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Earlier this year, I traveled to Venice, Italy, which had long been on my list of literary must-sees. Dozens of writers from the past (Henry James, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens) and present (Donna Leon, John Behrendt) have visited and written about this unique and magical city. Precisely because I’d read so much about it, I was afraid that it would not live up to my expectations, but I’m happy to say I was not disappointed. My husband and I were there in May, the shoulder season, when the weather was perfect and the crowds minimal.
During our three day trip, we managed to squeeze in some wonderful literary experiences, including sampling the literary cafes of St. Mark’s square, where we capped off each day’s sightseeing by having a glass of champagne and listening to live orchestra music . We were hard-pressed to choose a favorite between Caffe Florian (right), which first opened its doors in 1720 and was a favorite of lothario Giacomo Casanova, and its rival across the square, the Gran Caffe Quadri. The latter was frequented by Henry James, who regularly lunched there and declared that “in the Piazza, the best place is the Caffe Quadri.”
One my favorite experiences on the trip was the Doges Palace Secret Itinerary Tour, which takes you to the cell where Casanova was incarcerated and traces the escape route he took through the palace and later wrote about in his autobiography, History of My Life. After the tour, we wandered down the waterfront street Riva degli Schiavoni, where Henry James had rooms while writing Portrait of a Lady. “The wondrous lagoon spread before me and the ceaseless human chatter of Venice came in at my windows,” he wrote of the view from his room on the fourth floor of the Pensione Wildner. –Joni Rendon
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