I will never forget the life lessons I learned in Venice. The memory of the first day I alighted will go with me to the grave, it has been burned into my cellular memory as one of the stand out memories of my life.
Travel is the greatest teacher. Every twenty year old Australian wanted to backpack around Europe and I joined the crowd. I was just 21 and was backpacking around. It was my first time overseas, I was way out of my comfort zone and all the creature comforts I was used to were faraway.
Thirty years ago it was a normal thing to catch the train from London to Venice with a little ferry ride from Dover to Calais! I didn’t stop in Paris; I headed straight for Italy.
When the train rolled into Santa Lucia station and I walked out with just my backpack, my heart felt like it was outside of my body. I laughed out aloud like someone was playing a big joke on me!
My brain couldn’t catch up with what was happening, the abundance of ornate beauty coming out of the water in the form of churches and shops, palaces and houses. The faded colours of ochre, dirty yellow and pink were the backdrop to boats delivering wine and fridges, chairs and art.
I walked to the edge of the canal and stood trying to figure it out.
The beauty hit me like a stun gun. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It took an hour before I could move on, start in the direction of finding my pensione with a map that meant absolutely nothing to me.
I didn’t care, it took forever that day to find the pensione run by a small Venetian called Maria. It was a spartan establishment with terrazzo floors, perfectly made single beds with bright white sheets and photos of the Madonna on the wall. Kind of like a Dolce & Gabbana ad.
In those days, it wasn’t weird to share the room with numerous people and I had another Australian girl in the bed next to me and on the opposite side of the room a Spanish man doing a tour of churches.
I remember thinking that was the oddest thing, who would tour the world to look at churches? I laugh now, cause that’s exactly what I do with Francesco, stick our head into every church we pass.
I had a copy of Italian Hours by Henry James as a companion and I walked the streets and over the bridges of the canals of Venice delighting in every detail. Henry James was my guide, I too fell in love with the Tintorettos in the Doge’s Palace, the faded colours, the way the doors opened into the sea, the way Venetians called to each other in what felt like a secret language. I loved it all, the wine bars where the locals would stand at the bar smoking and have a glass of prosecco or caffé coretto, coffee with a hit of grappa.
In the evenings, the other Australian girl and I would grab some wine, cheese and fruit and find a place on the canal and marvel at all the funny things that happened.
Venice was romantic like me She was unashamedly nostalgic and it felt like I had found the perfect match. Every outdated way of doing absolutely anything was still in in Venice and I reveled in.
At the end of the work day, the train would bring an influx of Venetians back to Venice and I still remember the elegance of the women and men. They seemed like the most sophisticated people on the planet. The way they dressed, they moved, the care in the details of the way they put themselves together right down to their exquisite shoes.
When I left Venice, I would never be the same girl. I would carry her with me in the coming years, our love affair has spanned 34 years. There is hardly a year that goes by without me knocking on her watery door and starting where we last left off. Photographing her has been one of my greatest joys, for myself and magazines (you can grab some tips here).
All images copyright Carla Coulson
Venice taught me so many life lessons. That the world is a big magical place, bigger and more beautiful than we could ever dream up. That there are places when you are far away from home that feel like home. That in a fast paced modern world, it is OK to be old fashioned and romantic and to be yourself. She taught me that the magic lies out of our comfort zone.
Maybe she planted a seed in my twenty-one-year-old mind that wasn’t ready to germinate at the time, that would slowly grow in my thirties, that life could be lived in so many different ways and that maybe one day that Italy would be part of my story.
She showed me that the impossible is possible. Never stop dreaming.
We love Venice we will be back real soon.
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