Our adventure in Venice actually started a week before we arrived when we received a WhatsApp message from our Airbnb host saying that he made a mistake and double booked our room. He offered to refund our money but it was really too late for us to find affordable accommodations. Luckily he was preparing an apartment to rent out which was empty because it wasn’t quite ready (a couple of light fixtures were missing) so we quickly agreed. When we arrived we were very happy we took him up on his offer! Our original booking was just a bedroom/bathroom in a Bed & Breakfast but we got to stay in a 3-story apartment with a brand new kitchen, 2 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms! And they brought us stuff for breakfast everyday! To get to the apartment we did have to take a vaporetto or waterbus but even that was enjoyable because we got our first tour of the Grand Canal.
Our host advised us that Venice during the summer time can be absolutely crazy full of tourists so we took his advice and got up early our first day to head to Piazza Saint Marco. While I stood in line for the Basilica Drew took the opportunity to explore the square and take TONS of photos – he was so busy he almost missed entering the basilica. Good thing he didn’t though because it was there he came to the revelation that he really likes mosaics. About half of the inside of the basilica is covered in mosaics that are almost entirely tiny gold tiles – it was absolutely as stunning as when I saw it 10 years ago! We also paid the 5 Euro to go upstairs to see the original St. Mark’s horses which are bronze and were made about 2,000 years ago depending on who you believe – it’s hard to imagine any statue lasting that long – no wonder Napoleon stole them!
Next we took a vaporetto across the canal to the San Giorgio Maggiore church. The church had a modern art collection on display called ‘One Plus One Equals Three’ that feature photos of different people. We went there though for the views of Venice you can get from the bell tower, which are said to be the best!
During the afternoon when the streets of Venice were absolutely bursting with tourists we stayed in our beautiful air conditioned apartment waiting until the evening to venture out. We took a vaporetto out to the island of Mazzorbo. It is a tiny island but has lots of trees and grass and the cutest little winery I’ve ever seen!
We then crossed the bridge that connects Mazzorbo to Burano. Burano is what Venice must have looked like years ago. It is small and quaint and beautiful. You might even call it the suburbs of Venice because it is clean; there are parks and everything closes early! The houses are all well taken care of and freshly painted but the colors they choose are a little outlandish for most U.S. households – they included lime green, magenta, and robins egg blue. We were told the bright colors help the fishermen find their way home (since it is mostly populated by fishermen).
We found an open restaurant to have dinner at, and Drew being adventurous, chose a typical Venetian dish of pasta with mussels and squid ink sauce. It looked completely black and turned his entire mouth black but I had a couple of bites and I can testify that it was absolutely delicious!
The next day we took a trip to Verona, which on the fast train is only 1 hour away while on the slow train it takes 2 hours (we found this out the hard way on our way home). We didn’t really have an agenda – we walked from the train station toward the city center and ran across their Roman arena which is 50 years older than the Colosseum and much better preserved (they still hold concerts in it). Our next order of business was to find lunch – we stopped at a doner kebab place and it was the best one we’ve had since Portugal! We scarfed down our doners while taking in the sights of Piazza dei Signori.
No visit to Verona would be complete without seeing the home of Juliet and the balcony that those star crossed lovers made famous. After finally finding an affordable pen I even wrote a letter to Giulietta and snuck it into the wall. Drew found another way to get luck in love with the statue of Juliet.
Afterwards we hiked up to Castel San Pietro to get a better view of Verona and I was struck by how much it reminded me of Florence 10 years ago. The streets are clean, it isn’t jam-packed with tourists, there is a peace and calmness that radiates throughout the city and you still have those beauty rolling Tuscan hillsides. In fact, I may have even found our future home!
The next day we went on a gondola ride – it’s a giant tourist trap but it’s the one thing I really wanted to do on my second visit to Venice. I did some research beforehand and found a gondolier who is a little like a tour guide and highly recommended – his name is Luca and you have to contact him via email. He starts in the Jewish Ghetto, which has a ton of byzantine buildings and is much less touristy and populated. He pointed out various houses with interesting architecture and explained that due to the sinking many buildings are actually leaning and he ended our trip with a traditional Venetian song while we sipped champagne. It was well worth it!
Afterward we took a quick trip to Murano and saw a glass making demonstration. The first technique the master demonstrated was glass blowing to create a beautiful vase. The second was glass manipulation and he quickly teased out of the glass a perfectly balanced horse.
That evening we had our last true Italian meal of the trip so we indulged in burratta, pasta, tiramisu, and limoncello. Apparently we indulged in the limoncello too much because we both decided it was a good idea to try on the tiny gondolier hat that our bill came in! But it was fun and a great way to put a bow on Italy!