Pre-Tour Day 1
We begin our overnight flight from Cleveland to Venice with a glass of wine on the airplane. The flight is cramped, and we arrive at the Venice Airport in a daze of jet lag and lack of sleep. Good thing we have arrived two days before our Rick Steves Best of Venice, Florence and Rome Tour officially starts, so we can adjust to the time difference.
From the airport, we travel by water taxi to Venice. We could take a bus, but coming into Venice by water seems more appropriate. We strain to catch our first glimpse of the city from the lagoon. The taxi enters the Grand Canal. Palazzos sit at the very edge of the water. Doors and windows are arched in the Venetian Gothic style that combines Byzantine, Moorish, and European influences. The effect is magical. Venice appears not so much Italianate, but more a fusion of east and west that illustrates her history as a great trading center in the 13th century.
The water taxi lets us off at the Rialto Bridge stop. We strap on our backpacks, and navigate the maze of streets in search of our hotel. We are really in Venice!
We find the Hotel Al Codega, a cheery gold building that faces a flowered courtyard. The hotel staff is welcoming, and since we booked our extra nights online, we receive a bottle of Prosecco, which we immediately drink, because we are in Venice, and Prosecco must be drunk.
We set off to explore Venice. We find an amazing meal of grilled octopus, ginger ravioli, and local cheeses, perfectly paired with vino bianco, at Osteria Enoteca San Marco.
With full happy stomachs, we are fortified to visit the very center of Venice: Piazza San Marco. Our jaws drop at the size of the piazza, and at the splendor of St. Mark’s Basilica, a Byzantine wedding cake of a churched topped with onion domes and four bronze horses. In a few days, we will tour the interior, but for now we admire the exterior.
An orchestra is playing in front of a cafe. People amass on Venice’s front step. The Campanile rings out a magnificent toll. Pigeons flock around the tourists, while seagulls swoop in from the Grand Canal. Everywhere is sound and movement, light and color.
We sit outside at Café Florian, the oldest café in the world. Since 1720, the opulent rooms have witnessed the brightest minds, artistic discussions, and political intrigue of Venice. Goethe, Casanova, Byron, Proust, and Dickens are among the renowned patrons of the cafe. We order Tiramisu and Tortino al Cioccolato Fondente, a dark chocolate cake with whipped cream. We don’t mind paying the 10 Euros for a tiny cappuchino, because we have a piazza-side seat for people watching in Venice.
The Venetians around us are drinking bright orange cocktails, and we are curious about the apertif. We try the Aperol Spritzer, made of Prosecco, Aperol, and sparking water. The drink is refreshing, but a bit sweet for our taste. We sip as we contemplate the view.
Aperol Spritzer Recipe:
- 3 parts Prosecco
- 2 parts Aperol
- 1 part soda
- slice of orange
We locate the Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace, next to the Basilica. This fine example of Venetian Gothic architecture is another landmark of the city. Two granite pillars stand nearby. One is topped with a winged lion, the symbol of Venice, the other with St. Theodore standing on a crocodile. We learn later that St. Theodore was the former patron saint of Venice, only to be cast aside for St. Mark. The columns form a perfect gateway between the Piazza and the Grand Canal.
We hear the quick staccato chatter of Italian, and sometimes Chinese or French or German, as we make our way out of the piazza. Roses are thrust in our faces by the myriad of hawkers in the square. We shake our heads no, and move past.
Next to a canal, we watch tourists loading into gondolas like visitors at Disney World, and we know we will too, before the trip is finished.
Amazingly, we find our way back to our hotel through the labyrinthine streets. And because it is our first night in the most romantic city in the world, we order another bottle of Prosecco.