kind of day. I got to see the bitter cold night, foggy morning, and the most glorious weather, in a course of only 3-night stay. I am grateful for whoever made such a magical experience possible.