From Verona, we headed next to Venice, the city of canals. It was just a short train ride away and we arrived to the train station, which had this lovely view greeting us of the Canal Grande.
Venice is not actually one cohesive city; it’s made up of 117 small islands, all joined together in a series of canals and bridges. While it sounds precarious, the only real danger is getting lost. The streets are windy and the only ways to get around are by foot and vaporetto (water taxi). Because the vaporettos were so expensive, we elected to explore by foot.
The streets are quite confusing and the signs directing you to the most famous sites (Rialto Bridge and St. Marks’s Square) sometimes point you in two opposite directions at once! After figuring out that there is no direct path anywhere, you’ll have a much nicer time exploring!
Because of the winding streets, you may not realize where you’re heading until you get there. We were walking down the street and all of a sudden we saw a group of tourists all taking photos! We crossed quickly through this gate to realize we were at the entrance of one of the great scuolas (fraternity organizations) in Venice!
As crossing through the city involves many bridges over the famous canals, it’s easy to get photos of the famed waterways and picturesque buildings.
There are also beautiful buildings all around the city whose identity will mystify you. Is it a palazzo, scuola, teatro or something else? I’m not sure what this building is, but again it seems like Arabic influence is evident in this Venetian Gothic style.
The famed gondolas are of course all over the city. Gondoliers stand on piers and try to attract passers-by into going on a jaunt through the canals. However, one thing stopped us from participating in this stereotypical activity: the price. A 40 minute gondola ride starts at 85 euro, and that is just too much out of my price range. Besides, I don’t really feel we missed out too much by not taking one. We had ample time to see Venice by foot, and so that’s what we did.
One of the most famous bridges in Venice is the Rialto, as seen below. However, this famous view is currently under construction, meaning that this is the best photo I could get. However, this is a peril of traveling in the off-season. We thought Italy would be a good choice during our winter break because it would be warmer than the rest of Europe and the off-season for the region meant it would be less crowded and a little cheaper.
This worked in our favor halfway, as the cities we visited really weren’t too crowded. The only times we encountered crowds in Venice were on the Rialto bridge and in St. Marks’ square, understandable as these are the two very major sights to see. I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to try to get a photo with the even bigger crowd that summer would bring! It was, however, very cold. A freak cold front swept into Italy with us, and while temperatures weren’t as low as Germany, they were much lower than they should have been.
St. Marks Basilica was incredible– and free to enter! I couldn’t believe it. We waited in line for a little bit and got to enter a beautiful Byzantine cathedral. There were of course no photos allowed, but it’s definitely one of the more beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen. Given how expensive everything is in Venice, I’m still very surprised we didn’t have to pay to enter, but it’s a definite must do. There are beautiful golden mosaics in the entrance and interior of the church that are so intricate and lovely.
Right around the corner from the Basilica is the Doge’s Palace, where the ruler of Venice used to live. Venice in the past was an independent naval superpower, and had much more power than they do today. The doge lived in this palace, which is beautiful from the outside.
Another famous bridge is the Ponte dei Sospiri or Bridge of Sighs. It’s named this because prisoners would see it as their last sight of Venice before leaving and would sigh at not being able to see the beautiful city again.
As I mentioned, Venice’s navy used to be extremely powerful. We walked down to see the Venetian Arsenal, which is extremely imposing. I just read I, Iago by Nicole Galland, a retelling of Othello from Iago’s point of view. It was a very good read and a splendid exploration of one of my favorite plays as well as the city and culture of Venice during the time-period. It made seeing the places in which the book takes place even more interesting while we were there.
As you walk through the streets and canals, keep your eyes peeled for the signs marking which famous people lived where! We found almost by accident this sign marking the house of Marco Polo! Also spotted was one above the house of Vivaldi, the composer.
We also spotted this famous staircase on our way home one day, nicknamed ‘The Snail Staircase’ for its distinctive curves.
We ended up with a lot of extra time in Venice. I really feel that with one well-planned day, it would be easy to see all the major sights without a problem. If you’re really interested in paying to see all the scuolas, perhaps plan for a little more time. The food in Venice that we found wasn’t as good as the food in Verona, however, and much more expensive. I’m not sure if I’d choose to return to Venice anytime soon, but I’m glad we included it on our trip.