We had heard extremely mixed reviews on Venice, everything from “it’s the greatest city on earth” to “it’s a nasty, touristy cesspool, don’t bother”, so we came prepared with an extra special dose of open mindedness.
We stayed outside the city, across the bridge, which was a great decision because it was far cheaper, and was a respite from the crazy, expensive city. We hopped off the bus on the first morning and made our way through the throngs of tourists to the vaporetto stop. Vaporettos are basically boat-buses. Venice has boats for everything. We saw Police boats, and construction boats, crane boats and FedEx boats. We wanted to take the vaporetto down the Grand Canal, but we got on the wrong boat and ended up on the route that takes you around the main part of the city, instead of through it. The ride was not quite as pretty as we had hoped, but we still ended up at our intended destination, St. Mark’s Square.
St. Mark’s was closed for the morning (probably having to do something with it being Good Friday, but we couldn’t tell because the signs were in Italian, and we are not Catholic), so we decided to visit the Doge’s Palace instead.
The palace had SO many rooms, and was home to each of the city’s Doges, who were rich men elected by the other Venetian rich men. The palace is filled with really amazing artwork, including beautiful ceilings and carved wooden benches. Our favorite room was filled with old maps and we loved seeing how accurate (or inaccurate) map makers were in the 1500’s (for some reason cartographers decided to flip north and south when painting maps of “The Orient” so you have to stand on your head to read them). From the palace we crossed the Bridge of Sighs to the old prison. The prison was a huge labyrinth, and we got hopelessly lost. The visit to the palace was pretty expensive, 16 euro each, but it was really cool.
After the Doge’s Palace we went to St. Mark’s Cathedral. We had read a tip (from Rick Steves of course) to check our bags at a nearby church (free!), which then allows you to skip the long line into the cathedral. That ended up being a huge time saver as the line was huge and the cathedral packed! St. Mark’s was huge and beautiful, with the highlight being the golden mosaic ceilings, which made the whole inside seem to glow.
We spent the rest of the day wandering the congested, touristy streets, trying to find less congested places in the city. Along the way we stopped by the Rialto Bridge, which was beautiful but covered with tourist shops. We did end up finding empty streets and after a little incident of imbalance, we decided to sit in an empty plaza, read, and allow Logan to dry off a little.
On our second day in Venice we made it onto the right vaporetto, and rode down the Grand Canal. We passed so many beautiful, old buildings and despite the boat being crammed with picture taking tourists (including ourselves) it was there where I decided I really do love Venice. Yes it is touristy, yes there are WAY too many people, and yes it is VERY expensive, but all of those things stem from the underlying fact that Venice is beautiful and unique and a place that people naturally will want to visit. I have never been anywhere like Venice and I understand why millions of people drop millions of dollars simply to wander the streets and float down the canals.
We spent the rest of the day walking aimlessly around the city, eating gelato and searching for the perfect Italy Christmas ornament to add to our collection (I get an ornament from every country we visit). What a perfect way to end our nearly four weeks in Italy.