What to do on a rainy day in Venice? Everything.
Of course I’d arrive in Venice during a rainy week, leaving behind 25+ degree temperatures in Berlin.
And of course I’d catch a cold on the very first day — the sole sunny day — making it impossible for me to enjoy my surroundings.
That’s a lie. None of that mattered.
I’m a cynic; I’m no fan of overladen tourist traps. And that’s why Venice leaves me with great conflict in my heart. Because despite me being a bitter ‘ol ninny who doesn’t particularly love people, Venice has the mystique of a unicorn and the grace of a swan. She’s perfect.
A rainy day will at least force you to tear yourself away from aimlessly wandering the canals. It’s worth it.
Libreria Acqua Alta
A random girl in my hostel recommended I “go check out the crazy secondhand bookstore.” Naturally, my ears perked. I was wary, considering my experience in Porto. Bewilderingly, none of the guides I read about Venice recommended this whack-job bookstore.
From the street, it looks like any other tourist shop spilling postcards and crap onto the sidewalk. Inside is a different story. Libreria Acqua Alta is unapologetically chaotic.
Once you move past the souvenirs at the front, you’ll find a gondola stocked with books from all languages. There’s an erotica section (complete with covers of 3D breasts), and a bathtub filled with old texts. I picked up an antique booked marked at a couple hundred euros among the regularly priced Danielle Steele novels. A black cat crawled among the shelves.
Through the back, I found a small garden with a staircase made from old books. They were soggy and beyond salvation; they made my heart skip a mournful beat.
My favourite was the “fire exit.”
I picked up a few postcards and headed to the cash.
“Watch out for the men in Italy,” the grizzled cashier warned. “Especially in Venezia. They think they’re Casanovas, all of them.”
I laughed. Then he said, “If you were a flower, you’d be a rose.”
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum
I had no idea such a collection of contemporary art existed in Venice until a few Twitter followers told me to check it out.
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum was a highlight on my trip. Mrs. Guggenheim was born into the wealthy New York Guggenheim family, and became well known for being a patron of contemporary arts. Most of her collection is housed in her palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal.
You’ll find works here by Dali, Picasso, Chagall, Pollock, and more. There are few things more thrilling than turning a corner and finding yourself in a giant room alone with a Pollock.
Mrs. Guggenheim was a character. She loved her artists dearly (and she even married one). I don’t pretend to know much about contemporary art, but here I discovered Rene Magritte — I could have stared at La Voix des airs all day.
You can visit Mrs. Guggenheim’s grave, tucked into the garden, next to a grave of her dogs: “Here Lie My Beloved Babies.” (And if that doesn’t make you love the woman, nothing will.)
There’s currently an exhibit on New Imagery in Italian Arts. Despite all the big names in the main gallery, this was my favourite part of the museum. It houses artwork from the 60s, a lot of it taking place in the United States, and a good deal of it involves media mixing. I loved everything by Gnoli. Schifano’s combination of paint and sand made me unreasonably giddy.
Now, I realise contemporary art isn’t for everyone. Even I don’t LOVE it. But 15 EUR to see Picasso and Pollock, uninterrupted? Priceless.
The Doge’s Palace
The Doge’s Palace is that giant-ass building occupying most of Piazza San Marco. It’s basically one big museum complex. On any given day there’s a kilometre-long queue of people directly outside of it, which is just one of the reasons why I didn’t go in.
So why am I writing about this? Well, just about everybody and their dog loves this place. Judging by the Venetian architecture and artwork I’ve seen elsewhere in Venice, this won’t be a disappointment. Friends at the hostel raved about the “secrets” tour, but by the time I got around to looking at booking options, everything was sold out until the end of the NEXT MONTH. Even the regular tours. And I don’t see the point of strolling aimlessly around a pretty building without actually knowing what I’m looking at.
It’s a crazy fascinating place: covered in artwork by the masters (Tintoretto, Veronese, etc.), next to the Bride of Sighs, adorned with ornate staircases. If you decide to go without advanced tickets, show up FIRST THING in the morning.
Grab a spritz and then another spritz and then a full pizza
I used a few local suggestions and my trusty ‘ol Foursquare app to find fresh pasta and gelato suggestions for Venice, but I didn’t go too far outside the tourist zone, so if you’re a hardcore foodie you might not wanna take my food recommendations too seriously.
I had decent pizza at RossoPomodoro and really good fresh pasta to go at Dal Moro’s (brilliant concept — like a take-away, but with pasta dishes in cardboard cartons). At Ca d’Oro I had ricotta gelato with honey and sesame. There was also gelato at a place called Nico’s on the Grand Canal, and it basically changed my life.
But mostly I just liked ordering a spritz (prosecco wine with bitter liqueur, Aperol being the most popular) and sitting near the window watching people go by. It’s kinda the thing to do.
Screw it, just take the tour
Put on a poncho, grab an umbrella and hit the streets anyway. You’re not made of sugar and you’re not gonna melt, but everyone else seems to think they will. You’ll find many streets nearly deserted, and the little bit of breathing room after all that tourist chaos is a welcomed change.
Plus it’s impossible for Venice not to be beautiful. The clouds even kinda make it prettier; the turquoise lagoon stands out against the greys. I did a boat tour with Walks of Italy which ended with a trip to the top of the basilica tower on San Giorgio Maggiore, and the views were something out of a painting. It was hard for me to fathom the realness of the place, truly. Venice is that stunning.