Today I am going to take you to Venice, though I am saving the visit to its Guggenheim until next time (it was so cool it gets its own post). If you have never been to Venice, it is definitely one of those “must see” kinda places. It’s an incredible city, actually made up of 118 tiny islands, linked by canals and bridges. There are no cars, so the only means of public transportation is by “vaporetti” (boat-buses) – definitely the most fun type of public transportation ever! The main focus of the city is the Grand Canal, lined with tons of gorgeous palazzos built between the 13th and 18th centuries. There are only a few bridges which cross the canal, with the Rialto being the most spectacular (and its base being the location of the daily local produce and fish market). Some of the little islands of Venice are semi-famous in their own right (Burano for lace, Murano for glass-blowing and Lido for its beach). All-in-all it is a little fairy-tale place which is hard to describe with words!
In a way, I don’t feel like I’m the right person to take you to this amazing place. You see, I’ve been here twice before (before we moved to Italy), so I don’t have that same sense of “WOW!!!!” as I did the first time (and it really deserves a major “WOW”). Maybe you know what I mean – once you’ve been somewhere so amazing it is hard to recreate the experience – either because you are no longer surprised or because you have pretty high expectations for what a great time you should have. The first time I saw Venice, not only was it the first time I saw Venice, but it was the first time I saw anywhere requiring a passport. We stayed on a little island off of Venice (Giudecca) in an apartment overlooking the water, requiring us to enjoy taking the boat-buses everywhere (pretty hard to top). The photo of Steve and I, and the view from our apartment (pics 2 and 3) are from that inaugural visit, in 2006. Jaded or not, Venice is gorgeous and if you have never seen it in person, no blog post could do it justice.
While we weren’t surprised by how gorgeous Venice was, we were surprised that even though Venice is usually a tourist magnet, this time of year it was much less crowded than Florence and it felt peaceful in comparison (some of this is likely the lack of cars and requisite honking of such cars’ horns). Since there are only 60,000 full-time residents, without most of the usual 50,000+ tourists Venice averages a day, the town seemed almost sleepy (notice the one lone elderly man crossing a bridge in the picture). It gave us plenty of room to meander the streets and take photos uncluttered by crowds.
We discovered that many Venetians close up shop for the winter, which left us without the option of eating at one of the restaurants I had pre-researched. Instead we ended up in what seemed like a popular local seafood place (no English menu, usually a good sign), and while the food was fine, it wasn’t the spectacular food I had in mind from our first visit there (so the picture below is of a memorable meal from 2006). When we entered the restaurant the day was clear and bright, as you can see from the photos; when we emerged after lunch the city was completely shrouded in fog and you could no longer see across the lagoon (notice the solid white behind the row of gondolas). After the Guggenheim (which was new to us), we wondered across the Rialto Bridge (the fog mixed with the Christmas lights created a cool polka dot effect in my photo), warmed up with some hot chocolate, and headed back to Florence on the train (about 2 hours).
Seriously, you gotta see it for yourself, but here’s a little sample: