For the final leg of our tour of Italy, we went to Venice, a city worth getting lost in. We cruised along the lagoon in the packed water bus, the more economical option to arrive at our hotel. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, the light reflecting off the water, boats and gondolas effortlessly cruising through the waterways. Pops of colors hit you from every vantage point, with the shiny boats, blue skies, and painted facades.
We were greeted at the Hotel San Salvador by the most exuberant of concierges, full of funny stories, tips for navigating Venice and non-touristy restaurant recommendations. She led us to our multi-room suite, decorated in traditional Venetian glass chandeliers and antique furniture. We freshened up and headed out for lunch at one of the concierge’s recommendations, a local ristorante with outdoor seating facing a quiet campo (a Venezian city square). The menu was diverse, so we ended up with interesting dishes like salad with squid and shrimp, tender beef with sautéed vegetables and fresh pesto on rotini, potatoes and green beans.
Our parents took a siesta back at the hotel after lunch while Ryan and I explored. It was a relaxing two hours to ourselves, wandering the canals of Venice and getting purposefully lost in the quieter areas. A little break from a large travel group is always a great idea to recharge and have stories of your own to bring back. We sipped on cola and water from the old-world spigots around the city, basking in the sun and admiring the historic architecture.
In the early evening, we made our way to our meeting spot for a gondola ride. A gaggle of tourists lined up and grouped off for one gondola after another. It felt supremely touristy and mechanical, but it was a bucket list item I wasn’t going to miss. It was a little daunting for some of us onboard who were afraid of the swaying. However, our gondolier was confidant and glided us easily through the water. We moved through the canals at a sedate pace, maneuvering between other gondolas and boats. Occasionally we were serenaded by passing gondolas with the “VIP” experience of a musician and singer, their soprano and alto voices ringing through the air. Our gondolier guided us toward the lagoon, where we experienced a stunning open vista of water and stately buildings, with boats anchored to brightly colored posts. It ended up being a fun experience, even if I was clenching the sides every time we hit a small ripple in the water.
That evening we ventured over to another recommended ristorante, Murovenezia, and I experienced the pleasure of eating a decadent ham and truffle oil pizza, twice the size of my face. I definitely couldn’t finish it, but I loved every bite. The table shared a fanciful dessert of ricotta cheesecake and berries to top off our dinner. However, we couldn’t resist a little more dessert and we ended our night with sorbetto and gelato by our hotel. My dark chocolate gelato with strawberry sorbetto was so rich in color it was black, topped with a monogrammed wafer.
Our last morning in Italy was spent with a wonderful private tour guide, recommended by a family friend. As she brought us through Venice, she explained its fascinating origins in trade and its modern struggles with rising sea levels. We meandered through the streets, discovering Marco Pollo’s residence, Venice’s Moorish roots in culture and architecture, and visual markers of triumph and tragedy in this historic city. We made our way across numerous bridges and canals to the quieter, less tourist-ridden part of Venice. We learned about the buildings where great scholars congregated to explore their wealth of knowledge, why plague doctors wore the bizarrely beaked masks, and about one of the oldest Jewish ghettos in the world. We ended our tour in an authentic mask shop, learning of the masquerades held in Venice, the process of making these beautiful masks, and the trade that continues today. I highly recommend Diane Cugola if you are looking for an interesting tour of Venice, she won’t disappoint.
Per recommendation by Diane, we had lunch on the quieter side of Venice at a ristorante by the water. I tried the famous black squid ink pasta, to my family’s disgust and my surprising delight. Slightly salty with a hint of a fish taste, it’s a dish I wouldn’t mind having again.
We took another siesta at our hotel, and then ventured over to the “mall,” housed in a nondescript historic building. You would never believe it houses a glamorous shopping center inside. We ascended the stairs to the rooftop deck, it’s stunning views of Venice all the more beautiful at sunset. It was a fantastic and free way to see the splendor of Venice. We then made a quick pit-stop at the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica, to view the stunning exterior along with the vast sea of tourists in St Mark’s Square.
Dinner was an unassuming but delicious affair at a to-go noodle shop. Fresh pasta piled with different sauces and scooped into a container reminiscent of Chinese takeout. We enjoyed it in our rooms with leftover wine and sorebetto from down the street, our last Italian meal…