The final stop of my seven-day cruise through the Mediterranean aboard Silver Spirit is masterpiece-rich Venice, and we overnight in the harbour, allowing us to escape the hordes of day trippers who cause human traffic jams on the Rialto Bridge.
Venice, still a city of merchants, relies on the tourist economy, but at the same time, having so many visitors makes some Venetians grumpy — as well as worried about the fragility of their city’s crumbling infrastructure. There is concern in particular that large cruise ships should not drop anchor so close to Piazza San Marco because it causes tides that then erode the foundations of buildings.
Fortunately, Silver Spirit, at 36,000 tonnes, is a more discreet visitor and one of a number of smaller cruise ships that won’t be affected by rulings that come into effect this year that will ban mega cruise ships.
As well, since the ship is spending the night in port, passengers have more time to get past the crowds around the Doge’s Palace and get lost in the maze of endless buildings and bridges, fantastic Murano glass stores and boutiques, cafés and leather shops.
I am especially impressed with the eclectic modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, housed in an unfinished 18th-century palace on the main canal where she lived. It has all my favourites: Dali, Miro and Picasso.
Seeing La Serenissima, as the city has been called, in the evening from a gondola casts the city in a whole different light. The lanterns come on, the palaces glow and the night air is still. There are no exhaust fumes or honking cars, just the sound of water lapping. The barnacles on the canal walls are so close I can reach out and touch them. Our gondolier punts us through the narrow canals with expert precision, never once bumping the boat, even as he pauses to answer his mobile phone.
As evening dissolves into night, I climb back aboard Silver Spirit, and cast a final glance at Piazza San Marco, grateful to have had this chance to see the city in the soft morning light, the harsh midday sun and at night from a beautiful ship balcony.