Venice was great to see after 18 years. Admittedly, I (all of us really) was disappointed by the crowds and the heat, and then rain, but setting that aside, I feel like I really soaked it in. The architecture is just amazing, especially combined with the water ways and boating way of life. One truly feels like they are in a different time.
My favorite part of the trip was simply standing on the 2nd floor balcony of the Basilica di San Marco and looking out at the water. It was a beautiful sunny day, whitecaps on the water, and an idyllic view. I could imagine what it was like hundreds of years ago, and feel it would only have been visibly different if you were to look extra close to see today's boats had motors. I likely could have stood there for hours.
Speaking of the Basilica, this was one of the unexpected surprises for me. I hadn't gone with an overwhelming desire to see it, but now that I have, I'm pretty stunned. The ceilings are simply unreal (massive gold and painted mosaics), and the vast bulk of the building is marble. To think of how this was built is unreal. Combine that with the stories of all the things stolen by the Venetians and brought here, the mystery of whether bodies are truly buried there or not ("you either believe or not", since the Pope's seal is on the items and thus they can never be examined), and the history, and this was a fascinating visit.
We visited the La Biennale exhibits, although had to cut it short due to Xander not feeling well. But we did see Shiota's "The Key in the Hand" (http://2015.veneziabiennale-japanpavilion.jp/en/) exhibit at the Japanese pavilion, which was the absolute highlight for us. I had seen pictures, but one does not understand from those that this is an exhibit that consumes the entire pavilion and it looks considerably different in person.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection was the other major art exhibit we went to. It was particularly cool to see works from Picasso, Chagall, and many others, as well as the vast collection of Jackson Pollock, and in particular the "Alchemy" which they had restored. They had an entire portion of the exhibit dedicated to this restoration, given what all was involved in doing so. All the different paints used required different techniques, dust extractions, and they also used it to study technique and paint decomposition, etc. And, on a lighter note, there was this one piece of art that was really excited to be at the exhibit...
Some other highlights included a traghetto ride, which is simply the old school way to cross the canal via gondola (and a small fee :), eating a Venetian specialty of cuttlefish made with black squid ink, lots of great gelato and coffee, and feeding the very friendly pigeons (who would happily sit on your arm/hand and nibble out of your hand). I also really enjoyed Diana and my little escape to the rooftop terrace/bar one evening, where we had a drink and enjoyed each others company with a fantastic view.
Last, but not least, we also made it to Murano, and toured the Vetreria Bisanzio glass factory. We are forever in debt to my co-worker at HotelTonight who connected us with a Venetian friend of his, who helped us with many things, including sending us to Bisanzio, and getting us a locals discount. Let's just say this was a discount so significant, that I actually feel bad about it. Although on the other hand it allowed us to buy two large pieces (and some additional glasses). His passion for Venezia was clear, and I hope to someday return the favor if he visits the US. The other cool part of this factory tour was Venice and Xander getting to actually blow glass! We'd watched one of their maestros blow a drinking glass, then a horse (pretty amazing, especially how quickly he did it), and then he had them blow glass to try it out.
A great trip, and we all want to go back again soon, especially when less crowded and less hot. We've even talked about going again during this European trip, but we have a lot of other places we'd like to see too.