The kids’ February school holidays are an ideal opportunity to steal away for a city break, and this year there was every incentive to get over to the continent before Brexit threw everything into chaos (or didn’t, as it turned out, but at the start of the year it sure looked as if it would). I was surprised to find some good deals on flights and hotels to a city I’d long wanted to see, but which had always looked expensive, so grabbed the chance to go. A few weeks later we were on the plane to Venice.

It’s clear as soon as you land that Venice will be different: Marco Polo airport is the only one I’ve visited that has walkways through to a ferry terminal. We crossed over the lagoon to the city itself in darkness, on an almost-empty water-bus. From Fondamente Nove we walked through eerily silent streets to the heart of the Cannaregio district (or sestieri), where our hotel apartment was located, around the corner from a small supermarket and overlooking a canal. It was like walking through Don’t Look Now.

Marco Polo Airport

The whole trip had an air of walking through centuries of art: not only the art around us in Venice, but the art I’d seen on countless gallery walls, all those Canalettos and Guardis, and the movies, and The Travels of Marco Polo, which I used to leaf through as a kid, sitting by my parents’ bookshelves on the other side of the world. Venice seems timeless, although it’s partly an illusion, as it’s changed a fair amount since its Renaissance heyday, not least in the paving over of many of its canals to make it walkable.† Vehicles are prohibited, and water-buses get prohibitively expensive when there are four of you, so we walked a lot, although we did catch a few boats, out to Murano, the glass-blowing island, around to Dorsoduro to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and of course a gondola ride. A cloudy first day gave way to sunshine on the rest, and glittering views of the water.

We ate a lot of gelato and some Venetian biscuits (which weren’t much like the ones I grew up with), drank Birra Moretti and local red wine, and did the usual touristy stuff centred on St Mark’s Square. The kids bought Venetian masks and wore them around the streets, a few days before Carnival (which timing was why we were able to get there so cheaply; the following week the prices skyrocketed).

And I took countless photos, figuring I was unlikely to be back there for a very long time, if ever. I’ve gathered the best of them, visual clichés and all, into a gallery at Detail, along with a couple of panoramas.

†I picked up a slim volume in the Museo della Musica that explained how Venice was built, and read it on the plane home. It’s the most unlikely city in Europe, really.

29 May 2019 · Travel