Europe By Train #9: Venice: Through Her Back Door

We all have our public and private faces. So does that very grande dame Venice. Venezia.

Everyone knows her canals, bridges, and palazzi. San Marco…

And the gondolieri with their blue-and-white striped T-shirts…

Her grand churches…

But we have been lucky enough to spend time in her “backwaters” of Castello, a former ship-building center nearer the open sea. Now the famed Art Biennale comes to this area every other year, but even then Campo Ruga remains a quiet square with soccer-playing children…

And clothing strung on lines between green-shuttered terra-cotta, salmon, and yellow houses. (Here’s my old shirt from India and new Paris scarf.)

Its center is the old well and trattoria, La Nuova Speranza, serving food, coffee, and gossip from morning till night. 

Our arty flat has a little roof garden overlooking a panorama of red-tiled roofs, the distant Dolomites in the southern Alps (which we crossed in a glorious train ride from Vienna), and a glimpse of blue. 
Church towers surround us and their bells, ringing out the hours, days, lifetimes. The nearest bells come from San Pietro, on a tiny island linked by two bridges.

Our closest market is across another bridge, on another canal. The grapes are delicious and the sweet green plums. 

One of my very oldest friends negotiates the purchase and that too is sweet. The editor of Historic Motor Racing News, she and her husband have come to visit us from Zurich. Once she and I roamed all over Paris, and now we set off to explore Venice…discovering that some roads dead-end in canals. (Story ideas abound!) 

More than once we get lost: that’s part of the adventure. One thing I’ve always loved about my friend is her intrepid nature, so today I am content to follow. We pause to admire many a shoe display, but she had already left when I found these of Murano glass.

Although the fabulous Fortuny museum is closed, we’ve enjoyed the back roads leading us there. By evening, we have enjoyed some aperitifs – have you ever tried an Apero? – but still haven’t found a place for dinner. Suffice it to say, it is a late night. On the vaporetto back to our apartment, we marvel at the Grand Canal magic, the moon over the water, the old churches and palazzi. My husband says, “No wonder they want to save this place!” 

The next day, I explore the Arsenale district, where the Architecture Biennale is now taking place in various nooks and crannies of the ancient sea fortress. I imagine Marco Polo sailing through its gates with his uncle, a young man off to taste the world.

I’ve always identified with Marco, his adventurous spirit. Now that I’ve met Venice, I can imagine his joy in returning home.

As for us, we’re shipping out too. By train…to Firenze.

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