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Our Adventure Begins in Venice

September 20, 2018

My dear friend from college — we’re practically sisters, having known each other for nearly fifty years — is a great traveling companion, content to let me do the planning and taking delight in whatever adventures we might have. So it was that she agreed to accompany me on a walking trip to Croatia, a place neither of us had ever been. Since the trip started in Venice, we decided to spend a few days there before meeting up with our walking guide.

It took a long time to get there, so we arrived on a Thursday, just in time to settle in to our Airbnb flat in Cannaregio, take a refreshing shower, and find dinner nearby. Our perfect table on the Grand Canal on a soft September evening was the perfect introduction to Venice for Jama. And who can argue with a lovely Brunello? We can recommend Trattoria Povelado.

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Early the next morning we woke to the sound of rain, which persisted most of the day, though it didn’t stop us from setting off early to the Rialto Market before the crowds overwhelmed it. As my faithful readers can attest, I’m a sucker for wandering through markets. The fish market is huge, with glistening piles of branzino, swordfish, prawns, eel, octopus… anything you might wish to cook, and so fresh.

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Breakfasting under an umbrella, we lingered over lattes and cappuccinos while a drenching shower passed, watching the traffic on the canal.

Crossing Rialto Bridge we headed toward Ca’ d’Oro. This 15th century palace is most impressive from the canal side; though the gold leaf that gave it its name is long gone, the Venetian Gothic façade is still a remarkable work of art. The last owner of the palace bequeathed it to the state in the early 1900s and it is now an art museum. Highlights are the collection of tapestries, mosaic floors and Titian’s Venus.

As the skies cleared we wound our way toward Piazza San Marco. Taking wrong turns is part of the fun, and we stumbled on a terrific place for lunch that had an award-winning wine list (Ristoranti Antico Piccolo). Along the way we were rewarded with peeks of small canals lined by ancient palazzos with their feet in the water.

Piazza San Marco opens dazzlingly from the warren of small calle, its famous pigeons holding court among tourists and Venezianos alike. Basilica San Marco majestically anchors one side, with the Campanile thrusting over 300 feet into the air, commanding the best views of the expansive piazza and the laguna beyond.

The Basilica, originally built in the 9th century, was burned down in a riot a hundred years later; the current structure dates from the 11th century. It is a mad agglomeration of Byzantine and Venetian Gothic architecture, looking as if its designers tried to cram everything they could onto every façade, eave and tower.  A couple of days later we were told by our Venetian guide, Enrico, that the structure took only 31 years to build, but the tiny gold-leaf and colored mosaics on the façade and interior took over 400 years to complete. The golden winged lion, symbol of St. Mark (whose bones are reputed to be buried within the church), are everywhere.

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Taking the elevator to the top of the Campanile was totally worth the short wait in line, as the 360° views over the city and across the laguna are truly spectacular.

One of the really touristy things to do in Venice is to have a Bellini at Harry’s Bar, so we did. €21! With a vaporetto ride back to our apartment, so ended our first full day in Venice. Scouting a place to eat near our apartment, we found another excellent restaurant just down the street (Vini da Pinto). Three lucky finds so far!

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