The Travel Year

Skip Navigation LinksTheTravelYear > Travelogue > Italy

Stories from Italy

Venice, Italy

Layers of History

timVenice needs little introduction, as all its stereotypes breath in reality - stripe-shirted oarsmen, bow shaped gondolas, graceful canals, historic buildings, romantic accordion music, and labyrinthine streets. But I arrived in summer during tourism's peak season and spent my first day head spun by the incredibly huge crowds. The popular Paizza di San Marco, for example, lures tourists with its beautiful basilica covered in mosaics and marble, but it fills to capacity like Washington DC's mall on the 4th of July or New York's Times Square during New Years Eve. Every day, all day long.

It isn't hard to escape the fray, but doing so requires loads of energy and the ability to walk, walk, and walk some more - you just have to head straight from the touristic areas and not consult a map until its time to go home.

The streets seem to be planned by a Venetian throwing spaghetti onto a cartographer's table - leaving a jumbled maze with unexpected turns and large avenues that suddenly compress down into alleys hardly wide enough for two people to walk side by side. The layout reminded me of a small village Michelle and I visited on a Greek island, where residents designed their streets with a similar chaotic layout to purposefully confuse invaders. But Venice is at least 200 times larger and more complex. Even so, I always ran into a familiar road, eventually getting home safely. And by banging around the city in this unplanned manner, I found the quiet parts of the city where only dawdling old women broke the peace of their neighborhoods.

What I enjoyed most about Venice was its historic decrepitude. The residents can sweep the streets until their brooms fall apart, but nothing will sweep away the years of grunge that cover the sidewalks. Large patches of plaster will continue to fall from walls like bark from old trees and layers of weathered brick will continue to be exposed. Watermarks will stain the walls and continue to blemish the quiet shades of red, yellow, and brown. And while Venice may one day pass laws restricting its residents from hanging laundry over canals, the paint from nearby window shutters will continue to peel and the canal will still be green.

The city was so alive with texture that I felt it with my eyes. top

Bright Colorful Day

timThe island of Burano was a colorful surprise in my day spent hopping around on vaporettos (ferries) in Venice. It is known for its handmade lace and slow paced fishing life, but I immediately appreciated it for its simple clean lines and bright hues.

Most of the row houses in town have little ornamentation, just low textured stucco walls painted with radiant colors, window frames painted with blinding white, and closed window shutters painted with darker colors.

The color combinations forced me to wear sunglasses to protect my vision. One row of homes might look like this:

An aquamarine home next to one painted hot red, both with white window frames and green shutters. They sit adjacent to a bright yellow house with red shutters and others painted lavender, baby blue, plum, maroon, peach, purple, and an ugly mint color that saw its heyday in the 1950's.

Groups of flowers with purple petals and green leaves sprout from the window box of a purple home with green shutters. Such color coordination!

Even the fragrant hanging laundry about the streets might match the home - like blue and white cloud print sheets suspended from the second floor of a baby blue house. Or in the opposite, yellow pants hanging next to dark blue paint.

top

A colorful window from a village in Burano, a small island a short ride from Venice by ferry. Though the island is known for its lace making and fishing, the intense colors of the village impressed me far more - each family seemed to compete for the home with the brightest and most striking colors. A fisherman's net from a village in Burano, a small island a short ride from Venice by ferry. The net is as colorful as the homes of the villagers nearby, as each family seemed to compete for the home with the brightest and most striking colors. A colorful window from a village in Burano, a small island a short ride from Venice by ferry. Though the island is known for its lace making and fishing, the intense colors of the village impressed me far more - each family seemed to compete for the home with the brightest and most striking colors. Classic Venetian buildings line a small canal in the back areas of the city.