Delving beneath the facades of the Floating City.
The notion of the romantic European voyage starts and ends in Venice. The city sits on an ancient foundation of closely spaced wooden piles, still intact after centuries of submersion beneath the Venetian lagoon. While walking the meandering streets and noting the massive stone foundations of surrounding buildings, it seems impossible that an entire city could possibly float atop a bunch of rotten wooden planks. Interestingly enough, these foundation piles penetrate deep into a harder layer of compressed clay in the earth’s surface and since they exist in conditions devoid of oxygen, the wooden supports harden or petrify into a stone-like substance, rather than rotting. No other place in the world features such intricate features of architecture and engineering.
In terms of city planning, Venice presents a unique scenario as well. Vehicular transport on the collection of 118 small islands is impossible as automobiles are banned throughout the city. Traveling by boat through the canals typically ease the chore of getting around compared to zig-zagging through the back alleyways of the city. The Vaporetto, or water bus, serves as the main mode of public transport running along the major canals of the city. Although it may not be as fast or efficient as the underground metro lines of the majority of Europe, the picturesque atmosphere of riding the Grand Canal on the Vaporetto remains unmatched in terms of a public transit experience.
Once we ventured away from the Grand Canal and the main tourist streets, getting around became a bit more challenging. No street goes straight for more than a block or so. Curves, dead ends, and random fenced off pathways complemented the meandering path of the smaller canals. With struggle comes reward however. Restaurants and shops outside of the main tourist areas delighted us with rather unique trinkets and the most delicious plates of Italian food I’d ever imagined.
I feel that this theme proved true throughout most of Europe. Little back alleyways tended to provide a more interesting experience than the easily accessible tourist shops. A little ways from our apartment we encountered a small wine shop in which locals would bring in their own bottles – plastic, glass, etc. – to have them filled with Savignon Blanc or what have you for the affordable price of 2.30 Euro per liter. Just the next alley down, on a residential back street, we found a small Ristorante with a back patio where we indulged in arguable the best Italian meal I’ve ever eaten.
Walking the main boulevards of Venice in late June underneath the beating sun could easily compare to running with the bulls in Pamplona. It’s all too easy to get blinded by the bustling action of the main tourist spots, but to truly experience the city it’s important to try to probe deeper. Venice may be a blossoming flower of a city, but it’s the network of roots that support it that make it a world-renowned destination.