Grande Signora

The Grand Canal, Venice

It’s a strange feeling to cross a border in Europe. When you drive from state to state in America (roughly the same distance covered), nothing changes. You have to watch carefully for the “Welcome to Nebraska!” sign to even know you have actually crossed the border.

We took a Flixbus on a nine-hour drive from Vienna to Venice. It sounds awful, but it was actually a nice break for our feet and for my pocketbook. We left Vienna and headed south to Graz, then to Slovenia, driving through Ljubljana. Next stop was Trieste, Italy, then to our apartment in Mestre. From country to country, the scenery didn’t change much (beautiful mountains and valleys and farms) but you could tell from the billboards and signs that you were in a place with a completely different language and history.

Venice has a history that is as unique as the city herself. Around 400 AD, the Germanic hordes swept toward Italy after the fall of the Roman Empire. Inhabitants of the Italian mainland fled to the small islands in the Venetian lagoon, where the barbarians with their lack of ships and seamanship would not follow. Over the centuries, great logs were cut from the mainland and sunk into the mud of the lagoon, building platforms on which the great palaces and cathedrals of this Renaissance powerhouse were constructed.

We stayed in a beautiful airbnb apartment in Mestre, sister city to Venice on the mainland. There is a new tram service from Mestre to Piazzale Roma, the transportation hub in Venice. For 3€ you can get a round trip ticket into Venice – it’s fast and so super-convenient you would hardly guess that you were using Italian mass transit.

The Cathedral of St. Mark, Piazza San Marco, Venice

The biggest attraction in Venice is just the city itself. It’s not very big. Someone with a mission, good walking shoes and a MAP(!) could cross the entire city on an hour; the main tourist areas in less than that. We exited the tram and started walking, joining hoards of other tourists wandering around and posing on bridges for selfies.

Erin wanted pasta, so we decided on a cute little restaurant advertising a special for 11€. Megan ordered penne with a rich salmon sauce, Erin ordered spaghetti with a bacon and onion sauce, and I got a pizza.

A vaporetto on the Grand Canal, Venice

In my personal opinion, your basic tourist can see Venice in a day, maybe two. If you are more into history or art, definitely take more time to see the museums and cathedrals. For the girls, though, two hours of wandering around and shopping was enough. We found St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) after many complaints, then took a vaporetto ride back to Piazzale Roma and home to the apartment.

I wasn’t too disappointed by their lack of interest, because I’d actually seen Venice before. If you scroll down far enough, you can read about the cruise and trip to Venice that my husband and I took five years ago when visiting Europe was like a dream come true for me.

On the water for over 1600 years

Back then, Venice was enticing, exotic and totally different from anything I had ever seen before in all my years living in the cornfields of the Midwest. I loved it and still remember all the little corners we explored. But now, for me, Venice seems like a tired Grande Signora, a grande dame painted clean and bright on the outside for her guests but worn out and tired on the inside. Today I peeked through a few open doors and down dingy alleyways to see the heart of the city, and to imagine what it must be like to live and work here.

It’s a beautiful place, filled with art, history, and ghosts – and for me, once was enough.

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