Although we’ve travelled across the top of Italy a couple of times, we’d been heading elsewhere and it had therefore never occurred to us that we should visit Venice, en passant, so to speak. The presumed hassle of finding a suitable campsite or just somewhere to park the Knumptywagen while we visited had just discouraged us from thinking that such a visit was for the likes of us.
However, on this occasion, we had the time to spare and that prospect stirred thoughts that we should make the effort. Uncharacteristically, we turned to one of the many online motorhome forums (which we’d only ever passively consumed before) and requested suggestions on where we might find safe harbour to effect such a visit.
Well, the responses were almost overwhelming – we had about 95 replies in total, all from helpful people we’d never met, many of whom suggested a campsite at Fusina, which appeared to be ‘across the lagoon’ from Venice itself. The prospect of a regular waterbus which could be taken from the campsite directly into Venice certainly appealed so with satnav primed, we headed west along an unnervingly busy, truck-infested E55 autostrade towards we-knew-not-what.
A couple of online recommendations had also warned us not to be put off by the approach to the Fusina campsite but even so, the peculiarly wide, dusty concrete roads through strange post-apocalyptic industrial areas and a small village unnervingly named ‘Malcontenta’ proved a challenge to our resolve. On arrival, however, the site was clearly well-managed, welcoming and well-wooded with a ‘suit-yourself’ pitching policy which provided a grassy patch with a view of a very distant Venice through the trees and across the lagoon. It quickly became apparent that this entire green and pleasing site was immediately neighboured by a massive commercial port, with huge tankers and container ships coming and going with the frequency of London buses, and an alarming proximity to the ‘premium-rate’ front line pitches of the campsite, so we were quite pleased that this area was fully-booked when we enquired on arrival.
The following morning, slathered with sun-tan lotion and wearing comfortable shoes, we were ferried across an other-worldly lagoon – studded with strange triangular timber shipping lane markers – to disembark at the Zattere landing stage where we were immediately and totally immersed in this unique, amazing and awe-inspiring city.
Brief iPad research the evening prior had advised, above all else, that we should expect to get lost in the city, suggesting that this was part of Venice’s endearing charm. Our expectation that we’d be able to stroll alongside the edge of the Grand Canal quickly evaporated in the rising heat of the day, as we realised that the streets were mostly little more than alleyways – and that lapping water instead of pavement fronted many of the fine façades, forcing us to route our meanderings away from the water’s edge and along these alleyways. And yes, you guessed, we not only got completely lost but also hopelessly disorientated in the process.
It mattered not one jot. Venice was just bloody wonderful. Yes, of course it was busy – even though we were almost ‘out of season’ but – with an estimated 20 million visitors annually – the hustle, jostle and occasional people-jams were all part of the atmosphere and experience. We walked and walked and walked. And stared and stared. And then walked some more. Every corner turned presented a new and unique viewpoint packed with fascinating features and architecture. Even the doorbells on the apartment buildings were intriguingly detailed and entertaining, like quirky gremlins waiting to say ‘Ciao’. Dream-like views emerged as narrow canals gave onto wide waterways, churned with the apparent chaos of launches, gondolas, ferries, motorboats and water-taxis all purposefully headed in every conceivable direction. The sun shone, the sky stayed blue, we continued to be amazed and enthralled.
Despite an unremarkable coffee and uninspiringly touristic cheese-toasty taken earlier in the day, by mid-afternoon we found ourselves in need of more substantive sustenance. We’d already completely mislaid an attractive-looking waterside restaurant earmarked earlier and were similarly unable to locate any of the eateries recommended by family and friends. After considered debate (and yet more walking about) we eventually rested aching legs beneath the table of a long, languid, late and satisfyingly expensive lunch in the lee of Accademia Bridge – surprisingly one of only four which crossed the Grand Canal.
Up until that point, the view from our table had only ever been informed through mediocre reproductions of Canalatto oil paintings so the real-life animated scenes of Venice going about its business in the bright sunshine left us open-mouthed with amazement – making it a bit of a challenge to actually consume our well-deserved lunch.
In retrospect, we probably also missed a trick by not taking one of the numerous Grand Canal waterbuses on our arrival, which would have helped us gain a better sense of the geography of this ludicrously lovely city. Gathering our thoughts about the remainder of the day, and with the waterbuses plying continually through our view, we decided that late was always going to be better than never so, heaving our corpulent little tummies from their resting places under fine linen napkins, we waddled to a nearby jetty and crammed ourselves aboard for a trip along the Grand Canal.
Yet more views unfolded adding further perspective. Spirally-striped barbers poles stuck out at jaunty angles from the petulant water; gondolas nodded crazily at their moorings; low-sterned water-taxis burbled their way alongside as if challenging for a race; liveried hotel porters unloaded precarious luggage onto sea-weeded jetties; seagulls wheeled silently between the closely-packed spires and domes of churches and civic buildings – and we jostled for position on the standing-room-only open decks of our waterbus.
With time-limited waterbus tickets and feet which were now beginning to protest, we disembarked and decided our aged frames probably couldn’t take an extension into Venice’s undoubtedly entertaining night-life. Getting lost yet again, we managed to walk ourselves back to the Zattere landing stage in time to squeeze in a refreshingly costly gelato before boarding a return ferry which navigated us back to the familiar respite of the Knumptywagen moored amidst the trees on an opposite shore.
As a memento of an amazing day, our sole souvenir amuses us every time we get the bicycles out, since it was a much-needed puncture repair outfit, discovered amidst bed-sheets and flowerpots in the depths of an off-piste, ridiculously incongruous general hardware store tucked away in the heart of this most astounding of Italian cities. And no, we wouldn’t be able to find it again, even if you paid us a million euros.