From gondola rides to Attila the Hun’s throne in Venice

I can’t help but feel like I’ve just stepped into an Angelina Jolie movie. We’re cruising through the canals of Venice, wind in our hair, when we’re handed a glass of champagne.

Welcome to Venice indeed.

My Two’s a Crowd tour group has just taken the long trek by bus from Tuscany where we spent a week in a Tuscan villa, exploring all that the mountainous countryside has to offer.

But now it’s Venice’s turn to weave it’s magic on the group and it’s off to a great start.

We begin with pre-dinner aperitifs on our hotel roof – the Italians just love their aperitifs – and watch as the sun descends and the lights begin to sparkle all along the canals.

We watch the boats and gondolas traverse the water and the thousands of people skip along the edges of the canals.

In the morning we join them with a walking tour of our own.  We begin in Piazza San Marco, the main square in Venice. It’s home to the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile (clock tower) and St Mark’s Basilica.

But everywhere you turn in this piazza you’ll find something interesting to look at. It’s packed, there’s no denying that, but it’s always that way during the day (unless you get up before the sun and go wandering – I know, I did, it’s the only time you’ll have the piazza all to yourself and even then you’ll find the odd passer-by on their way home from a big night out). But even with all the people, the piazza’s charms are on full display.

The Basilica, though tucked in beside the Doge’s Palace, is difficult to miss and it’s even more difficult not to become enthralled by the facade. It’s exterior is inlaid with golden Byzantine mosaics and marble columns and is topped by five domes and countless sculptures. It truly is a visual feast.

Next to the Basilica is the clock tower featuring an astrological clock that dates back to 1496 and is topped by a bell, which is struck every hour by two bronze “moors”.

But there is more to Venice than San Marco’s Square so our guide pulls us away and winds us through the canals, past Fenice Theatre and along Venice’s main shopping street, the Mercerie, pointing out schools, churches and watering wells along the way.

All the while explaining to us what it’s like to live on canals instead of roads.

We wander past the Bridge of Sighs, an enclosed limestone bridge that connects the Doge’s interrogation rooms with the prison and includes small windows through which prisoners had their last glimpses of Venice. Sigh.

But the real highlight of Venice comes after the walking tour; after we’ve traversed the sidewalks and explored the city by land we experience the quintessential mode of Venetian transport – the gondola.

With the group split between three gondolas we make our way through the waterways of the city – and yes, the gondoliers even sing as they glide their craft effortlessly through the waters.

It is a different perspective of the city and the gondolas manage to take us to places it is impossible to visit on foot.

The following day we take a boat of a different kind, less glamorous perhaps, but no less Venetian, when we step onto a bragozzo, a traditional working boat, and make our way out to the island of Murano, Burano and Torcello.

From glass blowing to lace making, each of the islands offers something slightly different.  Our first stop is Murano where we watch in awe as glass blowers sit in front of steaming hot furnaces and craft intricate figurines from glass.

On Burano we see the lace makers at work, sewing delicate patterns into lacework and wander through the brightly coloured buildings of the fishing village.

And finally we stop at Torcello, a barren island of just 100 inhabitants, where we take turns to sit on the stone throne, said to be that of Attila the Hun.

There’s so much more to Venice than gondolas and canals.

Want to experience Venice for yourself? Check out our latest tour to Italy here.

Diane Squires is a tour host with Two’s a Crowd.

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