Have you ever wanted to sound like the world’s biggest a-hole and alienate multiple friends, all in one fell swoop? If so, pay close attention and do exactly as I say. Kind of roll your eyes a little bit in an exaggerated act of annoyance and say the following words with the smug impatience of someone who thinks they’re as classy as Ivanka Trump (but really only has as much class as her father, ‘The’ Donald). Repeat after me:
“Ugh. We have to go to Venice… again?! Bleeeehh.”
Do that, and you are sure to land on the top of most people’s sh*t list! At the risk of losing blog readers, friends and maybe even a few family members… that is exactly how we felt recently when we went back to Venice. I can fully appreciate this is a ridiculous thought to have and even more obnoxious to share… but hey, this is a blog that delivers brutal honesty. When we booked our cruise with Celebrity Cruises a little while back, we did it despite the fact that the ship spent two days at port in Venice. Don’t get me wrong, Venice is a beautiful city with a unique charm found nowhere else in the world. If you’ve visited Venice before, you may reminisce about the romantic gondola rides, the charming cafes and the stunning churches. But when you’ve faced with a visit to Venice for the fifth time, you are more likely reminded of the crowded piazzas, overprices restaurants and long lines full of pushy tourists.
Venezia (Venice) has an alluring history that I find to be more fascinating than nearly any other city in the world. I mean, the entire city has been floating on water for centuries, for Pete-sake! I detail a brief explanation of how Venice came to be in this blog post (definitely worth a quick read).
Even though we weren’t very excited at the prospect of squaring off against millions of other tourists in a space not much larger than the Mall of America, we abandoned our original plans to stay on the ship and instead ventured onto Venice’s shores. We were sure glad that we did! Over the next two days we rediscovered a new Venice; one with more magic and charm than we ever realized was possible. What’s the difference, you ask? We were walking around in the off-season.
The weather was cold and the droves of tourists were nowhere in sight. We were able to deftly weave betwixt the shops, restaurants, churches and museums with ease. The horrid memory of sweating in lines and pushing through crowds became a thing of the past. Strolling down streets and visiting historical sites became pleasant and stress-free. We fell in love with the city all over again. It was as if we had undergone marriage counseling with Venezia and came out stronger and more in love than ever before.
In the past, we had rushed from attraction to attraction, trying to “pack it all in”. Of course, this is impossible to do – the city boasts art and architecture in abundance. Combined with the heat and the dense crowds of the past, we have enjoyed Venice – but haven’t been in love with the city since our magical first visit. This time, it was completely different. Since we didn’t feel any pressure to see the main sites – we decided to take it slowly and just be in the moment. Our second day was even better when we opted only to see the attractions on the second and third pages of most guide books.
First, we spent a bit of time walking through the winding and narrow streets. Our goal was simple – to stay away from the main square, Piazza San Marco as long as we could, fearing the worst (we still didn’t know just how “wide open” the city had become). We stopped for a quick sandwich around 10:30am because Julia was hungry. We found a great little wine bar, far from the main “touristy” areas. We discovered locals coming in and enjoying glasses of wine at the bar. I thought…“well, why not?!” If the locals can enjoy a mid-morning wine and Julia can enjoy a mid-morning salami sandwich, why shouldn’t I join in the fun? I ordered a nice Valpolicella Ripasso – a wonderful wine local to the region. I got a nice big pour for €4. “Wait, so if you don’t crowd into the main spots – food and drink are priced reasonably?!”
Eventually, we did wind our way into Piazza San Marco and found that our pleasant morning was a precursor to a pleasant afternoon. I have never seen the square so wide open. We walked right into Basilica di San Marco – something I thought was impossible without waiting for at least an hour or two! We took in the rest of the sites, including the Procuratie Vecchie, Campanile, Loggetta and Torre dell’Orologio. But the absolute peak of the day was when we fed the birds. We had a blast watching Julia get swarmed by dozens of pigeons. A highlight of the entire cruise, for sure! I can’t confirm any truth to the rumors that these pigeons inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s film, The Birds (mainly because I just started that rumor to suit this post’s title) – but being swarmed by dozens of these winged beggars felt like we were on the set of the movie itself.
Buckle up, because our next stop is our second day in Venice. I think I’ll call it “Venice Like You’ve Never Seen Before”. We rise early to visit the fish market as well as the islands of Murano for a glass blowing demonstration, tour the painted houses of Burano and round out our visit with the ancient church on Torcello. Most people forget, Venice has more to share than just the main island!