Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sinking City

I was sad to read in the news this morning about the current flooding crisis in Venice - certainly not a new problem for the swamp-dwelling city, but the worst they have experienced in a while. Having been to Venice for the first time recently (for a daytrip at the end of our Hungary-Croatia-Italy jaunt), my interest in the city and its dubious fate is newly aroused. I suppose you have to have been to a place to really begin to care about it. Unfortunately there's no way to avoid the multitides of fellow sight-seers, as Venice is pretty much packed with them all year round. We arrived in the middle of half term, and I'd been expecting crowds, but wasn't really prepared for the total theme-park feel to the place, at least at the major 'attractions'.

After arriving by train from Trieste, we took a picturesque waterbus ride along the Grand Canal to St Mark's square, where we exchanged withering glances, and it quickly became clear we wouldn't be doing any of the 'sites'. I can't understand why people would queue for hours to see a building, however beautiful, only to have to share it with hundreds of other tourists. It's almost like they go armed with a checklist that must be ticked off, rather than any desire to have a unique experience; and why on earth would you want to have identical holiday snaps to everyone else who's ever been? While it's nice to be able to say you've visited famous monuments (Cristo Redentor in Rio was a highlight for me - though the view is more awe-inspiring than Jesus), I would much rather get a feel for the real place, meet some interesting people, see a special something that noone else has found. So we spent most of our day wandering the labyrinthine back streets, popping into beautiful little incense-filled churches, stopping for coffee/ice cream/cake/pizza and more often than not, finding ourselves at a dead end and wishing we'd had a boat. Once you get away from the crowds, there is a wonderfully atmospheric city waiting to be discovered, and it is possible to have an individual expedition.

Inspired by the recent BBC series Francesco's Venice, the one 'attraction' we did visit was the Gallerie Accademia - the the city's main art gallery, whose mind-blowing collection includes works by such luminaries as Titian, Bellini, Tintoretto, Bellotto and Longhi to name a few. The sheer staggering proportions of many of these reverential religious paintings is overwhelming. Normally I struggle with sacred art, especially crucifixion scenes (which give me the willies), but by these I was truly moved. Thankfully (and a little surprisingly), the museum wasn't too heaving with tourists, so it was possible to stand and reflect at leisure, which we both did quite a lot. I'd love to go back to Venice some day, preferably with a boat and some tranquiliser darts. I just hope it doesn't sink before I get the chance.

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