Many years ago, after I left school, I was fortunate enough to gain a university place at the Accademia di Belle Arti to study Sculpture and Fresco Restoration in Venice, Italy.
Aged nineteen, I arrived by train at Santa Lucia station, stepped out into the January sunshine, looked at the water city in front of me and fell immediately and irrevocably in love with it. I couldn’t believe my luck over the years as I hopped on and off waterbuses to and from university. I found a variety of work readily, made wonderful lifelong friends, learnt both Venetian and Italian and walked the endless calles and fondamenta's with my gentle dog Meg - who I had found abandoned on the street as a tiny puppy, only three days after I arrived!
Although I could write for hours about my years of adventures in Venice, I promise to try and keep this blog post focused on photography! I do of course have many photos from that time but as you can see, they are almost 20 years old now and exist only as prints from a manual camera.
For a few years now I have longed to go back to Venice with one of my ‘proper’ work cameras and document one of my favourite places on earth. I will admit to having felt a real fear of diminishing my cherished memories - that somehow I'd ruin them by going back so many years later and at such a different stage in my life. However, my husband Pete's enthusiasm to experience Venice with me showing him all the places I'd talked about over the years helped me overcome that. So, off we went!
Once more I found myself waking to the sounds of church bells, pigeons fluttering, gondoliers and gulls calling out, vaporetti docking and Venetians talking away to each other. That first morning, I introduced Pete to the ritual of real caffè latte complete with brioche alla marmellata (a warm apricot filled croissant) to dip in the coffee's frothy schiuma, whilst standing at the counter of the bar across the street. No coffee outside of Italy can beat that. Ever.
We had a great couple of days together using a lovely little flat in Cannaregio as a base. The weather was lovely and apart from the odd light shower, it was sunshine and seabreezes all day. Pete and I discovered new bars to try together and did some present shopping in the wonderful traditional paper cartolerias and leather shops.
Venice - with it's ever-changing light, peaceful lagoon, powerful global history, endless Art, wonderful food, strong cultural identity, thriving academic institutions and vibrant architecture - offers any visitor a heady mix indeed.
We were even joined for a few days by dear friends from Germany and took on the selfless task (ahem!) of exhaustively researching the numerous ice cream shops that Venice has to offer. Happily, the Gelateria Ca' d'Oro on Strada Nuova is still by far the best and just as I remembered it from many a walk home from work that way, nineteen years ago!
I introduced Pete and our friends to the wonderful aperitivo Spritz al'Aperol (served with a fat green olive is the authenticVenetian way), a plethora of Venetian 'Cicchetti" - most notably baccalà mantecato (creamed, whipped, salted cod spread on crusty bread) and other Venetian culinary delights like spaghetti al nero di seppia (squid ink pasta).
My personal favourite from my student days, Olive Ascolane (huge green olives stuffed with spices, meat and cheese, that are then breaded and fried!) are actually originally from Ascoli Piceno rather than Venice but oh so very scoffable to put it mildly! Our little group enjoyed almost all the things I made them try and were thankfully patient enough to put up with hurrying after me as I dashed excitedly around Venice again, down endless shortcuts, and almost as many memories.
We rode the vaporetti together up and down the canals and out to the outer lagoon Islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello, where we wandered about in the sunshine admiring the multicoloured houses and enjoying the slightly more laid back pace of life that you find out there.
Once back in Venice itself, we joined the swarm of people streaming in to St Mark’s Basilica, before being carried out through the throng again into the sunshine. We strolled past Gondolas bobbing up and down in the Bacino and watched the world go by on foot and by boat as we sipped cold birrini behind Rialto bridge.
We then headed to Rialto market which was, as always, a wonderful sensory experience! As you weave between the overflowing stalls of fruit, vegetables, meat, spices, wine and endless fresh fish and seafood, you feel the heart of Venetian life pumping a world away from the touristy glass and mask shops.
When I first arrived in Venice in 1996, one of my first jobs was helping out at one of the huge fish stalls. I'd get up unfeasably early, grab a coffee and stagger off with Meg following eagerly at my heel before spending the next few hours shifting boxes of still flapping fish, levelling ice, wrapping fillets and cleaning up seemingly endless piles of fish guts whilst beating back thuggish seagulls. Sounds awful - but I loved it! In fact, I credit this particular job with founding my Venetian language skills (complete with authentic fishwife pronunciation folks!). Plus, Meg acquired her famously glossy coat thanks to free daily donations of fresh fish from her legion of burly fisherman fans! I've no doubt this early diet helped her live quite as long and heathily as she did.
Of course, no post about Venice would be complete without mentioning the canals, calles and Gondolas that are all part of its unique identity. Somehow I never felt the winding, narrow calettas were oppressive - quite the opposite in fact; I found them comforting and always enjoyed being able to escape the crowds just by nipping down a parallel running network of streets with the rest of the locals.
Venice is best viewed from the water and it's fleet of Gondolas are so much more than just the tourist gimmick people think they have become. Although Gondoliers make it look effortless, they have to be incredibly fit to row their flat-bottomed, longitudinally asymmetric, eleven metre long craft with a single oar. They train for years (usually under a family member) and their legendary charm is only surpassed by their knowledge of their city!
I've heard tourists express amazement that everyday life goes on in Venice too, as though somehow it exists only as a movie set which then shuts up shop each night. However, young Venetians go to nursery and school each day, university students graduate (as I once did here), funeral boats take Venetians on their final water trip to the cemetery island of San Michele and local couples marry in the hundreds of churches, just as they would anywhere else.
The endless walking and hundreds of bridges keep Venetians fit all their lives while car-free streets and sea air invigorates, as does a daily prosecco!
It's not called La Serenissima for nothing....
As it does, time flew but we had a wonderful holiday and added equally fantastic new memories to my treasured old ones. I felt a terrible ache as I left but I know that will never change for me - nor would I want it to. Venice has entranced artists, writers and intrepid travellers for centuries and if the steamroller of tourism is held in check it will continue to do so for many more.
Beautiful photos, Kate. I feel as though I have taken a stroll through Venice myself this afternoon, just poring over the pictures. Thanks for sharing x
Wonderful blog entry, wonderful photos (as always), wonderful city! Thanks again Kate, for letting us be part of your trip down memory lane.
What a wonderfully evocative album of photographs of a beautiful city - you have captured all its mystique and its daily life. Thanks for bringing back all the memories of many happy visits with you and beauteous Meggy. Xx
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