Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Kristin Pedroja

People usually associate Venice with romance, Casanova, and the melodious lull of gondoliers paddling lovers through the night.

Whatever!

I find Venice to be one of the most inspiring and fantastic places to visit, either alone or with girlfriends. I just got back from another precious forty-eight hours in this amazing place with one of my best girls, and will proclaim the city to be among the ultimate girlie-holiday destinations for those of us who savor the good life.

Stepping out of the train station into the chaos that is Venice will silence even the most jaded traveler. Time doesn’t pass in Venice; it flows. Here, you are at the mercy of the water that surrounds you: you either walk or take a boat, or you don’t go anywhere. The city’s pace envelopes you, and suddenly you welcome the time it takes to walk a half-mile, and the twisty-turns and dead ends you encounter along the way. The layers of this enchanted place are so deep with history, passion, and life, it’s difficult to even scratch the surface. As Henry James wrote, “Dear old Venice has lost her complexion, her figure, her reputation, her self-respect; and yet, with it all, has so puzzlingly not lost a shred of her distinction?”

Arriving at dusk, we took a water bus to Piazza San Marco, where our shabby but eclectic hotel awaited. There is something liberating about watching the Grand Canal pass from the deck of a crowded boat. Years of flood-stains and decay cling to many of the buildings, but some shine with new paint, fancy windows, and posh awnings. The feeling of insignificance, of all the lives before yours that have seen these same buildings from this same canal, is both humbling and exciting—as if you were glimpsing a forbidden chapter in an endless book.

Piazza San Marco, in all its grandeur and ostentatiousness, is, as expected, spectacular, especially when the square is illuminated. The San Marco district itself is quite commercial, with everything from Gucci, Armani, and Dolce to dodgy Murano Glass shops. Starting our morning with a bit of window-shopping was just the thing to prepare us for a long Saturday of wandering the streets, trying on clothes, and maxing out our credit cards.

Venice has little nightlife. This is a good thing. We were in bed before eleven on Friday, and up and out the door by just after eight am the next morning. Morning is the time when the real Venice emerges. Rubbish-collecting boats sort out the recycling; floating greengrocers sell their wares to local restaurants; locals walk their dogs or go for a run. Before nine am, a peaceful hum fills the city, before the tourist boats bring in day-trippers by the droves. Seeing Venice like this is a treat in itself, as the city hints that it is much more than just a huge photo-op.

We got a good walk in before noon, passing through Dorsodouro, San Polo, and San Croce, all quiet, cozy residential neighborhoods filled with locals going about their Saturday errands. Quaint cafés and shops sporadically dot these districts, and finding a bargain pair of shoes, cappuccino, or bag of coffee requires immediate decision: there’s no way you’ll ever find the place again! That’s the charm of the southwestern Venice; getting lost is part of the fun.

By the time we arrived back at the train station and began wandering the main drag through Carnareggio, the rain had started—and with it, the umbrella hockey. We decided to sit the rain out in a gorgeous wine bar, where we grabbed a quick, tapas-style snack and sprizza, a fantastic Campari and white-wine spritzer served with a big green olive. Wine bars are trendy in Venice, and many serve great snacks for less than a euro. The wine is good, but the sprizza gives enough of a kick to keep your feet moving for a few more hours.

Girl-bonding time to its fullest: window shopping, real shopping, people-watching, story-sharing—all in the middle of one of the most fabled places on the planet!

The details of our day would be meaningless to anyone outside our little world, but the experience is the same. Venice offers the best things in life, from spas to cafés to shops to tourists. The city is filled with visitors from around the world: just try playing the “They’re wearing X, so they must be from Y” game. Venice is the tourist melting pot of the planet!

And the restaurants! I don’t remember having a bad meal in Venice. Granted, I do splash out a bit, but the competition is so tight that restaurants have to perform. Meals are paced, wine is savored, and it’s as though time doesn’t exist. Lingering over a meal in Venice is a wonderful way to spend an evening.

Why it’s best to visit Venice with your girlfriends

With some of the finest stores in the world, only a girlfriend would be willing to accompany you into every shop you like without rolling her eyes.

Maps are irrelevant. Impossible to understand, they only add to the confusion. In Venice, it’s all about wandering about and looking for buildings displaying signs with arrows that point to the nearest landmark. And, if all else fails, you may have to ask for directions. Girlfriends are okay with this.

Italian men are gorgeous. More specifically, Venetian men are gorgeous. The guy selling the water-bus tickets is hot. The guy at the tourist-info center! Your waiter! Beautiful men are everywhere. Girlfriends understand the need to admire the human beauty of Venice as well as the architectural, and don’t get jealous when they catch you enjoying it too.

Food is meant to be eaten, and eaten well; wine is meant to be drunk, and drunk well. Girlfriends will pace you—they understand the spizzas at eleven a.m., the mid-afternoon bellinis, the wine with dinner—and the requisite nap afterwards!

Venice breeds lovers’ quarrels. Some of the nastiest male-female altercations I’ve witnessed in public have been in Venice. Perhaps it’s the intensity of the place that gets under people’s skin, or the frustrations that come with being in the most geographically confusing city in the world—or just too much togetherness. Whatever the reason, girlfriends tend to giggle through the stress. Girlfriends don’t question why you feel a certain way. They just keep you company.

In Venice, what resonates most are the millions of souls who have called these small islands home for a day, a night, a week, or more. The city may be decaying, a bit smelly, musty, and dilapidated, but it’s her stories and her history that makes her beautiful. Just like each of us, Venice deserves, and has gotten, many chances. With her countless reinventions, and her shameless embracing of the past, Venice reflects a kind of ideal; the same qualities that make her beautiful are the ones we should be proud of in ourselves.

The countless souls Venice has inspired throughout the ages, and those she has yet to inspire, is what makes the city magical. Sharing this with your soul sisters makes the journey all the sweeter.

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