Water laps onto stone. The haze of dawn and the morning mist combine on the lagoon, casting blue light over the skyline as it wakes. I have fallen in love with this city, with its early morning waterways, intense alleys and deserted passages. I have one hour to explore it alone. The tourists, and my children have yet to start the day.
I wander along a wide canal, a slight wind against my face, brushing away beads of sweat. A ferry chugs by, pressing commuters against each other like the London Underground in a heatwave. A baggage boat follows, carrying a range of international luggage bound for who knows where? I walk over a bridge, feeling the muscles in my legs, as a water taxi driver polishes the walnut veneer of his prized vehicle with a leather cloth. To the Basilica Santa Maria, where last night we watched as a ballroom dancing club claimed the sacred space by tangoing on the steps. This morning two American women spread out yoga mats and bitch about absent Venetian husbands.
|There’s plenty of quieter parts away from the tourist spots|
It may have been an unusual choice to finish a cycle tour in a place where bikes are banned, but what more iconic place is there than Venice? Right now, on a wide stone step, with a take away latte macchiato, and the view of St Mark’s forming a the backdrop, this is my celebration.
Our arrival was less clear cut, and rather less celebratory. We disembarked from the ferry into rush hour hell. A giant car park, leading to an enormous bus terminal. A dead end, flooded with tourists, street cleaners, coach drivers, police. Gay men parading like peacocks at the start of their night out. Stripy gondoliers hanging out in the sunshine waiting for the next set of honeymooners to step onto their curved black vehicles and take a ride to paradise for a fistful of euros. Our bikes looked strange, as though we’d stumbled onto a film set with the wrong props.
|The bridge was not really designed to accomodate cyclists|
So we rode, four kilometres down a narrow cycle path on an endless bridge into Venetian suburbia, where we had booked a hotel for the night. As lorries thundered past along with the night train to Paris, we kept our eyes on the cranes at the end of the lagoon, to our destination; the town of Mestrae. But as the bridge dumped its cars and coaches onto new carriageways, the cycle path ended abruptly, leaving us stranded on the wrong side of the road, with a motorway in between us and our hotel. There was only one thing for it. To cycle back in to Venice, in the dusk, turn around at the bus station, and cycle back out again, in the dark.
|The bridge across the Lagoon linking Venice with Mestrae|
We had made it to Venice. But not really. We were here, then not here, then here again, then not. It would be a good few hours before we would get onto the water, and celebrate our arrival.
|What a magical place to end a journey|