We checked out of our hotel early in the morning and took our bags to the train station to be stored while we explored Venice for the day. This meant that we got to see sunrise over Venice while riding down the Grand Canal.
St Mark’s is heavy on the Byzantine style which meant that it was pretty dark inside. Not tons of light pouring in through windows and most of the decor was dark. It was almost kind of depressing as we walked in and waited for our eyes to adjust to the dark, ha!
Next we walked over to the Doge’s Palace. This photo was actually taken the night before when we were coming in on the water so I was able to get a shot of the front of the building. As a side note, we took Rick Steves’ advice (naturally, haha) and walked over to the Correr Museum and got our tickets without waiting in line then came over to the Doge’s Palace and walked right now. Seriously, trust me when I say that Rick Steves won’t lead you astray. 😉
The shot on the left is detail work on the outside of the Doge’s Palace and the shot on the right is the grand staircase leading inside the palace. No photos were allowed inside, but it was very reminiscent of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. High ceilings, tons of art, grand rooms. This particular palace was actually where Europe was ruled from for nearly 400 years so it was cool to see in that sense. But in general, not high on the list of coolest-things-we-saw.
Attached to the Doge’s Palace is the prison next door which we had more fun exploring than the palace itself. The prison is connected to the palace by a bridge called “The Bridge of Sighs” (photo top left). They say it was named that because men being taken to prison would cross the bridge, look out over Venice one last time and sigh. The two bottom photos are taken from inside the Bridge of Sighs (so the same view that the prisoners would have had). The top right photo is from inside the prison itself.
Next we walked over to the Bell Tower (left photo) where we struck up conversation with a man who was a huge Rick Steves’ fan. Cracked us up to hear him go on and on about how great all of Rick Steves’ advice is, but it’s so true! We met his family and chatted about Venice while we rode up the elevator to the top of the tower. The view from the top of the tower (bottom right) was lovely. It was cool to see all of Venice and the nearby Islands. Also, photo on the top right is a detail shot from the Bell Tower. Lions are a huge thing in Venice because the lion is said to represent St. Mark (the patron of Venice).
We had lunch at Birraria La Corte which had good food, but even better than that: a lovely ambiance. Venice is packed full of tourists and after just a few hours of the touristy spots that morning, we were pretty over being around the crowds of people. So we found a lovely respite here. Children ran through the cobblestone square (top left photo) and chased after pigeons while shrieking with laughter. Older gentlemen sat on park benches and chatted. The hum of the crowds had long since faded away and it was just pleasant. 🙂
Gondola rides cost around 80-120 euros ($104 – $156). Before the trip we talked for a long time about whether or not it was important to us to take a gondola ride while we were in Venice. Normally we are pretty frugal with our money, but on this trip we really tried to keep in mind that this might be our only time to travel to these places so we didn’t want to have any regrets. We liked the idea of a gondola ride, but weren’t sure if we wanted to spend that much money. Then we heard about the traghetto. The traghetto is a retired gondola (that still looks exactly like a gondola) rowed by two gondoliers (they each are assigned to traghetto duty 2 times a month) for only 2 euros. They rowed us across the canal which was a ride lasting less than five minutes (opposed to the 40 minute gondola ride). We were able to snap a couple of photos, share a laugh with our gondoliers, and even have a minute to appreciate the novelty of riding in a (retired) gondola on the Grand Canal. 🙂 It wasn’t a long romantic ride like a normal gondola ride, but it was perfect for us. 🙂
We then played the game of “avoid the tourists.” Every time we saw a crowded area we would turn the other direction and walk further into Venice and away from the touristy areas. The quieter side of Venice was lovely. We really enjoyed seeing that. By the way, the shot on the top left is of grapes growing on someone’s backyard trellis. I thought that was so cool and so very Italian. 🙂
But we too are actually tourists so we eventually made our way over to the (very crowded – see photo top right) Rialto Bridge area. This whole area is really popular for shopping and had some great window displays. I’ll be honest, we weren’t here for long just because there were so many people around.
Dinner was at Vesuvio which was blessedly far away from the crowds and only a few minutes away from the train station. Our dinner here was FABULOUS! The bolognese was the best I’d had since ZaZa’s in Florence and Christopher’s pizza was the best he’d had since Naples (I still liked the one at Alle Carrette in Rome better than this one, but it was still good). Everything was delicious!
We left Venice that evening to head to Milan. As we left here are my comments from the travel journal: “By the time we left Venice, the sun was setting and it was lovely. Venice’s water ways, canals, and rios were magnificent. This morning was super cold (it’s August! How is it this cold here?!), but it warmed up late morning and the day was fun. A lovely 24 hours – especially our time on the water and away from crowds.” And an excerpt from Christopher, “Venice was more expensive and more crowded than I thought it would be. The sites in Venice were somewhat lack luster, but despite this I am glad we had the opportunity to go. It may be expensive, but it is also beautiful and romantic so I am glad I got to experience that with Rach.”