This waterlocked Italian city is every bit as pretty as it promises to be. When we stepped off Santa Lucia train station, we were immediately greeted by the sight of colorful old buildings, bridges, boats, birds, and the fabled Grand Canal. And tourists, of course. There are so many of them, one can’t help but wonder where the real Venetians are.
My sister and I were staying in the Lido, a separate island, so the first thing we did was to purchase a 24-hour vaporetto (water bus) pass that would let us take as many boat rides as we wanted. Although cars and other land vehicles are allowed in the Lido, there are none in Venice itself, and every one gets around by walking or taking the vaporetto.
Our hotel, the Riviera Hotel Venice, was one of the most charming hotels we had ever stayed in. The lobby had the most gorgeous, ornate furniture. Our room on the second floor was cozy. Well, yes, that’s another word for small, but European hotels generally are, and our room was just enough for two people. It was tastefully decorated: pale pink wallpaper, floral moulding, gold chandelier, shabby chic closet. There was a wrought iron table and two chairs in the terrace, which was lush with flowers and vines and overlooked the Gran Viale.
Breakfast the next day was heavenly: cold cuts, crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh bread, butter, jam, pastries, fruits, cereal, milk, coffee, juice. And that’s not even a really exhaustive list. By midmorning, well-fed, we were ready for a day of getting lost in Venice.
And it’s easy: getting lost, literally, in Venice. They say it’s actually part of the experience. Often you don’t know where you are, and sometimes that’s a good thing.
We bought gelato and cookies to enjoy while we walked and looked around. Venice is renowned for its art and architecture; there are churches, museums, the famous Piazza San Marco. There were Carnival masks by the dozen and “Murano glass” made in China.
In the water, gondolas were tied to wooden posts, waiting to treat visitors to that quintessential Venetian experience…for upwards of 80 euros an hour. It must be said that none of the real Venetians ride gondolas anymore, except for the gondoliers themselves. They cut a striking figure as they glided along the canal in their striped black and white shirts, skillfully steering their richly decorated boats. This is the Venice the whole world knows and comes for.
What I really loved, though, were the everyday things. Colorful houses from another age, their white-framed windows accentuated by flowering plants. Walls with paint and plaster genuinely peeling off, revealing a base of faded red bricks. Small canals tucked between buildings, a bridge or two spanning the water. Narrow passageways with charming, occasionally confusing, little signs pointing the way to a well-known Venetian landmark.
Venice is best explored on foot, but one eventually gets tired from all the walking, so at some point we boarded the No. 2 water bus and enjoyed the sights from there. (The No. 1 line is even better for this purpose because of all the stops it makes on both sides of the Grand Canal.) When we had sat through the entire route, we got off at the San Marco stop, bought a cup of coffee, and sat down by the pier, enjoying the Venetian sunset. It was a good day.
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