The sun was setting over the lagoon in Venice and the gold-trimmed black gondola I was riding in glided into a darkening canal as gently as a leaf spinning on a pond. As the gondolier guided his craft alongside candlelit waterfront restaurants and under ancient bridges, I could see the inquiring glances that came my way.
She’s all alone in the City of Love – is she a rich widow? Is she an Instagrammer? Or is she some kind of weirdo? Nope, none of the above. What started as a romantic four-day stay in Venice had turned into a bit of a solo trip – unfortunate, but not tragic, and with a happy ending.
In the Right Place at the Wrong Time
We arrived by train from Paris to what we hoped would be a romantic and art-filled vacation in Venice. Our hotel, the Palazzo Morosini degli Spezieri, was a quick walk from the Santa Lucia Railway station and centrally located in the quiet district of San Polo.
To see more photos from Venice, visit our Solo et Duo Venice Photo Gallery
The palazzo is a 15th-century palace that underwent a four-year restoration in 2012 to transform it into a thoroughly modern family-friendly set of luxury apartments. Our one-bedroom unit had a small outdoor patio and access to the lush green garden space next door. The European style kitchen was complete with every utensil and appliance we could want, plus a dishwasher. The newest in Italian lighting designs hung from ancient beams while an electronic touchpad near the door controlled the lights, music and temperature. There was fast, free Wi-Fi, the better to keep up with sports scores and the news from home. The local grocery store was a five-minute walk from the palazzo, the Majer Bakery on the corner offered delivery and so did the excellent Taverna da Baffo next door. We were staying at the perfect place in case of an injury, although we didn’t know it yet.
Lion Spotting in Venice
The Palazzo Morosini is a ten-minute walk from the Rialto Bridge and seven more minutes by foot to St. Mark’s Square, so we headed that way first. St. Mark’s Square is beautiful at any time of day. The sculptures of youth and age have been striking the bell on the clock tower every hour on the hour since the 15th century. Just below them is the symbol of Venice, the winged Lion of St. Mark, with its paw on a Bible. If you have the kids along, they can enjoy “lion spotting” all over the city. One place to spot them is at the top of St. Mark’s Campanile, the 98.6-meter-high bell tower. It opens every day at 9 a.m., and 8 Euros buys you an elevator ride and a breathtaking view of the city.
Inside St. Mark’s Basilica, 8000 sq. m. of shimmering gold, red and blue Byzantine mosaics reflect the sun’s rays deep into the shadows of the nave. To get a closer look at the ceilings, visit the recently opened church museum on the second floor. Then step out on the balcony beside the replicas of the four famous bronze horses, called the Quadriga Domini, high above the square. The original horses are on display at the museum to protect them from the elements.
The Art-Full Doge’s Palace
The Doge’s Palace, with its delicate Gothic arches, sits just to the east of the Basilica, on the edge of the lagoon. There’s no better way to get a sense of the wealth and power that Venice once commanded than to walk through these elaborately decorated rooms. The palace was used as a residence for the Doge (the head of the local council), as a meeting place for officials, and a prison. Timed entry tickets include all these areas, including the famous Bridge of Sighs that prisoners crossed on their way to a grisly fate. There are also two “secret” tours that you can book in advance on their website, Palazzo Ducale.
Making a loop, we headed back over the Rialto Bridge, the oldest and most photographed bridge of the four that cross the Grand Canal. It was as we arrived back at the apartment that I heard those words you hate to hear on a couples trip: “Go on without me”. A slipped disc was acting up, aggravated by all the walking. But it could have been worse – the modern four-poster beds at the Palazzo Morosini are incredibly comfy.
Solo in Venice
Trying not to feel guilty, I charted a course to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Happily, offline Google maps work very well everywhere in Venice. The gallery is laid out on a single floor surrounding the sculpture garden. Guggenheim’s personal collection of major works by masters of Cubism, Surrealism, American Abstract Expressionism and avant-garde sculpture are entirely at home in the light-filled interior. Touchingly, a few original pieces of furniture remain, so it’s easy to imagine her sitting around a table with the likes of Max Ernst, Duchamp, Chagall or Gore Vidal. The white walls of this unusual house and gallery were a refreshing aperitivo after the heavy cabernet of renaissance art I’d been drinking in. Now it was time for some authentic Venetian dining.
How and Where to Eat in Venice
I made my way to the Campo San Toma to meet my guide Roberta from Walks of Italy and indulge in the Venetian custom of cicchetti before a late-night dinner. Cicchetti are a lot like tapas (or small plates), and they’re usually nibbled standing up, accompanied by a glass of prosecco, wine or a Spritz (prosecco, Aperol liqueur and soda water). You can generally spot a good osteria by the number of people spilling out on to the sidewalk around sunset, chatting to friends with their hands full.
Some typical Venetian small plates are baccala (dried codfish, simmered in milk with onions and anchovies), artichokes, sardines and polenta. I particularly liked the vibe at Osteria Al Pugni and the baccala at Basego. All the while Roberta was filling me in on the history of Venice and the palazzos. Before 1834, Venice was made up of many small islands, each one with its own church and several palaces. Merchants tried to outdo each other in sponsorship, leaving us with 139 glorious churches and over 200 opulent palazzos to admire. After our last toast, “cin-cin”, I was off on my solitary gondola ride. Truth be told, even solo, I enjoyed it very much.