The man who seeks to educate himself must first read and then travel in order to correct what he has learned.Casanova
It was Casanova that said, “The man who seeks to educate himself must first read and then travel in order to correct what he has learned.” That is what we do not matter where we go. We take time to research every place before our visit, including the history and local foods. It helps us get an idea before we actually go and decide if we like it.
We were so excited to continue exploring Italy with our friends — and what better place to go than Venice during Venice Carnival? Venice is considered one of the most romantic cities, so we were excited to see if these rumors were true.
Once we got to Venice, we had to take a water taxi to get to the area of the city we were staying in. It really is such a different city with all the canals and boats to get around. As we walked to our hotel, we noticed there are a lot of bridges, so if you have problems with stairs, this is not the city for you to explore. Even getting around by boat might be difficult because depending on the time of the day, the water could be low or high, which can make it hard to get in and out of the boat.
We woke up bright and early on Saturday to go on our first tour excursion. We decided to walk over to the meeting point so we could explore Venice on foot. Along the way, we passed the famous Bridge of Sighs. It got its name because this was the walkway that the prisoners would take before reaching their cells. They would glance out the window and sigh as they looked at Venice one last time.
Our first tour was a boat ride to Murano and Burano, islands in the Venetian Lagoon, where we had a glass of Prosecco while our tour guide explained things about our boat and the sights. The little island of Murano is known for its beautiful glass making and we got to watch glassblowers make a vase and horse statute effortlessly. It truly is a work of art! Afterwards we could visit the store to purchase a souvenir — definitely more tempting after you witness the masters at work! For the longest time, Murano was the main source of glass making for all of Europe. There are more competitors today, but glass making is still the main industry in Murano. This was even more apparent when we say the huge tree made out of glass in the square.
While we were in Murano, we also visited the church of Santa Maria e San Donato, known for its Byzantine mosaics. It was built in the 7th century, which makes it one of the oldest churches in the Venetian Lagoon. There are also relics of St. Donatus of Arezzo in a marble sarcophagus. Behind the altar, there are also large bones that are supposedly the bones of the dragon that that the saint slayed.
Next we made our way to Burano, an island known for its lacework. Legend says that a fisherman was getting married and while he was out at sea he came across a siren. The siren was unable to lure the fisherman with her voice, so the queen of the sirens came and gave him a gift for his faithfulness to his fiancé. She hit her tail on the side of boat and out of the foam came a beautiful laced wedding veil. All of the young ladies on the island wanted their own laced wedding veil and that is how they started making laced items.
This little village is also known for its brilliantly colored houses. It is said that the fishermen’s houses were all different colors because if they had too much to drink, they would still be able to find their way back home by looking for their colored home. During our tour they let us roam on our own around the beautiful island, go shopping, and eat lunch. We tried a bussolà of Burano or an “S” shaped cookie. They come in many different flavors, but we stuck with the traditional. It tasted like a soft butter cookie. It is said that the wives of the fishermen would make these to give to their husbands when they would go on long sea voyages to help give them energy with the nutrients from the cookie (i.e.: flour, sugar, eggs, and butter).
After we got back to the main island of Venice, we proceeded to go into St. Mark’s Basilica. There was a line to get in, but it moves pretty quickly. The inside is just as spectacular as the outside, with beautiful mosaics, marble, and gold scattered all over. The top of the basilica also has an excellent view of the square and the water.
We made our way through cute alleyways and streets, until we finally stumbled across the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, an intricate exterior staircase easily missed in Venice. It is architecturally stunning, and apparently combines Byzantine, Renaissance, and Gothic styles.
We walked over or passed by countless bridges, but there was one we made a point to see: the Rialto Bridge. It is said to be one of the most beautiful and famous bridges of Venice. We could easily see why. This bridge is one of the oldest that goes across the Grand Canal and doubles as a little market inside, with steps on the outside for people to look out over the water.
We had some time to kill before dinner, so we popped into Pasticceria Rizzardini, where we got Venetian coffee and some pastries that tasted like fried dough and sugar. Both were delicious and a great little stop on our journey.
We also stopped into a bar nearby to have a pint of beer and a spritz. Venice is known for the spritz, a cocktail made of Prosecco, Aperol, and soda, served in Italy as an aperitif. When we were done, we slowly made our way through the crowd to head back toward our hotel for dinner. If you are not a fan of crowds, Venice during Carnival weeks is not for you. There were so many people and you just have to be patient sometimes.
Since Venice is surrounded by water, seafood is a must during the trip. At dinner, we ordered pasta with clams, seafood risotto, and a bowl of clams and mussels.
Sunday was the start of the Venice Carnival! The Venice Carnival first began in the 11th century to celebrate a victory against the Patriarch of Aquileia. It continued to be held until the 18th century, when the leaders at the time forbade the festival and masks. The carnival wouldn’t be reborn until 1979. Now the carnival is held every year right before the start of Lent. During this time, you will see a lot of people wearing masquerade masks. Some people will even go as far as wearing the Venetian dress and wigs too. We could dedicate an entire blog post to the masks, but there is one type that we remember reading about in history books: the Medico Della Peste or the “The Plague Doctor.” This white mask with a pointy nose used to be worn by doctors during the plague to help stop the spread of the disease. Now, thankfully, they’re just decorative.
People get into the spirit well before the festival begins, but today everyone was in full swing (including us)! We found a spot near the Rialto Bridge to watch the water parade and shared a bottle of Rossini (pureed strawberries with sparkling wine). It was very delicious and refreshing!
Then the parade began and the crowd packed in even tighter. Surprisingly, they still had gondola rides and boat taxis going while the parade took place. It reminded me so much of a float parade, but on the water. Each canoe had its own theme with many rowers dressed to match the theme. There were many canoes that stood out, especially the one with a huge rat model on the front of their canoe. When you see the rat model, you know the Venice carnival festivities are about to begin.
After the parade, it was time for lunch. Besides seafood, Venice is also known for their cicchetti (small snacks or side dishes). We decided to try Ostaria dai Zemei. There were so many options it felt a little overwhelming. We ended up choosing 8 different kinds to share. Everything was homemade and fresh, and they really knew how to combine different ingredients together. If you aren’t feeling too hungry, but want a great variety of snacks, then look no further!
We spent more time exploring Venice, eating gelato, and then made our way to our next tour of the day: a gondola ride experience! Get to the pick-up spot early because they don’t guarantee you will sit with your party, so we made sure to be one of the first groups there to have a better chance to be on the same gondola. We got on the gondola and took off, enjoying the Gran Canal before moving into the side waterways. It was about a thirty minute ride and our gondola guide was great! He let us drink a bottle of wine while we took pictures and enjoyed the ride. Our tour was also supposed to include a serenade, but the singer was not on or near our boat, so we never heard anything. That was not a deal breaker for us though and we just enjoyed each others’ company.
For dinner, we decided on a restaurant near our hotel that always looked extremely popular: Il Paradiso Perduto. Try and get there early or make a reservation ahead of time because they do get busy. We can see why this place was always full (including the night we were there). Everything we had was delicious! All of the pasta was handmade, the food was such a great quality, and the presentation was beautiful. Three of us got the seafood pasta, served in a shell, and the fourth person in our group got the cacio e pepe pasta (which, if you remember from the Vatican blog post, is pasta with a cheese and pepper sauce). It was actually a really fun dish to order because the waiter came over with a giant wheel of cheese. He placed the pasta with hot water in the wheel with black pepper and then mixed it all together before dishing it out. It was a fun presentation! Locals and tourists alike gathered here, so you know it’s a good place.
Our friends left the next morning, and the weather was foggy and chilly to match our sadness at saying goodbye. We were going to try and tour the Doges Palace, but once we got there we realized that the line was just too long and we wanted to make sure we still had time to eat lunch before heading to the airport to return to Naples.
We ended up walking along the Gran Canal, which was eerie in the mist, and observed some of the gorgeous handmade crafts before we made our way to eat lunch at Trattoria Bar Pontini. It’s a cute restaurant right along the canal and near a quaint bridge. We shared a salad with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes, corn, and carrots, as well as squid ink pasta. This dish is very scary to eat because we didn’t want to wear our food, but we really enjoyed it.
There still so much more we need to see, but for now it’s “see you later, Venice.” Being there with our friends and during the carnival made it a festive time we will never forget.