I won’t lie, my job takes me to some fascinating places. I don’t always get to see a great deal of the cities and countries on my itinerary, but I generally experience enough to decide whether I’d want to return under my own steam. This week’s business trip was to the Veneto and Fruili in the northeastern corner of Italy. I went in search of wine, and I found it by the barrel full. And it was good, very good, the local Refosco and Prosecco especially. Even without the pleasures of wine, I can say without question that I’d want to go back, albeit when the weather is cooler. The Frustrated Gardener rapidly becomes the Hot and Bothered Gardener if the temperature rises above 25ºC, and at 35ºC he turns into a pool of boiling green slime.
We arrived at Venice Marco Polo Airport on Sunday evening. Even at 11pm the temperature had barely fallen below 30ºC. We were greeted by a fug of hot, muggy air that clung around us until we returned to Gatwick on Wednesday. Overnight in our cosy Agriturismo, I was visited more than once by the local zanzara (mosquitos).
Venice has long been on my bucket list, but for some reason I’d never got around to making the trip. I feared the worst – too hot, too crowded, too expensive, too smelly – which can often be the making of a pleasant surprise. Yes it was hot, but not as crowded as I’d imagined. Away from the main attractions the canals were positively tranquil. Venetian shops were certainly expensive, but, unusually, there was nothing I wanted or needed to buy. There was a salty, seaweed-laced tang in the air, but none of nasty whiffs I’d heard complained about. Perhaps we just picked the right day for our whistlestop tour. As a first experience it was a good one. It left me wanting more.
It’s hard not to imagine you’re in an enormous film set wherever you find yourself in Venice. So many of the scenes are familiar from the big and small screen that you can mistakenly believe you’ve been there before. The view from Ponte Rialto is utterly timeless and completely mesmerising; the same bustling scene I’ve marvelled at in paintings by Canaletto and James Bond films. Elegant palazzi, fluttering awnings, chattering gondoliers and glittering water make for a heady concoction, one I’d experience nowhere else. Had it not been so unbearably hot I could have stayed there and watched the world go by for hours.
Venice is not a green city. If it were it would not be Venice. Those gardens that exist are either hidden away behind high walls, cloistered in the precincts of expensive hotels or restricted to narrow alleyways and rooftops. Like me, most residents are limited to growing in pots, often small ones, arranged around the edge of a balcony or beneath a window. Petunias, calibrachoas, sedums and geraniums seem to be the order of the day, perfectly at home in dazzling sunshine and exposed to the sea air. Where there’s space to plant in the ground, campsis (trumpet vines) are allowed to climb up and spill over the ancient city walls. Cool green foliage and blistering orange flowers provide the perfect adornment for mellow red brick.
Elsewhere the ubiquitous Mediterranean oleander is heavily relied upon for screening and colour. A tutti-frutti tumble of blossom greets travellers as they exit the gloom of the main station into the glittering light of the Grand Canal, a frivolous, temporal cloud of loveliness amidst all the serious antiquity. There is nothing uglier than a unhappy oleander (which accounts for most of those seen clinging on in English gardens) but when they are happy there’s little to rival them for the enthusiasm with which they bloom.
Would I return to Venice? In a heartbeat. During our scorching saunter I failed to scratch the surface of the city. I’d like to return when the streets are a little cooler and quieter, perhaps in late April or May, and travel there by train if I could. I’d want to visit the islands of Torcello and Sant’Erasmo which are known for their market gardens. What a luxury it would be to spend a few weeks at leisure, pottering around without the intense pressure to experience everything at breakneck speed like most other visitors. A Venetian soggiorno. I already like the sound off that. TFG.