Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Adventures in Italy, Part One: Venice

We've been back from our trip to Italy for a grand total of 10 days now, and I already feel like I could stand to go back. Spending a week and half in Venice, Florence, and Rome enjoying all that Italy has to offer will downright spoil a girl. Because we saw and did so much, I'm breaking down our trip into three different posts, one for each city that we visited.

Our first stop of the trip was in Venice, which turned out to be my favorite of the three. Venice is comprised of over 200 canals, and there are no cars (because there are basically no streets). Every little walkway and charming neighborhood is connected by bridges. The buildings are adorned with flower boxes, exposed brick, and private docks, and it's virtually impossible to find anything...on a map or otherwise. They say if you don't get lost in Venice, you haven't really experienced the city, so we consoled ourselves with that each of the half dozen times we wound up hopelessly lost and confused in the labyrinth that is Venice.

View from our balcony.

We arrived at our (gorgeous) hotel by water taxi and took in the sights of Murano glass chandeliers and beautiful antiques. Our hotel was a former convent turned aristocratic palace and even a shelter for the Knights Templar. We walked about 12 steps from the lobby and found ourselves smack in the middle of the Piazza San Marco, the heart of the city, where we enjoyed a fantastic lunch with fresh seafood (one of the benefits of all that water), beautiful views, and the unofficial national drink, the Aperol spritz. Hey, when in Venice, do as the Venetians do, right?

Our lunchtime surroundings: St. Mark's Basilica.

This is what the Italians call "la dolce vita"--the sweet life.

We spent a day and a half adventuring on our own, and then we met our travel companions for the rest of our trip: 22 other people who comprised our tour group; the group that we would wind up eating our meals with, sightseeing the country alongside, and ultimately sharing an amazing experience. One big, happy family of mismatched (if somewhat misfit) travelers.

During the three days we were in Venice, we visited St. Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace (the palace of the seat of the Venetian Republic and where Casanova was imprisoned and then escaped), watched a glass-blowing demonstration, lunched on the waterway of the Grand Canal while boats cruised by, and even took a somewhat soggy gondola ride (day 2 was a very Venetian-style rain out). We went to the famous Harry's Bar and enjoyed a bellini; they were invented there, after all, and the restaurant has served them up to Charlie Chaplin, Orson Wells, and Truman Capote, just to name a few. Our tour guide recommended a fantastic restaurant where I had one of the best meals of my life: thick spaghetti noodles with a cheese and pepper sauce. It was heaven in a bowl...topped with melted cheese. If it gets much better than that, I can't comprehend it.

I'd like to thank my friend Mary, whom I met during our tour, for braving the gondola in the rain with us.
Spirit of adventure!

One thing I did discover, much to my soda-loving heart's dismay, is that Coca Cola does not enjoy the same dominant presence in Italy that it does in the United States. Even though their version of Diet Coke--the Coca Cola Light--is a very delicious, fizzier version of my beverage of choice, Italians just don't love the stuff the way Americans do. In fact, they were downright puzzled each morning at breakfast when I ordered a Coca Cola Light, and then a bit bewildered that I wanted ice for it, too (apparently, ice is also not high on the list with the Italian people). Still, I soldiered on and drank my delicious drink each day--for them as much as for myself. I'm all about sharing my culture, and it's a well known fact that Coca Cola is Southern champagne.

The Marco Polo ballroom is where we enjoyed breakfast (and Coca Cola Light) each morning.
It's no Motel 6, but we made do.

The sounds of Venice are that of water lapping against the city's slowly sinking buildings, and of steps echoing on cobblestone streets. We meandered through tiny alleys lined with shops selling Venetian carnival masks, snacked on the best bruschetta I've ever tasted, and wandered over bridge after bridge all the way to the Rialto, the oldest bridge in Venice (it has been rebuilt several times, and the "new" version was completed in 1591 with a little help from Michelangelo).

The Rialto Bridge, a Venice icon.

This is Venice, and it is perfection.

Venice was everything I had hoped Italy would be: quaint, charming, romantic, and friendly. Rich with beauty and history, delicious food, refreshing cocktails, and chock full of gondolas and canals. It was the ideal way to begin our trip, and a postcard perfect city to explore.

Highlights of Venice: Piazza San Marco, St. Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace, lunch at Cafe Florian (Venice's oldest cafe, which has been in continuous operation since 1720), and a gondola ride.

Pros: The people, the boats, the bridges. The food, the drinks, the spritzes. It's Venezia, and it's amazing.

Cons: Confusing to navigate, high concentration of very tame pigeons (I'm deathly afraid of birds and this was sheer terror at times), limited Diet Coke availability.

Overall rating: A+.  In fact, if you would like to plan a visit, I am more than happy to accompany you to Venice and provide you with my travel expertise so long as you cover all my expenses. If you go without me, please raise an Aperol spritz in my honor...and be very wary of those pigeons.

My next post will be about our time spent in Florence. In the meantime, arrivederci!

1 comment:

  1. Venice is my favorite city in the world. Hoping to get back in the near future!


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