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Venice in the Rain

Rio (a small canal) in Venice, Italy. Photo by Diana Dinverno

Given a choice while travelling, I might order a string of sunny, 70-degree days. In December, I would request a dusting of snow as long as it didn't disrupt transportation arrangements. If I had access to a weather menu, however, I would have missed the beauty of Venice in the rain.

On a trip to the city in early October, showers let up long enough to allow dry passage from the train station to the vaporetto stop, where we boarded a waterbus. We purchased a three-day pass, giving us unlimited access to hop from one area of the city to the next. Protected from the elements, we motored down the Grand Canal, lined with heart-thumping palaces, many built in the 14th through the 17th centuries.

Once we checked into our hotel near Campo Santo Stefano located in the San Marco district, we grabbed umbrellas, met up with friends on the Accademia Bridge, and set off to explore the opposite side of the Grand Canal.

View from the Accademia Bridge. Photo by Diana Dinverno

This is what you want to do in the city, no matter if it rains or not. Although the population is dwindling, people still reside in these charming, quiet neighborhoods, away from crowds that flock to St. Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge. We wandered into churches, businesses, and restaurants off the beaten path to get a feel for the living city, the one not catering exclusively to the tourist trade.

Santo Stefano. Photo by Diana Dinverno

Shop window near Campo Santo Stefano. Photo by Diana Dinverno

There are no motorized vehicles, and the city is compact, so we journeyed along calli (narrow streets), and kept our eyes open for unexpected pleasures.

An open window revealed a colorful glass chandelier. Photo by Diana Dinverno

Built on marshland as a strategy to avoid Roman invaders over twelve hundred years ago, Venice knows how to navigate in rain, even when it coincides with flooding (acqua alta) in its most visited gathering space, St. Mark’s Square.

When the water rose, well-orchestrated groups of Venetians snapped together elevated walkways along the calli and across the huge piazza, allowing us to arrive with dry feet at the city's major sights: St. Mark’s Basilica, the adjacent Doge's Palace, and the Correr Museum, located directly opposite the basilica. Once Royal Apartments, the Correr now houses the city's historical museum (we purchased our tickets for entry into the Palace at the Correr to save time). It was a pleasure to visit these places, steeped in history, on a rainy morning and afternoon.

View of the Piazzetta, the smaller square that doglegs from St. Mark's, after the water receded. Photo by Diana Dinverno

Accustomed to wading, locals wore tall rubber boots. We noticed a few tourists wearing disposable plastic boots. With persistent rain, damp or soaked shoes became an inevitability. In the evening, I stuffed my loafers with newspaper I found in the hotel lobby. By the next morning, my shoes were dry and ready for another day of exploration.

A leaden sky permitted me to see what I could have overlooked in the dazzle of a perfect, Italian day. Rain magnified the city's subtle colors. An overcast Venice focused my attention on the intrigue and drama of the city’s long political, religious, military, and artistic history. A steady drizzle was the perfect backdrop as I imagined this as a place of departure for crusades and exotic travel to the Far East. It also helped me conjure scenes of Casanova's escape from the Doge's prison.

View from the Bridge of Sighs. The bridge links the Doge's Palace with the prison. Photo by Diana Dinverno

Despite the rain, many visitors still wanted to take a spin in a gondola. We watched as some huddled beneath umbrellas in the sleek little vessels. The group below was lucky to catch a ride before a downpour.

Photo by Diana Dinverno

We opted for a covered vaporetto tour of the Grand Canal and the lagoon.

View of the Doge's Palace and the Campanile (bell tower) from the deck of a vaporetto. Photo by Diana Dinverno

Walking the narrow streets of the city provided the most arresting images. There are hundreds of bridges to cross, and plenty of calli and campi (squares) to explore.

A slick calle in Venice, Italy. Photo by Diana Dinverno

We dodged raindrops as we walked to the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, a must-see for its outstanding collection of sculpture, wood artwork, and paintings, including Titian's Madonna of Ca' Pesaro. Had it not been sprinkling, we might have bypassed the church for another visit to the island of Murano, to watch glassblowers, or to the island of Burano to purchase lace. Instead, the rain brought us to a Titian masterpiece.

Should you arrive in Venice in the rain, don't despair. You'll be surrounded by beauty.

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