Thursday began with a delicious breakfast cooked and served by the hotel chef/owner, Gianluca. We then met our private guide, Matteo, near the Rialto Bridge for a tour of the less-touristy parts of Venice. Matteo is a true native Venetian, and has lived here his entire life. He speaks of his city with passion and was rich with interesting stories and facts.
Since we’ve been to Venice before, we really wanted more of a local’s view away from the masses. And that’s exactly what we got. We visited four of the six districts, stopped in cathedrals, warehouses, multiple piazzas and campos, and learned so much of this unique city’s history. One of our stops included the Basilica Dei Santi Giovanni e Paulo – a beautiful church where 29 of the historical doges were buried.
You can’t think of Venice without picturing a gondola. We learned a few interesting facts about these vessels. Gondolas, which are owned by their gondolier, are made by a master craftsman using more than 280 pieces of wood from many different varieties. Each one costs about 50,000€ and is customized to the specific height and weight of its gondolier. Even if passed down from father to son, which often happens, they must be refurbished to the new gondolier’s size.
To build on its marshy land, Venetians drove wooden pilings deep into the mud and silt and topped them with limestone. The pilings that have held these buildings for centuries have petrified, and now Venice actually sits on top of an upside-down petrified forest!
Did you know that you can tell the age of a building in Venice by the shape of its windows? Rounded windows with arches and more ornate details represent the Renaissance era and were typically built in the 15th century. Narrow windows with pointed arches on top had a Byzantine influence and were from the 1300s. Another interesting fact from our guide Matteo.
We capped off our tour with an hour-long boat ride, venturing from the grand canal to many side waterways. There is no better way to experience Venice than by boat!
The second best way to experience Venice is to get lost among its winding canal streets (which is not difficult to do by the way). You can wander from one district to the next, crossing bridges along the way, and from crowded streets to quiet, narrow walkways leading to small neighborhoods. There's truly no other city like it.
After cooling off back at our hotel, we joined more dear friends for a pre-cruise dinner to kick off the fun week ahead. Tomorrow we embark on our small ship cruise aboard the Oceania Nautica.