Gondolas, Glass and Gelato: A Glutton’s Guide to VeniceVenice is one of the greatest cities in the world to visit. Historical, cultural, beautiful and seductive, it is situated across a group of 117 small islands that are linked by bridges and separated by an intricate maze of canals that snake their way through the city. What makes it even more remarkable is that it’s virtually traffic free.
After an arduous 22-hour flight from Sydney, we were soon in a water taxi cruising the legendary Grand Canal, craning our necks to glimpse at the romantic Venice that I’d always dreamt about.
Gondolas, wood-panelled speedboats, tourist-filled ferries, beautiful old apartments and waterside restaurants line the canal’s edge. Sightseers and locals alike hang out in the magnificent sunshine taking in the ambience. It looked surreal.
Disembarking from our water taxi via a rickety wooden pier, it was only a fifty-metre walk along cobblestone path to our charming Venetian boutique hotel. As exhausted as we were, we only had three nights booked in Venice so this was definitely not the time to sleep.
After settling into our room our priority was to dive mouth-first into a giant slice of pizza. The thin, non-greasy pizza was like no pizza I’d ever tasted previously. It took serious discipline not to go in for seconds, and an executive decision from my girlfriend was all that stopped me from immediately devouring a triple scoop of gelato. That would have to wait until we’d walked around for at least thirty minutes to digest the pizza.
Every corner of every one of Venice’s narrow streets was picture perfect. The beautiful architecture comprised of churches, apartment blocks, squares (mini piazzas), diminutive bridges, statues and small canals with a never-ending array of gondolas passing by. You could occasionally hear some beautiful operatic male voices echoing from the canals onboard some of the gondolas, serenading their customers as they cruised by.
Walking through Venice is like starring in your very own Italian movie, directed and produced by Sophia Loren’s late husband Carlo Ponti, no less.
After wandering aimlessly for some time (who needs a map?), we stumbled across St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), the principal public square of Venice and one that definitely needs some time to absorb all it has to offer. We thought we had passed a lot of tourists before we arrived here, but entering Piazza San Marco raised the bar to another level – Bondi on a busy day doesn’t even come close.
Piazza San Marco is Venice’s only square with the title of ‘piazza’. Italian life has revolved around it since the days of the Republic, when it was a market as well as the center of civic and religious life. One of Venice’s major attraction, it’s surrounded on three sides by the stately arcades of public buildings, and on the fourth by the classic cathedral Basilica di San Marco, with its many domes, arches, colourful marble and the soaring campanile (bell tower) that towers over the square like a giant centurion.
In awe of the enormity and architectural significance of ‘the square’, we dodged the pigeons that have taken up celebrity status and, a thousand photos later, we exited the piazza to discover some more narrow cobblestoned streets filled with restaurants, bars, clothing shops, perfumers, Venetian glass makers and mask shops.
From here we made our way to the harbour-front to accept the generosity of the Venetian Government that allows tourists free speedboat rides on Fridays to the famous Murano glass factory (15 minutes away). We witnessed a master glass blower showcase his extraordinary skills as he created an intricate colourful vase and a dynamic looking horse in a demonstration that was simply remarkable. After a tour around the showrooms we were soon back at St. Marks Square to continue our epic city tour (more canals, bridges, narrow laneways, cobblestones, gondolas and gelato).
When night finally fell we took our weary legs to the Grand Canal’s famous Rialto Bridge, where we joined thousands of other tourists enjoying Venice’s evening ambience, before again taking to the maze of narrow cobblestones streets in search of a non-touristy area to feast on buckets of gnocchi, spaghetti and pizza.
Venice is a city like no other I’ve ever been to. After only a few days you find yourself wanting to speak Italian, look Italian and dress Italian. There is an amazing sense of style to the place.
We were only blessed with three Venetian nights, but we wished we could stay longer. With the taste of delicious pizza, pasta and gelato still on our taste buds, we left with both romantic memories and excess body weight as we continued our Italian summer sojourn.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Vicki Gilden at Rose Bay Travel (02) 9371 8166