Italy, June 2017: Venice

We visited Venice at the end of our whirlwind first trip to Europe together in 2013 (read here). We were exhausted by that point in our trip and we were coming off the high from visiting Cinque Terre, which still today ranks as one of our favorite places on Earth. Suffice it to say, we weren’t in the best mindset to enjoy the city. We’ve always thought back to that and wondered how we’d feel if we gave it a second, more proper chance. When we were trying to think of what to do with a four-day weekend we had left over after planning all of our other trips for the year, Venice floated to the top of our list of choices and we knew we couldn’t give up the chance! This time around we stayed in an Airbnb on Rio di San Boldo in the Santa Croce district.

The most important aspect of our second time in Venice was a focus on wandering. We made a point to wander around our first time as well, but we knew that the parts of Venice that would convince us to love it were to be discovered serendipitously. So we walked and walked and walked, morning, afternoon, and evening. We took detours, followed the long way between points, and tried as much as possible to put our phones down and forget about directions. This attitude led to some great wanderings. We walked around pretty much every nook and cranny in the San Polo and Santa Croce districts around our apartment, including to Rialto Market, from where we appreciated Lorenzo Quinn’s sculpture Support at the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel, an eye-catching piece part of the Biennale (more on that in a bit) that highlights the effect of climate change on the city.

We also wandered quite a bit through San Marco, from St. Mark’s Square up to the Rialto Bridge and across to Libreria Acqua Alta, a cozy bookstore home to stacks of books in old boats and a nice view of the adjacent canal out back (not to mention the cute kittens grabbing a meal at the register!). One of our favorite walks took us from the apex of the Punta della Dogana westward along the southern edge of Venice proper with views of Giudecca and the multitude of boats and ferries across the lagoon.

One of the top regrets from our last visit was missing the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. We made right on this mistake this time by dedicating a whole morning to it! Her collection alone is worth the visit, but we also enjoyed seeing photos of how her home looked when she lived in it, appreciating the stunning views of the Canal Grande from the terrace, and reading about her passion and relentless support of the artists.

Sticking with the art theme, we were fortunate enough to visit during the Biennale, one of the most celebrated art fairs in the world. We more or less dedicated a whole day to visiting some of the exhibits strewn around Giardini and Arsenale. There was so much more we could have seen, but we just didn’t have the time. Some of the highlights for us were Finland’s funny surrealist video, Germany’s powerful and much-lauded performance art, France’s working recording studio, the UK’s quirky pieces, and Austria’s hilariously strange exhibit, Georgia’s house with an indoor downpour, and Tunisia’s statement on nationality. (Tunisia’s exhibit had a sign up reading “booth closed” when we visited, so we thought that it was a cheeky but poignant comment on the migrant crisis and how universal travel documents don’t exist and migrants “queue up” forever only to find that they have no easy way out. It was only later that we realized it was in fact just closed…) We even spotted a car driving around in the canal that bisects Giardini! We also enjoyed learning about the Green Light Project, an organization that brings together people that have fled their home countries with residents of the cities that end up welcoming them and uses art as a common language to empower both groups.

The food in Venice made our visit all the better. It’s critical to be careful when eating in this city because so many of the restaurants offer subpar food at inflated prices to clueless visitors. We scoured Google, blogs, and review sites to pick out places to eat. Our only lunch on Venice proper was at Trattoria Ai Cugnai (Caprese salad and melon with prosciutto), where we shared the dining room with a pack of gondoliers. Delicious food was had for dinner at La Zucca (tagliatelle with pesto, peas, and asparagus, tagliatelle with red sauce and ricotta, tiramisu), Taverna Da Baffo (spinach and ricotta pizza), and Osteria Nono Risorto (lasagne, spaghetti carbonara, almond lemon cake). And gelato was not spared: we would gladly recommend Fontego delle Dolcezze, Suso, and Gelato di Natura. Suso actually comes with a funny story. We ordered our gelato, walked outside and looked at each other with glares of suspicion. “Wait a minute…” We realized that we had inadvertently stumbled on the same gelateria that served us gelato on our first visit four years ago! Eating it on the steps of the same little bridge as our last visit, we agreed that it was just as good as we remembered.

Another important aspect of our second visit to the city was the desire to explore some of the other islands off of Venice proper. Stay tuned for stories from our time on the picturesque islands of Murano and Burano!