I’m less than 48 hours from flying to Venice and I’m not sure how I feel about it at all.
My last trip to Venice was around 1985, to meet friends from Montreal a year after my move to Europe. That’s more than 30 years ago, and here’s what I remember: crowds, terrible and expensive food, cheap glass imitations and far too much art to be able to enjoy it.
In truth that trip wasn’t about Venice at all but about friends, and Venice happened to be the one place everyone was willing to meet.
This time I actually want to visit Venice. I’m travelling with my partner, it’s a vacation (I use that word so seldom I nearly had to look it up!) and I have nearly a week.
As a journalist my favourite travel pastime is research: I devour books, sites, blogs, images, anything that can give me a sense of what a place will be like.
And right now, that place looks frightful.
The news bombards me with stories about the sinking of Venice and its depopulation. Gigantic cruise ships sail so close to Piazza San Marco passengers could almost walk across a gangplank into the square. The only way restoration work can take place is through private funding so scaffolding is covered with mammoth advertising billboards.
Venice, courtesy of Geoxx or H&M?
I cringe, but I understand.
I also keep coming across images of flooding but my weather app tells me I’ll face a mixture of sun, clouds, rain – but no floods. The rubber boots stay home.
Doing this much research is great preparation, but it is also fertile ground for misconceptions and twisted expectations.
I’ve often written about my yearning for pre-Internet days, when research came in the form of other travellers or the BBC World Service on shortwave. But that carried its own biases so in retrospect, the Internet is probably not much different – there’s just more of it.
Back to Venice.
There’s a flip side to the information glut and the slant towards bad news that sells so well. Let’s face it, “Venice is Sinking” will garner more eyeballs than “Venice Is Staying the Same” so it’s no wonder I’m reading more bad news than good.
What this mountain of information does do is pique my curiosity by uncovering the unexpected.
It hadn’t crossed my mind to attend a Vivaldi concert, yet the sheer availability of tickets online means I’m booked for Baroque at the Chiesa San Vitale Friday night to hear one of Venice’s prodigal sons.
I was unaware that the word ‘ghetto’ originated in Venice and my plans now include an excursion to explore the Jewish presence of centuries past.
And I’d never heard of cichetti. Apparently these are small servings of food, a bit like Spanish tapas, which can fill you as much as a meal at half the price with twice the variety.
None of these possibilities would have come my way without the help of modern research.
As for the rest, I’ll roam and discover. I imagine the sunrise off San Marco must be beautiful, even if the cloudy forecast precludes me from seeing it clearly. Huge ships? I’ll take my own photographs and embrace the opportunity to complain about them.
If it rains, I’ll photograph the reflections in the puddles and enjoy the empty streets, taking over when everyone else has run for cover.
And rather than allow myself to be overwhelmed by the quantity of art and inspiration, I’ll scale back my ambitions. I’ll admire the odd palazzo from afar as the vaporetto whisks me by, but I’ll focus on a single location: San Marco, a vast sea of people, art and history. I plan to spend an entire day on the Piazza.
Researching Venice scared me – but only for a moment.
Now I can’t wait to land.