Words and photos by Vanilla Papers
“It’s ironic that a city synonymous with over-tourism and excess gave me a fresh understanding of slow travel and minimalism” By Dee Nowak, founder of Vanilla Papers
I’ve been to Venice twice – and each time I saw a different city. My first trip to Venice was with a tour group. We saw all the major sites in one day. I remember endless crowds, cold marble churches and my swollen, aching feet. On my second trip to Venice, there was no tour group and no packed itinerary. I stayed for a few days, I was alone, and I spent each blissful day wandering the city with a tattered map that I eventually stopped trying to read.
That second trip convinced me that Venice is Europe’s most beautiful city – like no other place on earth.
And I had completely missed that during my first hurried trip.
I now love reading about Venetian history and I’ve had dreams about its uncanny, hazy mix of sidewalk and sea. When this pandemic is over, Venice is the first place I want to visit.
Venice suffers from overtourism and is literally sinking under the weight of massive cruise ships. There are claustrophobic crowds in the summers pushing through narrow streets full of plastic Venetian masks.
But Venice doesn’t have to be that way. The charm of the city that’s inspired generations of artists can’t be found along the well-beaten tourist path.
The magic lays in the side streets.
Forget your map, get lost, and you’ll find hidden courtyards, balconies overflowing with blossoms and grand hotel lobbies to duck into when it rains.
You’ll find shops with vintage dinnerware sets from old cruise ships, and others where sales women protectively guard miniature puppet theatres as you browse. You’ll see waiters taking their cigarette breaks in alleyways and vintage Pinocchio figurines on windowsills.
And when you rejoin the crowds, on that well-worn path to and from the Piazza San Marco, you’ll begin to think you’ve discovered a secret. And you’ll wonder why so few tourists bother to walk just a few steps further, where a whole other city awaits.
Cutting back on my itinerary during my Italian vacation showed me that doing less is better.
But it didn’t stop there: Venice taught me the importance of abandoning what doesn’t work for me.
It’s ironic that a city synonymous with overtourism and excess gave me a fresh understanding of slow travel and minimalism.
But sometimes you have to experience excess to realize you’ve had enough. And that no sweeping views of the Canal Grande are worth pushing through the selfie stick crowds and stalls full of refrigerator magnets.
It’s a human instinct to be drawn to that warm humanity of crowds – and crowds are hard to resist. Walk through an old city market and you can’t help wandering over to the stall with the longest line. Because you figure that spice vendor must have something worth all that hype.
But if you take a few steps off that main road, you’ll see how beautiful it is to carve out your own itinerary.
When I returned from Venice back home to Cairo, I questioned what else I didn’t need in my life – and what else could benefit from cutting back.
I cleaned my room, as I always do after a trip.
I donated a pile of cardigans I’d never worn, and a few books I had no intention of reading.
I gain some storage space. But my biggest gain was freedom.
I’m more confident now in going after the things and experiences that I want.
I’ve never enjoyed crowds, and Venice taught me that I don’t have to push through them.
I don’t have to come home and show my friends a phone full of photos from all the major tourist attractions.
One night over cocktails, a friend asked why I’d spent my entire vacation in Venice without going into Rome (the pizza!) or Florence. I was looking forward to talking about Venice but instead she changed the subject, impatient that I didn’t have a good story.
But it just wasn’t the story she expected to hear.
BIO: Dee Nowak is a Polish-American writer and photographer at vanillapapers.net living as an expat in Cairo, Egypt. She loves slow living and travel off the beaten path. She’s also a minimalist who writes about slowing down while living in a big city.
If you want to experience Venice at a slow pace, get in contact with Andrea