Finding Hidden Gems in Murano, the Glass Island of Venice
Ever since my sixth grade role as the Duchess of Plaza Toro in The Gondoliers, I fell in love with the romantic idea of Venice. I imagined jaunty men in “Where’s Waldo” striped t-shirts and beige boater hats guiding me down the winding Venetian canals, extravagant palaces housed by dukes and duchesses who dip biscotti in their caffè and sip limoncello before bed, and hole-in-the-wall craft stores, filled with carnival masks and freshly blown glass, each unique from the next.
So, a mere five days into my Florence summer exchange, when the majority of my classmates slept in and hopped the afternoon train to Viareggio to bathe under the Tuscan sun, I jumped the earliest five a.m. bullet train to Venice. Upon exiting the station, my legs were still wobbly from the impressive speed of the Eurail train. Paired with the combination of triple espresso and some form of Nutella-filled delight, I was barely able to contain my excitement. I boarded the Vaporetto (Venetian water taxi), prepared to marvel at the carnivalesque city I had waited ten years to see.
I needed a quick getaway from it all: the inauthenticity, the claustrophobia, the blazing sun, the uneasy gaze of the gondoliers.
Perhaps there was a chip in my rose-coloured glasses, but from the moment I arrived in Piazza San Marco, I was overcome by disillusionment. Thousands of umbrella-wielding tourists melted together in the excruciating June heat. The narrow streets leading up to the square were lined with shops towering so high I felt like a lab rat stuck in a maze. Though, instead of cheese, my prize was an overpriced piece of cold pizza, sold by one of the many inauthentic tourist trap pizzerias that bordered the square. Every supposed “craft shop”—equally inauthentic—had the same five masks and imitation blown glass vases and miniatures.
I could barely breathe. I needed a quick getaway from it all: the inauthenticity, the claustrophobia, the blazing sun, the uneasy gaze of the gondoliers. Just beyond the Palazzo Ducale was another Vaporetto, this one labeled “Murano.” I threw my fate into the stale wind and boarded the boat.
Arriving in Murano, the aromantic vibes of Venice were replaced by a romantic seaside town. I had found my paradise. A little river split the town into two rows of cute houses and artisanal shops. I followed the path from the shore to the Murano glass museum, popping in and out of each little family-owned blown glass shop on the way. Each shop had its own hidden gems that set it apart from the others; one favoured a rainbow of glass perfume bottles, another endless bowls of beads, another every animal in the Bioparco zoo, and so on.
As I reached the end of the quiet storefronts, I came to a shop the size of a closet. Inside, a man sat by a machine, blowing his own glass. Sparks flew in every which direction. I marveled at the process, asking him questions in Italian as language practice. After handing me a little penguin as a token of my appreciation, he directed me to the one open restaurant as it was nearing six o’clock and I had to eat dinner before boarding my train home. As no Italians eat before 8:30 p.m., I had the ristorante all to myself. I sat at a quaint checkered table by the Rio dei Vetrai, and before having a chance to look at the menu, the waiter brought me over an entire branzino and taught me to filet it tableside. He portioned out two plates worth and sat down across from me for an intimate feast.
During the entire trip back to the main city and eventually Florence, I could not wipe the huge smile pasted across my face. The tourist-trapped Venice may have been a letdown, but the hidden gems of Murano more than made up for it. To this day, I suggest bypassing Piazza San Marco for a daylong stopover in the undiscovered glass-blowing alcove to any of my friends visiting Italy. You will not be disappointed.