Venice: The Kingdom on the Lagoon


There are few places in the world as unique as the city of Venice. I can't think of anywhere I've been that resembles it. No, Venice is no longer the maritime capitol of the Adriatic Sea, but its grandiose monuments and buildings are a reminder of it's power and might.

Today, it feels more like a theme park, as many of the buildings in the main area of Venice are actually uninhabited. Small merchants selling Venetian masks, glass, and paper-wares are now intermingled with the likes of Gucci, Burberry, and Salvatore Ferragamo. The grand palaces and piazzas scattered throughout the narrow streets are bustling with large tour groups, often only visiting for the day from a cruise liner.

However, there's still something magical here. An almost fantastical aura hidden along its narrow canals. At night, once all the tourists are gone and the streets are empty, you can almost imagine what it was like to live in "The Floating City".

To-Do List:

Day One

We arrived in Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia as rain started pouring down. While my rain jacket provided some shelter, my backpack was getting soaked! We quickly purchased tickets for the water bus, a large ferry that takes passengers up and down the Grand Canal.

The views from the ferry were quite nice and a great intro to Venice!

Unfortunately, the Rialto Bridge was under maintenance. I have to say, it was really disappointing not to see the bridge in all its glory...

Our lodging was a 4-star hotel right on in front of the Rialto Bridge named Hotel Rialto. It was a bit pricier than our other options, but we wanted to stay right in the middle of the city.

The room was small, but surprisingly comfortable. It's old decor, whether it was "authentic" or not, made us feel like we were immersed in the city's historic culture.

As usual, the train ride left us a bit hungry. So, we walked in the rain to a nearby sandwich cafe named La Brasiliana. It wasn't super fancy, but for a quick bite and coffee, it was perfect.

We made our way south, exploring many side-streets, towards the Piazza San Marco.

The Piazza San Marco is the main public square in the city of Venice. It's quite large, surround by a facade of tall arches and marble decor. Shops and restaurants line the buildings along the outside of the square.

At the east end of the piazza is the Basilica di San Marco, a large Italo-Byzantine cathedral known for its exuberant exterior and ornate mosaic interior decor. Since it was raining outside, there was very little wait to get into the cathedral itself!

It's hard to believe, but the ceiling isn't covered in paintings, it's completely covered in mosaic!

Inside the cathedral, there are "mini-museums". A couple of euro grants access to the Pala d'Oro, a large, golden display of Byzantine craftsmanship.

A couple more euro grants access to the treasury, which houses several Byzantine artifacts, most of which were looted from Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade.

Just a few steps away from the Basilica di San Marco is the Campinile di San Marco, a 320-foot bell tower with sweeping views of the city. Unlike many of the tall structures in Italy, this one had a lift to the top!

It was very cold and windy at the top, but the panoramic views were amazing. We also had the entire tower to ourselves!

After taking the lift back down to the ground, we walked towards the main harbor along the Venetian Lagoon. This part of the piazza was once (and still might be) the main gateway into the city from the sea.

The next sight on our list was the Pallazo Ducale, or Doge's Palace. The Venetian gothic-style palace was built to house the Doge of Venice, essentially the supreme leader of the Republic of Venice.

The entire palace is room after room of amazing artwork and history. Many of the government officials and powerful families of Venice met here and discussed foreign policy, maritime law, and internal affairs.

The palace also housed an armory, where there are now displays of old weapons and armor.

The paintings on the walls and ceilings were very detailed. The style of the museum reminded me of the Vatican Museums.

At one time, the palace also housed a prison. It must have been torture being a prisoner in Venice, with such a beautiful city surrounding you as you rotted away in a concrete cell. Giacomo Cassanova was once held in the prison cells of the palace for taking part in public disturbances against the holy religion.

After leaving the Pallazo Ducale, we made our way back to the hotel room to rest and recover. Then, it was time to cross the Rialto Bridge and explore the bars for cicheti and wine!

Our first stop was a place named Osteria Do Mori, recommended by the nice gentleman at the front desk of our hotel. It's a small establishment, one of the oldest in the city. We sat and enjoyed a glass of valpolicella, a Venetian red wine, and helped ourselves to an array of cicheti!

Once we had a good buzz going, we hopped over to a bar named Cantina Do Spade. It was a younger, more American vibe, as many English-speaking tourists sat at the large communal table in front of the bar. We ordered up more wine and chowed down on more fried cicheti!

As the sun was going down, we continued our cicheti tour at a small, standing-only bar named All'Arco. We asked the bartender for a recommendation, and he served us glasses of a local mixture of cabernet and merlot. It wasn't our favorite... We were a little full from the previous bars, so we chose not to eat here.

At this point, we were pretty drunk. Our last stop on our cicheti tour was a bar named L'Aquasanta. Bigger than the other places, the offerings of cicheti here were pretty good. We opted for more glasses of valpolicella and meat balls.

It was still very early in the evening, but we were full-on drunk! We were literally fed up with cicheti and wanted some good, old-fashioned drunk food. We stopped into a restaurant named Da Moma, a traditional Italian restaurant. Of course, we ordered more wine, but this was definitely our last glass!

The pizza had rosemary cooked into the sauce and each piece of salami had a dollop of brie cheese on top. I'd never had this type of pizza before, and I found it surprisingly delicious!

Day Two

The sun was out in full force on the morning of our second day in Venice. We didn't get as early a start as we would have liked, but as long as it wasn't raining, we were happy! We ventured out to the Rialto Market, a quick walk across the Rialto Bridge and along the Grand Canal.

There were many covered tents selling a variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats.

Right in the middle of the market, a shop owner was peeling artichokes. He looked very focused on his work as we, the tourists, took photos around him.

The fish market, which is surrounded by brick walls and large archways, had wide selection of different types of catches for the day. Early in the morning, the chefs at local restaurants rush down to these fish markets to buy the nicest, freshest fish to serve their customers!

A little hungry, we walked around and peeked into the many tiny cafes in the area. Eventually, we settled on small cafe with sandwiches on display. Unfortunately, I never got the name of the place...

They served little sandwiches that were folded without the crust and stuffed with all kinds of different fillings. The sandwiches were unique and really good!

After we ate our small sandwiches and walked over to a pastry shop named Dolce Vito. Rather than getting big cannoli (like we normally would), we decided to try a smaller dessert named cannoncini. Cannoncini are basically puff pastry horns stuffed with cream.

It was approaching mid-day cicheti hour, so we figured we might as well drop into a bar. We grabbed some seats at a bar called Barcollo. It was empty when we entered, but as soon as cicheti time hit, loud music came on and crowds of people came in. It was definitely one of the more lively bars we've been to in Venice, all in the middle of the day!

With the sun still out, it was the perfect time for one of Venice's greatest attractions: the gondola ride! The gondola docks are spread throughout the city, but the most convenient one for us was located right in front of our hotel. Our friendly gondolier helped us into the narrow canoe-like boat and we launched out onto the Grand Canal.

I definitely went into the gondola ride expecting a normal boat ride with some dude behind me paddling away. After all, it's one of the biggest "tourist traps" in Venice.

However, it was one of the most peaceful and romantic experiences I've had in all of Italy. The ride is actually very quiet, just the sound of the gondolier carefully navigating around water busses, other gondolas, and narrow canals.

I'll also mention, gondoliers aren't just "some dudes paddling away." There is an art to propelling, steering, and stopping a gondola using a specialized oar or rèmo. They are professionals, trained and licensed by the Gondoliers Guild.

I don't think any visit to Venice is truly complete without a gondola ride!

As soon as we docked our gondola, the rain started pouring. We ducked out under the covered tables of a small restaurant named Osteria Dai Zemei.

We asked our waitress to bring us her two favorite bruschetta pieces. One of them had pickles and ham on top, the other had onion jam and feta cheese. Both were excellent!

Everywhere we looked, people were drinking this bright orange beverage. This popular apertif is called spritz, which originated in Venice! It's a mixture of prosecco wine, Aperol liqueur, and sparkling water.

Once the rain subsided, we simply picked a direction and walked. Occasionally, we stopped into one of the many artisan shops along the way.

In the 15th century, Venice became the capital Europe for paper and print. So, there were many shops offering journals, stamps, pens, etc. On the hunt for the new notebook for writing, we walked into many of these unique shops.

As we continued to get lost in the narrow streets and canals, we walked past a tiny window with deep-fried seafood on display. Friggitoria! This one was named Acqua and Mais, and the calamari was as delicious as it looked in the window.

Again, we explored the many artisanal shops along the way.

In one of the piazzas, a small, green cookie in one of the bakery's windows caught my attention. I didn't catch the name of the bakery, but I stopped in to buy one. It turned out to be a pistachio and chocolate cookie, which was pretty good!

In one of the paper stores, we finally settled on a notebook! It was a nice little notebook, held closed by a leather string. Very stylish!

We continued to wander about, taking in the scenery of the canals and the buildings around them. There were no crowds at all in these side-streets!

When we emerged from the narrow streets, we ended up at the train station, Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia! We had walked all the way back to the station.

We walked along the Grand Canal all the way back to our hotel. There were many tourists, but it wasn't extremely crowded on the main road.

After our long walk, we decided to have dinner at a restaurant named Trattoria alla Modonna. While the entrance very small and hidden away in a narrow alley, the restaurant was actually very big!

Being our last dinner in Venice, we enjoyed our last bottle of valpolicella.

Our dinner consisted of crab meat in the shell, squid ink spaghetti, and, you guessed it, fried seafood! The crab meat was very fresh. The squid ink spaghetti was seasoned very well and the noodles were nicely done. My favorite part of the meal was probably the fried soft-shell crab.

Stuffed from the wonderful seafood dinner, we ventured out to find some gelato. We bought some gelato in a small gelato shop right next to our hotel.

Farewell to the Floating City

I went into Venice expecting the worst: hot and humid weather, smelly canal water, unbearable crowds, etc. However, I found that if you visit with an open mind and a willingness to get lost, Venice is a wonderful place to visit.

There's no other place quite like it.

1 comment:

Diana T said...

Thanks for the tips! I'll have to check these out when we are in Venice on Sunday! :D

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