VENICE, ITALY: Glittering Jewel at the edge of the Sea

VENICE, ITALY: Glittering Jewel at the edge of the Sea

VENICE, ITALY: Glittering Jewel at the edge of the Sea
Venice, Italy. Campanile and domes of Saint Mark’s Basilica. View across the Grand Canal from Punte della Dogana on the Dorsoduro.

Visiting Venice is a little bit like going to Disneyland–the crowds, the rides, the spectacle, the assault on the senses–the difference being that everything in Venice is real and in many cases hundreds of years old. In late September, my husband and I spent three days in Venice and it was still just as magical as on our first visit 25 years ago. Between the food, the art, the music, the boats and the bridges we felt like we had been immersed in a painting by Turner or Canaletto.

A gondola traffic jam in one of the smaller canals.

The weather was perfect–sunny and warm, but not too hot–and although there were crowds of tour groups in the popular tourist spots during the middle of the day, they thinned out by evening.

Venice is an island, part of an archipelago that includes the main large island of Venice plus numerous smaller islands. You can see the Campanile in Piazza San Marco sticking up above the red roofed buildings.

Our first view of Venice was from the airplane as we approached the airport on the mainland. After landing, we followed a long walkway to the docks, where water transport was waiting to take passengers to the island of Venice. In our shared water taxi we sped across the lagoon, waves splashing across the bow, until we arrived at the entrance to the canals, where the boat slowed to a more sensible pace.

The Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal is the oldest bridge in Venice

We were one of the last to be dropped off, so our ride served as a mini-tour of the city and the web of canals that are the main streets of Venice.

One of the 400 bridges and 150 canals that connect the islands of Venice

Our hotel, Pensione Seguso, in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, was a two minute walk from the Zattere boat stop. After checking in, we took a walk along the Zattere promenade where there were various restaurants, many with tables on platforms over the water.

Waiting for pizza at our waterside table. On the other side of the channel we looked at the narrow island of Giudecca.

Our hotel was out of the way of the main tourist traffic in Venice, but it was only a short walk to the Accademia bridge over the Grand Canal and to the central part of Venice and the magnificent Basilica San Marco. (The easiest way to get around Venice is by walking, although the maze of squares, narrow walkways, bridges and canals make a map essential.)

View of San Marco and the Campanile (Bell Tower) from the loggia surrounding Piazza San Marco. The bell rings twice a day, at noon and midnight.

The Piazza San Marco is enormous, easily accommodating the thousands of tourists who visit it each day, not to mention the flocks of pigeons waiting for offerings of breadcrumbs. With its glittering mosaics and multicolored marble columns, the magnificent basilica is the perfect backdrop for all this activity. 

The Basilica di San Marco.

To the left of the Basilica in Piazza San Marco is Torre dell’Orologio (the Clock Tower) with its beautiful 15th-century blue and gold leaf clock.

The 24-hour clock on the Clock Tower.

Besides visiting the Piazza San Marco, highlights of our time in Venice included an afternoon at the opera (we saw the Barber of Seville at the Teatro de Fenice, the famous opera house where Maria Callas got her start), a Vivaldi concert at the Church of San Vidal, and visits to two art museums, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Accademia Gallery (to be the topic of another post.)

Posters on a palace along the Grand Canal advertise the Biennale.

We never got to the Biennale, the bi-annual international art exposition at the Arsenale–not enough time in our short visit. 

Art by Jean Dubuffet was on display at the Palazzo Franchetti.

But the streets were filled with smaller ancillary art exhibits, dozens of art galleries, and the display windows of the high-end fashion shops in the streets near Piazza San Marco had their own spectacular art creations.

Carnival masks on display in a shop window.

Other shops featured typical crafts of Venice–elaborate masks, marbled paper, glass sculptures from the island of Murano, and much more.

Gondolier shirts are among the many souvenirs one can buy at pop-up stalls on Piazza San Marco

On our first trip to Venice we met a architect professor who had brought his students to see and draw the intersection of buildings, bridges, and water that make the city of Venice unique.No other city is like Venice, with its mix of churches, palaces, plazas, towers, bridges and waterways.

Sunset on the Giudecca Canal, viewed from the Zattere promenade. After dark the lights come on and the city sparkles in the night.

We were lucky on both trips to Venice to enjoy good weather. (It can be foggy and rainy.) This trip was short and we only had time to sample a few of Venice’s pleasures. One day was a trip to the outer islands, a chance to get away from the tourist crowds–to be the subject of another post. Altogether our visit to Venice was a magical three days–and we wish we had had time to spend more.

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