Venice is a collection of 118 islands, intersected by more than 150 canals and joined by some 400 bridges – all resting in the heart of 200 square miles of partially navigable salt march. I’ve been several times, most recently in March for a few days. We arrived on the last day of Carnevale. This is an amazing spectacle. Gorgeously costumed posers wander throughout the city, stopping by monuments, on bridges, in front of churches, happily pausing for tourists to snap the obligatory photo.
This was our second time in Venice for Carnival, but this time was somewhat disappointing as we did not see as many costumed revelers. As the festivities go on for two weeks, perhaps many were tired and had packed up and headed home by the last day.
Venice, however, was not disappointing. Our friend Noel Parks, an American we know from our days in Germany, is now retired and lives about an hour from the magical city which he visits frequently. He adores Venice, and knows it inside and out.
Noel and friends had rented a house in Venice for the Carnival period. A friend of theirs, obviously a gifted seamstress, had made the group lavish costumes so they could fully participate in this marvelous event.
After serving us a Bellini (delicious Venetian cocktail made with sparkling wine and peach puree), Noel gave us his Venice tour. We followed him down skinny alleys, along picture-book canals, across bridges. The city is labyrinthine, but Noel never consulted a map. He knew every turn and guided us to numerous hidden treasures most tourists probably miss. His commentary at the sites was lively and entertaining. We were mesmerized.
I asked Noel to send me the text (14 pages) – his extensive research on Venice. Following are some of the highlights which he pointed out during our tour.
Our guide led us through a Sotoportego, a passage under a building and explained that Venice is a challenge to get around as there are numerous dead-end alleys. They were designed on purpose to confuse anyone who might invade.
Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) was called “the finest drawing room in Europe” by Napoleon. This is the place to sit in an outdoor café and people watch, but be prepared to pay for the popular seats in these pricey places. Noel told us this is the only “piazza” in Venice as the other squares are all called by different names, “campo, piazetta ,”etc.
San Marco, the famous church depicted in the favorite Venice postcard, is the third church built on the spot. It is said that every ship returning to Venice had to bring a treasure for the church. The mind-boggling ornate interior is a collection of these objects which accumulated over the centuries.
The campanile (church bell tower) was built in the beginning of the 20th century as a replacement for the original which collapsed in 1907. The city is built on pilings that were driven into the mud to support the weight of the buildings. When rebuilding the campanile, they figured they best check the pilings since they had been in the ground for about 1,000 years. Upon examination, the pilings proved to be in perfect condition as they were in an anoxic environment. They were simply driven back into the mud.
Our visit to the ghetto where Venetian Jews were forced to live until the time of Napoleon was haunting. Jews in the ghetto were rounded up and deported to extermination camps. The Holocaust Memorial is a series of bronze reliefs depicting Jews who faced the gas chambers and other forms of Nazi brutality.
A highlight of the excursion was our lunch break at one of Noel’s favorite restaurants, Sempione. He helped us order. We started with a glass of Prosecco, the popular Italian bubbly. I went for a tasty seafood pasta creation. We topped the meal with a glass of the luscious Italian lemon liquor, limoncello, and then a wonderfully decadent concoction, Sgroppino, a creamy mixture of lemon and plain ice cream and lemon Vodka. Magnifico!
On our last day we took the vaporetto (water bus) to the island of Murano, the glass island. The trip by water offered spectacular views of the city. I was in pursuit of a whimsical chandelier, a curious creation I had seen at an Italian restaurant in the mountains during a ski vacation. I was told it came from Venice.
In Murano all the glass factories have show rooms with displays of their merchandise. Vases, chandeliers, glasses, bowls, jewelry….We visited them all. The main street along a canal is lined with shop after shop offering more of the same. We perused them all – but no chandelier like the one I craved to be found. Nonetheless, we enjoyed Murano. It was quiet and calm, a contrast to the bustle of Venice. And, even if I did not find my prize, I enjoyed looking at all the fabulous, colorful glass objects.
There’s so much to see and visit in Venice. This was a short trip. No time to visit the interiors of museums, churches and palazzi. We’ll go back for sure.
For more photos of Venice, click on the Photo Album, center column. We ate lots of wonderful seafood in Venice. I was inspired to serve a shrimp salad at my most recent dinner party. It was a winner. See recipe in far left column. And, please feel free to comment. Click Comment below.