September 9, 2010
Recently I visited Amsterdam. Away from the busy, garish centre, the city was the very definition of words like ‘charming’ and ‘pretty’: a sweep of narrow streets around meandering canals, rickety bicycles wobbling over cobbles, busy restaurants spilling into the roads, tulips galore, quirky architecture everywhere you looked…
As we were walking around the canals, one of our party commented that Amsterdam’s known as the Venice of the North. Hang on a second, I interjected – but isn’t Bruges called that? Hmm. No-one seemed sure. We agreed to disagree (ie, we both secretly thought the other wrong).
Responding to a journalist yesterday morning, I found myself explaining that Bourton-on-the-Water is known as the Venice of the Cotswolds. Blimey. Just how many alternative Venices can there be around the world? Quite a few, in fact…
Wikipedia collates no fewer than 16 towns that have been labelled the ‘Venice of the North’ – with Birmingham among them, although that claim seems solely to have been made by its own PR team – and a further 17 potential Venices of the East, from Basra to Osaka. Wikipedia also claims that Nantes has been called the Venice of the West, despite being significantly less westerly than various possible Venices of the North.
Geography seems to matter only loosely in this squabble for Venicification. Fort Lauderdale, sometimes referred to as the Venice of America, also goes by the title of the ‘Venice of the South’ – despite sitting in the northern hemisphere. FL’s fellow Floridian town Tarpon Springs is another place claimed to be the ‘Venice of the South’, as is San Antonio in Texas. Rather gloomily, blogger Sean Braisted gave Nashville the moniker after its 2010 flooding. Moving down to the world’s lower half, Melbourne is another location feted as a southerly Venice. No doubt I’m missing many more.
Like a big sports tournament, there are lesser, regional titles up for grabs too. El Gouna’s fought off zero competition to become the Venice of the Red Sea. Suzhou is also Venice of the Orient. Despite having been ruined for around six centuries, Nan Madol is the Venice of the Pacific. That’s the equivalent of Eric the Eel being Equatorial Guinea’s best-ever 100m freestyler.
All this and I’ve not even mentioned mini Venices – Little Venice in London. Little Venice in Mykonos. The Venice Beach area of Los Angeles.
In the end, there are two possible reactions to all this. You could despair at so many towns’ enthusiasm for a little Venetian glamour, and at travel writers’ inability to find a better description for somewhere with a few canals and some quaint corners. Or you can be amused by the hordes of satellite Venices, like an army of terrible tribute bands, and view each ‘Venice of the…’ tag simply as a paean to the greatest watery town of them all.