By Antonio Ramblés
Acres of cars are stacked within parking garages and lines of pedestrian passengers are streaming onto the ferry as the departure time to Venice approaches.
The drive from Verona to Venice that began right after breakfast took less than two hours, which promises arrival in time for lunch at a Venetian trattoria.
The Alps are still clearly visible for the first part of the drive, but the highway soon becomes a beeline across a coastal plain.
It’s easy to see why Venetian forefathers fled this indefensible terrain and moved wholesale onto the islands of the lagoon.
It’s doubtful, though, that they could have imagined how their swampy islands would one day become one of the world’s first post-Roman republics, or that it would become the pre-eminent economic and maritime power of its era and a bastion of the Italian Renaissance.
Causeways connect Venice to the Italian mainland by rail and motor vehicle, but no cars, trucks, or busses are permitted beyond their city terminals.
Getting around in Venice is strictly by water taxi or on foot.
The ferry terminal not only connects Venice with the Italian mainland, but also to ports all up and down the Adriatic coast, and on to Greece.
The very mention of Venice recalls the iconic images of its canals and its Piazza San Marco, but since two days afford ample time to see them – and other postcard sights – I first wander instead off the beaten path.
Many of Venice’s most intimate and captivating spaces can be found along the pedestrian lanes that lace its islands.
Walkways broken only by the largest canals follow pedestrian bridges over the smaller canals, but their loosely organized grid sometimes twists to follow the route of the waterways.
Here, away from the friendly chaos of the canals, are quiet residential streets punctuated by family-owned shops and pocket piazzas.
The scent of the sea and swarms of tourists are never far away, but within Venice’s labyrinth of narrow, stone lanes and alleys there is sense of serenity and timelessness.
Wandering untethered to a parked car with no footsteps to retrace is a deliciously liberating experience. On these small islands, it’s impossible to get lost for long.
The lack of motorized vehicles necessarily slows the pace in Venice and allows the city to unfold before visitors in richly elegant slow motion.
There’s time to fully absorb the colors and aromas.
There’s time to linger for a longer look or to laze over a leisurely lunch or espresso.
There’s a chance to grasp, if only fleetingly, a sense of how people defined community before they were isolated from each other by freeways and shopping malls and suburbs.
At the end of this walkabout, I can think of no better place to emerge from the quiet alleyways than into the storied atmosphere of Harry’s Bar.
Harry’s is the home both of carpaccio and the Bellini, and is also famous for its very dry (10:1) martini.
Harry’s is at least as well known, though, for the unending stream of celebrities who have paraded through its doors since it opened in 1931.
Its guest book bears the signatures of Toscanini, Marconi, Somerset Maughan, Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin, Barbara Hutton, Orson Welles, Truman Capote, Georges Braque and Peggy Guggenheim.
Harry’s was also a favorite of Ernest Hemingway’s and other fans have included Alfred Hitchcock, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Aristotle Onassis, and Woody Allen.
Still ahead to see in Venice: The fabled canals and the Piazza San Marcos – St. Mark’s Square. Then it’s on to Padua.
Cul-de-sac, Venice, Italy
Palazzo entryway, Venice, Italy
Sidewalk cafe, Venice, Italy
Café, Venice, Italy
Antonio Ramblés’ books include the novels Mirasol Redemption and Lifelines, and the short story collection Laguna Tales. His work also appears in the anthologies Embracing the Fog and Mexico: Sunlight & Shadows. His blog Antonio Ramblés Travels shares observations on journeys across the U.S., Europe, the Caribbean, and South America. His travel photos are featured on Pinterest and he is a Senior Contributor to TripAdvisor. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Ramblés’ studied journalism at the University of Miami. His fiction and commentary have appeared in El Ojo del Lagosince 2006.