Venice is an island (actually 118 little islands) in a lagoon (full of more islands!) off the northeast coast of Italy. I am sure you have heard of it! But you many not know that this seemingly uninhabitable salt marsh was first settled after the fall of Rome as locals fled from the mainland of Italy to escape successive "barbarian" invasions.
To conquer their new and inhospitable environment, the early Venetians drove larger wooden piles into the 118 islands created by salt deposits in the lagoon. These wooden piles formed a base on to which Venetians laid the foundations of their buildings (you can read more about how Venice was built here). Venice doesn't float, however, it does battle rising tides every winter (if you go in the winter or spring, bring Hunter rain boots!).
By the 9th and 10th centuries, Venice had established itself as an independent state and maritime powerhouse. Venice was ruled by a Doge, who was elected from the most elite and noble families.Thanks to its location and dependence on the sea, Venice quickly became a trading capital that specialized in importing spices and luxuries from Asia into Europe. This wealth produced some of the greatest works of art and one of the most beautiful (and truly unique) cities in the world - La Serenissima (as the Venetians called her). If you want to know about the history of Venice, I highly recommend this book.
Today, Venice survives on tourism and very high-end shopping. Most Venetians can't even afford to live in Venice, which is why I say you really only need two days to experience Venice.
We hit the road early Tuesday morning and arrived in Venice before lunch (it's about a 3.5-hour drive from Florence). We walked from our hotel (near the train station) to the most famous and important square in Venice, St. Mark's (aka the one with all the pigeons). Just off the square we watched the ancient glass blowing techniques of Murano (a neighboring island), toured the famous Basilica of St. Mark, and hopped on gondolas for a ride down the grand canal.
|I swear I am working!|
That evening we walked across the Accademia Bridge and visited the old customs house, which over looks St. Mark's Square. I recommend grabbing dinner on this south-side of the island. You can get a wonderful seafood dinner on the water for half the price you would pay on the main part of the Grand Canal. Warning: Venice is so expensive, choose where you eat carefully! To finish up your day, hop on the Vaporetto (aka the water bus, number 1 or 2) from the Accademia Bridge for a cheap evening tour of the Grand Canal.
Tip: Gondola rides cost more after 6 pm!
We spent the morning getting lost! I promise it is so much fun and you will stumble on adorable little bridges and canals with picturesque views. After a morning of wandering, we headed to the fish market (actually just behind the fish market) for a great lunch with a view. I like to sip on Prosecco, which the Venetians refer to as "Venetian water," as I watch the tourists and gondolas pass by (while I relaxed most of the students were off buying masks and souvenirs). After lunch we spent our afternoon exploring the incredible palace of the Doge (I highly recommend the "secret passages" tour). And that evening we headed back to Florence! The best in Venice in two days!
I must admit, Venice was very warm this year and I was happy to get back to (slightly) cooler Florence.
Is Venice on your bucket list?