As my plane began it’s descent into Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, the lagoon stretched languidly ahead of me. The sun was setting and illuminating the bell tower of Torcello which quivered like a mirage on the distant horizon. I shuddered unexpectedly with the anticipation of touching down in my territory. This strange, surreal landscape of mud flats and canals, watery channels and wooden posts. A place where I always feel at home…..
Travel is a bit different now in the post-pandemic world. There are long queues at airports, passengers are anxious and a bit nervous. There’s a long wait for my suitcase at Venice Airport, I amuse myself watching a young couple with a toddler. The parents proudly observe the little chap as he climbs onto the conveyor belt and balances precariously on the chrome edge of the luggage carousel. I feel concerned for him and want to rush over and whisk him away from potential danger – but it’s not my place…..
Finally the bags start arriving and I grab mine and head out into the fresh air and sunshine of Veneto. My first destination is the hire car company where I need to pick up a car. One of the consequences of covid is that the hire car companies all sold their fleets in an attempt to reduce costs and survive various lockdowns. Now as demand returns there aren’t enough cars to rent out and costs have tripled. The most basic little car now costs €100 per day. My car is waiting for me in the car park on the roof, it is filthy dirty and covered in dents and scratches. I ask the friendly Hungarian guys running ‘Economy Car Rental’ to clean it, which they do, and then finally I’ve escaped, I’m out of the airport and I’m driving through the Italian countryside. My first destination is Villa Franceschi, a family-run country house hotel, located next to the River Brenta. I’ve worked with this hotel for years and the family have become friends.
The next day I have to head into Venice at dawn. I’ve got clients to meet at 10 am and I can’t be late. I feel a bit like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland as I drive to Fusina, on the edge of the lagoon to board the 8 am boat for Zattere, in the heart of Venice. Just as the boat arrives I look around and realise to my horror that I need a mask, a face mask, and I haven’t got one with me. They sell them at the bar round the corner a kindly gentleman tells me, seeing my look of concern. I end up hoofing it round to the bar and back again as the last passengers are getting on the boat, what a twit I am. I’m going to be late, I’m going to be late… Of course I’m not late, I’m not late at all, I’m actually early.
The clients I’m meeting are delightful and charming and a joy to be around. Two from New York and a family from Arkansas. I explain to them about the history of the lagoon, the rivers that flow into this watery environment and the sheltered anchorage for boats that allowed the Venetians to become the most important merchants, traders and ship-builders in the Mediterranean. Most people don’t realise that Venice was an independent city state, a republic actually, for a thousand years. Venetians are fiercely independent, they understand the sea and they understand the lagoon. Our boat driver is called Davide, his voice and mannerisms remind me of another boat captain, Denis, I comment to him on the similarity, he laughs and says the other guy is actually his brother. There are only four hundred licences to operate a water taxi in Venice, and he and his brother have two of them. As tourists flood back into Venice (pardon the pun) after the pandemic, being an official boatman is a very lucrative profession. Davide and I and the clients spend the day cruising the lagoon, visiting the islands of San Giorgio Maggiore, Torcello and Burano. We have lunch, at my suggestion, at Da Romano. I feel so lucky, here I am doing what I love, exploring the lagoon and sharing history and local anecdotes with eager and interested visitors.
My day on the lagoon goes too quickly, it always does, especially on a hot summer’s day when the breeze on the water is a welcome relief to the stultifying heat on the land. In the blink of an eye we’re back enjoying ice-cream at Nico’s Gelateria on the Zattere and our day is drawing to a close. We say our goodbyes with fond handshakes and even a hug or two. I always feel a bit sad when a day’s work is over and I’m left standing alone on the ‘fondamenta’. It doesn’t last long this feeling of loneliness, but it always makes it’s presence felt, if only for a minute or two. I head back to ‘terraferma’ on the ferry at 6.30 pm. It’s been a full day and a rewarding one. Like so many people in the tourism world I’m just so glad to be back at work. As the sun starts to set in the west, reflections lengthen on the River Brenta, as it makes it’s way to the lagoon and then into the Adriatic Sea.
Tomorrow I’ll be up bright and early again, this time I’m going to drive to Verona, drop off my hire car and then take the train up to Bolzano, in the northern province of Alto Adige. I’m looking forward to the mountain air and a change in character from Venice and the Veneto region. In Alto Adige, whilst still part of Italy, the first language for many people is German. Bolzano is located at the confluence of the Adige and Isarco Rivers. It’s an important provincial city, strategically located at the point where the land starts to rise steeply and becomes the Dolomite Mountains. I’ll be sharing details of my train journey and my visit to Bolzano in my next article.
5th July, 2022
- Every September I host a ‘Writer’s Retreat’ in the Veneto countryside, near Venice. The next Retreat takes place from 18-24 September. We stay at Villa Margherita, sister hotel to Villa Franceschi. It’s a week of creativity, writing and inspiration Writer’s Retreat, Italy – 18-24 September 2022
- The Lagoon of Venice has been part of my life for decades, you can read more about the lagoon here: Venice and the lagoon, a vast natural harbour…
- Happy Reading!