The real Venice looks exactly like the Venice of the movies, but there’s a definite ‘wow factor’ that comes with seeing the building-lined maze of canals with your own eyes. Peering out the window of the water bus from the airport, I was fascinated by how the buildings sit directly in the water, often with their doorways opening straight into the canals for boat access. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. If you’re going to visit, I recommend taking your trip in the ‘off-season’ like we did. Yes, San Marco square flooded while we were there, but that was something to witness in and of itself. And yes, it was a bit chilly, highs in the 50s, with 24 hours of our trip plagued by rain. But I greatly prefer that to the sweaty and smelly tourist-filled experience that I’ve heard comes with a summer visit. Besides, Venice looks magical in every kind of weather. Am I right or am I right?
We arrived on a rainy Saturday and checked into our hotel overlooking a little canal, just a two-minute walk from San Marco square. Oh, and that’s the other big reason to visit in the off-season. We got a crazy good deal on a giant apartment in the Residence Corte Grimani, which featured not only a fabulous view (we could watch the gondolas pass by from our window) but lovely customer service, including a note, chocolates and prosecco to mark my birthday. Starving after our trip, we had an early dinner that evening — hello, 3-euro Aperol spritzes and delicious gnocchi — and then perused the shops under the covered walkways surrounding San Marco square to stay dry.
Sunday, with the rain continuing, we went to Doge’s Palace to see the ornate rooms and walk the Bridge of Sighs, the last glimpse of freedom for inmates getting locked up in the palace prison. Then we headed across the square to check out the Museo Correr and its Habsburg-decorated rooms since entry was included in our palace tickets. By the time we finished our street-food lunch and gelato from SuSo Gelatoteca (amazing), the storm clouds had begun to clear, so we decided to go up to the top of the Campanile bell tower for a sweeping view of the city. On the way, we stopped at the famous Rialto Bridge and surveyed the flooding in San Marco square, where adventurous tourists were wading barefoot through the water alongside floating seagulls and more cautious tourists equipped with plastic, knee-high shoe covers sold by street vendors. The city also sets up platforms to provide a totally dry path through the square. Afterward, we toured the former Jewish ghetto — the very first ghetto in the world, with its precariously tall buildings due to inadequate space — and then sat down to a relaxing and tasty pizza dinner at Rosa Rossa.
Monday was my birthday and we spent it island-hopping from Venice to the famous glass-making community of Murano and then over to the colorful fishing village of Burano. Stay tuned for those photos in a separate post, as well as another post about our gondola experience through the canals of Venice. My birthday dinner at the vegetarian-friendly La Zucca was absolutely amazing: I can wholeheartedly recommend the burrata and the spicy tagliatelle with broccoli pesto; both were heavenly and surprisingly affordable.
On our final morning in Venice, we visited San Marco basilica. Entrance to the church itself is free, but you have to pay 2 euros to see the golden altarpiece and another 5 euros to go up to the terrace and the San Marco Museum for an up-close view of the sparkling mosaics and access to the original copies of the horses mounted on top of the church (absolutely worth the charge). We then feasted on more delicious pasta and gelato, had our final Aperol spritzes, took one last stroll along the Grand Canal and purchased a couple watercolor paintings from a local artist before boarding the the water bus back to the airport. Check back in a day or two for more!