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I faced my dive buddy for a final check as our boat approached the Renaissance city of Venice. Weight belt on, air open, B.C.D. working….we gave each other the final OK symbol, not the thumbs up of course. We weren’t amateurs, this wasn’t our first trip after all, we were ready. We even checked the news that morning before we left, which of course was our downfall. “Venice is underwater” the swanky Italian host informed us. “Dress appropriately,” he advised with a wink. I was taken in by his professional nature and shinny suit.

We stepped off the water taxi, not onto the worn cobble stone streets of lore, but raised platforms sagging with tourists from far flung reaches of the globe. Underwater indeed! We were over dressed! Without the benefit of galoshes the fancier hotels supply, we were left to battle our way through the crowded back alleyways and along the cheap narrow walkways clashing with history. Luckily an unusual cold snap had also plunged the city into a snow bound mess, closing the airports and offering some respite from one of the world’s most visited destinations.

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Piazza San Maro is the heart of historical Venice and the best place to start your vacation. Of course you need to find a way through the water first! No, that is not a canal.

The paths are clearly marked…with frozen bodies.

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If you can wait a few hours the water usually recedes and a full walking tour can begin. The beauty of Venice is in the winding alleys, the narrow canals and the towering ancient buildings offering a direct link to history…very little imagination required!

We began our tour at Basilica San Marco (St. Marks). A Byzantine masterpiece, it is the most famous church in Venice. With 149 competitors that is saying a lot. Completed in 1096 it is well worth a visit inside. The four famous horses on the outside, taken from Constantinople, are fakes. You need to enter…and pay…to see the real ones.

Of course you’ll find more than just horses inside.

The Doge Palace, the home of Venice rulers called the Doge, is another must visit. But beware, there is so much to process in this fascinating place you may leave thinking everything looks the same. Luckily the tour ends with stint in the old prison cells where you can find respite from the gorgeous paintings and intricate ceiling work.

In the Doge Palace you will also cross the poetically inspired Bridge of Sighs, named for the prisoners headed towards execution and alas their predictable, if imagined, last breaths. It is one of the most photographed scenes in Venice , but I missed out as the city decided it was nicer to surround it in advertising. Maybe next time….or a swing by Google images.
The Grand Canal is the main artery of Venice. Three bridges hold the two sides together, Rialto Bridge being the most scenic. Shops line the bridge and the top is a great place to view the canal and the boats plowing their trade.
Escape the busy Grand Canal, and the crowding tourists, done any side alley. Getting lost is probably one of the best ways to spend your time.

A church around every corner.
Gondolas out despite the cold.

Church of St. Mary of the Friars in the distance. It was built as promise to God for ending a particularly bad spell of the plague.

Huddling together

If you go

When to go: Venice is busiest from the months June through September when the weather is warm. The famous Carnival is in February and like in the summer months the city gets crowded and the hotels full. If you are looking for less of an elbow to elbow experience the months of October through April are still generally fine with some mild days.

Getting there: The closets airport (4 miles away) is Marco Polo International Airport. Another option, especially for budget airlines is Venice Treviso Airport (16 miles away).

Venice occupies over 100 islands. The historic center is located 1 1/2 miles from the coast and can be reached by either car, bus, taxi or train via the Ponte della Libertá (“Bridge of Liberty”). You can also reach the area by water taxi, one runs directly from the airport.

Accommodation: Prices in Venice are more expensive then on the mainland as everything used must be delivered by barge and handcart (no cars in Venice!). For suggestions on cheap hotels in Venice try starting your search at EasyToBook.com.

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