With everything that’s going on in Italy right now, it’s hard to think back to the lazy vacation days I spent there in September. But by the same token, now seems like the perfect time to celebrate the beauty and charm of northern Italy. Andiamo! Let’s go!
(First, an explanation for my long delay: Shortly after Colin and I returned from Italy in September, I started a new job (I actually worked on my application on the train from Milan to Venice!), but the timing wasn’t great and for several months I struggled to balance two jobs. Then in January I started an online French course – more on that later, probably – and next thing I knew it was March, and here we are.)
So… refresher: Colin and I were in Milan for his work conference. Venice had long been on Colin’s list of places to see, so we decided to hop on a train from Milan and make a day trip out of it. The trip is about 2.5 hours, so we left around 8:00 in the morning and arrived back at 11:15—a long day, but worth it! Knowing that Venice is almost always overrun with tourists, we chose to go on a weekday in hopes of finding slightly smaller crowds.
What to know if you’re planning to do the same: St. Mark’s Basilica, the most famous church is Venice, does not allow backpacks, shorts, or tank tops, so plan your outfit and bags accordingly.
Anyway, we arrived at the train station on the Grand Canal and immediately noticed the hustle and bustle of boat traffic. It was remarkable! Over-tourism is definitely a problem in Venice, and we felt bad about contributing to that. One thing that I hope comes out of the coronavirus shutdown is a chance for Venice (and other places) to reimagine its tourist economy. Perhaps there’s a more sustainable way to show off the city’s charms?
We spent the morning just wandering through the narrow streets and along the canals of the city, which is pretty much the best thing to do in Venice. We walked to the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs, bought a magnet for our magnet collection at a small shop near St. Mark’s Square, found a place for lunch along the Grand Canal (hopelessly touristy, I know, but the boat-watching was stellar), and then found some gelato.
That afternoon, we had tickets to go to the top of St. Mark’s Bell Tower to see Venice from above (13€ each). This, I highly recommend!! Also, definitely reserve tickets ahead of time so you get to skip the line and just show up at your assigned time.
We stayed in the tower for ages, taking in the view from all sides. We were still up top for the tolling of the bells on the hour, which was deafening. But cool. Very cool.
After the tower, we waited in line to go into St. Mark’s Basilica. If you’re short on time, I don’t know that this needs to be a super high priority, but the basilica was definitely beautiful. After our long wait, it was time for more gelato.
The last thing we wanted to do while in Venice was, of course, to ride in a gondola. I KNOW, it’s touristy and expensive (flat fee of 80€ for 40 minutes). But why not?? We both love being on the water, and watching the gondoliers navigate tight turns in tiny canals is impressive. (That said, if you want a less expensive way to get out on the water, you can always take a public water bus, the vaporetto. We didn’t do this since we preferred walking+gondola, but a 75-minute pass costs about 7.50€.) We liked the idea of boating around quieter neighborhoods instead of the Grand Canal/St. Mark’s Square area, so – following tips I had read online – we wandered aimlessly through side streets for what felt like ages until we found a gondola for hire. In hindsight: this ended up working out, but we were about to give up in frustration when we finally found a gondolier dropping off his passengers. I don’t actually have good advice for you on how to find a gondola away from the tourist center. The moral of this story is to not put too much stock in what any random blogger tells you. 🙂
Anyway, the gondola ride was absolutely WORTH IT. We were a bit hot and tired after all the walking that morning, and it was so quiet and peaceful back in the small residential canals. We had a really nice gondolier, too. (No, he did not sing.)
After our ride, we scouted out a small plaza with a handful of restaurants for dinner. I couldn’t tell you where it was or how to get there again, but it was perfect because there were kids riding bikes while their parents chatted and more people speaking Italian than English. Of course, we had to eat at an ungodly early hour (for Italy) in order to catch our train back, but the pasta and prosecco were delicious.
With that, we stopped for one more scoop of gelato (our third of the day, I think?), walked back to the train station, and wished Venice mille grazie, and buona notte.