Italy: Venice

Next up on our whirlwind week in Italy: Venice. And to be honest, this was one of the places I was most looking forward to among my European travels for 2016. In part because I was worried the place would be underwater the next time I made it to Europe. And to be even more honest, it didn't disappoint. The place was gorgeous and bright and colorful and yet somehow intimate. I could spend a full week here, exploring the waterways and having long, lazy lunches full of wine and people-watching and taking another six hundred pictures of pretty buildings up against the sparkling water.

Venice, a beautiful city, the beginning. It was just so pretty! I tried to limit the number of "beautiful buildings along the canal" pictures I added here. It was tough. Go see this place before it sinks!

A quick intro to Venice. I arrived at the train station, walked across a bridge, and walked into another world. Venice is the world's only pedestrian city. And I loved it. No cars or buses or trams. Just boats and pedestrians. Part of this is practical - outside of the canals, getting around is confusing. There are dead ends and tiny bridges and tinier walkaways. It's part scary and part romantic and beautiful. But the lack of automobiles also added to the ambiance, this idea of leaving behind the 21st century and it's conveniences for an older world.

Along the Grand Canal. Trying to limit pretty buildings along the water, really.

Our first stop - Ca Pesaro. Just across the Grand Canal from the train station is this beautiful Baroque marble palace, today housing a modern art museum. It's been an art museum for more than a century, focusing on 19th and 20th century works. Pictured is my personal fave, Klimt's Judith II. I stopped here first and it was a nice break after the train ride. Also, it's along the Canal and offers a picturesque view itself.

When I think about Venice, this might be my go-to image. Colorful buildings along a large canal, boats and vendors everywhere. I guess the only thing missing is a gondolier. This is actually the view from the Rialto Bridge, also the location of the selfie heading this section. 

And now the bridge itself. It's the oldest that crosses the Canal, built in the 1200s. There are several packed vendors in the interior of the bridge, hawking touristy stuff. The bridge in general is very crowded, lots of people trying to take pictures and take in the scene. Be prepared to elbow your way through if necessary. Also, several tours seemed to have meeting points in the area, so be sure to figure out where this is in orientation to where you're staying for your visit.

I'm going to be honest here - I didn't know the pictured church existed. I primarily went to Venice to see the canals and the architecture. I had know idea this breathtaking Basilica would be a stopping place until I entered the Piazza San Marco and it literally took my breath away (so that's where that phrase comes from!). The Basilica di San Marco was built in 932, rebuilt in 1094. Unfortunately, the interior was under construction and I didn't get to see much on the inside. After waiting in a very long line, I got to go to the second floor of the church, where there was a museum and a spectacular view of the Piazza. The building is beautiful and ornate and has to be seen. I don't have recommendations on timing for this one - I arrived in the middle of the day. The line was long but moved at a quick pace. But maybe check for a construction schedule ahead of time.

St. Mark's Clock Tower. I'll be honest - I was a dumb American tourist for a second. The clock tower was on my 'to-see' list and I could not find it for the longest time. Seriously. But once I found it, what a clock tower! This is the view from the Basilica balcony. The tower and clock were built in the 15th century, with the bell itself dating back to 1497. The two bronze guys on top ring the bell every hour. In addition to the basics (what time is it?) the clock also includes references to the zodiac signs, the relative position of the earth, and the phases of hte moon. Plus, it's so pretty!

The view of the Piazza San Marco from the Basilica (the clock tower is just to the right of the frame). It's been a hub of Venice for over a thousand years. Today, it's crowded with tourists and Venetians, restaurants and shops, people trying to sell you souvenirs and street performers trying to get a tip. The square also regularly floods. Like everything in Venice, see it before it's underwater. I did have a nice lunch at a nearby restaurant, sitting by the window for maximum people-watching. The food was just okay and probably over priced, but the service was excellent and, hey, it was lunch at Piazza San Marco in Venice.

Just to the south of the Piazza is the Piazzetta, an open space between the Piazza and the waterway. Making up one wall of the Piazzetta is Doge's Palace. Built in the 1300s, it's been a museum since 1923. I recommend a visit when you're in Venice. You get to see a little bit of everything - the extravagant private rooms of the Doge of Venice and his family, the stately grand rooms where the work of the government was carried out, and then the shock of the prisons where criminals and adversaries were kept. The place is large and at times felt never-ending.

Another bridge, another canal. This time the Giudecca Canal. In the upper corner of the picture is Santa Maria della Salute, which sits across from the Basilica di San Marco, which is just behind the buildings on the left side of the picture.

Just a pretty canal with pretty buildings I crossed when walking from Piazza San Marco to Santa Maria della Salute. I really did try to limit the number of these pictures I included but this does a good job of demonstrating the intimacy of the canals. Small walkways, small passages of water, blocking out the light and making pedestrians acknowledge each other. No room for cabs or Ubers, buildings of every color.

And here it is up close, Santa Maria della Salute. The church was built in the 1600s to offer thanks to God after the city survived a particularly devastating outbreak of the plague. I have to say, this might not be the most effective form of plague management - Il Redentore was built in Venice in the 1500s for the same purpose. The interior is octagonal and unlike anything else I saw while traipsing around Europe, with eight radiating altars and chockablock with pieces from the artist Titian.

Not far from Salute is the Peggy Guggenheim collection. An American heiress and art collector, Peggy lived in Venice for most of her life. Her mansion has been converted into a popular art gallery, featuring everyone from Picasso to Pollock and an extensive sculpture garden. I literally stumbled upon this museum when walking around the streets. The estate itself is lovely, with a large open garden and an up-close view of the canals. The art collection is eclectic with something for everyone and a few pieces I really loved. Warning - it was very crowded and hard to maneuver when I went, so if this is a must-see, it might be worth going right when it opens. But definitely check it out. It's a breath of fresh air after seeing the typical Italian Renaissance art museums.

And now, Venice at night. After wandering around the city all day, I had a nice dinner, something Italian and full of carbs and delicious not far from the train station. Afterwards I did shopping, browsing some nearby market and picking up an Italian leather bag for my sister (it still smells fantastic, I'm told, nine months later). I stopped in a bar to kill time before my train (and to use the bathroom) and ended up having a glass of wine with an American family. The mother was in her fifties and had never been to Europe before. Her son was moving to Venice. She assumed I was a student, I helped her order coffee (she kept naming Starbucks drinks and was getting nowhere) and gave them both suggestions for their tourist time in Venice. Ah, traveling abroad, I miss it.

Overall, I had a great day in Venice. I absolutely could have spent more than a day there, exploring canals and cafes and shops. There were several things on my list that I didn't get to because I ran out of time and, honestly, was tired of walking (it was my fourth day of sightseeing in Italy, don't judge). But everywhere I went, there was another beautiful corner of the city, worthy of a picture and an Instagram post, a moment to reflect, that I was finally in this city I had heard so much about and was so excited to see.

Finally, I need to say this. I don't think it smelled. A friend had went a few years ago and her feelings were summed up thus: it smelled really bad and you could probably see everything in an afternoon, but definitely see it because it's pretty. I can't imagine that but hey, to each his/her own. I truly never noticed a smell but it's also a city on the water, adjust your expectations accordingly. Personally, I fell in love with the city (I fall in love with cities easily, to be honest). As I left, I took one last look at the Grand Canal, said goodbye but with the promise to return. Unless global warming beats me to it.