Holy smokes, Venice does not disappoint! Once we arrived, we hopped on a water bus and headed for San Marco Square. Cruising through the canal, watching the sun glistening on the water, is such an amazing experience. You can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, hear the water breaking against the boat, and see the city alive and well. Ian was freaking out from the beauty, Sarah was freaking out from the beauty, and I was freaking out from the beauty! It's not often that we get to ride along such beautiful scenery, so we were definitely excited.
Due to a booking situation (more on that later), we actually arrived in Venice a day early. Sarah's mom (and her reliable internet) was able to help us find a place right in the middle of San Marco Square (thanks, Mary!). It was smack dab in the center of everything and it was a great way for our friends to be introduced to this romantic city.
We dropped our bags in our rooms and headed out to explore. First things first: gelato. We made sure to start our adventuring with the delicious treat. :) Next up: real food. Ali and Elijah suggested a place near the Grand Canal and we all happily agreed. It was a fun place with nice servers and interesting decor (read: bras were hanging throughout the restaurant and bar. The owner told us they were "donated" from guests, ha! No donations here!). By the end of the meal, they brought us a round of complimentary shots (seriously, there's something about young travelers...) and we all made Elijah drink Ali's. After dinner we decided to wander through the city...
Wandering in Venice is a wonderfully beautiful experience. We stumbled upon gorgeous homes, canals, boats, and people. Yes, being lost can be frustrating (ok, very frustrating), but when you're open to wandering it is one of the best places to do it. As we strolled, we came across two really memorable moments: a Swedish accordion player and a Venetian music festival.
The accordion player was set-up near one of the bridges and was playing his stinkin' heart out. He was charismatic, passionate, and was able to endear himself to the crowd quickly. At one point, an older gentleman from a nearby restaurant approached him, put money in his cap, gave him a bottle of water he had purchased for him, and then placed his hand on the performers face and said, "Thank you. This is beautiful." It was such a sweet moment to witness. The older gentleman was moved by the music he was hearing and acted on it. It felt special being a part of it.
After we watched that performer play for a bit, we headed toward home (or what we thought the direction of home was), and pretty quickly came across a music festival. We arrived right as the last band was playing their encore set, but we joined the crowd and began dancing with everyone around us. The whole plaza was full of people, food, lights, and music. We found something unique and dove head first into a local night of fun. It was a major highlight for all of us, but the experience really resonated with Robbie.
We couldn't have asked for a better first night in Venice. Here is my journal entry from that night:
"Each 'first night' in a city has been fantastic! Malmo, Berlin, Prague, and Vienna; Venice is no different. We are finding and stumbling upon amazing scenes and experiences, and it is really setting a tone for the next few days."
The next morning we walked around for a short bit and grabbed breakfast sandwiches from a local place. The air was warm by 9am and we were all betting that we would have a warm day. As we sat along the street, we watched several "repeats" go by as they worked to find their way. Ian described the area as the "Bermuda Triangle"because people just couldn't find their way out! From here, we strolled through the main shopping streets and over the Rialto Bridge.
Once we crossed over the bridge, we ventured through Venice's other main island (with some gelato as a refreshment, of course). I had never actually visited this part of the island before, so it was fun for me to see the differences (there aren't many, if any). Our goal was to walk to the train station and make reservations for our next trip and then head back to meet the apartment owner for our next Airbnb digs. Unfortunately, things took longer than expected at the train station, so we agreed to take a water taxi back to San Marco Square (oh bummer :). It was a beautiful, quiet ride; water taxi's are actually a bit expensive, but worth it if you're willing or have more people to split the cost.
We grabbed our bags and headed out to meet with our host. There was a little bit of a miscommunication about the time (good thing we had a working phone, thanks Sarah!), but once we meet our host, things were great! Our apartment was in a quiet, residential part of Venice, away from the hustle and bustle of tourists. Each room was spacious and offered air conditioning (Venice apartment, for the win!). We decided to take a little afternoon break, rest up for the evening, and enjoy our place.
Robbie and I broke off from the group to celebrate our anniversary dinner that evening. We were technically in Berlin on our actual anniversary, but we decided to wait for an uber romantic city. In hindsight, I'm sure we would have found a great place in Berlin and LOVED it, but I'm not going to complain about waiting for Venice either. We found a great restaurant that was both a garden restaurant AND along the water. It had lush vines growing above the tables and we were seated only a few feet away from a small canal. I love my husband, I love being married to him, and it was a pretty perfect way to celebrate our life together.
The next morning, the whole crew decided to go to Murano island. Murano is an island not far from Venice that specializes in glass blowing. Once you land, there are hundreds of glass factories that allow visitors to watch a demonstration in hopes that you will buy some of their merchandise. The last time Robbie and I were in Venice, we visited an amazing factory that had a top notch demonstration and beautiful pieces of glass. We were a little bummed because we couldn't find the same one this time, but no one really seemed to mind. After some walking, we decided to grab some lunch at a restaurant along a canal. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. Ian ordered an amazing lobster dish, but it seemed to fizzle out from there. I don't want to sound like a brat (I mean, I was in Italy), but the food just wasn't that good; I guess you can't win them all.
After we got back to Venice, we took a rest and got ready for the evening. We all agreed to split the cost for a Gondola ride, which was fun. The Gondoliers are usually yelling back and forth to each other, which can kill some of the magic, but it's really cool to see the city from the water. After our ride, we grabbed dinner from a courtyard cafe and enjoyed each other's company. Overall, the night was pretty quiet, but I think we all enjoyed that.
The morning we left, we grabbed pastries from a local bakery, tried to squeeze in St. Mark's Cathedral (but had to leave right before we got in, bummer), and cruised the canal one last time. Since Venice relies so heavily on tourism, it can sometimes feel artificial or commercial. Plus, the fact that they hike prices up so high can be a turnoff for me. However, it's natural landscape is still amazingly beautiful and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to see it.
Off to Florence we go!
(More photos after the jump)