Like a first date, Venice seemed unfamiliar and mysterious.
But I soon warmed up to its beauty and passion for celebrating the good things in life.
After a week in Switzerland, we catch a train from Vevey for Venice, the “City of Canals”.
“No more red meat for the next few days okay!” Mysaucepan declares. “Venice is famous for fresh seafood”.
“Is sea lion considered red meat or seafood?” I ask her.
“They don’t serve sea lion especially during the carnival of Venice” she replies. “Venetians much prefer a spag vongole or marinara”.
My first impression of Venice was one of chaos and disorganization. There are large crowds of tourists everywhere and I am used to seeing buildings constructed in straight lines.
The map of this city with all its meandering canals and walkways seemed like one giant bowl of pasta to me.
“It’s so easy to get lost in this place!” I thought to myself.
But among the seemingly chaotic patterns of architecture, I soon discover the “softer side” to this city and that is the passion and friendliness of the locals.
It can be a long walk around the Venetian maze but the gondolas seem like a fun and leisurely way to get from one place to another.
At eighty Euro dollars a pop for a gondola ride, doing some walking for exercise suddenly became an attractive option.
Carnevale di Venezia
It is said the Carnival of Venice began as a victory celebration of the “Serenissima Repubblica” against the Patriarch of Aquileia in the year 1162.
As we are here during the height of the Venice carnival, Venetian masks are being sold everywhere in shops to make shift stalls on the streets.
There are all kinds of masks on display – colombina, medico della peste (The Plague Doctor), bauta and the most popular one which I noticed is the dama.
There are small shops selling clothes, Italian leather goods, shoes, bags, cafes, enoteche, ristorantes and hotels all along the narrow walkways of Venice.
I am not an enthusiastic shopper when on vacation but I soon found myself drawn to the eclecticism of so many different things that make up what Venice is all about – homewares, elaborate chess sets carved out of stone, the famous Murano glassware, clothing and last but not least, those iconic Venetian masks.
When I first walked along the narrow laneways, I wondered if this place was safe.
I soon noticed lots of families, children and tourists roaming the streets and realize my vigil was a little superfluous.
The spirit of Venetians in celebrating this annual carnival is rather charming … some are dressed head to toe in elaborate costumes while others simply put on a mask in the spirit of being part of the festivities.
The range for shopping covers anything from street bargains to luxury brand name goods.
At last, the corridor of this shopping arcade is giving me a sense of orderly perspective and symmetry after looking at Venice architecture for so many days.
After a few hours taking in the sights of Venice, we stop for a couple of Aperol spritz, a favourite with Venetians.
It is a refreshing aperitif prepared with a dry bitter liqueur such as Aperol or Campari then mixed with prosecco and sparkling mineral water then topped of with slices of orange or olives.
Margherita pizza is one of my favourites because of its simplicity.
Italians are proud of their food and when we tell our waiter we wanted to share the pizza, it comes halved instead of serving it whole with two empty plates.
After lunch, we get into the spirit of the carnival by checking out all the elaborate costumes. I love the spirit of Venetians who would gladly oblige tourists requesting for photographs or even posing with them.
Carnevale di Venezia
After the third day roaming these walkways, we settle down for dinner in a seafood restaurant along the grand canal.
Gazing at the gondolas calmly rocking along its banks, I find myself falling in love with the magical romanticism that is Venice.
So dear readers, would you get into the spirit of the carnival by donning an elaborate mask and costume?