San Marco’s monumental magnificence aside, it was a relief to escape its relentless crowds and persistent fake bag vendors. My second hotel, the Al Ponte Mocenigo in the sestiere Santa Croce was far enough away from the touristy center to feel local, while being close enough to the Stan Stae vaporetto stop to remain connected.
In my four full days there – not including the day-trip to Bologna – I discovered the pleasure of unplanned exploration. Of picking one random activity each morning and letting my day evolve naturally thereafter depending upon my mood. And the weather of course.
For a person that micro manages every minute travel detail, it felt vastly liberating. And surprisingly, I managed to fit in a lot despite all the aimless wandering and quite a bit of backtracking, that would never have taken place on one of my super organised trips.
The highlights in no particular order were: A long afternoon on the island of Torcello, losing count of the number of exquisite Bellinis, Tintorettos, Canalettos and more (still in the churches they were originally commissioned for.), the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari with its glorious Titians and mausoleums, attending a performance of Madame Butterfly in the fabulous Teatro la Fenice, browsing through the Rialto markets, learning the difference between piazza (the one & only!) piazzetta and campo from a total stranger on the vaporetto, hanging around parochial campos (squares) at dusk to people watch.
The silence! The hushed, whispering, strangely comforting silence on the walk back after dinner save for the occasional splash of an oar or the bells from a nearby campanile.
And most of all, swapping my map for random yellow signs on the walls of narrow, mysterious alleys steeped in rich and ancient history. Getting lost in this most clichéd of cities was a cliché worth exploring.