Venice (pop. 80,000), on the northeast coast, is divided by 177 canals (crossed by 400 bridges). It presents a paradox: It's picturesque and romantic, but also dirty and relatively run down (and rather smelly in summer heat); the people can be downright rude and the prices of virtually everything smack of highway robbery. But despite its drawbacks, Venice shouldn't be missed - it is unique in the world. Everywhere you look in Venice is some archetypal romantic scene: a short bridge arched over the canal, a gondola, the moon off the water. Its winding, arrow streets can be eerily quiet and mysterious, particularly during a foggy night. With streets closed to cars, you can hear the laughter of children or the chatter in the piazzas from your window. There are times when we've felt that some fateful encounter must be just around the corner. Attractions include St Mark's Square and its 11th Century St Mark's Church with its radian gold altarpiece, the Doges' Palace (the courtyard is a wonderful setting for a concert), the Campanile and the Bridge of Sighs. Watch the activity on the Grad Canal and take a gondola ride (though they are especially expensive at night). The Baroque music for Sunday morning mass at Santa Maria Della Fava is played on an 19th century organ (note the church's altar pieces by Tiepolo and Piazzetta). this is the home town of Vivaldi; see his birthplace in the Campo Bandiera e Moro. The Galleria di Palazzo Cini houses the private art collection of Vittorio Cini, the wealthiest Venetian art collector of this century, including paintings from the Tuscan Renaissance and from the school of Ferrara. Beautiful architecture greets you almost everywhere; sidewalk cafes offer resting spots.. You ca also get around the city on the vaporetti (boats that serve as the city's transit system). They are cheap and fun to use. Shop for Venetian glass (or take a boat over to nearby Murano where most of it is made), explore churches and leave time to talk to the residents. The Lido area, across the Grand Canal from Venice, offers fine beaches, crystal factories and a good view of Venice. Two nights will be enough to see the highlights, but stay a little longer if you get caught up I the romance of the city.
Note: It may be difficult to obtain accommodations in Venice on the Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday of Carnival (in February or early March), on 1 May, Pentecost Day, Easter Sunday and Monday and the first weekend in September. If you can get a room, Carnival is one of the most fascinating times to visit Venice. Decked out in historical costumes, intriguing black masks and aristocratic capes, all Venice celebrates Carnival at balls or in the streets. If you don't mind the cold and possibility of fog, Venice can also be seen in the winter: it's easier on the nose, and there aren't as many tourists. 153 mi/242km east of Milan.