San Marco Square
San Marco Square is kind of your central location for navigating around Venice. While in the long distant past it was used for public executions, today you can enjoy cafes, shops, restaurants, or simply enjoy the scenic views and architecture. If you step just outside the square you can walk along the river, or even rent a gondola. If you’re trying to find the square from the river, you can’t miss it. The entryway consists of two enormous pillars with a winged lion perched atop each one.
Murano is itself a series of islands, again linked by bridges, that is famous for its glass-making. Murano boasts 27 glass Masters, each with their own specialties. If you can, I would definitely schedule a demonstration, because it really is incredible. Our glass master made a vase in about 2 minutes flat. Then to show off, he made a glass horse figurine in less than a minute. I’m not talking “oh yeah I can definitely see that’s a horse.” I’m talking a horse made to scale with a flowing mane, hooves, eyes and nostrils. The guy was no joke.
Afterwards another master took us around the shop and explained how different pieces were made in different styles, how gold is added to the many pieces, and of course, the deals we could get to purchase some items at a nice discount. I myself bought two tumblers made in the traditional Venetian deep purple, with gold details. No two pieces are exactly the same, even the ones made in a set. That’s because every individual item is hand-crafted by a master glass maker.
Not to be confused with Murano, Burano is an island on the north side of the Venetian lagoon. At this point in time, 70% of it’s economy is from tourism. You have probably seen pictures of this fun island, consisting of extremely bright colored homes. Residents aren’t allowed to change the colors of their homes, as it would mean the forfeiture of their historical status. It really is worth the 30 or so minute boat trip just to see these houses.
You can’t go to Venice without taking a gondola tour. Your guide will take you through the winding passageways of Venice as you relax to the gentle swaying of your small boat with your friends, family, or significant other. If you’re lucky (like we were) you’ll even have a boat ahead of you with a talented singer who, accompanied by an accordion, can serenade you with Italian songs such as Volare and Caio Venizia.
Now I ranted a bit about how incredible the hotel breakfast was when I went to Milan, the first stop of my trip to Italy. While my Venice hotel breakfast wasn’t quite on the same level, it was here that I realized that Italy just does it better when it comes to breakfast. Once again we had eggs, fruits, juices, different types of meats, yogurt, really anything you could want for breakfast. Maybe we just got lucky with two awesome hotels to this point, but I really was starting to believe that Italy simply was a huge proponent of the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” philosophy.
I don’t specifically remember the names of the restaurants we ate our lunches and dinners at, but I do remember everything was fantastic. I think that partially this is because when you’re on vacation in a foreign country everything is more authentic so you kind of just go “oh man this is great” every time you try a slice of pizza even. However, you still have to make the right decisions in choosing a restaurant. Avoid places with plastic menus and pictures of the food on it. These are giveaways that the restaurant you’re at is more of a touristy restaurant than an authentic Italian restaurant. If you find a nice local spot, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll enjoy whatever you get. Oh, and since you’re in Venice, find a spot overlooking a canal. They’re everywhere, so it should be no issue.
“Get lost in Venice” is the advice you will get from most people when you ask what you should do in this maritime republic city. Trust me, this advice is not hard to follow. Venice is split into a few major sections that consist of winding passageways all throughout the numerous islands making up the city. There are cafes and restaurants on every corner, and shops all throughout the city, which makes sense considering the high percentage of the economy fueled by tourism.
At the end of the day it isn’t overly difficult to get back to your hotel, or to the San Marco square (which is used as a central point of navigation throughout the city), especially if you have a map. Signs throughout the city point towards major bridges or San Marco. However, if you don’t have a rapidly approaching deadline to be somewhere, it’s fun to simply wander around and stop at different shops or cafes at your leisure.
For me, a Venice vacation is sitting outside at a restaurant that overlooks the water, soaking up some sun, and sipping on a local wine. You just can’t beat it. The great news is these types of restaurants are everywhere.
Another great thing about Venice is the locals are often excited to talk to you. We had a bartender that took some extra time to create a perfect Negroni (a popular drink in Italy), and explained that though he may not be the best at making the drink, he makes it with love. Another man and woman in a liquor store gave us about 10 free samples, helped me with a couple words in Italian that I didn’t know, and gave some solid recommendations for what Italian liquor I should purchase.
Overall, Venice is a can’t miss. While the city has fallen from its glory days back when it was a center for trade throughout the Mediterranean and known world, there is a great feel to the city when you’re walking down its passageways and experiencing its culture. If you find yourself in Italy, Venice is a must see.