Sometimes I wish this whole year was one big vacation. We would be able to see and experience everything we wanted, and could spend days or weeks in particularly fascinating places. Alas, we’re not on perpetual holiday. But when we do get a few days off, we try to pack in as much fun and action as we’re able.
Our whirlwind trip through northern Italy culminated in two very busy and wonderful days in Venice. We took the train up from Florence, and arrived at Venice’s main station just as some menacing, grey clouds were starting to clear.
Day 1: Getting our bearings
Since choosing the easy road is often boring, we decided to jump right in and find our way to our lunch reservation. We hoofed it through tiny streets and over multiple canals. Around bends, down dead ends, and through numerous small piazzas. And all in 30 minutes.
After one slightly less minor snag (no bridge), remedied by one quickly-hailed gondola (which we shared with eight other travelers), we arrived within 10 minutes of our reservation time and enjoyed a quick lunch and glass of local wine. Off to a good start, senses of humor and relationship still intact!
Once we met up with our Airbnb host and settled in to our adorable, tiny apartment, we set off to explore the city. We quickly discovered one of the highlights of visiting Venice in late November: the general lack of massive crowds. There were certainly tourists around, as I suspect there always are. But there were no long lines, no impenetrable hordes, and no oppressive, shoving masses to weave through.
We rode to the top of the Campanile, gazed out over the Piazza San Marco and the entire city, and watched the sun go down. It sinks so early this time of year – by 4:30, slivers of the sky were glowing between and under banks of lingering clouds, and by 4:45 those clouds and the sun’s rays were red and pink fire. As we walked along the water away from the center, heading out to the less-touristy part of the city, we kept glancing back at the changing sky. Some sunsets are just ridiculously gorgeous and soul-filling.
That evening, we discovered our new favorite place for aperitivo, or before dinner drinks. This wonderfully Italian tradition involves ordering a glass of wine, spritz, or other such beverage and sipping while chatting and munching on the complimentary snacks that accompany your drinks. Our tiny bar of choice sat just off the water, contained four tall cocktail tables, and served the cheapest, best drinks we had in Venice. Thus fortified, we were ready to brave the cold, find somewhere for round two, and make our way to dinner. Not a bad first day.
Day 2: Delving deeper and doing it all
Our second day in Venice dawned bright, clear, and crisp. We wrapped up in sweaters, coats, and scarves and set out to discover as many of the lovely streets and canals as possible. After awe-inspiring visits to the Basilica dei Frari (it’s the largest church in Venice) and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (where every surface is glided, painted, carved, or some combination of the three), we decided to walk some more. The domes of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute had been calling our name, so we made our way there.
After a quick visit to admire the patterned floor and ponder the carpet-clad columns, we arrived back in San Marco, hungry and foot-weary. And it was only lunchtime!
But when you only have 48 hours in one of the most incredible cities in the world, you take advantage of every sunny moment. One quick lunch break later, our bellies full and our bodies rested, we set out to conquer the Basilica di San Marco. We weren’t prepared for what was inside. The outside of the building is certainly quite ornate and intricately carved, but the interior blew our minds.
The entire ceiling of the church – each of the five domes, every archway and vault – was completely covered with beautiful, mostly gold mosaics. Colorful figures and large text punctuated the sea of shimmering gold, and the entire space glowed. Not only did the space above our heads boggle our brains, but the floor was equally as impressive: countless small marble tiles of multiple colors and shapes formed incredible patterns throughout the space.
After our awestruck tour of the inside, we stepped out on to the second floor balcony for a stellar view of the piazza and surrounding buildings. The sun shone brightly, the air was soft and almost warm, and we were some of the only people around.
Since we hadn’t yet walked nearly enough, we decided to stroll out to a small island about 30 minutes from St. Mark’s square. We casually stopped at the Bridge of Sighs on the way, and enjoyed the fact that we were one of about 5 people gazing at it. We also encountered some very interesting art in a small park along the water. You never know what you’ll find!
The further we got from the center, the fewer people we saw – and the less English we heard. Finally, we were almost alone. And once we reached the little island and wandered through its small, colorful streets to its simple church, we could almost pretend we were the only tourists in Venice. I loved wandering the tiny alleys on the way back, following our noses, crossing bridges, and eventually ending up back at our favorite happy hour spot.
Of course, we couldn’t leave Venice without ducking into a couple more dimly-lit, dark wood and brass-clad bars. One even had hundreds of bills from many different currencies hanging from its ceiling beams. Happy hour hopping is fun! And I can now confidently say that most places in Venice make an excellent Aperol Spritz.
Our time in Venice was perhaps too short, but we saw and did and tasted and walked more than I could’ve planned or imagined. I would go back in a heartbeat, as long as the weather was a bit chilly and the sights weren’t overrun. That city can throw pure magic at you when you least expect it. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to return before we lose it to the sea.