Welcome to Venice, the most expensive city in Italy. By far. From our convenient car park we caught a cheap train (the only cheap thing in the entire city) one stop to the centre of Venice, before jumping on an expensive water bus down the Grand Canal to the main square, Piazza San Marco. The canal was magnificent, lined with charming old buildings and bridges that looked as though they could crumble into the water at any moment. Around the edge of the enormous Piazza San Marco were impressive buildings, palaces and the grand St Mark's Basilica, with the whole area being unsurprisingly crammed with tourists. While we were taking it all in, we noticed water bubbling up through drains in the ground, prompting the speedy assembly of boardwalks to keep everyone's feet dry (apparently this happens regularly).
Our first mission was to ascend a tower on the square for views across the city. It was a decent panorama, although we could only see the Grand Canal and not all the smaller ones that formed the "streets" of Venice. Next we wandered over to the Basilica, waiting in line with hundreds of others. I'm sure the popularity was based on the fact that it was only sight in Venice that offered free entrance. Inside, almost every surface was covered in gold mosaics, creating an opulence that I associated more with palaces than churches.
We managed to navigate our way to a neighbouring island (there are roughly 120 islands in Venice) to visit another Guggenheim Museum, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Unlike the Berlin gallery, this one did not contain any videos, instead offering modern works by many famous artists. Overly detailed interpretations accompanied many of the paintings, most of which I skimmed over. The building was a former residence Peggy Guggenheim, and photos on the walls showed how it was furnished while she was living there. In these photos we could see the artworks that were now on display in front of us, with many pieces still in their original position.
Rather than searching out all the notable buildings of Venice, we had loads more fun wandering over and along the canals, eating pizza and checking out the souvenir stores. Like Prague, Venice seemed to be one giant tourist shop, primarily selling products made from the local Murano glass. It looked incredible, but the price was astronomical (even more expensive than Prague souvenirs). We never really knew where we were or which way we were going, as the canals formed a labyrinth that was virtually impossible to escape from without a map. A couple of times we were abruptly halted by a dead end because the path ended in a waterway, with no further pedestrian access. Although this was infuriating at times, I loved the absence of cars and roads. No noise, no safety concerns, no waiting at traffic lights - I could get used to this.
After much debate we relented to becoming the ultimate tourist, by agreeing to an outrageously overpriced gondola ride. We bought two piccolo bottles of Prosecco, picked a bright blue gondola and were leisurely rowed around by a gondolier for half an hour. It was wonderfully peaceful, especially on the narrower canals that were devoid of other tourists, and we appreciated seeing Venice from a different angle. It probably wasn't worth the money but we were glad we momentarily abandoned our budget to take part in the iconic experience.
Once the ride was complete we wandered around the old Ghetto area and stopped in at a restaurant for dinner. We both went full Italian and opted for pasta. They were delicious, not too big but definitely unhealthy with the amount of oil the meals were swimming in. Afterwards we passed a lady handing out free sample of limoncello, which of course we weren't going to say no to. It was extremely strong, and I was grateful we only given a small tasting. There were also complimentary mini-Bellini cocktails (a popular drink in Venice), but it had far too much peach juice for my liking. By then we were exhausted after our full day of sight-seeing, so caught a train back to the car and went straight to bed.
The next day we made our way into Venice again and caught a boat to Burano Island. We accidentally hopped off the boat one stop too early, but thankfully there was a bridge connecting this island to our destination. On the way we had passed a few not-so-exciting islands, but Burano ended up being beautiful. It was tiny (as most islands are) and also contained canals, however these ones were lined with houses in a variety of bright hues. It was described as a colourful version of Venice, and although the architecture were nowhere near as striking as the central tourist area, it was also a lovely place to stroll around aimlessly. There wasn't a whole lot to see and in one hour we had covered the entire island. Most of the souvenir stores were filled with lace and linen goods, the main exports of the Island, which didn't interest us at all. Our only purchase was a costly fish and chips in a small cafe for lunch. It doesn't sound very Italian, but it suited the waterfront location.
We headed back to central Venice and wandered along more of the canals (there were so many that we never knew if we had walked down them or not). Window shopping took up most of our afternoon, trying to look past the endless displays of blown glass. Packets of dried rainbow pasta was a popular item, each noodle decorated with colourful stripes. They came in a variety of cool shapes, such as sombrero hats (known as "sombreroni") and stars. If it wasn't for the cost we definitely would have picked up a few boxes.
Often it felt like we were in an English speaking city because there were so many Americans around (plus the occasional Aussie or Brit). I don't think I heard anyone speaking Italian at all. We loved our time in Venice, but we were ready to see more of an authentic side of Italy.