On the same day we visited the glass factory, we also took a shuttle boat back to Venice! I couldn’t wait to experience my first Gondola ride, despite it being the most cliché activity. Johnny warned us ahead of time about the importance of “Church Attire” to show respect and to make sure we get into the Basilica. Shoulders and legs need to be covered. No short shorts or sun dresses with thin straps. The weather reminded us of New England since it was raining during the morning so I of course donned my trust black trench rain jacket. As soon as we reached St. Mark’s Square the hot sun burst through the clouds and I had to tie the jacket around my waist! Johnny pointed out the key locations for meeting in one of the corners of the square and across from the Corinthian columns. He made sure to let us know not to walk between them since that’s where executions would take place!
We met the first of our various local tour guides, Sylvia. She confirmed the info that Johnny had told us on the shuttle boat that the residential population of Venice itself is shrinking. Now it’s only about 50,000 when it used to be 200,000+. However, the tourism is still increasing. We definitely noticed this on Monday where bodies filled almost every crevice from the Pier to Piazza San Marco at 10 AM! We reversed our original plan of visiting Doge’s Palace first for our group appointment then to the Basilica. All the while Johnny was still coordinating the timing of the optional Gondola ride with musical serenade.
Sylvia did a great job helping us weave through all of the other tour groups. She pointed out all of the intricate details of Golden Basilica by using the Whisper radios. Saint Mark’s symbol, the gilded Winged Lion was present throughout the exterior and interior of the Basilica. She mentioned that the columns were stolen artwork from the Turkish haha. The church is a prime example displaying Venetian Republic’s wealth. It used to be the exclusive chapel for the Doge of Venice, so it makes sense that it’s not huge like some of the other Basilicas. I only wish we had time to go to the second level and look out since I saw people walking on the upper level from the outside.
After a quick tour around the Basilica we finally had a spot ready to enter the Doge’s Palace! It is quite impressive the size of the Duke’s palace and all of its multi-purpose functions. There were several massive rooms with beautiful artwork all around and they are meeting rooms for the government. One of the most interesting parts was when we followed Sylvia through a corridor that leads from the Doge’s Palace over the Bridge of Sighs to the prisons. The limestone bridge over the canal provides a beautiful view of Venice and this would be the last glimpse the convicts would see hence the “Sighs” of despair before going into the prisons. Somehow Dana and I spent a bit too much time taking photos and going into the cells of the prisons (we also didn’t have a good radio signal down there) where we got separated from the group! We had to keep going towards the exit before we started hearing Sylvia’s voice again!
Similar to Boston the main square was filled with various street peddlers. They were kind of sleazy trying to purposefully stuff flowers in your hand as if it’s a gift – then audaciously demand monetary compensation. One person aggressively shoved a flower in my hand then when I said I didn’t want it shoved another one in my face. I shooed him away and said I didn’t want it. I gave him back the flowers to watch him torment other tourists. We noticed one couple was too polite to turn him away and gave him money. This happened to me once on my commute into Boston by a female peddler. She seemed very disappointed when I informed her I had no cash.
We spent our free time up until the Gondola ride at 3 PM wandering the streets looking for the perfect place to eat lunch. I found the perfect location on Yelp, but we only had 2G connection a couple hours. (I really wish they would have booked the Gondola ride at the end of the day before we departed!) As Johnny warned us the labyrinth inspired streets of Venice was created by design as a defense mechanism against foreigners. I don’t think Google Maps accurately identified where we were so when we tried using it to find the restaurant we walked around in circles. We settled on the restaurant Trattoria Casanova, which was a respectable distance away from St. Mark’s Square but regrettably right across from a hotel! When I saw the other reviews on Yelp in retrospect I totally agreed with everyone else who called it an overpriced tourist trap. We should have followed our other travel companions who took Johnny’s advice of another restaurant…
Gondola Ride with Music
Each Gondola can fit up to 6 passengers but most of them only had 4 since the other seats were not as comfortable as the heart shaped love seat. Johnny coordinated that each fleet of 3 Gondolas would have 1 musician. Perhaps Dana spilling that we were newlyweds on honeymoon worked in our favor for this since Johnny gave us the Gondola with the Accordion player and singer! In the beginning tour group we had one man who was there by himself and he was so nice to take several photos of us during the 30+ minute ride. The Accordion player and singer were great! It was strange that it took the singer about halfway through the trip to start though. He had a very melodic voice! I’m sure we ended up in a bunch of random tourists’ photos/videos too since we had a musician on our boat. Gondoliering is quite the lucrative profession! I saw the prices for buying directly at the stands were €80/person (not including music)! We got a much better deal by pre-booking through Gate 1, but still not cheap by any means. The round trip around the canals and through Grande Canal back only takes about 30 minutes, but the views are amazing! It’s quite impressive how easily the Gondoliers navigate the narrow canals and past other Gondolas. It’s a male dominated profession passed on from father to son. Johnny told us about one female gondolier who was driven out of the profession. The music in addition to the Gondola ride was definitely the highlight of our day. The Gondoliers all wore either a red or dark blue striped shirt but no hat!
We had the next couple hours to ourselves again and unfortunately it was not enough time to go up the tower since we saw a long line and we got turned around before heading to the Rialto Bridge. We finally got our first Gelato of many though! So tasty and I’m missing all the variety of flavors available to us! Afterwards we ended up going back to St. Mark’s Square area to the Museo Correo since our ticket for Doge’s Palace also included the other exhibits! We also tried to track down the Mint for where they made coins and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, but we couldn’t find the entrances to go in! We ended up just strolling through the Royal Gardens. The museum was extremely interesting and great to take some time to look through the archives of Italian/Venetian lifestyle and culture. We can’t forget the toilets since public bathrooms are not readily available in tourist areas unless you pay a fee or purchase something! I also took a long pause in one of the rooms with seating to relax since I wasn’t used to standing or walking so much from our usual sedentary lifestyles haha.
After the museum we were a bit hungry again so I had the brilliant idea of finding a grocery store. We stopped by Coop, which is one of the biggest supermarket chains in Italy. Dana encountered some people trying to converse with him in Italian. I found some more sweets and cookies. Dana bought some prosciutto for us to snack on later. Aside from the awesome Gondola ride, I’m not sure if the rest of Venice lived up to my expectations. We had a fun time none the less!
Rating: 3.5/5 ★★★1/2