i’ve been dreading writing this post, because i know it will simply not do venice any justice. but it’s freezing and dreary in dallas today, and all i can think about is sweet, mysterious venice. you see, venice is absolutely, definitely, hands-down my favorite city i have ever visited. ever. a lot of people don’t like venice. i do not understand these people. it is magical. it is like no place you have ever seen before. and if you can stay long enough to explore more than just the tourist sites, you will understand how people can fall in love with a city.
the first sight as you exit the train station is a large bridge and bustling canal with enough boats to create a traffic jam (you may also hear a native american band, which has always confused me, but i hear they are still there!). there are no cars, no mopeds, no bikes. the architecture is breathtaking – in fact, a simple square window appears only once along the grand canal. the houses are faded, but each shows signs of former bright colors and detailed exterior frescos. glancing inside the windows, you can still see the grandeur that was once venice – large chandeliers, carved ceilings, rich dark red and green walls, gold trimmings.
venice is filled with art galleries (the shopping is amazing with beautiful glass jewelry and home decor from the nearby island of murano), museums, and exhibits, and is host every other year to the huge biannual art show. if you love art, plan in advance and do some research to find times to meet artists and attend exhibit openings. the streets are paved with large gray stones, and rainbow pace (peace) flags hang from many windows. the roads wind around and change names every few feet, becoming narrower and narrower until you are finally thrust into a huge, square plaza. even with maps and the best of navigators (i.e. me), you will get lost. multiple times. just go with it.
though i highly recommend exploring the narrow and dark back roads for hidden restaurants, bars, and cafes, the tourist sites are also worth seeing. along the grand canal sits st. mark’s square, with the famous harry’s bar, where cipriani invented the bellini (yum). the piazza is grand, surrounded by st. mark’s basilica (inside, the floor ripples and dips and slides due to the marshy foundation underneath), doge’s palace, the campanile, and expensive restaurants with dueling orchestras. definitely touristy, but an necessary visit for at least an afternoon/evening (if you’re willing to fork over some cash for the dueling orchestras, try florian’s, and be sure to tour the interior before leaving). and everything truly is on a boat! we saw a construction boat equipped with a crain, a fire boat with a hook and ladder, an ambulance docked outside the waterfront ER, a speed police boat, etc.
across the grand canal is my favorite venetian site: the peggy guggenheim museum. housed in her former palazzo, her surrealist collection that she amassed through supporting surrealist artists is breathtaking (let alone the views of the grand canal from her patio). peggy was a kooky – some may say crazy – personality in venice, and she she ordered in her will that her art was never to leave venice until the day it sinks (which is happening, by the way – go quickly!).
for a nice day trip, head to the surrounding islands of murano and burano. stop first at murano, known for its colorful glass. you can explore artists’ studios (and watch them in action) and tour the glass museum, which explains the history of venetian glass. spend the afternoon in burano, known for its lace and colorful houses. each window box is filled with flowers and each door has a brightly colored boat nearby in the canal. it remided me of the canal houses in puerto la cruz, venezuela, where i lived for a year in high school. the lido beach to the south is also worth a stop if you’re there in the heat of the summer months.
who should go: artists, romantics, those looking for a window into the past
what to pack: walking shoes! for nights out, you may want a wider, stacked heel or wedge to navigate the cobble-stone streets.
where to stay: to save money (venice can be expensive), try staying in the quieter parts of town with less tourist traffic. we stayed on the south-eastern end of town, and found that we were surrounded by locals, excellent bakeries, and still walking distance to, well, the entire city.
what to read: sognare venezia, photographed by fernando bertuzzi. this is my favorite book on venice, and captures the essence of the city much more completely and beautifully than college eva.
best advice: if you go the route of a gondola ride, bring a bottle of wine (tip from my friend, erin!)