Venice: Glass, canals, and pigeons
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I arrived in Venice by way of Verona, the snowcapped Italian Alps resting stoically on the horizon. While unfortunately not visible from Venice itself, Italy’s most famous sinking city provided enough charm of its own to make up for it.
Though staying in a rural B&B over the bridge in neighboring Mestre, the entirety of my time in Venice was spent exploring the network of canals and tourist sights in the fabled city center. Two side notes on Venice: I would much prefer the winter than summertime to visit, if for no other reason than the lack of crowds. Second, it is incredibly easy to get lost and disoriented while walking downtown. With the ubiquitous canals but only a few bridges, the entire area is an Italian labyrinth where finding a bridge to the other side of the canal becomes the highlight/lowlight of the entire day. In short, carry a map. While gondolas are the most traditional/romantic form of travel along the Venice canals, the oarsmen are well-aware of the popularity of their novelty, and the prices are inflated accordingly. If you are lusting for this private, princely treatment be prepared to pay for it. On a strict budget, my own two feet suited me just fine.
That being said, what all is there to see in this floating, car-less city by the sea? Nearly every visitor to Venice will make a foray into Piazza San Marco, the centerpiece of the San Marco district, tourism epicenter, and home to one of the best views in the city. While the vaulted surroundings of historic Doge Palace and the crowds of pigeons add to the charm of the famous square, a climb up to the top of the belltower is the highlight of the entire area. With views stretching over the canal network all the way out towards the sea, a trip to Venice isn’t official until breathing a deep sigh of contentment from this very perch.
Equally as famous as Piazza San Marco are the actual canals themselves, the largest and most famous of which is easily the Grand Canal. Shaped like an enormous letter “S” that weaves its way through the city, this is the Venetian equivalent of a freeway or pedestrian mall. Rows of merchants and trendy cafes line the banks of the Grand Canal, and hours can easily slink by while simply watching passing gondolas and haggling merchants. The centerpiece of the Canal is the oft-photographed and impeccably presented Ponte di Rialto, a triangular bridge that is one of the most recognizable images of Venice. Reachable by nearly all vaporetto (water taxi), seemingly all “roads” lead to the Ponte Rialto.
With the city center booming, many visitors like to head out to the Lido, a 12km long barrier that guards the city center from the bordering Adriatic Sea. Far more relaxing and rural than the San Marco district, the Lido is Venezia’s answer to a tranquil beach getaway, though the north Adriatic waters in winter aren’t exactly what I would call tropical. Another notable island getaway on the outskirts of Venice is the island of Murano, most famously known for its exquisite blown-glass work. Though Murano glass is easy found in any shops around the Ponte Rialto or Piazza San Marco, the island of Murano is the heart of the source. Even if you are not that into art, the tremendous skill and artistic capabilities of these glassblowers is easily a reason in itself to bring yourself to this corner of the world.