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Venice - Italy

Venice St Mark's Square, VeniceSt Mark's Basilica, VeniceBasilica San Giorgio Maggiore, VeniceSanta Maria della Salute, VeniceGondalas, VeniceStorm over Venice LagoonGrand Canal, Venice

If there's one city you could fall in love with, it's definitely Venice. A city like no other, many days can be spent exploring Venice's labyrinth of streets, some following canals, crossing over elegant bridges or just disappearing into the waters. Every corner leads you onto a quaint canal, a narrow street or opens out unexpectedly onto a large square, perhaps with a lovely white marble church. Navigating the city is impossible, with signs often pointing to one place in two directions at once, but that really doesn't matter. Venice's true charm lies in these hidden alleyways, some barely wide enough to walk down and getting lost is all part of the experience.

Every part of the city is fantastic, from the huge palaces facing the Grand Canal to the simple houses hidden in the network of alleyways. Venice still retains the glory and majesty of it's golden age, but it's fading now, eroded by the high tides that threaten the islands. This just adds to it all though. The upper floor of a building can be shining and painted with elegantly carved balconies, whilst the lower floor is faded and crumbling showing the bare bricks with the once grand entranceway covered in moss and seaweed with water lapping away at the steps.

Venice can be extremely busy, but in a city of this size it is easy to lose the crowds. Crossing the Grand Canal is the only place where it is unavoidable, but the view from the Rialto Bridge more than makes up for it. The view down the canal has to be seen to be believed, with the many street cafes and palaces facing the water, filled with gondolas, delivery boats and the vaporetti water buses. This is as busy as the city gets - there's no traffic noise that plagues most Italian cities, and once in the back streets there is no sound but the lapping of water on stone.

Throughout the winding streets there are many cute gift shops filled with carnival masks and elaborate glassware, interspersed with wonderful ice cream shops and food vendors. It's pleasant to while away an hour or so at a street cafe in one of the city's squares, watching the world go by.

There's really only one tourist attraction in Venice besides the city itself, and that's the incredible St. Mark's Square. This is huge and surrounded by porticoes as well as the massive domed cathedral. A couple of the cafes here have musicians playing, which adds a lovely atmosphere to the plaza. The bell tower gives wonderful views of the entire city crammed onto the islands, although it's impossible to see the network of canals that travel through the city. Most impressive is the church of St. Giorgio Maggiore which seems to float on it's own little island with the plaza out front looking like a large wave could break right over it. Further out is the Lido, the narrow strip of land which separates the turquoise of the Venetian Lagoon from the darker blue sea.

A boat trip along the Grand Canal is worthwhile. Taking the boat is slower than walking, but offers impressive views of the decaying but still majestic palaces that open out onto the city's main waterway. The same boat buses continue out to some of the other islands as well as the Lido and give another view of the city perched on the water and shining in the sun. While we were out here a huge thunderstorm hit the city, making the sky dark and foreboding and the water a very light turquoise so that everything seemed almost upside down. Venice loses none of its charm in bad weather, although the sun does add an extra sparkle.

Venice is truly a magical city, especially in the maze of streets and canals, with gondolas passing under the many graceful bridges. There's always something new and surprising around the next corner, be it a hidden church or a stained and fading house. Just one corner away from the busiest street can be the most serene and calm street, in this unique city.

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