It is not my habit to visit popular tourist destinations in the high season, but here I am in Venice in August when the population of 60,000 swells to a million or more. Considering that each of us will pelt the natives with some version of this question, “Do you speak…” as a prelude to some other question, the Venetians show remarkable good spirits and enough patience to make every one of the saints adorning walls and piazzas very proud indeed.
But this year, a stroke of good timing in the schedules of two of my sons, Sam and Joseph, allowed them to join my husband and I on our trip to Italy and we wanted to show them this most remarkable city even if that meant joining the hoards in August and arriving with some ambivalence.
It is a city of such beauty, with treats round every curve in the street and bend in the canal but jammed packed as it is, it has an artificial Disneyland-like atmosphere.
“Run away,” she told us after settling us into our spacious apartment behind Campo Santa Martina. She drew arrows and circles on our map and firmly told us, “go here and here and here, get out and run away.” And so we did.
In the quiet neighborhood behind Giardini Biennale we enjoyed the colors of the laundry hanging out to dry high above our heads, and watched the workers in a marina full of boats but devoid of any tourists except us.
And after a challenging follow-the-map-or-be-lost-forever, we found the tiny dock where the public gondola would take us across the Grand Canal to Campo San Sofia (for the unbelievably low price of 2 euros, though residents pay just fifty cents).
The highlight of the trip, however has to be our day spent at Lido, the seven and a half mile strip of land that separates Venice proper from the Adriatic. It is a narrow, bar-bell shaped island, lined on one side with a fine sandy beach and a paved walkway on the other, and the interior is chock full of summer-at-the-sea shops and cafes that make everyone slow their pace and settle down.
The four of us spent the heat of the day at the “free” beach. Jim and I swam while our sons girl-watched. For all the beautiful young girls in teeny tiny (and sometimes topless) swimsuits, there were just as many older bathers, men and women who wore equally miniscule attire. I had to conclude, as I stopped counting the number of people exposing not-even-close to perfect physiques, that this is not a body conscious place. Bravo! In my modest one-piece I was one of just a few women with a covered midriff.
By four o’clock we were ready to see the rest of the island, so we rented bicycles and pedaled along the Lungomare. Passing one exceptionally beautiful hotel, I was so absorbed by the mosaics on the facade, I steered myself into the curb and fell onto the sidewalk.
The pedestrian who came to my aid insisted that I should not try to sightsee while riding a bike. Good advice I did not take and we continued on our way.
A concert on the main street Via Santa Maria Elisabetta was promised at 8:00 and we wanted to hear some live music. While we waited for the band to begin, we watched couples dancing to recorded tango music on the Via Lepanto, while young boys zoomed around them on their scooters.
We couldn’t dance Tango, and didn’t dance with the band because after completing one song a torrential storm came out of nowhere sending everyone for cover.
It was the second time we hovered under a cafe umbrella during our stay in Italy and it was just as much fun this time but the rain put the kabosh on the concert.
Wet, tired, happy, we boarded the vaporetto and called it a day knowing we accomplished something rare. We’d found the places in Venice where the locals go when they want to relax and had an authentic and memorable experience among them.