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A Visit To The Enchanting Venice

Our time in Venice was quite an experience, though we only stayed for two nights. It was better than I'd expected, as it turned out to be a real charming city. I guess that some places you hear about, and it seems like they are probably overrated, or excessively talked up. That is what I figured would be the situation with Venice, which happily turned out to be incorrect.

We arrived into Venice mid-morning on the 27th, tired and grumpy from our previous day's adventures at the Andechs Monastery (see my previous entry). Our trip from Germany included a short flight up to Berlin, a crowded airport to deal with there, and then another flight down to Italy. I didn't know what to expect in Venice, so I was a little apprehensive about arriving there; it was actually quite easy and fun. 

We started out in Venice's small airport, where we bought a 48-hour transit ticket for only €34 each, giving us unlimited transport in the city's vapretto bus-boat service; the pass paid for itself by the next morning. A bus took us across a long bridge to the only place to see vehicles in Venice, the bus station. From there, we had to figure out which boat to take to get out to the little island of Lido, on which I'd booked a hotel. A friendly local helped us with that. Soon we were out on the water, of which there is a lot of. See, I'd always pictured Venice as being this city with small canals, some boats, not a ton of water, sort of like the canal system of Amsterdam. Instead,  Venice is literally built on a large lagoon, with Lido being the breakwater, and multiple islands either linked by boat routes or built into the city by early citizens who built land from water. According to our Lonely Planet guide, there are 117 islands connected by 400 bridges over 150 canals.  However, a few of the islands that make up the more distant parts of Venice (such as Lido) aren't particularly  close and have wide areas of lagoon between them. Even within the center, the main canals are quite wide to accommodate the boat traffic. It is striking how much water is Venice, more than I would have guessed.

To that end, there are no cars in Venice, with the exception of Lido, which is more like a wealthy suburb. Boats of all sizes and shapes ply the waters of the canals, little private boats, the larger tugboats, vaporettos, and water taxis that are the work horses, and of course the man-powered gondolas for tourists willing to part with €60 euros for a short ride (of which there was no shortage that I could see). Out in the larger expanses of water between the islands and the main core of the city, large ferries, transport boats and even some huge cruise ships sailed, sort of like highway traffic; there are all the types of transport that one could find in any city, from bicycles to trucks, only in Venice they are boats.

The vaporettos follow routes like any city bus system, and within a half hour we found ourselves standing on the dock on Lido, impressed at the simplicity of which we'd gotten there. Our hotel was straight up the street from the dock, so we went to check in, and found our little hotel to be quite nice. We dropped off our bags, grabbed a little lunch at a nearby cafe, and headed back to the center. Getting around in Venice is pretty interesting, because unless you've spent a fair amount of time in the city, it is almost certain you'll end up getting lost. Of course, that is mostly the point. Venice is the kind of city where every corner seems turn to another great view, or a plaza you've never seen before, or a street of shops and restaurants to browse through. It seems like there is an endless list of sights to be found there. 

Our first afternoon we spent several hours wandering around, but by late afternoon, we were getting tired, so we headed back across to Lido. Jess wanted to take a nap, so I thought I'd read a little. Jess woke me up about four hours later, after it had already gotten dark. There wasn't much point in going back across to the center, so we found a little restaurant and had dinner before calling it a night.

The next day was one of epic walking. We felt very refreshed after a great night of sleep, so we got an early start. The no. 1 line left from Lido, and went straight down the Grand Canal all the way to the train station, which was our first goal. The trip there was fantastic, as they don't call it the Grand Canal for nothing. All along the route are colorful buildings, beautiful architecture, smaller offshoots of canals, and lots of boats traveling along in what seems to be a chaotic fashion. There are no lanes for the boats to travel in, and the vaporettos zigzag from side to side to their next stops, often heading straight towards another before veering off. It was a bit alarming for us, though it is just part of life for the drivers and the locals, who certainly did not seemed at all alarmed.

At the train station, which is on the north end of the city, we purchased our train tickets to Florence for noon the next day, and then headed south into the center. The walkways of Venice are mostly narrow cobblestones streets, twisting and curving in random ways, crossing the canals over bridges and opening into large plazas lined with shops, cafes and generally a big church with its tower. We started walking on the western side of the city, the opposite side from the Piazza San Marco, which is the main tourist attraction in Venice and around which most of the hotels seemed to be situated. Probably because of it is low season in Italy, there weren't any crowds in this section of the city, and most of the traffic seemed to be locals. We spent several hours wandering from one end of the center down to the other, stopping along the way for a coffee or a gelato in one of the numerous cafes.  It was pretty slow walking, mostly because I had to stop over every canal and at most corners for yet another picture. Jess was patient but had plenty to say about the photo spree, which she always does, though she is always happy to have the pictures later. 

Eventually we arrived to the lower end of the center, crossing over the Grand Canal on the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge), which is one of the more famous ones. This out us right into the heart of the touristy part of Venice, culminating with the beautiful but massively touristy Piazza San Marco. This large plaza has some very impressive buildings, including a massive cathedral, the Basilica di San Marco, as well as opulently decorated palaces, towers, and other buildings. It is understandable why most of the tourists flock to it, as it is very beautiful,  but Jess and I aren't huge fans of crowds, and low season or not, there were still huge crowds everywhere. The surrounding neighborhood was packed full of high-end shops as well as high-end tourists, and within a half hour or so, we were content for a simple walk-through of the Piazza before aiming for the other side of the Grand Canal again. We jumped back on a vaporetto and escaped the crowds to the "local" side.

From there, we followed the outside of their center, along the lagoon, giving us excellent views of the late afternoon dusk over the water. As the sun slipped over the horizon, we found a little restaurant to have a spritz, a refreshing drink made with a dash of aperol, a fine liquor. We liked the atmosphere of the place enough that we decided we should have dinner there, though Italians have a later schedule than Americans and the place didn't even open its kitchen until 6:30. We went off to stroll around in the meantime, though it had rapidly gotten very cool (though warmer than Germany, it is still on the cold side here, more like a humid cold). The sun had set by then, the downside of traveling in the low season of winter, but the lights reflecting off of the water of the canals was still beautiful, and it was very romantic.

Not wanting to be the typical Americans waiting at the door at 6:30, we waited until 6:40 to go back. They seated us, and we ended up having a typical Italian meal, with a first plate of pasta followed by a second entree plate and then the coffee. We both chose a fish dish for our entree, which tasted fantastic, and seemed like the natural dish to get in a city so surrounded by water. We also had a big scoop of ice cream dunked in coffee for dessert, which was equally as delicious. Even better than the food was the atmosphere, with our crazy waiter who was kind of like a drunken Italian uncle that everyone, even people with no Italian heritage, probably had. He clapped me on the shoulder numerous times and somehow convinced us to really treat ourselves to a great meal, at our own expense of course. He spoke English, but he was prone to shouting ou Italian phrases or just jumbled words, which according to an American who lives in the city and who we met at the bar, was his standard. At the table next to ours was an older couple from Texas who has done a lot of traveling and with whom we enjoyed a long conversation about the places we'd been to. All in all, it was a great dinner.

After dinner, we jumped back on a vaporetto and headed back to Lido. We'd had a long day; according to my pedometer, we'd taken 25,000 steps, which was more than 13 miles. That is difficult to quantify, but I would tend to believe it, we literally walked all day. Needless to say, we were pretty worn out by the time we went to bed. We slept very well, and got up to pack and head on to Florence. We'd planned getting up real early to explore Lido's posh beaches or go to the morning fish market in the center, but in the end, we just had a relaxing morning, eating a leisurely breakfast from the spread provided by our hotel, then checking out and taking a vaporetto to the train station. We found a quiet cafe and had couple of coffees while we waited for our train, and before we knew it, we were on to our next destination. However, Venice set a standard for our time in Italy, which fortunately our other destinations have been able to meet. Still, it was a special place for us.

Until next time, be safe.


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