It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since our big trip to Italy! Also hard to believe it’s taken me this long to finish recapping the experience. Today we’re going to go back to Venice. But before that, we stopped at San Marco in Florence. San Marco is famous in part for the paintings by Fra Angelico in the rooms of the old rooms of the Dominicans.
My favorite part though was the old manuscripts, because this was the first place I had seen that allowed photography. I am knowledgeable enough to know that you should never use flash when dealing with old, decaying paper or works of art, but even still, most places do not let you take any photographs.
It was definitely worth the final stop before our train to Venice, and we were also happy that the skies were clearing up from the rain and clouds the days prior. Our first impression of Venice was two fold: confusing, but also amazing. Here we were, no intimidating traffic!
I had been really nervous about Venice, and had researched where we needed to go outside the train station and which boat to board (Vaparetto), so of all the cities, I was the most prepared for this one. Even still, it took a little while to find our hotel San Salvador whose entrance was hidden down a little alleyway.
We chose the hotel because it was close to the heart of the city without being too expensive, but that also meant traveling a bit further with our luggage in hand.And because of that, we were also dealing with crowds and bridges. Bonus: we got to share a bed. ha!
But we made it, and we did find ourselves really acclimating to this city more so than the others within a day of being there. We were much more relaxed about getting lost once we didn’t have our luggage dragging behind us!
After unloading and getting information about places to eat, we headed out to the heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco. It’s the only “plaza” in Venice, with all other areas called Campos or “squares”.
We had tickets for the inside of Basilica di San Marco in a couple days, but we viewed the outside and around the plaza, and decided to go ahead and line up for the Campanile. There’s no stairs for this tower, just a cramped elevator. The skies were cloudy and it was cold, so we figured this would be the shortest line we’d see during our stay (and we were right!).
The views are nice, but while we were up there, the bells began to ring. It was loud. And startling.
That evening, we started what became a nightly routine of meandering around the city at night, though this first night, we were just searching for a place to eat dinner! We had decided to try Pizzareia Casa Mia, and we didn’t realize how popular this restaurant is.
We got lucky and arrived early enough to snag a table and split a bottle of wine. I ate a sea food dinner and my shrimps had eyes. After dinner we returned to the Piazza to look at it at night.
This is the infamous Bridge of Sighs, which I explained to mom that we’d be learning more about in the coming days.
The next morning, we woke early to watch the start of the Vogalonga! I didn’t know about this event until after we booked our vacation, but we were excited to be able to watch a local event like this. There are two boat races in Venice, the more famous one later in the year.
This one started with a protest of the motor boats that have overtaken Venice. While I appreciated being able to travel as needed to and from the city, within it’s bounds, mom and I didn’t need the motor boats and walked everywhere. So, I could understand why they wanted those quieter waters back, especially this day when all the motor transportation are shut down for the race.
The best places to watch the Vogalonga are the beginning at the Piazza, and several hours later at Cannaregio, a section of Venice to the north where the boats funnel through a narrower canal on their way to the finish.
The waters were very still. We wandered the city for the most part. Because it was Sunday, a lot of churches were closed for visitation, so there were only a few things on our to do list for the day. The forced slowness of the day was a little annoying for me, but it didn’t bother mom. It did help set the tone of our more relaxed visit to Venice than the other cities during our travels.
We had breakfast at a place that doesn’t much deserve the name and moved on from there quickly. We definitely missed the breakfast buffets at the previous hotels.
We walked to a south east end of the city to Santa Maria della Salute, which we were able to go inside. It was cool to walk to the very tip of the city outside the church here, standing at the edge of Venice and looking back at the Piazza.
We walked from south to north, the entire stretch of the city, to watch some more of the race later that day. This was more fun than the early morning launch because of the cheering, excitement, and the bells that Venetians rang from their windows.
We had a few other stops after the race, including the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.
The ceiling of the church of San Stefano was too amazing to not photograph, though we were not supposed to. I avoided flash and didn’t photograph any of the alcoves or other sacred spaces in the church, but I simply had capture this amazing intricate ceiling.
We even managed to find the spiral staircase all on our own. It was definitely off the beaten path and difficult to find around the narrow alleyways and vague directions we had.
All in all, it was a day of exploration of the city of Venice. We started to feel comfortable wandering around without being entirely certain where it would lead. We started to enjoy it when we were actually away from the crowds of people in the more distant parts of the city.
For dinner, we chanced upon Bacaro Osteria Barababao, and we loved it so much that we returned there for dinner again the very next night. We spent the evening wandering Venice, feeling very comfortable in this city lacking cars. Of course, I’m certain there is crime, but the lack of a big nightlife scene and the fact that many visitors only come for the day meant the nights seemed much quieter and felt very safe.
If you haven’t guessed yet, Venice was my favorite city to visit, and a wonderful way to conclude our trip. I have one more full day in Venice to share with you before we boarded our flight for home.