Travel after the pandemic #10: Venice, Italy

Tourist tide is out, for now

Venice in all its splendour hardly needs an introduction whether you have been there or not. It was always my family's ambition to one day go to the Pearl of the Adriatic. But we frequently held back, or at least I did, mainly due to the continually heavy flow of countless visitors to this water city – that was until the recent, game-changing coronavirus changed tourism, possibly forever.

For the first time in decades, Venice was relatively empty and theoretically given back to the Venetians. The environment also had a chance to restore. This sudden and unexpected change of atmosphere must have been something not seen nor witnessed within living memory for most. And perhaps only before the initial rise of the tourist industry itself, which came to provenance during the 1960s.

When the school year ended last month, and when some of the borders opened up, the thought arose of going there at this time of minimal tourism only. As well, it became remarkably appealing to possibly catch up with The Jones’s, The Kovács’s and all our more fashionable friends. My family and I finally took to the Budapest to Venice highway soon afterwards.

Another reason for holding back had been the general horror stories relating to the heavy-going motorway congestion that western and southern Europe endures at this time of year. In the past, our summer holidays have always been in less fashionable opposite directions with far fewer traffic issues.

This approach still works wonders for those who want to break free from the obvious mainstream travel. But when it came to this unknown time we thought we would take a chance and not only achieve seeing this illustrious city but hopefully have a good run on the highway too. We prepared for every eventuality regardless of style or etiquette. Fortunately, we came out triumphantly.

Needless to say, but Venice is spectacular. It lives up to the hype and continues being chronicled. Clearly this legendary, one-off city still remains impressive today. But I had better stop delivering further lavish praise or I may run the risk of delivering a flotilla of frivolous clichés.

Despite my efforts in wanting to please, it would be reasonable to at least point out that everyone who is anyone, from Shakespeare to James Bond and countless others, has a connection there. The “Four Seasons” composer, Lucio Vivaldi, was born there. The Orient Express still travels there. All these and more accolades add to the high prestige that Venice continually enjoys.

But in any event I can give a tip: go there at least once during your lifetime. We are now very proud to have accomplished seeing this elysian place after much delay.

Although Google Maps presents a theoretical, care-free seven-hour itinerary for this required 700-kilometre drive, we thought otherwise. We got there from central Pest in a more realistic nine hours, and were very glad to have done so. Ironically, the most difficult part was driving out from the Danube pearl itself onto the M7, as well as bypassing the arduous Balaton traffic.

By the time we overcame this, it was a surprisingly simple drive for much of the way with no border stops. We also drove directly through a delightfully green, mountainous and tunnel-laden Slovenia, arriving by late evening.

Not knowing what to expect the next day, as we woke up at our campsite, we finally made our way to this world-famous sunshine-filled cultural shrine, so steeped in history and art. Although busy as expected, Venice in this post-Covid time was “comfortable”. Getting by was relatively easy, as there really were lighter than expected crowds, restrictions and congestion. As we made our way forthwith, the stripy-topped chauffeur punters continually pursued us for much of the way until we arrived at the momentous St Mark’s Square and Basilica with considerable ease.

Really, it was fantastic. Whether this will be achievable again remains uncertain, as by late summer it is expected that this quintessential par-excellence city will return to some form of a familiar hectic touristy procedure for sure.

My family was privileged and grateful for this unique and probably never-to-be-repeated opportunity. But it is clear that mass tourism cannot return to how it was. Perhaps a new form of social distancing will have to take place. Further consideration towards the environment and to general infrastructure is also essentially required. Then and only then will this and other star attractions be more favourable to everyone as well as to their geographical areas too.

For all else relating to research and sight-seeing, do this your way as I am in no position to provide an exclusive Venice tour itinerary. But as a quick referral on how to begin, my family and I simply proceeded from the main Venice bus stop and train station area, then walked over and boated under all the important landmarks.

We explored the quaint narrow lanes, followed the signs to St. Mark’s and observed the gondoliers. This procedure is a day out in itself, before all else relating to museums, punting, entertainment and more, and all are generally easy to figure out.

Then, for us, before we knew it, it was time to leave the glamour behind and feast on spaghetti back at the campsite, with a return to all else familiar the following day.

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