You guys…. Venice was amazing. So cool. Beyond words. I’ve never been, let alone seen a place like this. The canals are really something else. I’ve obviously seen pictures before, but definitely didn’t understand the magnitude of them. To put it in perspective, the city is situated over 117 small islands connected by bridges – over 400 to be specific. That being said – boats are literally their main form of transportation. I never realized that cars aren’t allowed in Venice at all. Crazy to think there is a place like this where they can carry on and survive without them! Just one of the many things that makes Venice so unique.
We were extremely skeptical about landing in Venice so late. We had researched for the entire week what our options were to get to our apartment and determined that we had to take a water taxi of some sort. They have the public vaporetto, an airport ferry or private hire boats. The latter seemed to be a super expensive option, so we were shooting for the vaporetto. The catch is that the last one leaves at 11:50pm and we were supposed to land at 11:40pm. Fast forward a few hours and we land around midnight……
While impatiently waiting to get through customs, we started checking for other options and saw there was a water ferry that left at 12:30am but didn’t go to Rialto. We figured we would try and make this to at least get closer to where we needed to be. We frantically ran as fast as we could to the water ferry terminal. We made it with enough time, but once we chatted with some employees about our plan, they advised that where the ferry would leave us would not be convenient for getting to our Airbnb. UGH. So they told us there was actually a bus we could take that would leave us at a hub, Piazzale Roma, where we would catch the water taxi to Rialto. The kicker? Last bus leaves in 10 minutes. We immediately sprinted back to the opposite end of the airport, in pure desperation to literally not be stranded.
Luckily we made it just in time, and cruised along in our last vehicle for the next few days. Piazzale Roma is located at the entrance of the city of Venice and is the final destination cars are allowed. We hopped off and waited for the vaporetto. It was eerily quiet and so, so foggy that night. We were literally in 100% mist – and this was just the beginning of our very damp weekend. Cruising along the canals, I was stunned. The buildings lit up looked magnificent, and I seriously couldn’t believe how beautiful this place was, even in the dark! It took about 20 minutes to get to Rialto, where our next adventure of the night (or should I say, early morning) would begin. When we got off the water taxi, we were supposed to be meeting our Airbnb host – but he was no where to be found. Again, it felt really spooky to be skulking around at 1am, pretty much deserted. We kept calling our host, Diego, but he was not picking up. When Joe finally got in touch with him, he told us we got off at the wrong stop – should have been Rialto Bridge and not Rialto. Luckily it was a quick walk and we found our guy. He then lead us through the weaving streets of Venice where we arrived at our apartment. Diego let us in, and walked us through all of the rules, typical Airbnb protocol. Except when we thought he was about to leave, he told us we needed to pay for city tax… in cash. Totally not Airbnb protocol. We questioned why we would need to pay in cash if everything on Airbnb is through online transactions. He basically didn’t know, and got on the phone to his boss. This turned into a very loud, Italian argument, which made Joe and I grow more and more uncomfortable. Joe tried to explain we would be happy to pay, but didn’t understand why we weren’t notified beforehand. Another 10 minutes of Diego yelling on the phone went by, and I was trying to force myself to stay awake so Joe didn’t have to deal with this alone. Eventually everything was taken care of and we could finally go to bed at 2:30am. Venice was off to an intense start!
8am seemed to come too soon, but we were both so excited to finally see Venice in the daylight. We opened up our bedroom window to see that we were right on a canal. We headed out the door and took to the streets. I was so surprised to see how busy it was! Usually these European cities are pretty sleepy pre-10am, so I was excited that the city was bustling. We stopped in a patisserie for a quick bite & a cappuccino. We had serious issues on deciding what to get because everything looked SO GOOD. Between the dozens of cannoli flavours and the piles of pignoli cookies, we were drooling… We ended up with a whole wheat blueberry croissant and an apple, raspberry crumble with chocolate drizzle.
We took a quick walk over to Piazza San Marco, also known as St.Mark’s Square. This is the center of Venice and is a central hub for transportation and home to many of the city’s main attractions, which also means this area is flooded with tourists. We were meeting our tour guide here so took some time before to take pictures of the beautiful St.Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace which anchor this stunning plaza. We started our walking tour here and learned so much about the history of the city. San Marco was actually the center of all political activity in Venice while Rialto served as the commercial core. The main thoroughfare of the city, also known as the Merceria, connects the two areas, and is home to all of the local shopping streets. It’s easy to find this street – it’s the one directly below the archway of the Clock Tower in the plaza. We headed through here and on to the next stopping point on our tour.
We navigated through the romantic streets of Venice stopping at Marco Polo’s birthplace, the opera house, and the Rialto Bridge, just to name a few. Our tour guide was excellent and gave us so much information about the city and the history of Italy itself. Something that I never knew is that the unification of Italy only happened 155 years ago making it a younger country than the US and Canada! It was under Austrian and French rule prior to uniting in 1861. We also learned about the architecture of Venice which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a mix of Byzantine and early Italian Gothic with Arab influences from Moorish Spain – creating the especially unique & beautiful style of Venice design.
We stopped at a bunch of churches, one of my favourite being San Zaccaria. And I think the reason I liked it so much is because it did not look at all like a traditional church. It reminded me of San Lorenzo in Florence – basically just a textured tone facade and no exterior ornamentation whatsoever. That brings up another interesting tidbit we learned on our tour! Typical Venetian churches do not have religious symbols on the outside, but instead usually just have inscriptions of the name in 3 languages: Latin, Greek & Italian. We stopped in a couple more along the way, making sure to light our traditional candle in Santa Maria della Fava.
Our last leg of the tour was our gondola ride! We were sooo excited to finally take part in the quintessential Venetian experience. It was a beautiful ride that took us through lots of smaller canals, but the main event was when we turned on to the Grand Canal. We finally picked up speed and were cruising along the ‘highway’ of Venice. The Grand Canal is super wide and has tons of gondolas, kayaks, and boats coming and going. It was extremely overcast that day so you couldn’t see anything in the distance, which I first thought was a disappointment, but then realized it made for some pretty awesome pictures. We got up close to the famous Santa Maria della Salute church, the Rialto Bridge and Ca d’Oro. I have to say a lot of people I spoke to and a lot of websites I read advise to not take the gondola ride because they are very over priced for a very short period of time. I do admit we were a little bummed with how quick the ride was (but we knew this going into it), but the price for what we got was worth it. We have booked 99% of our trip tours through Viator, so I would suggest peeling through there before you go. If you show up that day, they will easily charge you 80 Euro for 20 minutes and provide no commentary whatsoever. They really know that everyone does it just for the experience, so I think they take advantage of us tourists! Regardless, Joe and I were really happy we did it. Always pays off to do your research!
After this Joe and I decided to just wander around and soak up the city. Everyone says that the best thing to do in Venice is to intentionally get lost. One minute you could be on a main drag with tons of people, and then after 2 turns, you’re in a completely deserted square. We strolled through the maze of streets in the San Marco & Castello neighborhoods, stopping at almost every bridge to take a picture – I literally couldn’t stop. Every corner of this city was more beautiful than the last. And that was even in the rain! Eventually Joe couldn’t take my incessant picture taking (I blame it on being hangry), and we headed over to 6342 for lunch. Here we had some incredible pizza & wine while watching the rain pour down outside…
The rest of our afternoon consisted of:
- Stopping in the Insta-famous Libreria Acqua Alta – a book shop that is filled to the brims with new & old books, all stored in gondolas & canoes. They also have a small outdoor seating area and 4 resident cats snoozing on top of stacks of books. Such a unique place.
- Walking over the Rialto Bridge – we actually didn’t even realize it then, but we went over this the night we arrived with Diego… duh. Definitely the most popular & photographed bridge in Venice. We learned on our tour that the bridge is built of marble and is the oldest one that goes over the Grand Canal.
- Taking a peek in T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi – this is a new luxury department store located in one of the most historic buildings in Venice. It once served as a very important commercial business center, but then felt dormant until recently reopening again last year. Each floor is an open terrace, so by looking up from the bottom you can see everything going on above. The restaurant was also very busy and smelt delicious, but we really only went in to take a break from the rain.
- Exploring the Dorsodouro neighborhood – definitely slower paced then the bustling streets of San Marco & Rialto, but a lovely, sleepier area with lots of independent shops selling books & antiques. Plentiful with cafes & restaurants as well.
It was about time to call it a day, but there was one thing left that I was itching to do. While planning out Venice trip, I quickly learned that they are notorious for their pre-dinner nibbles, known as cichetti. These are basically Venetian finger foods that are usually seafood based. Tiny bites of tuna, or calamari, usually served on top of some sort of crostini. I had read that Al Squero was one of the best places for it, especially in the summer, since it overlooks the oldest gondola workhouse in the city. Too bad the day we went: a) we were still really full from lunch and b) it was almost dark and pouring rain. Nevertheless we cozied up with two glasses of Barbera and tasted a few bits. I NEED to come back in the summer when I can stand along the canal and feast on these mini bites as my whole meal, while sipping an Aperol Spritz during a hot Venice afternoon. I think this was the point where I made Joe promise me we would come back…
After we went back to our Airbnb to dry off and take a nap. It’s kind of funny. Joe and I now have a routine of an early evening siesta after a day of exploring. Sometimes we’ll be sightseeing in the middle of the day and Joe will stop me out of no where to say, “We’re still going to be able to take a nap later, right?” Instead of 30 year olds, it seems like we’re acting more like kids. But hey – as my husband has taught me – you have to take advantage of being able to nap while you can.
We went for dinner at Ai Artisti which was a very small restaurant of only about 12 tables, with an incredibly romantic atmosphere. When we walked up, I noticed a sign on the door that said “No tables available” – boy was I happy that I made a rezzie. They offer dinner in two seatings, so we went for the 9pm-11pm. We were escorted to our cozy table for two and were so excited to start our meal. We shared a buttery, crispy scallop appetizer to start (omg, amazing) and then followed up with crab tortellini (DROOL!) and spaghetti with chilli, tomatoes, and shrimp (1 more bowl, please?). I was so sad once it was all over. While we were finishing up our wine, a plate of tiramisu with a candle in it came over to our table. I had requested Venice as my 30th birthday trip, and although it was a week early, my hubby surprised me with dessert for some early celebrations. (I know he had ulterior motives of just wanting to embarrass me and eat tiramisu – anyone remember Rome?) We cheersed with our neighbors and dug in 🙂
Luckily we had majority of day left on Sunday, so we woke up super early to get as much in as possible. We were staying right on the border of the Cannareggio neighborhood, which is supposed to be a more quiet and residential area. I say supposed to because the main drag through the area, Rio Tera Farsetti-S.Leonardo was the WIDEST street I’d see in the last 36 hours. There was even room for vendors to set up stalls down the center of the street with pedestrians walking on both sides. They were selling everything from fresh fruit, to all different varieties of nuts, to traditional Venetian masks. Although we were very early, the place was bumping! I am still completely surprised by the fact that Venice was the busiest morning city that we’ve visited in Europe! But I have to say, even though there were many people around, not many stores or cafes were open yet. We strolled around this area and even dipped in to the Jewish Ghetto, which is historically known as the first one in the world.
Joe had actually read some of the info I pulled on Venice, and decided the one place he wanted to go was Torrefazione – apparently the best coffee shop in the city. This place got packed quick, but people seemed to move in and out pretty fast. I love coffee shops in Italy because they almost never have seats. You order your drink at the bar and drink it there standing up. It’s not as much of a social activity as we make it in the US (and UK!). Joe enjoyed their secret recipe ‘Remer Blend’ and couldn’t leave without picking up some chocolate covered espresso beans to go.
We had one small adventure left on our trip to Venice, and that was making the journey to Murano & Burano. These smaller islands surrounding the city, accessible by vaporetto. Although the islands are very close together, the journey takes a little over an hour as there is no direct water taxi so you have to change, with addition to plenty of other stops along the way.
The first stop was Murano, which is notoriously known for its glass making. Admittedly, I didn’t have as much interest about exploring there as I did Burano, so we just did a quick walk around before heading to the station to catch the next boat. At this point, it started to rain the heaviest it had our whole trip…
We were so excited once we finally arrived on Burano. Have you ever seen pictures of this place? It’s an Italian technicolor dream. As soon as I stepped foot off that boat I was sad knowing I had to leave. Building after building of all different colours – orange, blue, green, yellow, pink, red, you name it. Despite the rain coming down, this place still felt so bright & happy. (Although deep down I kept telling myself to imagine how perfect it would be if it were sunny!) We walked all the way down the main thoroughfare which was filled with shops & restaurants. We then made our way through the side streets, doing our best to navigate this tiny island and cover every square inch possible. As if Joe thought the canal pics were bad enough, I literally could not stop with these colourful homes. My favourite was the super vibrant fuchsia 🙂 At this point the rain was starting to come down hard, so we took cover in Ai Cesendeli,where we had a light lunch of pasta & a calzone. HA! Although we only had a quick trip to Burano, next time we come I’d definitely like to spend at least half a day here. So, so happy we at least got to stop by this time though.
We took the vaporetto on our long journey back to Rialto. We were running super late for checking out of our Airbnb, so we did our best job sprinting back to the flat once we got off the boat. I don’t think there is anything worse then trying to run through super narrow & very crowded streets while everyone else is walking with their umbrellas! We managed to forget those as well, so by the time we got back we were SOAKED. I was super grumpy at this point and just wanted to get on the ferry back to the airport. But Joe wouldn’t let us go out on a bad note. We still had some time to kill before we had to leave, and he was on a mission for gelato. He found a place called SuSo that was in between our apartment and where we had to catch the ferry, so seemed like the perfect choice. Which it is absolutely was. We got so lucky because this place is tiny(!) with no seats. Just one small bench – perfect for me to sit and us to pile our bags on. We spent the next 30 minutes eating scoops of salted pistachio and caramel toffee goodness. We were also still a little damp, so figured a hot chocolate would help to warm us up. Little did we know this would literally be a melted dark chocolate bar – so thick, creamy, and rich! We certainly went out with a bang.
I am so glad we ignored what everyone said and made the trip to Venice. It seriously is such a special city. I strongly advise to NOT listen to people when they say to skip it (or the gondola ride!). It also made for the most memorable weekend for me to kick off my 30th birthday – I certainly will never forget the picturesque canals, bridges & cobblestone streets, or the rainbow buildings of Burano, OR all of our amazing meals. I fell in love with this place. And in the words of the Terminator… I’ll be back.
But…. (there’s always a but)…. there were a lot of things that Joe and I didn’t get to do that I absolutely need to get to next time! I am saving the list here so we can go back to it once we are ready to plan our next trip. Here ya go:
- Drink a bellini at Harry’s Bar – legendary place where this cocktail was born.
- Sip hot chocolate at Caffe Florian – a historical landmark cafe with an unbeatable old school Venetian interior. Apparently they have a small orchestra that plays as well!
- Eat cicchetti canalside (w/an Aperol Spritz of course)
- Visit Doge’s Palace – I cannot get over the beautiful architecture of this place and I’ve read the inside is just as stunning.
- Go to Campanile di San Giorgio Maggiore – a bell tower on the island of San Giorgio which provides expansive and sensational views of the city & lagoon.
- Stop in the Peggy Guggenheim – this is a unique museum in that it is her personal collection in her former home!