I arrived in Venice just in time for the first rain in several months, according to my host. Sure enough, as soon as I finished lugging my suitcase up to the fourth floor apartment (Venetian buildings don't have lifts), there was a clap of thunder followed by screams from outside - presumably from tourists caught unaware. By the time I had showered, changed and mapped out a plan to find a place to eat dinner, the rain had let up and only a brisk wind remained. But after the sweltering heat of central and southern Italy, I welcomed it. The storm made the pavement slick and ridden with puddles, but it also cleared the sky, leaving behind streaks of clouds that made it look like an Impressionist painting.
My tour guide, a Venetian local, likened her hometown to living "in a museum." The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site that runs on tourism, meaning that residents must comply by keeping up traditional appearances. Despite Venice's myriad museums and churches, the only major sites I visited were St. Mark's, the bell tower and the Grand Canal via boat tour because, as Rick Steves' aptly put it, the best site is the city itself.
Even with a map I found it tricky to navigate so I spent a good part of my stay wandering aimlessly, reassured by the fact that I could never get too lost on an island. My apartment was about a 25 minute walk to St. Mark's, a trip I made many times, but because all the "streets" look vaguely identical it meant that each time my route was slightly different. And while the high cost of living has led to a considerable exodus of locals within recent decades, the upshot for visitors is that it means the streets are quite safe, even after dark.
Shopping in Venice was a treat, thanks to all the specialized artisan shops. Venetian specialties include elaborate Carnevale masks, prints and paper goods, but there are also outlets for lace and handblown glass from the nearby islands of Burano and Murano respectively. But perhaps the most surprising (and random) Venetian tradition I partook in was attending a lively performance by Interpreti Veneziani at Chiesa San Vidal. I'm not generally a huge Vivaldi fan, but when most bars are closed Sunday night it's a fun diversion.