Venice: It’s a city most would associate with romantic gondola rides down a canal while a gondolier serenades you with lovely Italian music. I’ve heard countless stories and have seen numerous photos of what any hopeless romantic like myself could only dream about. So you could probably imagine my excitement when I woke up knowing that we would soon be in Venice — or Venezia — in several hours.
It was about 7:30 a.m. when we hopped on the coach and departed Rome. The eight-hour journey — which included a few bathroom stops in between — started off a little overcast and eventually ended in a torrential downpour.
Upon reaching Venice, we drove onto a ferry to get to the Venetian island of Lido, where our hotel was. We got out of the bus to sit in the passenger area of the ferry. A few of us tried to go out on the deck to take photos, but the strong winds and heavy rain made it nearly impossible to capture anything decent.
After what was quite an arduous ride to the island, we finally made it to our hotel, the Grande Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria, which had a historic charm with its bright-colored tile facade and art nouveau decor. As you can probably imagine, the rooms were just as quaint.
Waking up the next day, we were pleased to see that the weather was slightly better than the day before: a little overcast and breezy, but nothing too extreme. Unfortunately, though, we received news that due to stronger-than-normal winds, our scheduled gondola ride was canceled. Of course I was a little disappointed, but hey, I was in Venice. Who wouldn’t be happy about that?
After breakfast, we all boarded a water taxi and departed to the island of Murano, famous for glass blowing. As we docked, a tall Italian man guided us into his shop that looked just like some of those homes I’ve seen along the lakes in Seattle.
One by one, we filed into a large, open room with bleachers on one side and a furnace on the other. This is where we would get to see a first-hand demonstration of the art of glass blowing.
Using a pipe, the glass blower quickly yet carefully designed what started off as a tiny ball of fire into a well-defined horse figure.
I was just amazed by how one person could create something so beautiful and rich looking in just a matter of minutes.
We then proceeded into the back room to look at some original glass pieces available for sale. Some of those items included wine glasses, dishes, jewelry and other figurines. There was even an upstairs area dedicated to Venetian masks! I ended up spending about €90, or roughly $105 in U.S. dollars, for a gorgeous wine glass that was red in color with gold embellishments.
If you know me personally, you know this purchase is quite uncharacteristic of me as I generally do not like to spend a lot of money on myself on material goods, let alone on a wine glass! But I couldn’t help myself. I was in Venice for Pete’s sake, and I was going to buy authentic Murano glass!
After our shopping spree, we boarded the water taxi to our next stop: the main Venetian island, site of the famous Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge.
Giuseppe led us to an area called San Marco — a big open square surrounded by St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace — and informed us that we had a few hours to roam around freely. As he pointed out where the Rialto Bridge was, I looked down and noticed that water was slowly creeping to where we were standing.
Apparently, this was a phenomenon called acqua alta, when an unusually high tide combines with winds and a storm (hence the weird weather we were experiencing lately). When this happens, workers put out passerelle — or elevated walkways — to use as a temporary fix.
It was an oddly intriguing event for me to witness since I’ve been studying climate change as a journalist back home. Perhaps this phenomenon could become increasingly common not just in Venice, but in other parts of the world as sea levels continue to rise.
A new friend we made in our tour group, Jan, decided to tag along with me and my mom in search of the Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal.
(Side note, Jan is from Queensland, Australia. Thanks to her, my mom and I learned quite a bit about Australia!)
We navigated through several narrow alleyways surrounded by boutiques and souvenir shops — where I picked out the cutest and warmest hat — and eventually made it to the Rialto Bridge. Standing at the center of the bridge, I looked out at the picturesque Grand Canal and watched all the boats make their way toward the bridge. Everything about this scene was like a painting. So breathtaking, so Venice.
We then grabbed a quick lunch (I got some kind of pizza roll and Spritz, an Italian drink comprised of Prosecco and orange liqueur) and headed back to our meeting spot.
In the end, we didn’t get to ride the gondola, but that was OK with me. I was just happy knowing I was in Venice. The gondola ride will just have to be saved for my next trip here.