I have loved Italy since the moment I met her. From the energy I felt my very first steps in Rome to the dreamy hillsides of Tuscany… the coasts, the islands, the alps, the food and especially her people… she is a masterpiece. It is indeed la dolce vita. One of her finest jewels is Venice, the city of marble palaces built on a lagoon. The history and the grandeur of old Venice is like an enchanting spell. My first time in Venice, however, I was actually quite sick… yet even still she captivated me. It is a place where you start walking… down alleys, over canals, through piazzas … and you just keep walking. Around every corner is the most beautiful architecture that transports you back in time to a gilded age centuries earlier. It is perhaps the only city in the world where getting lost is both inevitable and the goal!
During our prior visit we stayed at the Hotel Danieli, a palace in its former life, right on the Grand Canal and steps away from Piazza San Marco. It was fantastic and would be a hard act to follow. Its’ grand décor was breath-taking and the breakfast on the roof terrace overlooking the canal was a highlight! This visit we chose to stay at the JW Marriott private island, Isola delle Rose. It has a complimentary water ferry from the resort to Piazza San Marco to travel back and forth at ones convenience. I wasn’t sure if I would like not being right in the heart of Old Venice, but from the moment our water taxi pulled into the dock for the JW Marriott the experience was exquisite. The service, the check-in, the assistance with anything… was all seamless. Our room was large and comfortable and the deck overlooking the grounds was expansive. Having just arrived in paradise, we quickly made the decision to avoid the mid-day heat and crowds (when the bulk of the tours and tourists are out) and spend the afternoon relaxing at the roof top pool that looked out over the water towards Venice.
Later in the afternoon we took the ferry over to wander, get lost, sit at the cafes, check out the dueling musicians on the square and enjoy the sights. It was perfect. Venice in its’ “golden hour” is quite possibly my favorite time of all. The crowds are starting to thin and many streets we walked we had all to ourselves. As we were heading back to the Square we paused on a bridge to enjoy a light breeze and stumbled into a banner being unfurled proposing marriage to a young woman in the gondola below while musicians played on the bridge and the couple was showered with rose petals. Just after the bridge the celebratory Prosecco was waiting… this young man thought of everything! (Of course I had to airdrop the video of the proposal to the orchestrators on the bridge.) We continued on to enjoy a glass of wine, live music and people watching at St. Mark’s Square. On this evening we encountered a group in full renaissance regalia travelling through. We were able to ask them where they were all going and it was 93 Americans heading to a Venetian Wedding Ball! How cool is that for a destination wedding? A gondola proposal, a wedding and a ball … the City of Romance shines brightly.
On our last night we scheduled a birthday dinner on the canal and chose to take the traditional gondola ride before our meal. We had not really planned it, but wandered into an area that had several waiting gondolas and decided that the trip would not be complete without this quintessential Venetian treat. Some new friends we had met were just returning from their ride and as we left they snapped a few photos of us in the gondola. The pictures always make me laugh as our energetic Gondolier posed for most, if not all, of the photos. He was well into his standard narration when he suddenly asks me “Are you a swimmer?” Surprised by this random deviation from his explanation of the city hall building I said “many, many years ago.” He straightened his back and set his own shoulders and said “I thought you were a swimmer from your shoulders.” He proceeded to tell us that his 15 year old daughter, Guilia Salin, swims for the Italian National Team as a Junior and had recently done an international championship meet in Indianapolis! He pulled out his smart phone and showed me an Arena sponsored video on YouTube about her. (For all my swimming friends… she is a mid-to-long distance freestyle competitor. She also recently medaled at the Mare Nostrum! See her video link below). Of course I told him about my nephew getting ready for his big nationals swim competition in July as well. Of all the gondolas in all of Venice we would happen into the one owned by the Father of an Italian swimming star. It truly is a small world… and we may leave swimming but swimming never leaves us. We wish you continued success Guilia… we will be watching and cheering you on from the US!
Our dinner on the canal with the rising moon was the best birthday celebration and a perfect finale. Thank you Venezia for your magical hospitality. As always… we leave you wanting more. Venezia ti amo. Finché non ci incontreremo di nuovo.
• Between the end of the seventh century and 1797, the Republic of Venice was once one of the most powerful countries in the world. It was an economic powerhouse which that built a mercantile empire in the Adriatic and the eastern Mediterranean. In 1797, after being weakened by two centuries of war with Ottoman Turkey and only 11 ships left, it fell swiftly to Napolean Bonaparte on May 12 and their millennium of domination came to a close.
• The first public casino in the world opened in Venice in 1638. The Venetian Council did this to try to control the illegal gambling during the Venice Carnival.
• The first woman in the world who graduated from University was born in Venice June 5, 1646. Elena Lucrezia Cornaro who was awarded a doctorate in philosophy by the University of Padua, Italy, June 25, 1678. (She originally applied for a doctorate in theology but the Roman Catholic Church intervened saying no because she was a female).
• After the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, the Republic was annexed by the Austrian Empire, until it became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
• Venice is made of 117 submerged mini-islands which sit within the shallow waters of the Venetian Lagoon. (The lagoon has an average depth of 34 feet.) The buildings are constructed on wood pilings to rise out of the water.
• Venice has 177 canals. The S-shaped Grand Canal splits the city in two.
• Venice has 417 bridges. 72 of those are private. Most of the bridges do not have steps as they were built when horses were used for transportation
• Venice is home to more than 450 palaces
• There are about 350 gondolas in Venice. There are only 3 or 4 Gondolier licenses issued annually. To qualify, applicants must be able to finish an extensive training and pass a rigorous exam. There are only 400 licensed Gondoliers operating in Venice today.
• Venice is sinking at a rate of 1-2 millimeters per year
• Venetian legend says that if a couple in a gondola kiss as they pass underneath each bridge they will remain in love forever.
1) Get lost. Venice is a magical maze of alleys, bridges and squares. Even during the busy times of day, there are many “streets” (alleys) that are empty. Wandering is a great way to lose the crowds. Just make sure you have comfortable walking shoes.
2) Take a Gondola ride. It is the quintessential way to experience the “City of Water”.
3) Go to church. In addition to the famous St. Mark’s Basilica there are 139 churches in Venice, 88 which still hold services. We love wandering in and enjoying the frequent music as well.
4) Views- St Mark’s Campanile (lift only) & if you are like me and like stairs to work a little bit for the view… St. Mark’s Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio) 132 stairs
5) Island of Burano – take a ferry or water taxi to this colorful fishing village. It is like walking through a kaleidoscope in time and if you are a fan of color do not miss this beauty!
1) Enjoy the Café culture… even if it’s just for drinks and light appetizers. During the evening St. Mark’s Square has live music everywhere.
2) Osteria Oliva Nero. A lovely family run Osteria. The owner, Isabella, took our order and made recommendations for both food and wine that were wonderful.
3) L’Ombra Del Leone Café (right on the Grand Canal -great views out towards san salute and guidecca) Reserve the patio with the view. Wonderful service and the food was delicious.
4) Gelato! When in Italy it’s all about the gelato!
5) Splurge – lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch at Restaurant Terraza Danieli. Location, location, location!
What are your favorites in Venice? Please share them below.
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