In travel, the ultimate test of authenticity is quite simple: on a very rare occasion and quite unexpectedly, the place you are seeing for the first time is just like you always imagined it. In Venice, this sensation of originality, fidelity and historicity works for me every time I visit. And I have visited a dozen times since my first whistle-stop tour of Italy as a teenager in 1995.
Back then, as I leaned against the railing of an overcrowded vaporetto on the Grand Canal, I was totally unprepared to take it all in. I still am today. Whether I roll into the city on a Freccia speed train that slows down graciously as it reaches the Santa Lucia terminus or I arrive on a humble ATVO bus into the Piazzale Roma station, I am swept into the vortex of beauty.
Whether I stand in St Mark’s Square or stroll along an obscure calle, ruga or ramo, I blink and stretch my eyes in disbelief: this city is magic. It is sturdy but fragile, discreetly hiding an ingenious engineering below the water line and exuding an utmost sophistication above it. The city’s allure is a bundle of contradictions: it has survived for centuries virtually unchanged when it is amazing that it even exists today.
Through its immense and unique art and architecture, it continues to flaunt its wealth, despite a long and spectacular decline. Nowadays it is overtouristed and overwhelmed and yet it carries on as a living community, although a shrinking one. Of all the places in the world, Venice is where I want to live. And if and when I do, I won’t need to go anywhere else.