Someone once told me that Venice is dirty and its canals unremarkable. The first view from our arriving ferry substantiated this – smokestacks impaled the horizons and metal cranes stretched their necks toward the sky. Our ferry shuttled us beneath two bridges to a small dock on the Grand Canal, where we disembarked and rolled our cases 15 minutes down the road to Tre Archi, our strangely gilded hotel named after the water bus stop in front of it.
I liked it – the placid canals, occasionally churning with the engines of water taxis; the stone bridges forming proud arches over the water; the al fresco dining, the checkered table cloths fluttering in the breeze. And the Carnevale masks were everywhere. People, vendors, storefronts, street performers – the fever of Carnevale had spread through the town and everyone was caught up in a storm of sequins and glitter. I was tempted to shell out twenty-something euro on a cheap mask, but David had booked us in for a mask-making workshop the next day and I imagined that would be a much cooler story.
“Where did you get your mask?” someone might ask me, later in life.
“Oh this? I made it. In Venice. During Carnevale.”
We spent our first afternoon lazing in a gondola. I know, it’s on everyone’s to-do list when visiting Venice, but a slow gondola ride through the narrow canals offers intimate views of Venice: padlocked wooden doors, lonely ropes swinging from abandoned gondola slips, aproned Venetians sweeping their stoops. Spanned by myriad, stony bridges studded with ornately costumed masked men and women, the canals bore us into the real heart of the floating city before quietly returning us to Venice’s bustling waterway, the Grand Canal.
Later, we dined in a small restaurant with three students who were punished and under strict supervision. David, Alex, and I ordered gnocchi, and the students went on a hunger strike until the owner threatened to kick them out if they didn’t order something. We managed to coerce them into ordering spaghetti – the choice of dining with us tonight or sacrificing their shopping time tomorrow was a no brainer – and enjoyed the rest of our night.
That’s how good Venice is: all it takes to forget about your woes is a warm plate of gnocchi and a stroll home along some inky canals.