This story is part of our 'Romantic Travel Stories' series, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests which were sent in for our travel writing competition.
Photo by Chigley.
My great romantic adventure takes place in Venice, Italy. Forty years old and newly divorced I was determined to have the Italian experience I had been yearning for my entire adult life. Italy; a country of sensations, a jump-start to any self-reinvention. And so I went, on my own for the month of May to the country of my dreams, dreaming of romantic adventure.
My journey began in Rome, followed by Florence, took me south to the Amalfi Coast and ultimately landed me at the train station just outside of Venice. How can I begin to describe this moment? The time was 6pm; the sky was turning myriad shades of violet as I waited with my bag at the dock at the Grande Canale. Tears were welling in my eyes. I had been in Italy for several weeks and everything I saw was beautiful. But this, this crumbling city suspended in water was more than my romantic heart could bear. It felt as if I had been here before in a past life - it was so familiar. I checked into my hotel, changed clothes and began my stroll through the little alleyways and back streets of Venice. I hired a gondola and rode in it alone on my tour of the canals. It cost me $200 dollars but I didn’t care. I felt like a principessa. Tired on the first night, and overcome by the beauty of it all, I returned to my room and slept for ten hours.
Next morning I went to a little café on the Grande Canal, ordered a cappuccino and began reading the day’s USA Today. Within 15 minutes, a very handsome gondolier approached me asking if I wanted a ride. I told him that I had taken my gondola ride the night before but he insisted he take me back to my hotel free of charge. How could I refuse? This is how adventures begin when you are a 40 year old single woman in the most beautifully romantic city in the world. Francesco asked me to meet him later that night. He wanted to take me on a moonlight ride in his gondola after he finished working. I said I would think about it.
I was to have dinner with an American woman I had met that day. I went over to the Grande Canal hoping to see Francesco and see for myself, now that I had had some time to think about his offer, if I could possibly accept. My excuse for being there was to ask for a restaurant recommendation. Some place fantastic and local - nowhere tourists would frequent. Francesco was so delighted to see me I knew then I had to give his offer serious consideration.
Linda and I were sitting in a window seat at the trattoria Francesco recommended having a wonderful meal when up to our window he appeared, steering his gondola full of Japanese tourists. I smiled and handed him my glass of wine which he happily sipped from, handed back to me and rode off. That was it. My mind was made up.
After our dinner and a lovely walk through the streets of Venice, a night cap at a café in St. Mark’s Square, I left Linda and headed for the Grande Canale to find Francesco. He was waiting for me with a bottle of chilled white wine and a gorgeous smile on his face. That night I saw Venice bathed in moonlight. It seemed we were the only two people awake in the city as we slowly made our way up and down the tiny waterways all night long... I spent two days with Francesco. On my last day in Venice he met me at the train station and we walked and walked until it was time to board my train. He arranged for my couchette - my private sleeping car - and it was in the privacy of my room we said our goodbyes.
I was filled with such mixed emotions as my train left the station that night. I knew I was likely never going to see my gondolier again. And that it was very likely I was not the first, nor the last, woman he so lovingly shared his city with. But somehow it really didn’t matter. In my search for true love I learned that it was entirely possible to fall in love with someone for three days and for that to be enough.