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Venice, Italy

venice grand canal

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Venice parks index:
Royal Gardens

The water taxi pilot pulled his boat into the dock with quick rudder moves and a powerful engine that screamed in reverse propellor. The island Venetians stood ready to hop off. This is something to see, because as someone who has boated since childhood, I still take careful steps from boat to land, just in case of a slip. Now I watched old women laden with grocery bags and wearing heels bound up the steps and onto the rain-soaked wooden pier just as a mountain goat negotiates the narrow rock footholds in the Alps.

Was this genetics in action? Venetians have used boats as local transport for centuries. When your best way to travel is by boat, I suspect you learn embarkation early. It seemed to be innate to their being. I happened to be on a water taxi as weekday school kids came aboard after class. They stepped into and out of the boat without so much as looking at their feet, the pier, or the water, just as a city kid in Berlin or Detroit steps on a wheeled bus. “Islanders,” I thought. “A unique breed.”

venice duomoFewer Venetians are able to live on the island these days. Home prices—and prices for basic goods—have left the merchant class with little choice but to move onto the mainland neighborhood, Mestre. Too many high-priced boutiques have replaced the local shops. The owner-occupied apartments are slowly going to the well heeled. Still, Venetians hang on to their island, their city, and their heritage. New housing construction for middle-income Venetians help, and the city is making a comeback.

If you’ve ever spent time getting in to—and then out from—the center of a hedge maze, you’ll enjoy Venice. Get Lost! There’s no worries; you’re on a small island whose narrow alleys eventually lead to a wide canal, and then to the Grand Canal. At worst, you can flag down a private boat taxi or a gondola for that bit of extra special holiday moment. At best, you’ll find a local bar or café where the locals all turn their heads when you walk in, and the menu is in Italian.

Rubbing elbows is what most travelers want to do, but often neglect because they spend too much time at tourist sites. You won’t meet locals here. Every city I’ve visited, I’ve run into someone from Chicago, my hometown city—and then I’ve taken a left turn when everyone else has walked forward. Venice is the ideal city to take lots of lefts, rights, or any direction away from the single-file lines tourists form to get from Rialto Bridge to St. Mark’s.

There is so much more to see in Venice than the sites tourist routes will take you. One is the Church of St. Peter, in a grassy park that overlooks the Adriatic Sea. It’s far from the crowds, and takes only a little bit of maneuvering to find it. Or you can go south, across the Grand Canal to visit Dorsoduro, where you’ll find art treasures, chic cafés, and sunny plazas. Whatever else you may do in Venice, follow your nose and your traveler’s instinct to see buildings, meet people, and photograph street scenes otherwise lost to the tourist traffic of modern travel.

venice piazzaVenice Museums and Sites
The Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) is the seat of touristy Venice because much of the island’s major sites are in a rough triangle between Rialto Bridge, the Accademia Bridge and the square. You can walk these streets and find all sorts of shops, cafés, fast food (blecht!), and piazzas laid out in Byzantine, Gothic, Roman Classical and late Renaissance styles. Just west off the square, on the waterfront, are the Royal Gardens, a little “grotto” of great beauty that is perfect for a moment of relaxation.
The Doge’s Palace, just off the square, has plush apartments, state rooms, and hallways filled with 16th-century artwork by famed Venetian masters. Open daily from 10am-5pm.

The Biblioteca Marciana and Libreria Sansovino are Venice’s library and “seat of learning.” Each is housed in a spectacular building with ornate interiors, and some of the rooms are open to the public. Access the buildings through the Museo Correr at the west end of St. Mark’s. This museum holds Venetian Renaissance painting, including Carpaccio’s “Two Venetian Ladies”.

You can climb the steps inside the famous Campanile bell tower, on the south side of the square. It’s the tallest building in Venice and has just seen a major rehabilitation.

(read more about Venice, Italy highlights here

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