Sunday, September 16, 2018

Two Days in Venice

After our eight day trek in the Dolomites, we arrived in Venice by train. Within minutes of walking around the cobblestone streets alongside narrow canals while listening to a street performer play the accordion, I fell in love with Venice. 

Row Venice
Venice is known for its architecture, canals, shopping, and gondolas. Unfortunately, gondola rides have become a tourist scam running at around 100 euros for 30 minutes. We saw some larger groups enjoying the rides which might have been more worth it, but we just couldn't justify the price for the two of us. Instead, we took a gondola lesson through Row Venice. For 80 euros we had about 90 minutes of instruction and rowing from expert rowers. They gave us a brief lesson with the boat docked, and we were quickly off into the canal. We traded off rowing so we each got some experience in the narrow canals with our guide rowing in the back, ensuring we didn't screw up too badly. After about 30 mins, we were out in the lagoon which gave us plenty of room to practice. We tried rowing solo which required a completely different technique. We walked away with a great appreciation for the gondola drivers who steer solo through the canals. 

St. Mark's Square and Basilica 
You can't visit Venice without seeing the iconic square and church. We hit the square early, around 8am, to beat the crowds. Children chased the pigeons around the empty square and we appreciated the architecture before lines formed outside of the church. 
St. Mark's Basilica

The basilica opens at 9:30 and is free, but a line starts forming at least an hour beforehand. We opted to pay 3 euros each for skip the line tickets which we ordered two days before for 9:45am. I highly recommend paying for these tickets. They should really be called "be in a shorter line" tickets, but they are so worth it. We waited for about 10 minutes before joining the swarm of people flooding into the church. They enforce the dress code (no shoulders, no knees) and a no backpack policy. Women with exposed shoulders were given a shawl to borrow, but those with backpacks were turned away and told to visit the bag check in a different building. 
The inside was absolutely incredible. Every surface shimmered gold and the artwork captured our eyes. We paid 5 euros each to visit St. Mark's museum on the second floor, which I would recommend. Not only do you learn a little more about the basilica, but you get a view from the balcony to look over the entire square. 
Inside St. Mark's Basilica
Venice offers some of the best shopping of any city we've visited. We splurged on some Venician masks after seeing them displayed in windows on every street. You can pay a wide range for these masks, and I would recommend shopping around before purchasing. Find the right balance between quality and price. Definitely put some shopping time into your itinerary, you won't regret it!
Venice is not cheap, so the food is accordingly a little pricey. With the limited space, a lot of restaurants are take-out only. Our favorite was Dal Moro's, a to go pasta place which serves your pasta in Chinese food take-out containers, making it easy to sit down at a square and eat. It is a little tricky to find a spot to eat since so many restaurants are to go only and there are areas where sitting on the steps is forbidden, such as the ones by the Grand Canal. Once you find a spot, it's well worth it for the experience of feasting on Italian pasta in such a magical city. And, of course, stop by a gelataria for dessert! 
The Grand Canal
We loved Venice at 8am. It was magical and we felt like we had the city to ourselves. By lunchtime it started to lose its magic as we shoved our way through alleyways holding our bags close to our chests. Certain areas were fine throughout the day, but the closer we got to the Grand Canal, the more we longed for a little personal space. We visited in late August, prime tourist time for anyone (like us) tied to the school calendar. If at all possible, I would recommend going in the fall the avoid the crowds and the heat. However, we still had a wonderful time! 

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