Venice is one of those cities that everyone has seen before they actually visit. The famous bridges and green canals; the warm and complaisant coloured palazzo with the narrow alleyways; the breath-taking openness of Piazza San Marco and the arched prow of a gondola – they have all been seen from classic Canaletto’s paintings to modern, mainstream Facebook photos. But nothing can compare to really being there, to being fully present in a city that seems to miraculously float on water, and hold all the secrets to love and romance.
From the moment the day’s first sunbeam hits the Grand Canal, everything in Venice is sparkling: water, wine, wits and the beautiful golden mosaics of Basilica di San Marco. As the morning mists lift from the lagoon, you can hear the merchants singing as they open their shops in the 500-year-old Rialto markets, and fishermen celebrating the day’s catch with a glass of Prosecco.
There are no cars in Venice, so the only way around the city is by boat, gondola, vaporetto, or water taxi. When we land in Marco Polo Airport we arrange for a water taxi to pick us up and drop us off at the nearest alley to our hotel. When I say “we”, I mean my parents, my boyfriend Gerry, my sister Amber and her boyfriend, Darrel. As a surprise for my dad’s birthday, my mum booked for us all to go to one of the most romantic cities in the world for the weekend after my dad loved his first trip there with my mum six years ago.
We’re staying in Hotel Scandinavia, a charmingly ornate hotel in an 18th-century residence set on the lively Santa Maria Formosa square. It suits Venice perfectly with a real vintage feel to it. But even so, there’s free Wi-Fi, minibars in the rooms as well as satellite TV, and, much to my delight, a library.
The hotel is only a 6-minute walk from Piazza San Marco, which is one thing to be grateful for since Venice is one of the easiest cities to get lost in. Signs point directly toward Piazza San Marco: these are best to be ignored. Instead, my dad and Gerry ponder over their map, two men in full agreement that the best way to find where to go is through using traditional measures.
Since it’s our first day we try to find our bearings, and use the map to aimlessly wander through alleyways that are full with antique shops, glassblowers, book shops, clothes shops and vintage stationery shops, stopping to turn in to one of each as we pass. We stop for lunch, savouring the taste of delicious Italian food in Italy, indulging on pastas and pizzas with sweet white wine and vodka (for those who oppose the taste of wine).
We walk around some more before turning back to our hotel to get ready for dinner, and once we are we choose a cosy little restaurant just around the corner from Piazza San Marco. One thing to say about the food in Italy: it doesn’t disappoint. With massive portion sizes bursting with flavour, there’s nothing not to like.
It’s dark by the time we’re finished and the stars come out to lighten up Venice’s night sky, so upon deciding to stay out for some more drinks, we stumble across Hard Rock Café Venice and enjoy a night of great cocktails, dancing and live entertainment.
In the early hours of the morning, we retreat back to our hotel, but not before stopping to see Piazza San Marco beautifully lit up at night. At night, the golden mosaics give the building a soft deeper gold hue, and square is alive with lights, people and a kaleidoscope of colours that only exist at certain time of night.
However, there’s a lot of hawkers trying to sell you things in the middle of the square, and although they’re around during the day, they are a lot more vigorous at night so avoiding them can be difficult, which is the only annoying thing.
I can’t complain too much though, because with romance in the water and air here, I end up walking away with roses from Gerry.
The next day we wake early, determined not to miss a moment knowing we only have the rest of the weekend. Even though the suns not out it’s a warm day so we set off, following my dad, Gerry and the map, down winding calli (alleyways) past cobblers and glassblowers to arrive in the square as café orchestras strike up. At 18th-century Caffe Florian, Gerry and I pause for a drink, before joining my family and the crowds entering the Basilica di San Marco.
Basilica di San Marco is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, but it’s not only the religious center of a great city, but also an expression of the political, intellectual, and economic aspiration and accomplishments of a city that, for centuries, was at the forefront of European culture. It is a monument not just to the glory of God, but also to the glory of Venice.
Once we admire the views from the top of the building, we carry on our adventure by crossing some of Venice’s famous bridges, including the Rialto Bridge, Ponte della Paglia and Ponte dei Pugni. There’s a small spit of rain, so we stop for some food until it passes, then continue by shopping some more then stopping for drinks before heading back to get ready for dinner.
Again, dinner is exquisite, but I doubt you’d find a bad Italian restaurant in Venice. Once we’re finished and full to bursting with food and drink, we wander down alleyways, pausing to look at the beautifully luxurious masks that hang in shop windows and vow to buy one before we leave. We also end up in an Irish bar before getting a lock in in a bar around the corner from our hotel (I mean, seriously, who gets a lock in in Venice?!).
On our last day, Amber, Darrel, Gerry and I decide to go to the beach, so from San Marco it’s a vaporetto (waterbus) hop to Lido di Venezia, to spend the day bathing in the scorching sun, splashing in the warm sea and drinking ice cold cocktails.
We don’t get back until late evening, so once we get back to Venice, we go to our hotel to get ready for dinner.
The one thing I knew I wanted to do in Venice before I even set foot in the city was go on a trip on the famous gondola. Venice gondola rides are without doubt the number one must-do experience in Venice, and ranks high on the romantic bucket list, so Gerry and I decided to make the best of our last day by going on a gondola before dinner.
Gliding through serene waters, while serenaded by our gondolier, Valentino, against the stunning backdrop of Baroque buildings is an experience I don’t think either of us will soon forget. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and if I could have frozen that moment to live in it forever, I would have in a heartbeat. I can’t imagine anything coming close to the way it felt, and doing it with the right person only made it even more special.
There’s no way I could’ve gone to Venice and not took a gondola trip, but I’m also so incredibly glad that it was something that Gerry and I decided to do together at the end of a perfect holiday in one of the most romantic cities in the world.
Near the end of our gondola ride, Valentino sang beautiful Italian songs for us before taking us out to Grand Canal to watch the sun set. Unsurprisingly, Venice always saves its best acts for last. Fire meets water at sunset in San Marco, and it felt as though we were the only people left in the whole world on our gondola in the middle of the water.
After, we met with the rest of my family for dinner, which, again, unsurprisingly, is delicious. But this time, we decide to round off the night with some drinks in the heart of Piazza San Marco, listening to the orchestras bring the square to life with their passion and music.
Venice is both a well-preserved monument and a living, breathing, floating city, full of contemporary art, traditional crafts and high culture. And listening to what feels like our own personal concert, the six of us toast to this amazing and beautiful city beyond imagination.