Dancing in Europe’s Grandest Ballroom

Posted by on Sep 16, 2011 in Travel Tales | 5 comments

Dancing in Europe’s Grandest Ballroom

Venice was my first stop from London. On the RyanAir flight, I decided on a very filmy exercise..rather a Bollywood “inspired” exercise. I think it was one of the quintessential YashRaj movies which adviced that when they don’t find answers to what your heart really wants, the best way to find out is to peacefully close your eyes, and let the mind(take over from the heart) to visualise the one person/one thing that takes priority(at that particular moment). Voila! There’s your answer. So, I decided to follow suit,since I really didnt know what to expect from magical Venice! I closed my eyes for a moment and visualized Venice.

Let me ask you..what would YOU see?
Dreamlike shimmering reflections of a city floating on the sea? Gondolas gliding beneath the stars? Gondoliers serenading in the moonlight?Water lapping at artistic buildings that seem without foundation? Squares vibrating with native chatter, bold lovers embracing and fluttering of pigeons? Palaces and cathedrals beaming with priceless art. Bridges and more bridges?Canals..and more canals?
Are these visions merely exaggerated daydreams? No,not at all! Venice is exactly as you imagine-a real heart-throbbing visual delight.

There are solid streets in Venice, too; little narrow cobbled streets that cut crookedly through the ancient structures. And alleys, tiny twisted alleys that seem to run in circles,confusing the wit out of you. But, believe me when I say this..its the best place in the world to get lost!The bridges were teeming with ‘peeoppllle’,mostly well-dressed,arm-in-arm in this piece of relic from another era..of Venetian boats..and amorous lovers!And, my God, how good looking can people be? 10/10: Perfect strike rate!
After such several(some intended,of course) twists and turns on these narrow alleys that led from the bus-stop to the address that was scribbled on the piece of paper I was holding, I landed at my hostel,greeted welcome by Valdi!

Valdi was sweet,patient and almost charming! The lilt in the ‘little’ and the rolling ‘R’s in ‘interrresting’ were almost sexy.I needed to be taken to the room she had in mind for me. The narrow cobblestone bylanes(a pomp and glow version of the Jew town,back in Kochi) lead me to my room.The trinket shop-owners on the roads did have a wink in their eyes..”We let you go today,but tomorrow we get your money!”.The room she gave me,was the secret chamber of Casanova,or so it seemed..because even after three bridges,and two false turns into alleys that leaded nowhere..it stood, on the first floor of a flower bucketed balcony. Yes, I was sure, this was the same balcony on which once stood Juliet, and just a couple of arms below stood Romeo, stretching his hand to hold hers,and serenading her with his mandolin!
And to top all that..I even had a secret view (and an open inviting window!)to the neighborhood canal..incase I did need to directly jump into my personal gondola and run away from the moral police !
I decided,not to wait a single moment to discover this enticing, urging city.
First off, I needed breakfast.
Dropped in to the tiny cafe under a bridge, and beside a canal(the most obvious GPS location, that you could get in Venice!)
Small bite-size food adorned the counter. I settled for a portion of a salami, feta and iceberg lettuce rolled artistically in some rice-bread and a shot of Italian espresso.Next,I headed straight to the nearest Vaporetti stop, took a ride to the San Marcos.Like I maintain, I am not so much of a sight-seeing-vulture, and I could do without seeing obvious pit-stops rather, in exchange spend afternoons chatting to locals, strolling local markets, restaurants and observing the way of life a new place heralds. Doge’s Palazzio, was an exception. What I eventually figured, was that the Doge had a really good deal! He was the elected-for-life Archbishop/King of Venezzia, elected by the Serenessimo(Warlords) and had infinite power over common people.So, he built a magnifico Palazzio ,gilded ceilings adorned with Renaissance paintings,fine wooden furniture and even had an attached prison!
And real-estate wise,he had the best deal in town. What a location:right on the edge of the Adriatic..looking out into a bay of prussian blue.

I went back to discovering Venice by getting lost in the labyrinth of alleys and bridges,once again. A strange thing was happening to me, while I strolled the stoneways. My tummy was turning, and I realised that what I felt was deja-vu. And that’s strange, because this was my first ever trip to any city with canals. Then it dawned on me! There was a bit of India in this relic of a city that was causing this. The thought drizzled from my visuals of Benaras! The dappled light on the water and the stones,and the cool damp of the alleys, brought back memories of mild winter afternoons in Benaras! Emerging out of the San Marcos square, leaving behind me a strangely familiar jumble of domes,columns and capitals, I felt myself back in arcaded courtyards of the great mosques and temples in India to which shop-lined alleys led dark passages suddenly opening out into expanses of light and colour. What a treasure of an association that was!

The Rialto and the Accademia are the most famous bridges in Venezzia. They are also the prime locations from which you could watch endlessly and steep in a slice of life in Venice.Boats were transporting people, luggage, groceries, animals, furniture, building materials and even coffins. The parade of life is endless and fascinating.

Oh, one more time..how ARE these people all around so good looking? :-)I doubt that Venetian men of any age, need to spend any time in the gym!They are constantly loading and unloading goods and trundling them down alleyways ,with sinewy arms and that perfect tanned complexion..and that too with great, great alacrity. Ok,focus !

Lunch time.Following the recommendations of Valdi,I set off to find a small family-run restaurant in the labyrinthine of this city. Her directions seemed simple enough:

“You go righta, then lefta, crossa the canal, passa the church and you will find the osteria in the campo.”

Each campo (square), looked like another and soon I found myself(once again!) at a dead-end beside a canal littered with bobbing gondolas. Now enveloped in a soft pearly afternoon mist, I resorted to my map and retraced my steps along the narrow calle (alley) where I found the osteria (restaurant).Packed with locals, I squeezed between tiny wooden tables and seated myself beside an Italian elderly couple. Cecilio reminded of my grandfather..”Dadubhai”, and it didn’t take me any time to bond with him.The menu was in Italian, but I was focused this time.Cecilio orders the main course,and I order my Tiramisu!.

Taste them here. Cecilio’s Lamb Chops Scottadito. Its the best in Venice!

Later, over a leisurely cappuccino, and my melt-in-the-mouth Tiramisu I ask him, to demystify the greatest mystery of all times,

“Do the Italian girls watch(like,check out!) the boys?”

“No, the boys watch the girls”, Cecilio says. “Teenage Venetian boys go to San Marcos to make an ‘experience’ with tourist girls. Their first words in English are, ‘My name eees…’. You are pretty girl. Where you sleep tonight?'”

Hmm.That’s simple enough!

Dusk brought me to back to the Square.The Piazza at San Marco was alive at night..Viennese Waltz,classical and operatic performances,by shamefully good looking and gushing women in the audience.

Time now,to introduce R. My soul-mate. Without whom Venice wouldn’t have been Venice, the way I have it in my memory today. Drops of romance filled the air.The orchestra played as if refusing to go home. The vast, nearly empty square got claimed by two seniors, waltzing like they did fifty years ago. They twirled gracefully round and round as we passed them. The woman smiled with her eyes closed…in a trance, that was obvious.

In Venice, love is a triangle: you, your partner, and the city.

Sprawling in front of us, was Europe’s largest ballroom!We danced.
We sputtered.
We fell.
We kissed.
We had pizza
And we went back ‘home’!

Its almost a miracle that this relic has lived this long though now,its a complete tourist experience(the only industry being tourism!) and looked like a giant ancient Disneyworld.

Or LasVegas.

And,as if to prove a point..they actually built the Casino del Venezzia.Viva La Veneeece!


  1. Ah…the charm of Venice….San Marco Piazza…a High Octane Symphony….rhythm and tempo wonderfully captured in this piece ! The Venetian might even have said “Eccelente “!

  2. “Eccelente”, did you say? The Venetian don’t speak even half as good Italiano as you do,Amore Mio! Take me back there…let’s get them jealous,once again…what say? 😉

  3. My recent trip to Kashmir makes me feel that Venice waterways must be something like one of the transport systems of Srinagar where the local people use their Shikaras to get their daily needs from the floating gardens,floating markets or the other parts of the town.

  4. Really? But are the waterways the main artery of the city, like it is in Venice? You hardly have proper roadways in Venice, you know!

  5. Simply wonderful 🙂