Venice, with its beautiful canals, bridges, and gondolas dotting the city, has a unique romanticism travelers can’t find anywhere else. Or, so they think. So enthralled with Venice is the world, that many cities claim the title of Venice of the region just because of some distant resemblance to the spectacular city. Usually the existence of any water feature—including, but not limited to, canals, rivers, or springs—seems enough for a city to aim for that title. Some of these cities are worth a visit for their particular charm, quite often not associated with any similarities to Venice.
VENICE OF THE EAST
Suzhou bills itself as the Oriental Venice, but was named so by Marco Polo, who was Venetian, so probably knew what he was talking about. The city is on the Grand Canal, one of the ancient Chinese waterways that linked many of the country’s cities 2000 years ago. On the outskirts of the city the Weichang River is a rectangular canal that encircles most of the historical area, with several smaller canals linking the sides of the rectangle. For more small-town Venetian feel and less the bustle of a big city, water towns around Suzhou are not to be missed. Tongli, Zhouzhuang, and Xitang come complete with gondolas and small arched bridges over the canals. Among these, Tongli is so well preserved that it is now a preferred location for shooting movie scenes.
VENICE OF THE WESTVENICE OF THE NORTH
Amsterdam vied for this title with St. Petersburg and won, although both cities are sometimes referred to as Venice of the North. The canals in Amsterdam make as many as 90 small islands, all linked by around a thousand bridges. The name of the city comes from a dam built on the River Amstel in the 13th century. The number of boat tours abound and are a great way to see the city, including the boat houses. We think Amsterdam is the closest thing to Venice there is.
VENICE OF THE SOUTHMonasterevin, in Ireland, is not so much about the canals, as about waterways. However, the charm of the small town cannot be denied, in part because of the drawbridges that gives the entire setting a historical allure. If you want a more urban setting, Nantes, in France, is also sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the West”. The medieval castle (which we will cover in a future issue) and the cathedral are also worth seeing.
The only real Venice of the South is the original Venice. But other southern countries fancy themselves little sisters to the famed Italian water city. The country of Venezuela actually means “Little Venice”, yet few cities would qualify as canal towns. Further east, several cities in the Southeast Asia frequently lay claim to being the “Venice of the South”, as the region is prone to floods, leaving many cities full of canals quite often. The southernmost Philippine island of Tawi-Tawi is so devoid of land that houses and markets are built on stilts as extensions around the island. They call themselves the Venice of the South, but if there is more water than buildings then we aren’t sure it qualifies…
The city of Davao, also in the Philippines, is another contender for the Venice of the South title due to its frequent floods, which turns the streets into canals, whether the people like it or not. Nevertheless, Davao is known for its natural beauty and is worth a visit if you are in the region. In one of the waterside markets in the Philippines be sure to pick up their favorite fruit, the Durian, know as the King of Fruits”, for its large and prickly size.
Just like Venice has its own Grand Canal, so does Suzhou, only that in this case, the Grand Canal linked Beijing to Hangzhou, which means that it was significantly longer, with about 1,776 kilometers in length. What is even more amazing is that much of the canal dates back at least 2,500 years, with the oldest parts going back to the 5th century!
South East Asia’s Smelly Fruit
The Durian is known for its un-aromatic qualities, as it smells like a rotten onion. Some say it tastes as bad as it smells, but others like both the taste and smell. But the durian also has reported nutritional and medicinal value, other than its monarchic trait and the questionable culinary one: a pharmaceutical company in New York launched a short-lived health supplement in the 1920s based on durian.