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Love Letter to Venice

No matter how many times you've been to Venice, its beauty never fades. JS correspondent Laura Itzkowitz rediscovers her love for the city's centuries-old art, architecture, and of course, pasta.

The first time I visited Venice, I was a 20-year-old study abroad student on vacation with my family. I was used to being on my own and frustrated by my parents’ annoying travel habits, like rushing through meals rather than taking the time to enjoy them or hurrying through historic landmarks just for the sake of checking them off a list.

One balmy afternoon, after they had lined up among hordes of fellow tourists sporting fanny packs to quickly eye Doge’s Palace, I told them enough was enough and struck out on my own. An avid lover of modern art, I navigated my way through the winding streets and canals with a single mission: visiting the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. It was the first time in a week I was alone. Finally, I was able to linger over the art at my own pace, and I let my eyes drink in the collection of paintings by Picasso, Braque, Magritte, Dalí, Miró, and feasted on a room—a whole room!—full of enigmatic splatter paintings by Jackson Pollock. Afterward, I sat outside on the terrace overlooking the Grand Canal and breathed in the fresh air, watching gondolas and ferries pass by. Sitting there, observing, unhurried, I felt I was finally beginning to understand the Venetian way of life.

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Henry Moore at the Peggy Guggenheim Venice, Courtesy of Pedro Ribeiro Simoes

Nine years after that visit, I found myself back in Venice. My life had changed so much in the past decade—I’d returned for a romantic weekend with a new love interest, Marco—but the city hadn’t aged a day. That is the beauty of Venice: it might be slowly sinking, but for now, at least, everything remains as it has for centuries—the Grand Canal and its parade of gondolas, ferries, and water taxis, the colorful Renaissance palazzos with their gothic arches, the Doge’s Palace, and the (albeit newer) Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I realized I had a second chance to do and see what I missed in my early 20s.

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First on my itinerary: booking a room at the Gritti Palace, a hotel I’d been dreaming about since I’d read that Stanley Tucci wanted to live there for a year. The Gritti is perhaps the most famous of Venice’s Renaissance palace hotels, a piece of living history much like Venice itself.

Over the years, the former 15th-century home of Duke Andrea Gritti has become a magnet for writers, movie stars, and eccentric creative types including Peggy Guggenheim herself. The entrance on Piazza Santa Maria del Giglio may be unassuming, but as soon as you cross the threshold, you’ll be overcome by the glamour—the marble floors underfoot, the heavily tasseled keys hanging on hooks behind the concierge’s desk, the bouquet of fresh flowers perfuming the lobby. Upstairs, I discovered my little moss-green jewel box of a room adorned with gold-framed paintings and a Murano glass chandelier, not to mention luxurious Aqua di Parma bath products perfect for freshening up before dinner.

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Photos courtesy of The Gritti Palace

In the evening, Marco and I ventured out to Antiche Carampane, a casual trattoria in the San Polo neighborhood with a cult local following. The waitress recommended the spaghetti alle vongole dressed up with a touch of pesto and fried soft-shell crabs (a delicacy when they’re in season). By the time we drank the last sips of our Ribolla Gialla (a white wine produced in the neighboring region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia), it was nearing midnight and the city was silent and still. The Rialto Market, usually humming with vendors selling fresh produce, fish, and cheese, was a collection of empty wooden stalls. We continued walking hand-in-hand through the barely lit streets, passing by closed-up shops with Venetian masks lining the windows. “It’s like a film set,” Marco said.

The following morning, after a breakfast of fresh fruit and pastries on Gritti’s terrace, we boarded the hotel’s cushy Riva yacht for a jaunt around the lagoon. Our skipper—also named Marco, a born-and-bred Venetian—regaled us with tales of the island’s rich history and recent past as the boat sped past Piazza San Marco and away from the historic center. (Apparently, George Clooney’s weekend wedding made getting around very difficult.) We rode past small islands overgrown with trees and circled an abandoned medieval fort as our boat snaked around the lagoon toward Murano—famous for handblown glass-making—and Burano, an isle full of brightly colored houses where Venetians still live.

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Following a decadent two-hour lunch at Ristorante Canova, the beautiful restaurant inside the Baglioni Hotel Luna, we wove our way through the hordes of tourists crowding Piazza San Marco towards the Doge’s Palace—still there in all its glory, its elaborate pink-and-white marble structure protecting murals by Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese inside. This time I would take my time. As we explored the grand halls, immense courtyard, and stone prison, I was comforted by the knowledge that 10, 20, 30 years from now this centuries-old treasure, along with the Guggenheim Collection, Gritti Palace, and Grand Canal, will still be there for me to come back to no matter how much my life might change between now and then.

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