Victoria in Venice

With roots in Paris, but sights on living abroad, my dad and his wife had bid France au-revoir and moved to Venice. For the past year, Venezia, Queen of the Adriatic, has been their home.

Working minimally and job searching in Boston, I was itching for another adventure. “Why not come visit Venice?” my dad proposed to me one day in February.

Enter Victoria in Venice.

Tourists will tell you that Venice is the city of canals, packed with the most people and gelato stores per capita. Venice may be small enough to walk around in one day- not to mention expensive enough that you only want to stay for a couple of hours- but at the same time, Venice is easy to miss.

I like to think of Venice as an old fish-shaped mansion built on wooden stilts. For the past two weeks, I have been squeezing through its narrow hallways and wandering in its secret rooms with the hope of uncovering secret treasures. Pen and paper in hand, I chronicled my discoveries: A garden of young cyprus trees, an old mosaic enact on the facade of a sinking church, wind rustling against the waves… all distant echoes of the lagoon’s first organic expressions.

The Venetian Paradox.

“People who come in the summer or during carnival will tell you that the sound of rolling luggage along the stone sidewalk is the music of Venice,” my dad explained one evening, “but if you go out in the morning or at night, you experience the real music of Venice: emptiness.”

Venice is a quiet and mysterious city, but a dying one, consumed by tourists and a hungry tide. Nearly everyday, 150,000 visitors appear at dawn and flee at dusk, leaving the city desolate. In the winter, the city operates under a foot (or more) of water due to aqua alta. Yet despite this, Venice continues to defy its death. Under forever renovation, the city has struggled against the forces of time, mother nature and the outside world.

Movement and stillness. Visitors coming in, residents moving out. Past and future. History and modernity. At the core of the Venetian paradox is that it’s a city easy to see, but easier to miss.

Don’t Miss Venice: Inside Tips on Places, People and Products

One of the unique advantages of my trip has been staying with my dad and his wife, who are both active members of the community. I’ve been able to attend thought-provoking lectures, art openings and dinner parties hosted by Venetian families and organizations. Much of my stay has benefited from these events, where I am able to engage people on issues ranging from urban management to contemporary art. These conversations have enriched my perspective of Venice, and what I have learned here. Good conversations aside, I’ve also enriched my senses. Below is an ecclectic collection of favorites.

For traditional Venetian food and drinks: Paradiso Perduto (Lost Paradise). Excellent fish, live music and hands-down the best ambiance in town. Situated near the Jewish quarter, this taverna is the perfect place to spend a whole evening. Paradise lost? More like paradise found.

For amazing Italian pizza: Pizzeria alla Strega (Pizza the Way of the Witch). This place is a popular joint with a five page spread of creative Italian pizzas and calzones. A quick word to the wise… Be prepared to split the pizza or fast for an entire day- the sizes are extra large. I ordered the Zombie Calzone and it was the size of a small child.

For hanging out and pondering the meaning of life: Cafe La Serra. Trees, tea and all that is good in this world.

One day trip: Bassano del Grappa. A quaint town no more than one hour from Venice. Be sure to check out the wooden pontoon bridge designed by Paladio in the mid 1500s. Located in the center of the city and painted a dramatic red, the bridge gives the quiet town a unique edge. Also near Bassano is an exquisite cemetery in San Vito worth the detour. I’ll give you one hint: Carlo Scarpa. Do what you will with that.

Two day trip: Lago di Garda (Lake Garda). Surrounded by orange trees, cascading cliffs and snow-capped italian alps, Lago di Garda is hands-down one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe. If you have access to a car, the two hour drive from Venice is beyond worth it. Be sure to drive up to the north end of the lake towards Malcesine and Riva Del Garda.

Museum: Peggy Guggenheim. Peggy was pretty badass, and her collection is pretty awesome, too.

Place to run: The tail of the fish. Of course, I saved my favorite “favorite” for last. A place to run in the city underwater?! Where there’s a will, there’s a way. From San Marco’s Plaza along the water, through the park and down to the southwestern tip of the island is almost 2 miles. Check it! This is quite possibly the only place to run where the probability of running over tourists or falling head-first into a canal is less likely.