It was time to leave the serenity of Lake Bled behind and drive into the neighboring country of Italy. My role on this trip quickly became evident: The Navigator. I had spent the several weeks prior researching where to stay, what to see and how to get there. I was really the only one who knew where we were going – Ross didn’t even know which hotels we had reserved. So it was completely up to me to show us the way, no pressure! With Ross behind the wheel while I was glued to my Google Maps app, we made our way toward the Adriatic Sea and drove into Italy.
Our next destination was the magical city of Venice. Looking back, we now realize this wasn’t the best choice for those who wanted part of this trip to be about cycling – especially since bicycles aren’t even allowed in the city. So the bikes, along with the car, stayed behind on the mainland in a parking garage while we hopped aboard a ferry to take us into Venice. My favorite part of the ferry ride was watching Joan, all wide-eyed with her mouth open, gazing in disbelief at the scenery. I felt the same – Venice is an unbelievable place and the fact that it even exists at all is remarkable. This unusual city is situated on 117 islands with over 150 canals, all connected by over 400 bridges. All of the buildings in Venice are supported on wooden posts (still intact after all these centuries, which is amazing) that are driven into the ground to create a solid foundation. As our ferry jetted through the Giudecca Canal, one of the major waterways, it was like riding on a liquid highway without lanes – boats of all sizes, moving at various speeds and zipping in all directions. It was mesmerizing to watch.
The ferry docked at St. Mark’s Square and we disembarked, luggage-on-wheels trailing behind us. I knew our hotel was near St. Marks’ Square, somewhere, so we weaved our way through what seemed like a solid mass of people. It was crazy! I knew Venice was going to be crowded, but I had no idea it was going to be this crowded. We finally arrived at our hotel and, after heaving our luggage up the narrow flight of stairs, were grateful and excited to be in Italy.
One thing I had read about Venice and now know firsthand to be true – any travel budget that you had sworn you were going to stick to is just going to become one broken promise. You can just forget about a budget in Venice because this place is expensive and, frankly, don’t even worry about it. If you want to enjoy yourself in Venice, now’s not the time to fret over every spent euro. The food is pricey and the portions are small, just accept it. There are shops, more shops than I have ever seen in my life, tempting you down every alleyway. The cliché gondola rides seem like a rip-off, but you know what? That ride was the highlight of our visit! You have to arrive in Venice with the mindset that it’s going to be expensive, it’s going to be crowded and it’s going to be one of the most bizarre and beautiful cities you will ever see. Only then will you be able to appreciate Venice and relax into it.
And if you enjoy taking photos, like I do, then there is no better place to get lost, just you and your camera. Early one morning I set out on my own, while most folks were still asleep, and it was magical. All the canals, all the tiny bridges, all the little boats, all the golden light peeking through – amazing. Not to mention the lack of people and all the solitude – that was the best part.
Now about that gondola ride. Yes, it is expensive (80 euros for 40 minutes, but that’s per boat and up to 6 people can ride at one time) and yes, it is cliché. But boy was it entertaining! The four of us spontaneously jumped aboard one and our gondolier was very fun (and handsome too, I might add). We learned a few things as well:
- The gondoliers own their boats. Therefore, they can decorate them how they like, which is why the interiors of these gondolas vary. They are all adorned with vibrant fabrics, tassels, and other ornaments.
- The curved frame of the gondola is longer (approximately 3 feet longer) on the left side, which would cause the boat to always veer to the right. The gondolier, who only uses one oar, rows along the right side, which keeps the boat moving straight ahead.
- Gondoliers are full of personality!
Our classic gondola ride was one part serenity, gliding through the velvety-green waters of these ancient canals, snaking our way between stone walls and under bridges…and one part traffic jam! At one “intersection”, there were at least 15 gondolas converging together, all of them trying to go this way or that way – and arguing over who has to be the one to move over. Just look at the picture below:
I don’t know if you can really appreciate the complete chaos of the situation from this picture. I honestly didn’t see how anyone was going to get anywhere. Which was fine with us – we just sat back and watched the hilarious antics of all the gondoliers, voices yelling enthusiastically in Italian, hands frantically pointing and waving. The guy on the right in the foreground of the photo? He ended up getting pushed all the way back, behind all of the other gondoliers you see in the photo. And he certainly wasn’t happy about it (who is he calling??). We asked our gondolier what that guy was saying and his response was “You don’t want to know.”
Venice was chaotic, beautiful and just plain fun. I’d have to say it’s a city everyone should experience at least once. Ross wasn’t too crazy about, too crowded he said, which is true. In fact, we had a hard time finding the Italians – it seemed that everyone there was a tourist. So if you are looking for a quaint Italian experience, Venice probably misses the mark. But…it is still the most unusual city I have ever been to and well worth a visit.
Next stop – Florence!