Venice is easily the most evocative and fascinating city on our European tour. I’m glad to have spent some time in Paris, Rome and London, but Venice! It’s another world entirely. I might choose Amsterdam or Dublin to live in, but there is simply nothing like a visit to Venice….
We’ll tell its unique story the way we discovered it. Click on any picture to make it larger. Then hit your back button to return to the blog.
Arriving in Venice
We took the water taxi from the airport on the mainland. This was our first view of Venice.
As we got closer, we saw right away that Venice is a water world. It is built on 117 small islands.
Exotic buildings and monuments seem to line every waterfront. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mario, our AirBnB host, met us at the water taxi stop and led us down a maze of alleyways to this unimposing-looking apartment.
The apartment was great for us: a kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom. Mario gave us a thorough orientation to the place, even teaching us how to make coffee the Italian way. He ended by saying, “Now, you are locals!”
The most remarkable thing about our Venice apartment was the canal view out the windows of the kitchen and living room.
Our windows the three at water level. The center window used to be a door. Many Venetian structures have canal-side doors.
We were excited to be in Venice. Here Sarah is standing on a bridge over “our” canal.
Early in the morning, I set out to explore Venice with my camera. It proved to be one of the most photogenic places I have ever been.
With no roads and no cars, Venice is a maze of canals and alleys, connected by hundreds of pedestrian bridges.
Venice is a compact, highly walkable city. It’s easy to get lost, but easy enough to find your way again. We carried a map, and learned to navigate by landmarks.
As I wandered, I discovered that every function that we take for granted on land has been adapted to the water in Venice.
Deliveries, trash pickup, services, and construction are all done using boats.
The canals and bays teem with nautical activity. If these were cars and trucks it would seem too busy and crowded, but boats on the water somehow make it all charming.
Not surprisingly, with a city built on the water, flooding is commonplace. But the city adapts as needed.
Venice has many iconic, must-see sights. They more than lived up to our high expectations.
Piazza San Marcos
The Piazza San Marcos was nearly deserted at first light. By 10:00 it was crowded with tourists. It remained so into the evening, when competing orchestras entertain diners at sidewalk cafes.
The Campanile is the famous bell tower on Piazza San Marcos. Like ascending the Eiffel Tower and kissing the Blarney Stone, climbing this tower is one of the “must-do” tourist activities that we chose not to stand in line to do. Maybe next trip.
But we were delighted by visits to the Doge’s Palace (on right) and St. Mark’s Basilica (on left).
For centuries, the Doge, leader of Venice for life, was elected by a body of aristocrats. These and other busts of Doges populate the opulent interiors of the Palace.
The “Bridge of Sighs” leads from the Doge’s Palace to dark, dank prison cells.
This view through one of the window grates in the “Bridge of Sighs” would have been a prisoner’s last glimpse of the city. It’s easy to see how the condemned might sigh heavily, giving the bridge its name.
St. Marks Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica was initially the private chapel of the Doge. Soaring archways, ground gold mosaics, and precious marble from all over the world bespeak the prosperity that Venice enjoyed during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
The tiny central figure praying at the central altar of St. Mark’s shows the scale of this massive basilica.
On the way out, we were taken by the ornate tile floor of St. Mark’s.
As we left the Basilica, I tried to make friends with the Four Tetrarchs. They were having none of it! These grumpy fellows were brought here from from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.
Venice features many museums. We didn’t have time to see them all, but we did get to the Museo Correr on Piazza San Marcos.
Some of the rooms of the Museo Correr are quite spectacular.
The Correr features many examples of the works of Venetian masters. This one is Vittore Carpaccio’s Madonna Con Bambino, 1485-87.
The Correr has many surprising works of art. This detail is from The Temptations of St. Anthony, 16th century. An unknown Belgian follower of Hieronymous Bosch is credited with the bizarre painting.
Leda And The Swan is another 16th century work by an unknown artist. The Correr’s identification plaque says it is “after a painting by Michaelangelo.” The eroticism is palpable.
Among the many Madonna and Child paintings in the Correr are several that depict Mary nursing the baby Jesus — something I’ve never seen before. Dierick Bouts, Madonna Con Bambino, 15th century.
Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal
After San Marcos, the other hub of Venetian tourist activity is the Rialto Bridge.
The Rialto is one of the few bridges across the Grand Canal, the wide thoroughfare that snakes its way through the center of the city.
Views of the Grand Canal from the top of the Rialto Bridge are indeed grand.
Gondolas are another iconic feature of this fascinating city. Gondola rides are a little too pricey for low-budget travelers such as ourselves. So to see Venice from the water, we took a cheaper alternative: the vaporetto, or water bus.
For a few euros, you can ride the length of the Grand Canal and circle the city. This is one view from the back of a vaporetto.
The gondolas themselves are floating works of art.
For many tourists, a gondola ride is an essential Venetian activity. Click this image to see a short video of a musical gondola ride I happened upon. (The video will open in a new window, which you can close to return to the blog.)
Life in Venice
Even without all its iconic treasures, Venice would be a fascinating place to visit.
Beauty takes many forms in the life of this city.
Somehow an aura of mystery surrounds the everyday comings and goings of people.
Life seems to go on as if unchanged through the centuries, despite some graffiti here and there….
The night before we left, I took this photo from our apartment window. On the right is a young couple under the twin spells of a full moon and this intoxicating city. I think we’ll have to return some day. Venice, after all, is for lovers.
Next stop: Rome
From Venice, we took the train down through the boot of Italy to Rome. That’s our next chapter.