Venezia – in the early 90s it was the place my parents would take us for delicious ice creams on sticky Sunday afternoons. It was on Voortrekker Road, Bellville, back when the suburbs still had their own high streets about which to boast and to walk about safely.
Then Venezia disappeared – think it was replaced by a video store – and reappeared around 2002 (maybe even a little earlier) as a coffee bar on Edward Street. Mmmh, how can I explain Edward Street to those of you not from Cape Town’s northern suburbs? Best described as the “It” strip – the place to be on a Saturday night if you’re looking to get it on all the fun. Hardly Long Street or the Kings Road, but it served its purpose. Anyway, I remember sipping a coffee there one afternoon, the “venetian” blend I ordered was served in a tall coffee glass.
“Belissima”, I thought when I drained the last of the bitter brew from a chipped, white, porcelain cup. After years of imagined ideas of what Venezia might be like, I was here – just before the rains started in November 2010. Facing the Campo Nuovo in the Jewish Ghetto, I started to feel a little overwhelmed, and then giddy at how much beauty and history Venice is steeped in. The City of Canals lets you float along while you learn about its glory, whilst taking in plenty of sights, gelato and caffe breaks along the way.
And take note, Venetians take their espresso standing up at the bar – I tried this and had to sit down from the head spin the caffeine kick gave me.
My visit to Venice was a family affair, so there was no romantic moonlit gondola ride, though it was fun to watch Federico/ Maurizio / Fabricio convince gaggles of young girls that he is the cheapest gondolier in town – they all look the same in those tight, stripey T-shirts. Cruising round the Grand Canal on a vaporetto (water bus) was novel enough – the “bus” stops are sturdy jetties, only a chain keeping passengers out of the water and climbing on/ off is pushing and shoving balancing act. Having driven around Rome on a scooter and a Fiat in Palermo, I think I understand the rules of the road in Italia, i.e. there are none! And it’s even worse on water – no lanes or stop signs! Gondolas, traghetto (water taxis), speedboats all manoeuvre cleanly around other vessels on the Canal.
The last day of my four-day sojourn was completely rained out – the handsome leather goods and fine paper stores all packed their wares high up, Dolce & Gabbanna, Armani, Versace shop girls all wearing wellies mopped the water flowing into the shop front and the Piazza San Marco was elevated on narrow wooden bridges. This very necessary phenomenon is called Aqua Alta – a measure taken by the city of Venice to combat the effects of the peak in the Adriatic high tide, to allow its people to continue daily life in what is essentially, a shallower, byzantine version of Atlantis.
Sadly, there are many great ecological risks that contribute to Venice eventually sinking, and the city spends exorbitant amounts of money every year to fight against these elements. But then, in all her opulent splendour Venice reminds us that she’s still standing and she’s ready to celebrate this. Each February come rain, shine or an invasion by Napoleon, Venice hosts “Carnevale”. A wonderful time for masqueraders to party in the streets, in the canal even, to drink, binge on fritelle (traditional doughnuts), and to dance the night away at the Teatro La Fenice at the elegant masked ball held on the second Saturday of Carnevale.
Arm yourselves with an itinerary (I recommend the Lonely Planet pocket guide) because besides fantastical parties, there is so much to see. And get there quick, before it sinks!