Losing Hearts in Venice

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.

Marco just couldn't believe that he'd missed the ice cream boat!

Jacob and Marco, who just couldn’t believe that he’d missed the ice cream boat!

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.

PIC00022 (2)

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.


Jacob with the St Marco’s Square behind him. The Campanile standing tall behind him.

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.

Photo credit:  Photozonly.com

Photo credit: Photozonly.com

della Salute by Claude Monet.  He apparently liked Venice, too.

della Salute by Claude Monet. He apparently liked Venice, too.

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!


Filed under Family, Holidays, Humor, Travel Stories

74 responses to “Losing Hearts in Venice

  1. I have chills. I totally ubderstand


    • I’m glad you liked it. There is something about Venice. You know I buy any book that has a picture of Venice on the cover. In almost 20 years, there has been only one dud!


  2. You have given me a different perspective of Venice. It has never been on my list of places I would like to see, but now maybe it should be.


    • Venice was wonderful. But not everybody loves it as much as I did. We had friends who went with their small children and rented a first floor apartment. They went the same time we went to Florence — when it rained and rained. Their apartment flooded with stinky canal water. Which was problematic with an 18 month old!

      But everybody has different ideas of what is wonderful. For me, it was this trip to Venice. It couldn’t have been better!


  3. This is a GORGEOUS post – your beautifully descriptive words, lovely pictures, inspiring music – well done!! As you mentioned, I truly LOVE Venice. It is as fantastically magical as you described. I’m so glad you had that extra special moment bonding you and your son forever in a space so delightful.


    • Thanks, Renee. I’ve been thinking of writing this since your piece on Venice a while back. But I missed that moment and waited until there was another opportunity.

      Would you please give me a link here to your post? I’d love to re-read it and I am sure others would like to as well. Thanks!


  4. Ok, I’ll buy that Italy as a whole is nice… and lovely. And, ok.. Venice with all the canals is kind of cool …. but, mostly, I remember that one can smell Venice before one sees Venice … and, not in a good way. It takes a day or two to get used to the stagnant water smell.

    But, my opinions aside … I enjoyed your story very much.


    • Well, I’m glad you liked my version of Venice, John. We really had a wonderful time. But others we knew did not. One family we knew went to Venice when we went to Florence — and it POURED. They had rented a first floor apartment which flooded — and they had 4 kids including a toddler. Yuck!


  5. Now that is a wonderful, magical memory of a trip. The fact that your son shared such an emotional bond with you and Venice is something to be cherished forever. It would be every Mother’s dream to have that kind of a moment (dancing in the square) with their son. More often than not I hear family travelling stories that sound more like horror stories to me. Thank you for this refreshingly sweet ands wonderful trip.


    • Truthfully, we had our share of travel horror stories — no family can travel without them.

      But Venice? Oh yeah. I will treasure this memory my whole life long.


  6. My most vivid memory of Venice was riding on a water bus along the Grand Canal, at night, during a lightning storm. Normally, I would have been slightly nervous to be out during a lightning – but the sight of those palazzos over the black water, illuminated by lightning every other second, was just magical.


  7. I have never been to such a magical place, and I will never forget the thrill of riding the boat into Venice. Thanks for the beautiful story of your visit with your family.


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  9. Totally with you there, Elyse. I was backpacking with my wife in 2003, we stayed a while in Venice. There was a heat wave that summer, it was scorching, and I was worried that we would be really stunk out by the city during all that heat. But it was worth it, and sublime. There is no such place possible, but somehow it exists. Best part was just getting lost in the “streets”, then trying to find your way out. We also got stranded during siesta on that glass-blower island, ended up in a little restaurant that had no menus, but they made the most amazing seafood dish. I can’t wait to go back with my kids – I think they will love it. Thanks for bringing back some good memories.


    • It sounds like you had a memorable trip as well. Ah, Venice. It was the most magical surprise of my traveling life. And the dance. If it is true that we see our lives flash before us when we die, then I am going to hit the pause button for that bit. Because it was so wonderful.

      We had a hilarous experience on Murano, with the folks trying to sell us the beautiful glass. When they heard that my husband is a lawyer, the salespeople thought that they had a rich target. They spent a very long time trying to convince John to buy brandy snifters — at $500 each! Obviously they didn’t know my husband. We did buy a few small things, but no brandy snifters!


  10. kraftycatcreations

    Never having traveled much, I love it when a wonderfully written tale takes me somewhere. I put on the waltz and pictured the square, the dancing, the magic of it all.

    Thank you for this beautifully laid out journey!


  11. awww…thank you for the music to accompany such a lovely read. Loved the dance with your son. Thank you for taking us there. Since I have never been to Italy (remembering an old post), that would mean I have never gone to Venice. One of these days, perhaps.


    • I hope you do get to go, though, Georgette. The whole of Italy captured my heart — it is the place I recommend to people who will take just one trip to Europe in their lifetime.

      And I loved that dance, too. Magic!


  12. Isn’t it strange, Venice is the place I fell in love with as a child. We spent Easter in this magical city. Four days exploring, hearing Mass at St Marks, seeing the glass works, climbing all the towers. I was the only one to fall in love. I have remained in love, Venice is the only city that remains firmly in my memory.

    I am with Jacob. Your dance, wonderful. What a memory to cherish.

    Venice is one of the cities I want so badly to return to.


    • Jacob, I’m sure, feels the same way. When you travel as a kid, I am not sure you appreciate as much, or you do so in a very different way than you do as an adult. And Venice really is unique. I’m glad you too have those memories. In our family, though, all three of us fell — hard!

      I know what you mean about wanting to go back. Kind of.

      But the memory of that evening — I’m not sure it can be topped. In fact, I know it will be one of the happiest memories of my life, no matter how long I live. So I am a little bit afraid to go back, as much as I want to see all that we saw again, and see all that we missed (a lot when you travel with a kid).

      I go back in books all the time. I swear I will buy any book with a picture of Venice on the cover — and I have never been disappointed!


  13. Now you’ve added to my list of places to escape to. Thank you!


  14. Thank you for taking us to Venice!


  15. The ice cream boat? Couldn’t run and catch it either. An interesting concept, the ice cream boat and all. I’ve never been to Venice but I’ll be looking for that boat when I get there.


    • Yes — an ice cream boat! It delivered ice creams to kids who waited at the various piers. Marco was so upset that he’d missed it — and Jacob was equally delighted that he’d seen it!

      The ice cream boat was one of those little things that reminded us that yes, it is a very different world — a wetter one!


  16. Oh, Elyse! Gorgeous words and pictures. I am falling in love with Venice now. (dreamy sigh)


    • I had forgotten that Jacob had so many missing teeth when we went. Oh, Darla, it was one of the most wonderful nights of my life.

      Dancing to live orchestra music with my son in St. Marco’s Square. I cannot hear either song without going back. And you know, that’s OK.

      Gotta get you there …


  17. Elyse, I’ve never had a huge urge to see Venice, but this one post has changed my mind. I’ve had such a long love affair with Paris, but I might think about Italy now. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful tribute to a wonderous City.


    • They are very different places. Part of Venice’s charm is that it is dilapidated splendor. Paris is still pristine! I do understand the desire to keep returning to places you’ve fallen for — because it is awful to travel to a destination that disappoints.
      And that may be partially why Venice stole my heart — I had only seen pictures of it, which don’t capture it. And so I thought that if I never made it there, well, that was OK. I am so glad I did get to see it, got to fall in love with it.
      The other place in Italy that was surprisingly terrific was Pisa. It always seemed so schlocky, so tacky, so pizza-parlor-ish. But it is truly amazing. Because that Tower really does lean and it is seriously cool (several other buildings there lean too but the Tower really feels like it will fall any minute. And had we not been traveling with our son (8 at the time) we would have skipped it too!


  18. This was so beautifully written … so light, and filled with memories, and smiles. Every word seemed to glow with that unique shimmer of light that obviously can only be experienced when in Venice. Lovely.


    • Thanks, 99. I kept meaning to write this but never got around to it before now.

      But I do feel like I should pay you for your comments! You are always so sweet!


  19. Your son has good taste!

    I’ve only been to Venice once, years ago, but I remember it more clearly than I do most cities. How could one not? And there’s no rushing in Venice. You take your time, and you wait for water taxis to take you from here to there. But you don’t mind waiting in line to catch one. You’re too busy looking at the beauty around you.

    Kind of like Cleveland. 😉


  20. Ah, I can’t wait to get to Italy. Someday……..


  21. Beautiful description. I guess I’ll have to add Venice to my list of places to see too.

    Jerusalem and Newport have similar effects on me.


    • I’ve never been to Jerusalem, although I would love to. (Hey, who was playing? 😉 ) and I’ve only been to Newport in February when I was 10. So I need to get back to traveling!


      • In my opinion, Venice is much more impressive than the other two. Jerusalem is old, and it doesn’t have such an impressive architecture as Venice does (at least not what I was able to see). Newport does, but I’d rather take the crumbling real stuff in Venice than the opulent fakery of Newport.


        • I am not sure that any city can compete with Venice, actually. But I’d love to check out Jerusalem and make an informed decision!

          Not long after we got back from Venice, there was an internet contest: Would you rather go to Venice, Italy, or the Venice Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Vegas won, and it still makes me crazy to think of that. I am not really big on the fake glitz, like you.


  22. Loved, loved your visit to Venice. I’ve been to Italy, loved Rome and Florence, but never made it to Venice. Too bad your visit to Florence was fraught with so much rain. It is a beautiful city and so filled with history and architectural beauty! Enjoy the music on your videos. Thanks very much.


    • I don’t think there is a bad place to go in Italy. It is just such a great country. It is especially terrific if you go with young children.

      We didn’t get to Rome, which is our biggest disappointment from our time in Europe. And while it did rain while we were in Florence, we still saw plenty –and had one of the best meals of our lives. It was a great trip, too.

      But Jacob’s response to the idea that any place could be more beautiful than Venice makes my heart warm!


  23. How lovely! That’s a special little boy, to feel the magic and be moved by it so much.


    • It was wonderful to see him fall in love like that. I swear he had that wide grin on his face the entire time. But he was so very sad to leave that it was heartbreaking.


  24. Eva

    That was lovely, Elyse. I was so badly to travel to Italy. My great-grandmother and grandfather were from Calabria, way south of Rome. I would love to take a family trip there someday. Your post made me get lost in my dreams. Thank you, my friend.


    • I always tell folks that if you intend to go to Europe only once, go to Italy. The whole country is so wonderful. The scenery, the people. The art. Everything.


  25. Sold. Venice, and Florence, here I come. Well, okay, not this minute, but it was a truly lovely write up and I could feel how much the magic of Venice got into your heart. It’s on the list… we’ll get there one day.


  26. I have never been there. But now I must go.


  27. Clinton

    Elyse, thank you for such a wonderful description. Heather and the girls long to see Venice, hopefully before they need scuba gear.


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