I believe travelers can be separated into two groups:
The ones that find Venice a bit O.T.T – a place with too many tourists, too many tourist traps and too many smelly canals. Then there are the ones who see beyond all that, and have fallen hopelessly in love with the most beautiful city in the world.
I belong to the latter, and suffer from chronic withdrawal symptoms. Even before I have arrived, I am wishing I could stay for longer. In a perfect world I would rent a little Venetian loft where I would write for three months. (I’ve been drooling over some of the gorgeous apartments at http://www.justveniceapartment.com)
The city itself is so pretty I am sure I would need neither food nor company to stimulate the creative flow… at least not in my perfect, imaginary world… (however, the occasional spritz – a typical Venetian aperitivo – would go down a treat!)
But I’m hardly alone in thinking that Venice is a place of spectacular beauty. There is no need for yet another blog post celebrating the crumbling brick walls, the emerald green canals and the cute little bridges made for romance.
My reason for writing about Venice this time around is to convince y’all that the best time to visit is well out of the summer season, or any high season for that matter. My favourite time of year is no doubt between November and January. This is when the rain is prone to add further moisture to a place saturated with dampness. It’s when the canals are sure to spill over their edges as if to shout it out LOUD and CLEAR that this city is indeed sinking. But most of all, you get to distinguish the Venetians from the hordes of tourists. The Ventians are always the ones with the correct footwear.
Last time I went to Venice it was mid November, and the weather Gods were determined to have us all soaked in water. From above we had nothing but rain. From below we were splish sploshing in the salty, rising lagoon. I went to have supper at a favourite of mine, the totally down to earth “Il Cantinone Stoico” (adress: Fondamente Bragadin ved Rio San Vio).
I was there with Alexandra Hai, Venice’s first female gondoliera. We were sharing a bottle of Veneto white wine and were half way through our starters (a delicious mountain of small shrimps) when all of a sudden a sharp alarm started sounding. It silenced us all. Dinner guests put their cutlery down. Alexandra stopped conversing and was obviously waiting for another hoot. You see, this is what Venice is about in the winter months -how many times will the tidal alarm sound?
The alarm system is created in such a way that it will echo through Venice’s every nook and cranny, and here’s how to decipher it:
1.10m: a long ring on one continuous note (St. Mark’s square gets flooded at 110 cm)
1.20m: two rings on an ascending note
1.30m: three rings on an ascending note
1.40m: four rings on an ascending note
On this particular evening there were three hoots, and some of our fellow dinner guests immediately asked for the bill and hurried home. Others picked up their mobile phones and started phoning around to ensure their houses were barricaded. The restaurant owner came straight over to our table. No one knows the tide and its lunatic ways better than the gondoliers. He was after Alexandra’s verdict on when he could expect the water to come seeping over his doorstep.
- I would close up by ten thirty, she told him in her calm and collected manner.
We continued our supper, and after that we braved our way across the Piazza San Marco. It was like an infinity pool where the Adriatic sea washed in over the piazzetta. It felt like a movie. Knee deep in one of Europe’s most beautiful spots, and accompanied by one of the bravest women I know. Only a few tourists were scattered around the square, most of them with soaked feet and camera in hand trying to capture the uniqueness of Venice in November.
If you like the thought of the Venice floods, check out Duncan Zuur’s wakeboarding across the square from December 2008. The Dutch man managed to carry out his stunt without the ‘guardia’ (Italian police) noticing! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyqGHc10dvE