Italy remains magical even the second time around, especially colorful Venezia.
Whether wandering by the canals, eating a slice of pizza the size of my head, or going to Easter Mass in a tiny church where the liturgy I am intimately familiar with is transformed into the unfamiliar in the musical Italian language, this country, this city, still has much to fascinate and delight me.
I can never understand Italy, understand Venice, as intimately as its denizens, no matter how many times I return, no matter if I attentively watch Il Postino or read A Room with a View or any of the hundreds of books and films about Italy.
But, I can still enjoy la dolce vita — the sweet life — while I am there.
We had a misadventure on the train from Paris to Venice. Namely, that we had accidentally booked the wrong month. Oops. As we were getting off the train, it started moving. Yes, moving. Luckily, there were empty compartments, and we were allowed to have a good night's rest anyway, to prepare us for our first view of haunting Venice.
Gondola rides in Venice have a fixed baseline price by law, so we were unable to get a ride. Still, we saw many gondoliers ferrying people through the canals in their iconic striped shirts and straw hats. Some were even singing!
We followed little dinosaur footprints to the Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia, the natural history museum. It was a refreshing break from the hordes of tourists in Venice for Easter weekend, as it mainly contained families frolicking among the exhibits, including preserved animals, cultural artifacts, and an entire, tranquil room decorated to mimic the ocean. At the end, we relaxed in this peaceful courtyard.
Food in Venice is infamously expensive, but tucked away in an out-of-the-way street, we found a pizzeria which sold slices of pizza the size of my head for 1.50 euro. What a bargain!
The people-and-pigeon-packed Plaza San Marco is ringed by such buildings as the Doge's Palace, but the eye is always drawn to the stunning, mosaic-studded Basilica di San Marco. Again, unfortunately, due to Holy Week, it was even more packed than usual, so I couldn't make it inside, but the outside is enough to drop the jaw.
My friends and I at first thought this was Saint George but this is Saint Theodore, the original patron saint of the city and a martyr. One of the legends surrounding him is that he defeated a dragon (looking strangely like a crocodile here) with the aid of a cross. He was displaced when Saint Mark's remains were brought to Venice, since he was primarily associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Venice wanted to establish independence from Constantinople.
The National Archaeological Museum in Venice is a little museum with many curiosities. At one point, I even heard what sounded like Gregorian chanting and thought it was Easter Mass at the Basilica nearby, only to realize it was a recording in the next room! Still, my favorite parts of the collection were the stunning illuminated manuscripts, several of them in Armenian.
I have seen many, many disturbing artistic depictions of Leda and the Swan (Google if you dare), but this one definitely ranks up there.
Venezia is one of the best cities for simply wandering around. Every time you turn a corner, you see another beautiful thing.