Thursday in Venice came close to being the perfect day. It was beautiful out, no rain, and what’s more, it was actually warm – into the mid- and even upper-fifties, which is what we had been expecting, as opposed to the high forties and maybe cracking fifty in the late afternoon. Even so, of course I was still wearing the full complement of layers, but now I was actually comfortable as opposed to just above freezing.

And what a difference the sun makes! We had a marvelous day, walking until our legs were exhausted, then either hopping on a vaperetto to a different part of the city or taking a break to replenish calories before setting out again.

We started out by taking the vaporetto up and around the other main canal, which is far bigger and more industrial than the Grand Canal. It afforded us a behind the scenes view of how a city on water functions, with boats specialized for almost every function you can imagine: trash, construction materials, sewage, cranes, etc. Later on, we even saw a boat with two cement mixers on it! The technical operating procedures of running this city are one of its more fascinating aspects.

Eventually, we made our way up to what had been our destination the day before: the Jewish ghetto. This is one of the oldest ghettos in the world, and in fact was where the name ghetto was coined. Like all Jewish areas in Europe, this one had an air of sadness about it, not least due to the plaque in the main square apologizing for deporting the Jewish citizens of Venice twice during World War II. Seeing the gates where they locked the Jews in at night was also difficult, and made us both glad to be living in this era rather than an earlier one.

It was a beautiful area though, and quite different from that immediately surrounding San Marco, where we are staying. Hardly a tourist was to be found, and once you got off the main streets, there was almost no one around. The streets were wider and the buildings slightly newer, with long, straight promenades running along the canals in between.

Our first refreshment break of the day was coffee and a marmalade-filled croissant at a small café along one of the main avenues in the area. It was even warm enough (a relative term) to sit outside, so we sat watching the ladies with their shopping carts and the men selling fish at the market stalls that ran the length of the street.

We were at the northern edge of the island by now, and when we emerged at one point to look out over the lagoon, we were startled to see snowy mountains in the far distance. We soon realized that these were in fact the Alps, and we were looking at Switzerland. What a strange concept.

The beauty of the lagoon itself on this clear day was breathtaking, so instead of walking some more, we hopped on another vaporetto to take us to the promenade that runs along the north part of the island. The main attraction here is the hospital, which is massive and very modern, serviced by speedy ambulance boats that threw up giant rooster tails of water in their haste. It was also conveniently located across the canal from the cemetery island, St. Michele, and surrounded by florists and gravestone shops. One stop shopping, if you will.

At this point it was nearing midday, so we decided to turn back for home and eat lunch. As we did so, we stumbled across a bookstore (supposedly the most beautiful in Venice, according to a sign outside) that had stacks of old books and magazines piled ceiling-high in its tiny rooms – every single one of which were piled into old boats.

There was an entire gondola in the middle of the main room, filled with books; and the other room had rowboats and bathtubs to contain its kid’s books, comics, and fiction. The reason for this containment system became clear when you emerged into the second room to see the canal butting straight up onto the back door of the book store, so presumably when the high water comes, they want the books to be safe. It was hilarious.

So we came home for lunch, but because it was still beautiful outside, we wasted no time in going back out again. This time we ventured to the south side of the city, near where the Guggenheim museum is located. Our friend that we’d seen the day before had called it the Riviera of Venice, and sure enough, the long promenade there was surrounded by cute, brightly colored buildings and small cafes looking out over the southern canal.

All this was oddly juxtaposed by the gigantic cruise ship that had pulled in at the end of the island sometime after we’d gone by it that morning. It dominated the skyline, and was very incongruous compared to the small old buildings of the old town. No wonder there’s so many tourists around.

By the time we were walking down this southern promenade, it was actually quite warm, and we gladly stripped off a few layers and put on our sunglasses. We even decided that this was the day for a gelato, since every other day had been too cold to even consider it. So we found a small square with a church in the middle and bought our gelato at a nice, sleek-looking gelateria nearby. Instead of using the usual tubs to display their wares, this place had them in covered stainless steel containers, which made it look all the more enticing and fancy. We took our pear and lemon combination to the middle of the square, where we sat in the sun, looking out over the small canal and the church, listening to the American tourists arguing over their map and the Italian people living out their lives.

Continuing on, we explored the southern half of the island, which (not surprisingly) had many lovely galleries loosely centered on the Guggenheim. Our stroll took us back to the Riviera-like promenade just in time for sunset, which we could actually see for a change, and we celebrated that fact by having a drink at a small hotel that had a seating area right on the canal. What a perfect moment.

The day ended with a lovely dinner eaten with our family friend. The restaurant that her hotel had recommended was booked for a private party, but we found one nearby that was just as good. The food was excellent, the company superb, and the crowning glory of the evening – and perhaps the whole trip – was when the owner of the restaurant picked up his guitar and started singing loud, rousing Italian songs that had half the patrons singing along. He serenaded the beautiful blond girl at the table across from ours with a song that Gabe translated as “The Blonde Devil,” and sang duets with the two large Italian guys sitting at his table. They sat back down to loud applause and proceeded to eat their pasta – as our friend remarked, now that is singing for your meal!

We returned home at a reasonable hour, and we were glad that we did so, since it started raining again halfway through our walk. So ended another full and fantastic day, and even if it was the only truly clear and sunny day of our trip, at least we had that.

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