Venice Desired

It’s my third day back in Bristol after a three weeks absence, and I’ve returned to find Clifton Village alive with cherry blossoms, roses, and foxglove and the hills and vines even greener than when I left. English springs really are something to write about, and I can’t help feeling a bit like Mary Lennox(with the exception of no sick relation to nurse back to health, but perhaps my ailing essays count?).

These past few weeks have been filled to the brim with so many gifts, so many experiences I never dreamed of having and so, before I leave them to memory to become hazy like dreams, I want to record a few such moments here. I don’t believe I’ve ever done so much walking than over my time in France and Italy and despite my good intentions, I was simply too tired to write at the end of the day. But I believe we understand experiences better in hindsight, and I, for one, need time to let it sink under my skin and into my bloodstream to know it was real.

Italy, though it’s nearly impossible for me to choose favorites, was my favorite leg of the ‘trip.’ I spent three days in Venice before taking the train into Tuscany and Florence. Prior to stepping on the plane to Paris, our last Romantics lecture had discussed the allure of Venice, and it was hard to believe I’d soon be seeing it for myself.

The beauty of Venice struck me immediately. Venice is supposed to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities, but from my past travel experiences, I’ve learned to be skeptical of such claims. Often times, what is ‘postcard perfect’ is misleading because, generally, only a small portion of the city actually resembles the postcard. Not so with Venice. After crossing Canale di Fuscina, the magic of Venice was immediate. I soon realized it was not just St. Mark’s Basilica or the Grand Canal that made Venice beautiful; it was all of it. And getting lost  in the web of canals, calle and campi that make up the sestieri (neighborhoods) of Venice was the best way to explore. Every corner and campi leading to a dead-end, which in the case of Venice, means a canal, was stunning. Lines of colorful clothing hung like streamers between the Venetian appartamentos. Flowers bloomed from window boxes between brightly painted shutters. Caffè windows became pieces of art with displays of marzipan, cannolis filled with zabaione, and giant Italian Easter cakes called Colomba carefully wrapped in parchment and ribbon.

The novelty of canals replacing roads and gondolas instead of cars was invigorating. And the cappuccinos were just as good as I remember from my first time in Italy (Roma) a few years ago. And yes, the gelato was still heavenly. What I liked most about Venice, though, was the pace. In some ways, there wasn’t a whole lot to do–at least in terms of museums and other sights the traveler usually feels obligated to visit. The whole city was about having an extra scoop of gelato, lingering over a glass of red, and having a generous plate of beautiful Venetian cuisine at the end of the day. 

In many ways, Venice seemed like a make-believe city. I did not see a single car. There wasn’t an office building in sight. And, as I learned in Sweden, Venice is largely a fantasy. My cousin’s friend, Jo, grew up in Veneto, the region of Italy containing Venice, and she explained that few Venetians actually live in Venice.  It’s a city for tourists and maybe the rare traveler. Of course, Venice is slowly sinking, which might also contribute to its lack of population.

Canale Grande

Canale Grande

And I want to go back! Hmmm…back to Jane Austen & Mansfield. Next post: Florence.



A Saturday Morning

Currently sipping coffee with cinnamon and honey (my new favorite–thank you, Leah!) sitting in the colorful, sun-bathed studios of Vintage Invites, the beautiful invitation company my cousin creates for. There is something about sitting here in the sun amid peacock feathers, leafs of paper, and lovely in-progress wedding invites that makes me want to create. As much as I love the excitement of  following a map, there is something equally satisfying about feeling established again, and finding fresh delight in the familiar. After two weeks of traveling in France and Italy–two weeks of sorting out trams and trains, of asking for directions, of getting little sleep and doing much walking, of bad sunburns and stinging blisters–waking up in a peaceful flat in Sweden feels about as good as it gets.

Being back in Scandinavia feels a bit like being home. Almost exactly three years ago I arrived in Goteborg  to visit Leah for the first time who was only a train ride away as I was studying in Norway. Yesterday I was looking at pictures from this trip–of Leah and I riding the ferry to the islands sprinkled around Goteborg, of having my first fika, and holding a long-eared puppy a generous Swede let me hold–and I’ve decided that being back in the land of kroners and kanelbulle is wonderful. I like England for entirely different reasons, but Scandinavia will always be my first European love.

Before stepping on the plane to Paris I was absolutely aching to leave Bristol. I was ready to close my books, lock the door and not turn back for anything. Funny how being away just two weeks has me craving my usual routine, but being in Sweden with Leah is a breath of fresh air. Having a proper shower and clean laundry has me feeling like a new woman. Nonetheless, the blisters gained from endless walking and sightseeing was worth it.

The Med

From Paris, I, along with Brian, Ashley and Gen, took the train to Nice, and it didn’t take long to realize the French Riviera really was magical. It was hot, tropical and felt more like Spain or Italy than France. I loved it. The Mediterranean was every shade of blue, refreshingly cold, and picturesque. The apartments and shops were painted in warm colors and the beach was lined with cafés, pizzerias, and gelaterias. It was definitely a holiday town. My favorite evening in Nice was on our first night. On a skinny street in Old Town we found a hole-in-the-wall pizza place and while in line, met an American man who assured us this was, indeed, the best pizza in Nice. From here, we returned to the Med and stayed till after sunset, sipping chardonnay and watching the water.

Most of the villages along the Riviera are quite close by, and on our second day we rode a crammed bus over the cliffs along the Med to Monaco.  I imagine Monaco was infinitely more glamorous fifty or more years ago with Princess Grace strolling the streets, but the place was still striking. I can’t distinguish a Subaru from a Bentley, but apparently nothing else lined the streets. The city was clean and perfectly well-manicured, and despite the famous Monte Carlo Casino being the most prominent feature of city centre, the streets were quiet and respectable. I spent most of the day on the beach, though, visiting with two Texans who bought all four of us a round (or more) of drinks. I tried my first (and last) obligatory beer and, even in Monaco, decided I did not like it one bit. The last couple of days were spent primarily on the beach, and I felt deliciously removed from normal life. From Nice, Gen and I flew to Venice, but I simply must do some essay-work now, so more on Italy to follow…





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April 2012