Eight-year old Jacob looked at me as if I’d gone crazy. He stopped in his tracks, put his hands on his hips, tilted his head and spoke to me in a tone that was a prelude of the teen years to come. Looking back, he had some justification.
You see, I was talking to him about Florence, Italy. I was telling him some of the things I’d learned about the city and its history in preparation for a visit we’d be taking there in about two weeks. I finished up my quick summary of the history, the art, the architecture, the famous people who’d lived there. I then offered an enticement.
“You know what, Jacob,” I said. “I read that most Italians find Florence to be their most beautiful city.”
“Mom,” my son said with his hands on his hips and his lips pursed, “how can any city be more beautiful than Venice?”
Because like me, Jacob had fallen in love with Venice when we visited that city a year earlier.
We actually went to Venice twice.
In August 1998, John, Jacob and I had gone to visit American friends who were staying in Trieste, which is on the other side of the Aegean Sea. Venice could be easily reached via a short train ride.
Truthfully, I wasn’t all that excited. Venice wasn’t really high on my list of places I had to see while we were in Europe. But we were so close, so of course going seemed like a great idea. We’d spend a day there, and then on other trips I could see Rome and Florence — the Italian cities I really wanted to visit.
Our train was delayed by a couple of hours, and the evening train cancelled. So we had four hours to see the city. It would be plenty, I was sure.
Until, that is, I stepped off the train and found that I really had been transported — we’d landed in a place that was nothing like I’d imagined. A truly magical place.
I’d read that it feels like you’re back in time because there are no cars in Venice.
I’d heard about the light in Venice, that there is nothing quite like it. The buildings, mostly built of marble of different hues, reflect the water and the water reflects the buildings. They both seem to dance at the slightest breeze.
I’d learned about the architecture in Venice, a mixture of European, North African, Middle-Eastern with hints of Asian, styles and materials brought back from the known world by the traders and explorers that built the city and made it fabulously wealthy.
But nothing, nothing, had prepared me for the impact that the beautiful city had on my heart — from the moment we stepped off the train.
Our afternoon gave me a much too quick taste of the magic.
With two young boys and a baby in tow, our first stop was for a late lunch — pizza on the Grand Canal.
We crammed as much as we could into an afternoon. August 31st, when everything was mobbed. We spent time in St. Marco’s Square, visited the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, crossed the Bridge of Sighs into the Doge’s prison.
When we got back to the train station, I made John promise me that Venice would be our next destination. An afternoon was not nearly enough time, and my heart was breaking at leaving the magical city.
We started planning to go back to Venice the instant we arrived back home to Switzerland. Jacob had a 5-day weekend in early October. So we booked train tickets, a hotel, and got ready to go back. We arrived at dawn, which is when all the guidebooks tell you to arrive in Venice. Because the colors from the sunrise reflecting on the water and on the buildings that line the canals. It is a sight that I will not even try to describe. Indeed, I’ve never seen a photograph or read a description that did it justice.
Our visit was filled with beauty, from start to finish. But it is the last night I want to tell you about.
We had done as much touring as you can do with a 7-year old. A few museums, a lot of churches. We climbed the campaniles (bell towers) of many churches to get the perfect view of the city that all three of us had fallen for. We saw masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto and others, still hanging where they were meant to hang — in the churches of Venice, and in the unique light of Venice.
We went on a gondola ride, of course. It was wonderful AND schlocky. We saw Marco Polo’s house.
But on the last night, Venice captured my heart, and Jacob’s.
We’d finished dinner, and wandered back into St. Mark’s Square. Jacob wanted to climb the Campanile, the bell tower.
We’d climbed the Campanile once already, but Jacob wanted to see the city from that prospect one more time on our last night, hoping to view the city as the lights came up on the buildings.
We loved the view, but were surprised to find that the buildings weren’t illuminated. We climbed back down into the square, which was completely empty except for the three of us. Two rival orchestras that were setting up outside of two restaurants on opposite sides of the Square.
The three of us wandered into the center of the piazza when it happened.
Behind us, one of the orchestras began playing a Viennese waltz. The sound transformed the square into our own personal ballroom. The light was fading, but soft lights around the square glowed on the Basilica, the clock tower. Jacob took my hand, bowed, and walked me into the middle of the square. John, the non-dancer, gave Jacob and I our moment.
My son and I — we danced. Just the two of us, all over the cobbled square.
The instant the first orchestra had played its last notes, the orchestra on the other side began.
I could have danced all night, from My Fair Lady. It was true — I could have.
As people began to fill the Square, we thanked both orchestras and headed back down to the Grand Canal, for a last stroll past the Doge’s palace, Vivaldi’s church and the other buildings that had seen millions of people like us come and go.
We crossed a small bridge and stopped to look across the canal at the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, and the golden ball atop the customs house. We gazed back at the gondolas covered and berthed for the night. We turned towards the Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners crossed from the Doge’s palace into the Doge’s prison and sighed at their last breath of freedom.
Jacob stood on that bridge with tears running down his cheeks as he looked at the beauty that surrounded us.
“I can’t believe we have to leave Venice,” he said, his heart breaking along with mine and John’s.
Was Florence more beautiful than Venice? I don’t honestly know. We spent nearly a week in Florence, but it rained so hard that we literally never could see the views and the vistas of that city. But if you’re going to have a vacation where it pours, I highly recommend Florence. There are one or two things to look at.
But Venice. Ah, Venice. I have never been anywhere like Venice, a place I really wasn’t that anxious to visit. It captured my heart, and John’s and especially Jacob’s. It is a magical place. Words and pictures, even by Monet, cannot capture its beauty or how it made me feel.
I was inspired to finally write this story by DJ Matticus of The Matticus Kingdom who wrote this lovely post. In the last year or two, John of Johnbalaya sent me back to Venice not too long ago, as did Renee of Renee Johnson Writes.
Somehow, I’m always happy to go back. Magic and Venice. Yup. I’m willing to do either any time!