Our last port on our cross-country Italian trip was Venice. Rumored to be falling apart and filthy, we were expecting this last city to be a disappointment. But we were so wrong. Venice is incredibly beautiful and completely reinvented since it’s falling-down-building days of Casino Royale past. There was no fishy smell to the water and, considering the amount of tourists, it was a pretty clean city.
We had decided to stay outside of Venice proper to avoid the more expensive hotels. This was a mistake. We should have paid the extra €10 or so a night to not have to travel in everyday. But our AirBnB was lovely: Eco B&B Venice. It was just a bus ride away from Venice bus terminal, and from there you cross over a large and gorgeous bridge to make it to the island. Then ta da! You hop on any number of water buses that take you from dock to dock around the city.
We had a thought: boats are a luxury for many people around the world, but the Venetians have to take them just to get to work. The grass is always greener where you water it.
Since we were in Venice for only two days, we bought the 48 Hour Transport and Water Bus Ticket. This allowed access to all buses, trams, and water buses with no hiccups. With all of the dock hopping and bus traveling, it was well worth the €60 for the two of us.
We spent our first day wandering through the tight alleyways and following the canals. We were completely lost in the majesty of this floating city. And for the high season, it was not crowded or loud. We even managed to find empty spots for just us to sprawl out.
We turned a corner in our maze and were drawn in by some opera music blasting from a tiny boombox. An older gentleman was belting out Turandot in front of St. Maria Gloriosa Basilica. Can you imagine anything more Italian? We stopped in our tracks and sat down on the steps to watch as he came to the epic conclusion. But he didn’t stop there. The next song he sang was Time to Say Goodbye.
This was clearly not his first rodeo. He was very cheeky with the camera and personable while he sang. It truly was a romantic and beautiful moment.
We made our way to St. Mark’s Square to take in the sights, scaffolding included. We knew we were coming back at another time, but to see the pigeons propped in the square made the moment more real and not just an image from countless movies. We did our part in chasing them around. But obviously, these pigeons were used to the attention because they didn’t scatter quite to our expectations.
The next day, we got up early and began the sight-seeing portion of our trip. The first stop was back to St. Mark’s Basilica or Church of Gold for the sheer amount of mosaics on the ceilings (about 8,000 square meters worth). There were no pictures allowed, so unfortunately, I can’t share what we saw. But it was astounding. Not just the gold leaf on every stone, but the scale of these artworks.
Only as recently as 1807 has it been the city’s cathedral. It was originally the Doge’s chapel since it sits right next to the Doge’s Palace. It was completed in 832 AD but was destroyed in 976 during a rebellion. It is believed that the reconstruction from 1073 is what stands today with continuous improvements and additions. The gold mosaics came later in the 1270s, and today, there is only a fraction of the original gold on the ceiling. The majority of it was restored and reset in the 18th century.
When going inside, make sure you are covered: legs and arms. Or at least have a euro on hand for a make-shift skirt to wrap around your shorts. It may have been scratchy, but it was worth it to go inside.
After our necks gave out from staring up, we headed to the Doge’s Palace. Tickets were €18 for the two of us. We didn’t purchase these ahead of time, but we had no problem with the line and buying on the day. Nothing in the square and palace was built after the 1500s as far as the architecture was concerned. And it was gorgeous. The intricate design of the exterior is unparalleled. The symmetry was mesmerizing and enormous.
We walked through the palace and saw countless artworks, but it also took you over the Bridge of Sighs to the prison where the famous Casanova stayed. There is a tradition in Venice to ride a gondola underneath the Bridge of Sighs and kiss. You’re supposed to live happily ever after if you do this. Because we didn’t want to spend the €80 for thirty minutes on a gondola, we kissed while inside the Bridge of Sighs–that counts right? You can’t get any closer than that!
The prison was certainly depressing as we walked past cage after cage. No wonder you would sigh on that bridge. It was your last glimpse at sunlight for your unforeseeable future. Lucky for us, it was just a few minutes before we could breathe in fresh air.
We hopped on a water bus and headed to the Rialto Market. We are fans of Jamie Oliver and in his Jamie Does Venice episode, he wanders through the market where the fresh fish was pungent and unique. It took quite a while to get there on the boat, and we were being lulled to sleep on the gentle waves. I can’t imagine what riding one of things in the evening would do after a long day at work.
We grabbed some fresh figs from the market just as they were closing up shop. But we did catch sight of some crazy sea creatures like octopus tentacles, whole squid, and half a swordfish. I can see why Hemingway was partial to Venice! The old man had his sea.
As the heat of the day approached, we transitioned into checking out some modern art. Jackson Pollack is my favorite artist. I absolutely love his work. The crazy randomness to his One is what made first made me interested in modern art. So, when I found out he was a close and personal friend of Peggy Guggenheim and her gallery was hosting some of his works, we headed straight over there.
The Peggy Guggenheim Gallery is a small-ish, modern building with some amazing works from Picasso, Warhol, Dali, and yes, Pollack. I stared at Alchemy longer than my husband would have liked, but it was The Moon Woman that really caught my eye. It wasn’t the same splattered chaos that made Pollack famous, but rather a Picasso-esque portrait of a woman with a crescent moon as a face. I adored it.
I did overhear some old codgers speaking to each other in the hallways, “I can do that! Now, Da Vinci! That’s art!” Their wives dutifully shushed them, and I pursed my lips as I admired the Mark Rotho paintings they so easy cast aside.
Before heading off to the beach, we stepped inside the Santa Maria della Saluti Cathedral. It was right next to the gallery, and we were interested from afar with the gorgeous and massive building. The outside is so ornate, but the inside was a little lackluster. It held more majesty from across the canal, but of course, it was still a masterpiece. The inside was a large circle with stone walls that left the inside slightly chilled giving us a nice break from the sun.
Before it got too late in the evening, we got on another water bus and headed to the Lido. The Lido is a small island south of Venice proper where the Venice Film Festival is held every year. Desperate to sit on a beach, we headed to the first umbrella we saw. Thankfully, since it was after 2p, we got a discount on our bed/umbrella at €13. It was usually over €25 for the day! They really know how to charge tourists and travelers.
But the ocean was gorgeous and relaxing. I slept on and off on the little bed while Jeff roamed around for more sea glass. It was the first time we really sat down and did nothing on this go, go, go holiday. We were completely at rest and soaked in every iodized breath. I can see why Venice was the refuge for Churchill, Orson Welles, and Hemingway.
On our last day, we took off early to make one more round of the city. Because it was Sunday, there were very few people out and the city was completely still. It was almost eerie to see all of the shops closed and empty streets. We felt like we owned the streets. We enjoyed our last shot of espresso and last cup of gelato looking over the canals remembering all that we had done in our 10 day adventure around Italy.
When we planned our trip, we debated whether Venice would be worth visiting or not. Would our time had been better spent in Pompeii or Naples? Maybe, but Venice was romantic, beautiful and relaxed. We left with fond memories, promises of returning, and relief as the rain clouds were just rolling in after we boarded the bus.
To read about the rest of our Italian trip, check out these links:
The Riviera: French and Italian Coasts
Cinque Terre: The Famous Five Villages and Pisa
The Many Circles of Florence
The Rolling Hills of Tuscany
Rome 2.0 and The Vatican
To read more about our travels across Europe and Northern Africa, check out our travel page!