Last summer, I was lucky enough to spend two weeks during a study abroad experience in the city of Venice. One memory that I will carry with me forever is the morning strolls around the city I took before my classes. Sounds magical, right?
When I first arrived in Venice, I was constantly aware of my surroundings and definitely felt like I didn’t belong in the city because I didn’t know my way around. I was tense and rigid all the time, whether I was walking to class or looking around at the scenery while on a water bus to the main island. However, when I finally relaxed enough to take a different route home one day, I was able to soak in the buildings and the immense richness the city has to offer. I finally felt at home, despite being in a foreign place.
Due to its location being surrounded by a lagoon in the sea and the canals that run through the city, Venice is seen as a place of perplexity and distinctiveness. One of my favorite things about Venice is that cars are banned because there are only footpaths, canals, water taxis and buses, hence why it’s sometimes referred to as the “Floating City.” This means you can always hear the water moving back and forth against the sides of the canals, a truly peaceful sound.
This city left me in constant awe due to all of the history that is encompassed in one place, while the mass tourism industry brought me back to a version of reality in which the history of Venice and its charm seemed so much further away. I think this is why I appreciated my morning strolls tremendously, as they allowed me to see the people and the culture with fresh eyes and an open perspective — behind my Google Translate and iPhone camera, of course. I think people too often forget Venice has so much more to offer than gondola rides, St. Mark’s Square and St. Mark’s Basilica. I most definitely ended my time there with a longing to stay and take endless walks down new corners to see countless canals.
On a typical morning stroll, I was able to watch vendors unpack their fruit and vegetable stands and coffee shops open up their doors for early customers. I saw old men smiling with contentment as they opened up their little bookstores in the tiniest and cutest of places. I saw children racing their friends to school as their parents yelled for them to slow down. A few times, I saw couples holding hands on their way to grab croissants and cappuccinos. I saw people open their windows to hang up their laundry to dry or to reel it back in to fold. I saw so many different snippets of people’s daily lives that filled me with wonder and a sense of peace. Everything I saw, I took in, and all these little memories have stayed with me today.
I know that I, along with millions of others, will continue to admire Venice in the centuries to come, as it truly is a place of bewilderment and brilliance. Its history is complicated, spanning from its construction to its time as a Venetian empire and to today, with its mass tourism industry. My morning strolls enabled me to soak in the city’s beautiful architecture, rich history and charming people. They’re a memory that I bask in during this time of confinement. They give me hope and excitement for the days when I’ll be able to travel back again and explore even more of the city.