Monday, February 22, 2021

What is there to do in Venice? Oh let me count the ways

My friend Shaleem asked/challenged me to write about 'the very best' that Venice has to offer, and I originally posted my response as a comment on Facebook. It figured that overly long post could use a little more fleshing out with proper visuals.

We found Venice to be a fairy-tale city, a magical kind of place. As a result, our list of the 'very best' is a very long list. Here is the short version of the long list.

Our flat was in the building to the left of the bridge.

1. Walk everywhere and discover as much as you possibly can in places where tourists don't normally venture.

This is right near the entrance to the Grand Canal by St. Mark's Square, so I imagine most people would end up here at some point. But do take the time to walk this stretch in the morning or evening when it's not so busy like above. A sunny day makes it even better.

John Cabot's house (for those of you who took a very English high school history class).

Castello, east of San Marco

Just keep walking, that won't ever steer you wrong.

It will be difficult, but do not miss seeing the details.

I repeat: Do not miss the details.

2. Go into as many churches as you can stand. Lots of great art that you've never seen before, and usually quite wonderful architecture as well. And every one that you do go into, be sure to look up. Many have the most amazing painted ceilings. Even if you don't like churches or get tired of them very quickly, you should probably see the best three or four...make that six or seven. St. Mark's of course; the Frari church; the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Those are the Big Three, but do not miss the Church of San Pantalon. On any visit to Venice, see this church, and give yourself half an hour to stare at the ceiling. And then go see a couple more churches. At least.

Not that I want to take you away from my wonderful writing, but if you're really into churches, here's a good overview, organized by region.

3. Art museums - the Accademia (when it's not being renovated and half of it is closed...), the Guggenheim if you're into more contemporary stuff. But also go to a number of palaces as they tend to have lots of great art in their collections. No photo!!

4. Find all the bridges. Crossing over those suckers, all 400 of them, never gets boring.

5. Get a pass for the water bus - the vaporetto - because you're going to be here for a few days, right? It's way cheaper with the pass, and it is super fun to jump on and ride along the Grand Canal at every time of day. In the morning when the sun is coming up. In the afternoon when the sun is high in the sky and the action all over the city has really picked up. And especially do it in the evening after dark so you can see in some of the mansions/palaces along the way.

Being on the water takes you right into the heart of the action.

Just starting an evening Grand Canal water bus ride.

6. There's a mall in a large building, Fondaco dei Tedeschi, right beside the Rialto Bridge. It has a fabulous rooftop viewing deck where you can see right down the Grand Canal in both directions, as well as views over the entire city.

View south down the Grand Canal.

View west down the Grand Canal.

View south again, this time with the covered Rialto Bridge in the photo.

7. Speaking of views, take the water taxi over to San Giorgio and climb the church tower for a different but no less spectacular view. This is not a 'maybe' or 'if I have time.' This is a must.

Trust me, you'll want to spend a bit of time in the bell tower.

8. Take the water bus out to Burano, but do it early in the morning, around 8:30 or so. You'll be there as the island is waking up, and before the throngs arrive. Burano is charming, but less so when it's packed with spaghetti-strapped and muscle-shirted tourist. Even though it's 40 minutes away, this trip is still covered by your water bus pass. And if it's a sunny day, it's a beautiful trip. If you're up for it, carry on to Torcello to see the very old church with the very old frescoes, see where Venice began, and enjoy some peace and quiet if you need it. If you're not needing peace, stop in at Murano on the way back.

Church of San Michele on a small island very close to Venice, on our way to Burano. If I had turned 180 degrees, you'd be seeing Murano.

Okay, it seems crazy, but it really is this colourful. At least, that's what my memory tells me even if my camera lies.
On a day as bright as this, that reflected light explodes in the shadows, creating a fabulous rainbow. And if you get there early, it's just you and a couple of the island's early risers.

Just in case you missed my point that Burano is very colourful.

9. Do a day trip somewhere like Padua or Treviso. Ten euros by train, maybe half an hour away. 

Padua's clock tower

Super-awesome church in Padua. You have to go through a climate/humidity-controlled entry system to get in, feels very futurey. Important: Read your train ticket carefully otherwise you might mistake your departure time from Venice with your arrival time in Padua. This will result in some extreme Parkour activity to arrive in time to make your scheduled entry. Miss it, and you're out of luck.

10. Explore as many of Venice's campos, the small squares around their churches. They're sort of like the playground/parks for each neighbourhood. Grab a sandwich from a nearby cafe and have a seat on one of the many benches, and watch normal people do normal things.

I'm only now realizing that I don't have nearly enough campo photos. Most of the time we just took a seat and relaxed, and my camera just hung at my side. Which was nice, but I sort of wish I had more pics...

But if you keep walking, you'll find more and more of them.

11. Get a gelato at Nico's and walk along the Zattere, maybe at ten in the morning, or later in the afternoon (no, morning is not too early to have gelato in Italy). Be sure to do it at some point regardless, but morning and late afternoon light is magnificent along here.

This is early morning at the Eastern tip of Dorsoduro, St. Mark's bell tower across the canal. Walking west along here on the southern side will take you along what's called the Zattere.

12. Speaking of light, make several visits to the Accademia Bridge. Shortly after sunrise, mid-day, and early evening. It'll be busy at mid-day, but at the very least go morning and evening.

View from the Accademia Bridge probably around late morning.

13. Speaking of busy, St. Mark's Square will be crowded throughout the day, but early morning you will be there by yourself. If you can be there as the sun is rising, you will thank me with a not so small monetary donation.

St. Mark's Square (church on the right, Doge's Palace background right, San Giorgio across the canal in the distance) in the late afternoon, still super busy.

Nearly the same spot very early in the morning. 

If you want wedding photos, you'd better get here early.
Once again, early morning is the time to arrive.

14. Before you go to Venice, read Thomas Madden's 'Venice: A New History.' Memorize it if you can, so that when you are in Venice you can recall all the incredible things that happened 200 or 500 or 1000 years ago on this very spot. Also spend some time thinking about all the amazing things that likely happened where you're standing, but just never made it into the history books.

15. That's the short list, which doesn't include the Doge's Palace, the Correr Museum, and all those fancy places you're supposed to go to, but do those as well.

The Bridge of Sighs

16. My wife says I must mention that there are no cars in Venice. No traffic sounds, no smog or smell of exhaust. You can easily walk everywhere in Venice, and you should. Make it your goal to see as many bridges, canals, campos, gelato shops, and churches as you possibly can, because this city is pure magic.

Standing in the arch under Venice's clock tower. Magical, fairy tale, whatever you want to call it, it probably fits.

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