Venice's crumbling buildings and shadowy canals give it a sense of moody mystery. But it's also a seaside city, and when the light hits the Grand Canal just right, the turquoise water and candy-colored buildings are dazzling.
We arrived in Venice via high-speed bullet train and caught our first glimpse of the busy Grand Canal when we stepped outside the train station. We hopped on one of Venice's ubiquitous water taxis, a Vaporetto, and enjoyed a mini-tour of the Grand Canal while on our way to our hotel (tip: the Vaporetto was easy to use and an inexpensive 7 Euro, compared to the private water taxis (not gondolas) that cost upward of 100 Euro). We stayed at the adorable Pensione Guerrato, located right next door to the Rialto Market in a thirteenth century convent. We were delighted when we opened the heavy wooden shutters on the windows in our room and realized we had a view of the Grand Canal!
We headed back outside and spent a few minutes wandering around the Rialto Market, which has supplied Venetians with their food since around 1000 AD. The stalls are full of every type of fish and sea creature imaginable. I spent a full five minutes staring at a pile of inky octopuses, but B was excited about getting his hands on some fresh figs. After enjoying his snack, we made our way through the throngs of people at the base of the Rialto Bridge and headed to Piazza San Marco.
After visiting the church, we decided to just meander through Venice's tiny back streets and take in the city. We stopped in countless churches before we came across a little piazza and decided to stop for an early dinner. As we were eating, it started to rain, but we continued to sit outside because our table was covered with a huge umbrella. As the storm continued, however, it started to rain harder and harder until it was a total downpour. We finished our drinks while watching the torrential rain come down all around us, safe in a cocoon of umbrellas. It was, as the Germans sitting next to us said, "incredibly romantic."
Sadly, the rain didn't stop once we finished our dinner and abandoned the safety of our table's umbrella. We ran all the way back home, but were completely soaked. Of course, as soon as we got back to the hotel, it stopped raining, so we changed into some dry clothes and headed back to the Piazza San Marco.
At night, each of the cafes that line the Piazza San Marco put on live musical performances. We decided to forgo an expensive seat at one of the cafes, and sit on the steps of the piazza eating gelato and drinking a bottle of wine my mom gave us in Rome. It was a gorgeous night, and one of my favorite memories from the trip.
The next morning, we started our day with a tour of the Doge's Palace. Both B and I seem to have missed covering any sort of Venetian history in school, so we enjoyed touring the building and learning more about the history of Venice and its government. The Palace also featured some incredible art, and it was interesting to see how Venetian art differed from art in Florence. For example, while in Florence the Virgin Mary graced the majority of paintings, in Venice the queen-like, majestic figures in paintings were often allegorical depictions of Venice.
After our tour, we picked up sandwiches from a little shop and had a picnic on the side of the Grand Canal. Then, we made our way to the Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice's premier art museum. B and I continued our game of "guess the saint" and "find the tool of martyrdom," and enjoyed our tour through the history of Venetian art. At this point in the trip, however, we had honestly both satiated our desire to learn about Italian art, and we made our way through the museum much quicker than we had previous ones.
By now, it was late afternoon and we had yet to have any gelato (a serious problem!), so we set out to find some. We stopped by Santa Maria della Salute, which was built as an offering during a particularly terrible plague, to take in the view of Venice and the Grand Canal from its marble steps. From there, we walked along the Zattere, a type of waterfront promenade that afforded a different view of the city and had a much more "tropical" feel to it than the rest of Venice. Finally, we came across Gelati Nico, where we had some of the best gelato of the trip (lemon and strawberry for B, chocolate and rum cake for me). We took our gelato to go, and ate it while watching the work happening at one of the few, remaining gondola workshops.