It there is one thing I enjoy more about visiting Venice is taking friends there for the first time.

After a week in Tuscany, our good friends, Barbara and Ken Kopald joined Jerry and I for three days in Venice.

European trains are so easy and economical. A great way to get around Italy. We caught a morning train out of C to Venice. A nice three hour trip and we arrived at the Venice train station. It is centrally located near the water taxis and public water transportation.

Venice with Vicki Payne
Ready for the train to Venice. Barbara and Ken Kopald and Jerry Donatelli.

Every time I see Venice it is like the first time. I am always amazed that a city this size and buildings this massive can be built on the water. The water canals are busy with tourist and commerce just like any city streets except here everything moves by foot or boat. You can easily walk to every location in Venice but it is much faster by water taxi.

Beautiful mahogany power boats are water taxis in Venice.
Beautiful mahogany power boats are water taxis in Venice. Photo by Vicky Payne.

The boats are beautiful mahogany open air vessels. You can help but feel like part of the rich and famous riding on the back of the boat cruising down the Grand Canal to your hotel.

We stayed at the Gritti Palace. It is in the heart of Venice (San Marco). Right on the Grand Canal and only minutes by foot from Musica a Palazzo and St. Mark’s Basilica.

St. Mark's Square
St. Mark’s Square. Photo by Vicki Payne.

On our first afternoon, we toured St. Mark’s Square and enjoyed wandering down little streets and over dozens of bridges. Pausing to take photos of iconic Gondolas that drift down the small canals while the gondolier serenade their passengers with beautiful Italian melodies. It’s a most do for first-timers. Expect to spend 80 Euros for a 40 minute daytime ride for two to six people and 100 Euros after 7pm.

I always like to have dinner the first night I’m in a new city at the hotel where we are staying. The outdoor dining room at the Gritti Palace has the most fantastic view in the city. Directly across the Canal from Santa Maria della Salute makes dining a remarkable experience.

Jerry and I shared the sea bass. Imagine our surprise when they presented us with the whole fish. It was huge. So grateful they did all the de-boning and serving. It was wonderful.

The entrance to the Jewish Ghetto in Venice.
The entrance to the Jewish Ghetto in Venice. Photo by Vicki Payne.

The next day we visited the Jewish Ghetto (Campo del Ghetto). It was made famous by Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. It is the oldest Jewish ghetto in Italy and home to five historic synagogues, the Jewish museum, a small Holocaust memorial and kosher restaurants and bakeries. The entrance is not well marked so look for an old wooden door way with Hebrew etched across the threshold.

We were up for some Hollywood Star treatment so we skipped the Gondola ride and chartered a boat. The cost was less than a group Canal Tour. The sleek wooden boat had plush leather, open-air seating and Maurizio, our private driver. We brought wine, he provided the ice bucket and we cruised the canals and islands for two wonderful hours.

The Grand Canal in Venice.
The Grand Canal in Venice. Photo by Vicki Payne.

Dinner that night was at the Monaco Grand Canal. There is a large abundance of fish dishes in Venice, due to their location on the Adriatic Sea. The preparation is simple. Seasoned with olive oil, vinegar, garlic and herbs.

If fish isn’t your choice there are plenty of delicious dishes of Gnocchi, Risotto and Bigoli, like spaghetti except slightly thicker and with a small hole in the middle. It is made from whole wheat flour.

The Acquolina Villa is a beautiful setting for cooking classes with Chef and owner Marika Contaldo Seguso.
The Acquolina Villa is a beautiful setting for cooking classes with Chef and owner Marika Contaldo Seguso. Photo by Vicky Payne.

Our third day in Venice was dedicated to a cooking class at Acquolina Villa with Chef and owner Marika Contaldo Seguso. This was the second time we have attended her class at her beautiful restored Villa on Lido Island. A short 20 minute ferry ride from our hotel.

The Spaghetti ai Frutti di Mare we cooked at the Acquolina cooking class.
The Spaghetti ai Frutti di Mare we cooked at the Acquolina cooking class. Photo by Vicki Payne.

Of course, being in Venice we choose Marika’s Fish, Fish, Fish class. We cooked Octopus and artichokes, Spaghetti ai Frutti di Mare with baby clams, mussels, shrimp and scampi, baked Branzino Mediterranean style with olives, capers, tomatoes, potatoes and fresh herbs.

After an afternoon of cooking and laughs we set down to enjoy the delicious meal we had prepared paired it with Champagne and wine.

Musician warming up for dueling cafes in St. Mark’s Square.
Musician warming up for dueling cafes in St. Mark’s Square. Photo by Vicki Payne.

No visit would be complete without a dance with your sweetheart in St. Mark’s Square after sundown. The dueling café orchestras play lively waltzes throughout the square. If you want to sit down and have a cocktail or espresso it can be pricy but you can listen, dance and fall in love for free.