I suspect that when you think of hiking, you imagine mountaintop vistas, strenuous climbs, and solitude. There should be trees and dirt and sweaty armpits. Probably bugs, but hopefully a few glimpses of more endearing wildlife.
Venice is an unlikely place to find any of these things. Sealevel is nearly always within arm’s reach. The biggest (outdoor) elevation changes occur at the peaks of bridges. No dirt. (Although we did wrap-up our hike with a stroll through a secret garden.)
Instead, our flint-tiled hiking path lead us through narrow alleys bordered by ancient buildings, past ornate palaces, mansions, and Byzantine cathedrals. A cool, steady breeze and leisurely pace suppressed our armpit’s urge to do what they do, even if we don’t want them to.
With all these differences in mind, the hiker in me wasn’t thrilled by the prospect of several days spent wandering through another major city. I wanted to experience all the things that hiking promises: inspiring scenery, exercise for my body, and my mind (minus the torture treadmill), and a chance to rediscover the inner peace that is so hard to find in a busy big-city life. Unlikely we’d find any of this on a tiny, man-made island that hosts millions of people every year.
Venice, you sneaky little city, you’ve been holding out on us.
We didn’t notice any bugs, aside from those hovering near the fresh catches in Rialta Fish Market, but the flocks of seagulls and pigeons reminded us of our place on the food chain. They dive-bombed unwary tourists, or strutted casually through the campos with an air of superiority and confidence that I hope to master when I grow up.
Fortunately, most of our “wildlife encounters” were far more predictable. Cleaned, cooked, and served during pauses in our hike, we reestablished our dominance over fierce crab and slippery noodles. It’s good to be king.
One of the unexpected pleasures of hiking in Venice was access to all the big city amenities without the big city hassles. The only motorized transportation on the island were water taxis and service boats delivering goods. No honking cars. No traffic lights. No sirens. And because the major commodity on the island is tourism, that unseen but always felt sense of urgency found in busy cities was blissfully absent.
Goin’ to Church
Arguably the most famous building in Venice, St. Mark’s Basilica is loc
ated just north of the Doge’s Palace (another not-so-shabby place to visit) at the gateway to the city. This 1200-year-old church blends history, religion, architecture, and culture in one opulent edifice. Looking at the long line to get inside made Monica and I pause, but the cue moved with an efficiency that surprised us both.
Inside, there was no unclaimed space. Gilded walls and columns. Several football fields worth of mosaics. And all of it was gold! We shuffled in stunned silence. Everyone converted into a Bobble-Head version of themselves trying to take it all in. Pacing before the entrance to the alter were several docents/guards who alternated a chant “no foto” over and over again. A few rebels tried to sneak out their phone to catch a quick shot of the distant jewel encrusted alter, but were quickly scolded back into submission.
Doge’s, the ruling class of historic Venice, built a grand palace that was attached to St. Mark’s. Like the Basilica, it was built a long time ago, and in a style befitting ridiculously wealthy merchants. In addition to an immersive history, art, and architecture lesson, our tour of the Doge’s palace became an unexpected workout as we ascended and descended a series of staircases that snaked through a building that served as the center for government, commerce, justice, armory, and prison.
Calli, Callette, Campo, and Ponte
When hiking, one of the things I enjoy most is the comfort of having a defined path to follow. Usually a dirt trail that is distinctively marked. So long as I stay on the path, I’ll reach my destination eventually. You would think that Venice, with its maze of streets (calli), alleys (callette), and hundreds of bridges (ponte) crossing canals that it would be a challenge for tourists to navigate. But we only got lost once, and this side trek through residential districts gave us a glimpse into an alternative lifestyle. One that involves afternoon naps, air-dried laundry, and plenty of chances to contemplate the mysteries of the universe.
A walk in our Secret Garden
We stayed at a hotel called the Boscolo Venezia. Originally the palace of a ridiculously wealthy merchant family, it went through a spell as a monastery, then as the French embassy before becoming our temporary home. Although using my Marriott points was a factor, the big draw was the enormous garden hidden behind it’s 2-story high walls. Serpentine paths crisscrossed manicured shrubbery, past false ruins, over bridges, and through a chilly underground cavum (refrigerators of the rich and famous before Maytag) with really cool acoustics. There was dirt and grass and trees. It was just the two of us and nature. It was perfect. Then, a flower-lined path led us to a lounge with a single table set against a private dock. There are many moments in life that are quickly forgotten, that get lost in the evanescent, but everything about this hike felt different. We sat, enjoying a few Spritz’ while recognizing…
Venice is a great place to take a hike.
This walk was inspired by Restless Jo. You should check out some of the exotic locations her feet take her and fellow explorers every Monday.