Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS!

Unfamiliar Place: Venice

The city of Venice is hot and loud in the summertime, but the heat and the noise here are different — it’s more organic and more human. Even when you walk in the shadows of a towering Jesuit church, as the sun begins to dip towards the horizon, the heat still covers you like a blanket. When you stop and listen, you find that with no cars around — the clatter of plates, the hearty chuckles, the clinking of glasses, and the crumpling of wave after wave onto stone are refreshingly clear and crisp. 

You're not from here, and you can’t quite understand the conversations taking place around you. But the few words that you do know and pick up on are like a song, dancing on the edge of comprehension. Stepping closer to an older couple seated at a restaurant, you hear a light-hearted exchange filled with laughter. You think perhaps they were talking about a funny story or a joke, but you’ll never really know.


As you reach a pair of ancient grey double doors, you turn around and look back on the path you walked, beholding the dusty square full of exposed brick and plaster. The square doesn’t quite stretch to the horizon, but you see that gap is comfortably bridged by the shiny teal waves of the Laguna Veneta, lazily throwing a salty breeze into the summer heat under a cloudy blue sky. You take a breath and the smell of saltwater mixes with the delicious aromas wafting out of several small restaurants in the square, a cornucopia of breads, cheeses, wines, seafood, garlic, tomato, and countless spices.

But something else catches your olfactory senses and pulls you back into the direction of those ancient grey double doors: the fragrant and cozy smell of coffee. After walking past those doors, you immediately arrive at the uncluttered courtyard of a nearly millennia-old monastery, where there is a small coffee shop tucked comfortably in the back. As you look around the walls of the monastery, you briefly consider the integrity of the aged architecture, the tragedy of its decay. But your thoughts quickly shift as you sit down on a sunbaked stone bench and begin to feel almost painfully out of place in the powerful simplicity of the courtyard. It's as if you are a blemish on a fine painting, while the others in the courtyard seem perfectly in place to you, barely acknowledging your entrance.

Something brushes against your leg and you look down to see a flash of messy brown hair. As the hair is lifted up, you see that it is a boy, retrieving his errant soccer ball. He pauses and looks at you, quickly saying something in Italian before returning to his friends with the ball. You assume that he was apologizing, but again, really you have no idea. 

You make your way towards the small coffee shop, crossing your fingers that the woman at the cashier will speak some tidbit of English, so you don't have to embarrass yourself again. The woman greets you in Italian. After trying to order a cappuccino and absolutely butchering your phrases, she looks at you, smiles, and nods in understanding. She asks you what you would like to order in perfect English. 

Shortly after, you return to your spot on the stone bench. You’ve noticed that here in Venice, simplicity is misleading. Here in this place, the ornate and plain reveal the fullness of history, culture, and beauty intricately combined together. 

You take a warm and pleasant sip of your cappuccino as the shadows in the courtyard grow longer. You realize, it's been some time since you were able to sit back and enjoy the warm flow of caffeine, rather than frantically downing a cup or two to stay awake in the morning. You feel a little less out of place in this foreign space as you slow down and watch the sky slowly darken.