Sometimes you experience something, someone or someplace nearly impossible to put into words. This object is so wonderful, so magical, that it takes hold of your heart and soul and won’t let you be free of it, no matter how hard you try and move on. There’s a place like this for me, and it’s the glorious Venice, Italy and the weekend I had enjoying some dolce far niente (sweet idleness).
It’s a little basic, I suppose, to be one of those travelers who just “falls in love” with Venice and its old canals, gelato shops and Italian charm, but hey, there’s a reason it’s so loved. Unfortunately, Venice is an old place built on an unsteady (lagoon) ground. The water is rising every year, the city is sinking, maintenance of the old buildings is getting more difficult, water pollution reduces the water quality and smell, and hoards of tourists flock into the city every day, leaving dents in the culture and atmosphere of the city.
It’s taken me nearly seven months since going to bring myself to write this article. It’s not because I didn’t want to write it, it’s more as if writing it meant that the trip really was over. Putting my experience and feelings into words for everyone to read makes it real and finite, not just a wonderful dream I had. Call me weird or overly romantic, but what study abroad kid doesn’t come back a little dramatic?
Let’s start with our arrival. My friends and I took a (very) early bus from Milan to Venice and arrived at the Tronchetto stop where we had to walk across a very normal concrete bridge next to cars and other pedestrians lugging their bags. With the sun beating down on us, we were exhausted from our journey, but our view from the concrete highway of the island with its beautiful church domes and old rust, white and yellow buildings enticed us forward.
Our hotel was nestled far from the main tourist-crowded parts, but since Venice isn’t too big, it wasn’t too far away. After leaving our bags, we made our way to the Ponte dell’Accademia, a bridge that I would argue is the perfect place to start your trip. From the Ponte dell’Accademia, we had an incredible view of the Grand Canal’s turquoise water and the water taxis and other various boats passing below. We were immediately entranced by this view, with its sparkly haze and the gorgeous March sun shining down on it. After crossing, we aimlessly made our way around the narrow streets, taking in the various carnival mask shops and windows of Italian desserts and sandwiches.
After winding our way through the antique roads, we finally made it to the Rialto Bridge, which happens to be the oldest bridge that crosses the Grand Canal. We would return here many times not only because it was central, but also because the best gelato I’ve ever had was located here. Gelatoteca Suso, if you’re reading this, I dream of you every day. We weren’t prepared for the crowds we’d have to wind through to get to Piazza San Marco, but once we made it past people trying to sell us bracelets and Americans who like to stop in the middle of the path to look at their phones, we made it to the piazza.
UC Berkeley students, prepare yourselves to feel at home because Piazza San Marco is home to — you guessed it — St. Mark’s Campanile, the bell tower that inspired our very own! After I fangirled a bit and embarrassed my friends who all go to other UCs, we admired the Byzantine beauty that is Saint Mark’s Basilica, a building that always makes one feel as if they were transported back in time to when Venice was the strongest trading hub in the west. If you ever tear your eyes away, you’ll be reminded that you are in fact not in the 15th century, but in the 21st and only have a few days there, so you need to get a move on.
We made sure to check out Libreria Acqua Alta, a bibliophile’s paradise that’s known worldwide for its unique gondola and bathtubs with books piled up in them to avoid the “alta acqua” (high water). There’s a little view of the canal from inside and a “backyard” with hundreds of books stacked up to make stairs, so you can see the canal from over the wall. It’s quirky and piled high with more books and maps anyone could fathom, which we loved.
It should be mentioned that throughout our day of wandering, we were constantly eating, which is the only way you should tour Italy. To name a few of my favorites, one stop we made was Baci & Pasta, a cute little place with a variety of sauces and pastas you could combine and take to go. My other favorite was Acqua e Mais, which sells a variety of fried fish, calamari, sardines and more, all topped on a little cushion of polenta, which is an Italian staple. We had dinner at a local restaurant, where we ate outside across from a neighborhood band playing music to families with little kids. After, we thought it only right that we finish off the night at a wine bar, where we loitered around outside, drinking with the other Italians and young travelers who were all trying to soak in the moonlit magic of the night.
The next day was our “boat” day, because we ended up buying a 20-euro day pass for the vaporetto waterbus, so we could go to the islands of Murano and Burano. Murano is the more low-key of the two and happens to be a lot closer to Venice. It’s known for its beautiful glass, so we spent most of our morning perusing different shops, some cheaper and some way too expensive for us to have any business going into. We went to a glass blowing performance, which was hypnotic and beautiful to watch. After this, we got in the incredibly long line for the boat to Burano, which is the way more touristy of the two. The line took way too long, the boat ride was long, and we were pretty hungry, but the island was worth the wait. Burano is famous for its colorful buildings, almost the perfect location for the age of Instagram that we live in. After sitting down for a fantastic pasta lunch, we wandered around the quintessential Italian island, admiring the vibrant houses until we had to run to catch the boat back.
The end of our boat tour of Venice culminated with a gondola ride starting from Piazza San Marco. I don’t know if it was our sincerity, youth or good timing, but the gondoliers agreed to give us a cheaper price for a longer ride, because it was their last ride of the day. We split into two boats and set off down the dreamy canals of Venice during golden hour. We passed under the famous Bridge of Sighs and listened to our gondolier tell us that he in fact does not sing, but he does come from a family of gondoliers, and in all his long years of taking the gondola out, he’s rarely fallen off. We heard the history of the city, waved to people passing and, of course, took some photos. Emerging back onto the Bacino di San Marco right as the sun was setting was the most fantastical moment of all. Being surrounded by friends and a gorgeous sunset against the backdrop of a proud and unique city made my heart swell with joy and emotion. We’re lucky to live in a world with such beautiful places, and in this moment I couldn’t believe that I got to experience something as wonderful as this.
It should be mentioned that you can’t go to Venice and not go to a bacari, which is the traditional Venetian wine bar where you drink your wine with small plates. We found a popular place called Cantine del Vino già Schiavi, where we got aperol spritzes, wine and cicchetti in the form of bread with delicious fish on top. Once we got our food, we sat on the side of the canal with the rest of the cicchetti revelers, listening to the locals sing and witnessing someone row a gondola filled with their drunk friends. Somehow, after this we still weren’t full and landed at my favorite restaurant in all of Italy, Taverna San Trovaso, for a true Venetian feast.
After wandering around the back alleyways in almost complete darkness, feeling very much like we were in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” we found our way back to the lights. With full bellies and full hearts, we got gelato and hung out on the almost-empty Rialto Bridge, taking in the view of the Grand Canal. My friend played “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin on his phone — our official anthem of the trip. It was a wonderfully stereotypical “20-something-year-old American in Venice” ending to what was an incredible weekend.
I fell in love with Venice quickly, and I continue this never-ending fall whenever I bring my mind back to my time there. I hope you all enjoyed this journey I took you on and that you find yourself in this enchanting city soon!