“When the moon hits your eyes like a big pizza pie that’s amore…” I don’t know why, but I always think of Venice when I hear this Dean Martin favorite. It probably has something to do with cheesy movies that have gondoliers serenading a couple in love through the canels of Venice. You have to love Venice; it is the quintessential Italian icon. Even though it is small compared to other popular cities in Italy, it has much to offer. Venice is built on a lagoon and is made up of several tiny islands connected by bridges. There are no vehicles allowed in the streets of Venice which makes it peaceful and quaint. The mode of transportation is, of course, by boat or by foot. Watch out for the UPS guys with pull carts; they are on a mission to deliver and don’t mess around! Venice is “tourist central”. The main industry is tourism, so tourists are very well catered to by the locals. There are plenty of shops, cafes, trattorias, street vendors, & of course gelaterias. Venice is a laid back, easy-going town so enjoy the ambiance while strolling along the streets.
Places and Attractions to See
The main site to see is St. Mark’s Basilica. The Byzantine-styled basilica honors the patron saint of Venice, St. Mark. The same Mark that authored the Gospel of Mark in the Bible . There’s a neat story behind his connection to Venice. Legend has it that his body was stolen by Venetian traders in Alexandria, Egypt and brought back to Venice where he was buried. The bones were stashed away in one of the basilicas columns for safe keeping, but they were forgotten about until many years later when the bones were rediscovered in the columns. The bones were finally laid to rest in the high altar known as Pala d’Oro.
The church has been rebuilt and modified several different times since 828 AD due to fires and the increasing wealth in Venice. Through all of the modifications the church has become a grand exhibition of Byzantine mosaics, decorations, statues, columns, friezes, and so much more. The ornate design and opulence of the Basilica has earned it the title of “Chiesa d’Oro” (Church of gold).
(When we visited in June 2013 renovations were being done, thus the scaffolding and poles in front of the church.)
Make sure you go inside of the church. During the travel season, the line can be about 45 minutes long to get in, but you can make reservations online for the date and time that you want to visit for just €1.50 per person! Tickets are available at St. Mark’s Basilica Reservations.
Piazza San Marco
What else is there to see? Plenty! While you are around St. Mark’s Basilica notice the large piazza to the left of the church. The Piazza San Marco is the largest and only square known as a “piazza”; all the others in the city are known as “campi”. Around the Piazza there is the Campanile di San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, the Procuratie Vecchie, the Procuratie Nuovo, the National Library of St. Mark’s, the Museum of Archaeology, the Piazzetta (little piazza), and the Correr Museum. Word of Caution: Watch Out For The Pigeons!! They are everywhere around the Piazza. Around the Piazza there are a few cafes with seating outside and while it would be a great area to people-watch, be warned; it is very expensive to sit at those tables. The Piazza will also be very crowded and busy, so be aware of pickpockets.
Campanile di San Marco
St. Mark’s Bell Tower is adjacent to the basilica. The tower stands 324 feet high, and even though this is not the original one (it collapsed in 1902), it is pretty amazing. The top is adorned with a golden sclutpure of the angel Gabriel, which is also a weather vein. The view from the top is amazing!! You can see all of Venice and surrounding areas. AND!!! The best thing about the view from the Tower is that it has an lift that takes you all the way to the top!! Things like that are rare in Europe. Note to keep in mind: You cannot make reservations for the Tower and it is NOT included in the Basilica tour. The line moves super fast and is completely worth it!
The Palazzo Ducale is an amazingly beautiful building with its Venetian Gothic structure in a lace-like design. The 30-some arches add to the grandeur. Look for the arch that is built out of red marble, this is where the Doge handed down death sentences. The building’s purpose was to house the Doges of Venice (they were kinda like dukes), it was the seat of the Venetian government, & a court house. And it held these positions for 1,000 years.
The vaporetto are a great way to see Venice without having to “get your dogs a’barkin'” (feet hurting for those not from the South). The vaporetto are basically water buses; they stop at various stops along a route which are basically all of the top tourist spots that you want to hit up. The best vaporetto line to take is Line #1 which stops at every stop along the Grand Canel. You want to get on the boat that goes all the way to St. Mark’s Square. We rode the boat during the late afternoon and it was absolutely beautiful!
You absolutely MUST take a gondola ride while in Venice!! But be forewarned that if you plan on being all romantic like in the movies it is going to cost you, A LOT!! Best thing to do is ride with a group of people (usually 6), much cheaper that way. You just want to make sure that the route the gondola takes goes into the Grand Canal.
There is no shortage of churches to see or streets to check out. The Peggy Guggenheum Collection is also in Venice. If you are a fan of Shakespeare and have read “The Merchant of Venice”, you will be familiar with the Jewish Ghetto part of Venice. Every time I visit Venice’s Jewish Ghetto, I get cold chills thinking of how those that once lived here were treated and how that has shaped history since.
What to Wear
If you go during the summer months plan on it being hot (well warm)! I was there during a heat wave called the “African Winds” and let me just say, IT’S HOT!! It was 92 for the high, plus with the huge crowds, narrow streets, and lots and lots of buildings it felt like 100 degrees. So check the weather before you go, but also plan on wearing layers. I opted for a sleeveless shirt, mini sweater, and shorts that I could roll up and down. If I could have without offending too many people I would have ran around naked, it was so hot! Comfortable shoes are a must as there are no cars in the town, so walking is the main form of transportation. I wore a pair of brown, strappy sandals that I knew I could walk around all day in without my feet killing me. It is important to remember that Italy is very conservative, very religious and takes these things serious when it comes to their churches. To be permitted to enter Italian churches, your shoulders must be covered, no visible cleavage, no mid-drift, bottoms must come down to at least the knees, and in some cases men are required to wear pants. I always pack a pashmina that can be used as a skirt or a shoulder wrap (plus on the plane it can be converted into a blanket or pillow!).
What to Buy
Venice is famous for it’s Venetian Masks or Masquerade Masks and there are dozens of shops that sell them. If you do decide to bring it home, be sure to wrap it up good in your luggage so that it does not get broken. Venice is also home to Murano Glass Factory which has been around for centuries perfecting it’s glass-blowing techniques into amazing sculptures, glasses, beads, chandeliers, figurines, and more. It is amazing to take the tour of the factory and see the men making the glass. Then when you enter into the showroom be ready for a jaw-dropping experience! For more information, check out the website: http://www.signoretti.it Lace is also a huge seller in Venice since it is made on the Venetian island of Burano. You can get anything from a handkerchief to a tablecloth to a dress. Be careful not to fall for “fakes” or imitation lace. If it’s cheap, don’t buy it!! Venice has a lot of great shopping, BUT it is more expensive than other cities in Italy. So, if you are going to Rome or Florence wait and shop there instead. I hope you enjoy your time in Venice and eat a Gelato for me:)