My heart started to beat a little faster when I heard the pilot announce it would be 20 minutes before landing at the Marco Polo Airport. 10 years prior I had studied this region when I was a gondolier at the Venetian in Las Vegas. We used to pretend we were from Italy and were familiar with St. Mark’s Square.  Now, for the first time I get to experience it, feel it and live it. For many years I told people I would one day go to Italy, and now, that day was finally here.

Looking down while landing from my window seat, I could see lots of water, farms and familiar structures I studied. Once I landed, my good friend, Scott, greeted me with a big smile. He had recently moved to Vicenza from Hawaii and had many exciting adventures planned. It was late March and there was a little coolness in the air and a slight, misty haze that lingered.

Being an Italian food lover, I couldn’t wait to sample the cuisine. The first stop was a little trattoria along the Rio Miran canal. I had rigatoni with Bolognese. It was cooked perfectly al dente and oh so meaty. I started with the primi (first course) and passed on the secondo (meat course, or second course) for my premiere meal in Italy. The evening was so pleasant dining in the street along the water.

We settled into our Airbnb for the evening early, so we could prepare for the next day’s journey.  We woke early while the merchants were beginning to prepare for their busy day. The shop windows were filled with ornate masks, trinkets, clothing and beautiful glass ware made from Murano which we were to visit the next day. We walked through narrow passageways and courtyards to the heart of Saint Mark’s Square.

Ah, what a sight. I saw the real gondoliers taking off the tarps of their gondolas, sipping their morning espresso, chatting away with each other. I approached them and explained how I was once a gondolier in Las Vegas. This is a predominantly masculine controlled occupation and they did not seem impressed with what I was sharing with them. I smiled with a sense of understanding and underlying pride. I turned around to see the actual Doge’s Palace. How brilliantly beautiful. Attached is the famous bridge of sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) where convicts could look out the tiny windows and sigh at their last sight of the beautiful Venice.

The Byzantine and Islamic influence on Venice has left breathtakingly unique architecture. St. Mark’s Basilica also has a touch of Greek design. The Rialto Bridge (Ponte Rialto) is the oldest of four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. The Campanile Tower has so much history and the Torre dell’Orologio created from the Renaissance era completes Venice is a vast and intriguing culture. I hope you get the chance to experience this eclectic, timeless gem. Venice is truly a sweet spot.

By Kelly Vohnn
OTL Magazine

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