I’ve nurtured a plan to live in Venice since I first visited over a decade ago, falling in love with the light, the lagoon and the language. I was entranced by the way the water defined everything, the ease of movement provided by boats and the simply delightful absence of cars. Venetian friends provided a glimpse into the hidden corners of life away from the tourist masses, giving my first couple of visits that insider enjoyment of feeling different to the madding crowd moving in a tide between St Marks Square and the Rialto.
Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn seem determined to destroy my Venetian dream, unless I’m prepared to take radical action and swop my current husband for one originating from a more immigration-friendly EU country. With these thoughts in mind it seemed a half-term break in Italy could be the answer to my own Brexit nightmare..*
I’d delayed my return to Venice until my son could reliably walk without moaning every 20m as walking is the main mode of transport for everyone that doesn’t have their own boat. If you have working feet, legs and eyes, and the energy to use them, then Venice is a highly walkable city. Although the tourist hoards have increased in the last decade and ramps are now covering several of the larger bridges, Venice is still notoriously car free and hard for anyone to navigate on wheels. Cycling is on the list of prohibitions, and the only cyclists I saw were children balance biking up Via Garibaldi with enthusiasm. It’s one of the few cities I haven’t felt the need to clutch the hand of my child and shout ‘watch the road!’ in ever more frantic volumes. Boats provide the only sound of motors, and the city’s conspicuous consumption a living daily proof that you don’t need to park a van directly outside a shop to deliver goods.
But Venice isn’t just Venice. There are over 100 islands in the Venetian Lagoon and access to many of them is easy by vaporetto. Frustrated by the tourist crowds and needing to give my husband a quality day with ‘the art’, my six-year old and I headed to nearby Lido, where we knew there were cars, in search of adventure on two wheels.
Off the boat and with bike hire easily arranged, we were off. Only of course we weren’t because I needed to look at a map, check Google Maps five times, go the wrong way for a while, push the bikes across the road and then check the map again. Then we were off, heading towards the beach road in an attempt to find lunch that we didn’t need to re-mortgage our house to buy. We cruised along the wide road, alternating between the familiar tension of adventure and terror as the small number of cars on the road passed rather to close to my son for my comfort. We eventually found an off road path beside the beach and enjoyed a few miles off the beaten track until hunger took us back to civilisation.
We consumed the cheapest lunch available in a 20 miles radius before we pedalled off to see what the main island road held for an anxious mother and her pint-sized explorer.
*drum roll and some sort of trumpeting sounds*
There was an on road separated cycle path. It wasn’t wide, but it was several miles long and had side road priority as far as I could make out. It eventually turned into a shared use pavement and then disappeared altogether just as you needed it to guide you safely into town. But still, little Lido di Venezia has managed what some cities don’t dare to dream of – safe, separated space along its main transport corridor. And, in these times of Brexit, climate chaos and Donald Trump, that somehow gave me hope that the future isn’t so bleak for our self-destructive species.
*For the avoidance of doubt and to calm any relatives reading this, it is a joke