Julia shrieks as her mean father couldn't control is laughter

Venice, Italy – Alfred Hitchcock’s Inspiration

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.

See, "First World Problems Girl" gets it!
See… “First World Problems Girl” gets it!

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).

Doge's Palace with San Marco Campanile in the background
Doge’s Palace with San Marco Campanile in the background
The Lion of San Marco perches atop a tall pillar outside of the piazza
The Lion of San Marco perches atop a tall pillar outside of the piazza

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.

Our cruise ship sailed in just as the sun was rising
Our cruise ship sailed in just as the sun was rising
The early morning light cast over the city of Venice is a stunning sight
The early morning light cast over the city of Venice is a stunning sight

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.

Gondolas on the water
Gondolas on the water
San Giorgio Maggiore Church
San Giorgio Maggiore Church
Doge's Palace
Doge’s Palace

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.

We were lucky to have such  a beautiful day - spectacular weather
We were lucky to have such a beautiful day – spectacular weather

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?!” 

A gondolier takes a break to feed his friends
A gondolier takes a break to feed his friends
His craft was parked nearby awaiting a fare
His craft was parked nearby awaiting a fare
The canals are always beautiful - any time of day
The canals are always beautiful – any time of day
We started to discover just how empty the city was
We started to discover just how empty the city was
Julia insisted on stopping for a mid-morning salami sandwich
Julia insisted on stopping for a mid-morning salami sandwich
Jen and I stop for a photo on Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)
Jen and I stop for a photo on Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)
It was chilly, so we warmed up with some vin brulé
It was chilly, so we warmed up with some vin brulé

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 VecchieCampanileLoggetta 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.

Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) is usually tougher to photograph with tourists pushing for position
Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) is usually tougher to photograph with tourists pushing for position
I LOVED this guys photography pose
I LOVED this guys photography pose
You've got to remain in a stylish pose while you check your work
You’ve got to remain in a stylish pose while you check your work
Jen and I pose in front of the Canale Della Giudecca
Jen and I pose in front of the Canale Della Giudecca
We were able to stroll right in to Basilica San Marco
We were able to stroll right in to Basilica San Marco
Julia lights a candle and says a little prayer
Julia lights a candle and says a little prayer
Jen and Julia in Piazza San Marco
Jen and Julia in Piazza San Marco
Julia loved being in the wide open piazza
Julia loved being in the wide open piazza
She took time to explore on her own
She took time to explore on her own
Once again, she was a hit with other tourists who wanted to take photos with her
Once again, she was a hit with other tourists who wanted to take photos with her
She decided to start feeding the birds
She decided to start feeding the birds
"Whoa!  Mom..Dad - I got one!"
“Whoa! Mom..Dad – I got one!”
I showed her how to get more than one bird
I showed her how to get more than one bird
Which worked out better than expected... that's Julia hidden behind a wall of birds
Which worked out better than expected… that’s Julia hidden behind a wall of birds
That was about the same reaction that Julia had
That was about the same reaction that Julia had

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!

An older building shows a unique beauty that only Venice can provide
An older building shows a unique beauty that only Venice can provide
We returned to our ship as a beautiful sun was setting on the Grand Canal
We returned to our ship as a beautiful sun was setting on the Grand Canal
Murano, Burano & Torcello - The Keys To Unlocking Venice
The "Game of Thrones" is Played in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Please let me know your thoughts!