Skip to main content

A Rough Guide to Venice : Queen of the Adriatic

The famous Ponte Rialto over the Grand Canal: Photo by Harshlight @ Flickr Creative Commons

The famous Ponte Rialto over the Grand Canal: Photo by Harshlight @ Flickr Creative Commons

What can I say about Venice? The 'Queen of the Adriatic' and perhaps the finest city in Italy, although Florence may give it a run for it's money.

It's without a doubt everything you'd expect. Some famous places you visit might turn out to be an anti-climax, overhyped and not matching your expectations.

But not Venice. It's a magical city, it exudes a beautiful and romantic aura as soon as you arrive. When I exited the train station with my group of happy day-trippers I felt immediately transported to a different place with the Grand Canal directly in front of me and surrounded on every side by colourful and historic buildings.

The place oozes with history and character. It's alive, a living, breathing entity that embraces its visitors and cajoles you into rejoicing in the beauty of life and living just for the sake of it.

A View Over the Grand Canal

A View Over the Grand Canal

I always subscribe to the notion that architecture should be organic and natural, reflecting our traditional surroundings as much as possible.

Surely we've evolved to feel in congruence with our environment in its natural state, with grass, trees, rocks, mountains or whatever, according to the part of the world you live in.

So does it not make sense that the buildings that we walk among should be similar to reflect our natural habitat? In Scotland we have the classic red Locharbriggs sandstone, in yesteryear houses were built of wood and rough-hewn stone, and also green vines and creepers were popular.

I once saw a building in Dublin in Ireland completely covered in vegetation and which I was told changed colour according to the season. Sparse and grey in the winter unfortunately, but then vibrant green in summer, red and brown in the autumn.

Today urban dwellers may tend a window box or even a roof garden to stay connected to nature. Eskimos made igloos out of ice, mountain people built log cabins, people lived in caves, mud-huts, clay houses, stone round-houses, thatched cottages, anything appropriate for the environemnt in which they inhabit.

See Venice and die?

That's why I felt Venice so welcoming, not 'See Venice and die' as the old saying goes, much more like 'See Venice and come alive!'. It's an amazing place and a truly spiritual experience wandering along it's streets and alleys. You see, the thing I love about Venice is its comfortable lived-in appearance with no artifice, no pretence, just an honest façade of crumbling plaster, exposed brickwork and peeling paint.

I'll always prefer to live among the ageing imperfections of nature than the detached and sterile precision of the modern metropolis. To quote the famous Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh; "There is hope in honest error; none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist".

Well, that just about sums up the city for me. It's certainly beautiful and exquisite but it's also flawed in a charming and endearing way. It's friendly and completely relaxing, a little worn out but as luxurious as that old pair of frayed and faded denims jeans or that scuffed and scraped leather jacket that always feels good when you wear it.

Venice invites you in and dares you to leave without regrets or a longing to return. Walking along the streets it assures you that it's non-threatening, non-intimidating, it's not cold and hard like the artificial steel and glass horrors of the modern urban metropolis.

In the concrete jungle it's dog eat dog, a fast moving, unforgiving machine relentlessly pushing, shoving and pressurising while the monolithic monstrosities of the tower block and the skyscraper glower down from above.


Ventian masks and Murano glassware

I was walking along thinking about how it would spoil the look of the streets if they actually spruced up the buildings, if you painted one you'd have to paint them all. I also noticed the metal supports inserted in the buildings presumably to prevent them sinking into the lagoon. Modern engineering preserving an historical treasure.

We were heading for St Marks Square but I'd no idea when we would reach it as the city doesn't seem to conform to any town planners manual. It's all winding streets and alleys surrounded by the ever-present canals with the Gondoliers plying their trade navigating their way through the city with awe-struck tourists aboard. Gondolas were €100 a trip, a motor-boat taxi €80 a fare, so needless to say we walked everywhere, even the local riverbus was a bit pricey.

Scroll to Continue

But treading the cobbles had it's own attractions. The city was very busy with tourists, lots of American accents could be heard among the footsteps and clicking of cameras as people thronged on the Ponte Rialto for that classic Venetian holiday snap. We kept on walking past many shops selling exotic Venetian masks and Murano glassware and miscellaneous souvenirs.

Lots of pretty girls too, I noticed, to complement the surroundings, plenty of style and relaxed, easy going people strolling along, apart from the nervous-looking African guys selling fake designer handbags constantly on alert for the local Police. They even had lookouts keeping a watchful eye for any uniforms coming down the street.


There were great smells too captured in the narrow streets and lanes containing sweet shops, perfumed soap, hot pizza from local takeaways, fresh baking, cafes, restaurants.

And when you turned a corner a breeze would waft in that salty smell of the water below, which I can only describe as resembling a tasty sea-food dish, a trademark aroma of Venice.

I also saw a 4-foot figure of Donald Duck in a first-floor window which was built entirely out of Lego. I didn't consider this significant.

St Mark's Basilica: Photo by Mohan S @ Flickr Creative Commons

St Mark's Basilica: Photo by Mohan S @ Flickr Creative Commons

St Mark's Square

We eventually reached St Mark's Square and it was definitely worth the long walk. A tremendous place with wonderful attractions all around us.

St Mark's Basillica itself was a marvel in light grey stone with gold decoration, portraits depicting biblical scenes and with various sculptures and elaborate designs.

And over to our right was the impressive Doge's Palace. I'm told that there are replica buildings in Las Vegas, so if Venice does sink into the lagoon at least it's memory will linger on in Nevada's gambling capital.

There was a lot going on in the square, many tourists climbed the large red coloured Campanile Tower to enjoy the view over the city.

In the square people fed bread crumbs to the many pigeons who had flown in for a light lunch. To the side much more sophisticated haut cuisine was taking place as smartly dressed waiters in white tuxedos and bow ties attended to afternoon diners in restaurants with 6-piece musicians providing classical tunes on a small stage.

So typically Italian was the scene with women casually drinking coffee, perhaps languidly smoking a cigarette and many wearing huge dark sunglasses that added an air of mystique to their stylish cool.

We then went over to the lagoon to have a closer look at the Doge's Palace before the spectacular vista of the shoreline promenade and buildings came into view with the Gondoliers busy plying their trade. It certainly was an amazing experience to be there. It was a beautiful day and the lagoon sparkled accordingly in a sight I'd only seen in pictures or in paintings hanging in an art gallery.

The Doge's Palace in St Mark's Square

The Doge's Palace in St Mark's Square

The Peggy Guggenheim Museum

Speaking of which my next port of call was the Peggy Guggenheim Modern Art Musuem in the city. Along with one of of my friends I took a short ride back along the Grand Canal by boat.

These are just riverbuses but of course it seemed like a pleasure cruise to me, despite the sight of passing boats ferrying plastic-sealed crates of bottled water to hotels or piled high with cardboard boxes filled with mundane cargo like office stationery or paper cups. I even saw one boat carrying an upturned cement-mixer. It's certainly an unusual and surreal experience being in Venice.

Now, I must say that I've never been a huge fan of most Modern Art so I wasn't expecting to be all that impressed. But Wow! How wrong can you be, the collection was an absolute revelation for my cynical eyes. Not so much the sculptures admittedly but the paintings were many and varied covering all sorts of styles and subjects.

To be honest there were very few I didn't like and it was a rare treat to see, up close and personal, paintings by Picasso, Dali, Magritte, Kandinsky and even Jackson Pollock. Some folk were discussing a painting called 'The Antipope' by Max Ernst.

One guy was describing the painting in detail but after five minutes of this I started to think "Well! I can see that! But what does it all mean!" Thankfully some American women asked a couple of questions and they started to get more into an analysis of the whole thing.

I never thought I would get knocked out by Jackson Pollock as I always thought his work just looked like splashes of paint on a floor after the decorators have been in.

But I was enthralled by the painting 'Alchemy' and I'm not sure why. Maybe something to do with the colour and dynamism that exuded from it. Maybe Pollok put so much energy into the work that it's still giving out his vibes even today.

Or maybe I'm getting too pseudo-intellectual about this whole art experience. I'll leave it up to you to decide.

Old Peggy really had great taste in art I must admit and it was a wonderful hour and a half. Really worth the exorbitant €12.00 entrance fee but even a small booklet at reception was €6.00 so my friend decided to go the whole hog and spend €24 on the exhibition book.

However as I said, this is Venice, the 'Queen of the Adriatic' and everything is more expensive. But then the whole day and the whole unique experience was absolutely priceless. To cap it all in the twilight glow of a late summers evening with all the sights, sounds and that special Venetian atmosphere was magical.

A riverbus on the lagoon

A riverbus on the lagoon


Shinkicker (author) from Scotland on January 22, 2012:

It certainly is John. A magical place


Jon Green from Frome, Somerset, UK on August 27, 2011:

Nice hub! I've been to Venice a couple of times. A week is ideal,and it's great to see the lagoon by waterbus as some of the best sights are on Murano and Torcello. Though it's expensive it's brilliant and a unique place to visit.

Related Articles