Photo credits: Marylou
::VENICE ~ VENEZIA::
There are many words to describe Venice, but one of the most common and fitting is the word “magical”. Without a doubt this island is about as tourist-centered and splashy as tourist destinations can be. And sadly, because of the tourism, many of the residents are leaving the island for more affordable and sustainable places to live.
The real charm of Venice lies in its canals. If you were to replace the canals with roads, it would lose 96% of its personality. The fun of getting on a boat instead of a car, and getting into a canal instead of an interstate is what sets Venice apart from other splashy destinations. I’m supposing that when she floods, she probably isn’t as charming and is more along the lines of inconvenient, but we didn’t experience that in our 2 days there.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and waited in a very long queue for the overcrowded parking garage located just off the causeway. It was literally let one car out of the garage, and let another in. Parking is rather limited on the island and we found that when we left Tuesday morning, it was a lot less crowded. We had arrangements for meeting our apartment host at 2:00 and when the line for the garage wasn’t moving much, Marylou and I left the others and sprinted to our apartment to finalize details. We discovered instantly that Venice is very, very crowded. It is not a very big island, approximately 4 km east to west and 2.8 km north to south. It averages about 60,000 tourists a day and so there’s not a lot of places for people to spread out.
The view of our “street”, er, “canal”.
One of our first matters of business was to buy our vaporetto passes which gave us unlimited access on the boats for the duration of our stay. Vaporettos are a bit like water buses and there are a few main lines that each run. We found the stations to be well marked and for the most part, the routes were easy to understand. We rode around the island for a few hours that evening because boats are fun and also to orient ourselves with the layout of the island. The Grand Canal, which empties out into the sea is quite magical at dusk when all the ristorante lights come on. We also got to see a huge cruise liner leave and after being there a few days, we were happy to see any cruise ship leave 🙂
There are hundreds of little bridges spanning back alley canals.
One of the most famous bridges in the world is the Rialto Bridge pictured above. We enjoyed walking it and shopping the local market at the one end.
There are a few iconic places in Venice that are definitely worth visiting. St. Mark’s Basillica is one of the most famous and unless you get there right when it opens, you’ll wait in line awhile. I’d recommend paying 2 euro and wearing a headset with the history and information of everything you are seeing. Rick Steves also has an audio download for many of these sites and we used him as well throughout our trip. The apostle Mark was killed and buried in Alexandria and it is rumored that two Venetian monks smuggled his remains out of the country under a pile of pork and cabbage leaves. Since Muslims aren’t permitted to eat pork, this was a perfect way to avoid rousing suspicion. Supposedly his body lies underneath the altar of this Basilica. We were not permitted to take pictures inside but it was yet another ornate and elaborate church, and we wondered yet again what Mark would think of his namesake basilica.
In the same complex is the Doge’s palace which we heard is also worth some time exploring. We were running short on time and kind of tired of spending money so we enjoyed this from the outside. Venice in the 14th century, was the seat of the government before it moved to Rome and the doges lived here in the palace. It has a decidedly Gothic style and the intricate arches and moldings were pretty incredible!
The famous Bridge of Sighs linking the palace to the prison. Supposedly prisoners would take one final look at their beloved Venice through the windows on the bridge and sigh before going into their cells. There was a wedding photo shoot happening while we were there and I thought it added a somewhat romantic layer to this iconic place 🙂
Everything is a bit more expensive in Venice, due to literally everything including supplies being boated in. Mornings on the canals were a bee hive of activity, with loading and unloading supplies and tools, moving things around, picking up and dropping off passengers and everything else that a normal city does, this just being done on water.
And of course, no roads means no fire trucks or police cars but they do have police and fire boats, pictured below. We saw a casket being taken down a canal in a….. hearse boat?! The one day when we were riding the boats just because we could, we got off at our stop with a bunch of school children. There were pockets of normal life that we got to see happen but mostly it was tourists like us who were taking it all in like we were.
And of course there were the gondolas with the renowned gondoliers in their striped shirts. It costs a pretty penny to ride one of these and for even a bit more, you can hire a singing gondolier 🙂 We thought it was beautiful and could be very romantic but as I mentioned, we were hitting the spending fatigue part and opted to enjoy Venice on the vaporettos and just take pictures of the gondolas.
We enjoyed one of our most memorable dinners in Venice. Some lovely fellow Americans that we had met in Tuscany recommended this little restaurant in Venice and raved about the Cacio e Pepe so we decided to give it a try. I think our waiter was a bit disgruntled with having to make it five times because we all ordered it 🙂 Cacio e Pepe means cheese and pepper and the process by which it gets to your plate is most intriguing. They cook spaghetti noodles before hand and then bring it out to your table alongside this huge hollowed out cheese wheel. They scoop out the noodles and a bit of the hot water into the cheese (in this case, cheese from pecorino sheep ). They stir the noodles around in the cheese wheel, the hot liquid melting the cheese and then work it together for awhile resulting in basically a very glorified pile of macaroni and cheese. They then use a mortar and pestle to grind peppercorns to sprinkle over the top of the entree.
This was another one of those meals where we all ended up with a huge serving of pasta and not much else, but another (by this time very familiar 🙂 bowl of gelato finished our dinner. We had mucho leftovers so we combined them all and took them home and enjoyed another meal the next day for lunch. We added a bit of ham and some extra cheese and it was quite nice. We got rather creative with our leftover food and saved lots of money by re-purposing leftover food.
So yes, we discovered Venice to be fun and charming as well as expensive and crowded, all of which we were prepared for. It is definitely has romantic vibes and I think we saw more love-birds here than any other spot. Here’s a PSA for any potential honeymooners in Venice- the streets are very crowded with people and suitcases and bags. It won’t always be conducive for holding hands and so be aware when its suitable (cue gondolier music) and when to momentarily unclasp those loving hands. P.S (it makes it easier for all the other tourists walking beside you)
That’s a rather strange way to end this part so I’ll leave you with one final beautiful picture:
From here we head north to some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. We trade beautiful old buildings and congested streets for Alpine heights and lonely roads.