There is an air of fiction in the streets of Venice, another world where corroding buildings meet back alleys that come to an end at the banks of emerald canals. Where the masquerade masks that hang from the dark doors of the Mascherari, or Mask Makers, depicting Plague Doctors and other macabre characters blend seamlessly with the theme music of the Gondoliers as they make their way through the murky waters of the Grand Canal singing ‘O sole mio’.
Venice is a pleasure to explore – but my favourite time is at night – late – when the last few straddlers are making their way to their hotels and homes over the cobbled pathways of Venice’s backstreets. Recently, shorty after a beautiful dinner at A beccafico on Campo S. Stefano, we decided to take a detour from our usual walk – deciding instead to make our way down dark alleys and along the banks of unknown canals to reach our destination. We carefully navigated several bridges and passed frail doorways, hinged on centuries old brackets and chipped at the edges, scrambling out of the darkness several times to lonely dead-ends. We passed behind St. Marco’s about 15 minutes into our adventure and took a right turn down a tiny unlit alleyway whose end led only to a darkened canal – and a lonely Gondolier making his way silently back to his parking spot no doubt – and decided to take a break and sit by the water. We sat still, only the sounds of the gondola gently pushing its way home and our hushed breaths to break the silence. The walls all around us were somewhat broken, and the moonlight cast a certain haze over the odd hues of green and blue that surrounded us. Eventually we carried on, past closed shops – masks & marionettes – and restaurants and eventually close to The Scala Contarini del Bovolo – which sat silently and gracefully peering upwards to the open skies.
We turned back – and decided to head towards Rialto – though still not paying too much attention to our route and again coming face to face with a dead end – only this time in the form of a single door – and it was at this point that I began to realise that here, and especially at night – every doorway is a work of art, every church is imposing and every corner has you stumble into yet another beautiful walkway, windows adorned with flowers in full bloom (even in early autumn) and the crumbling mess of brick and mortar that Venice is so well known for – it is beautiful. We eventually ended up by the Grand Canal – for here all canals lead to the Grand – and just a couple of shadows now made their ways through the night. We were offered at this point, a Gondola ride – but it’s midnight, I thought as we accepted.
A stray couple looked on with a glimmer of enchantment in their eyes….
The magic of a Gondola ride at night is something akin to the fiction that I mentioned earlier – slow and brooding, passing silent and dark buildings under a shimmering blanket of stars and near empty streets – is this the Venice we know? We passed the usual sites and had just a little banter from our more than accommodating Gondolier, and a stray couple looked on with a glimmer of enchantment in their eyes as we passed under a small bridge not too far away from St. Marco’s and the Bridge of Sighs. We felt somewhat alone, as though we’d passed into another era. To be honest, the buildings mostly blended into one another – red brick, blue brick, it didn’t matter. The ambience set our imaginations alight with thoughts of ghosts and the allure of antique love affairs – torn petticoats in foggy alleys, but it was all too soon over. We made our way through the streets once more – eventually back in our room overlooking the now silent Campo San Cassiano.
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