We could tell we were close to Piazza San Marco when the crowds started to thicken and we began to see people in full-on Carnevale costumes.
The costumes were elaborate and made people look like they'd just stepped out of some king's court from 500 years ago.
I know Piazza San Marco is always busy, since it's one Venice's most beautiful piazzas, but on this particular day, it was crazy crowded. People were everywhere, Italians and tourists alike, languages I didn't recognize (and those I did - English, Italian, French, German, Spanish) filled the air.
Asena led us to Caffe Florian, right there on one of the edges of the piazza. She said it was a little pricey, but worth it. It certainly was.
Caffe Florian was one of Venice's earliest coffee shops. When it opened, it was called Caffe' Venezia trionfante (meaning The Café of Triumphant Venice) but came to be known as the Caffe Florian in honor of its first owner, Floriano Francesconi.
According to the café's website, it has been frequented by many famous patrons over time, including Lord Byron, Ugo Foscolo (we've been studying him in Italian class at my school!), Goethe, Charles Dickens, Marcel Proust and Rousseau.
I can see why they all went there. Caffe Florian is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited.
The prominent colors are a sea green much like the water of Venice's canals, deep red, and gold that catches sunlight. Beautiful frescoes cover the walls. There are painted mirrors and elegant classical music is played.
When I looked at the menu (there were pictures), everything looked incredibly delicate and delicious. Asena told me the tea was great, and I know she's pretty critical of tea, which apparently they drink in Turkey as often as Italians drink coffee. Interestingly, coffee originated from Turkey, and was brought to Italy hundreds of years ago.
I trusted Asena about the tea. She got a rose tea, and I couldn't decide which sort sounded best, so I asked the waiter what he recommended and ended up with the Venezia 1720, which had orange peel, cinnamon, and cloves. It was fabulous. Ursi got a cappuccino.
It all came out on a silver platter with an abundance of sugar, milk, extra hot water and anything else we might need. It was heavenly.
After our luxurious after-lunch snack, we decided to walk along the water near Piazza San Marco. There were booths set up with food and masks and face-painting, but we were too full to eat a thing and we already had masks, so we just looked.
It was nice to be there with friends and to understand not one but two of the languages I heard people around me speaking, and the two most prominent, at that. The air smelled nice, like the sea, and there was confetti all over the ground and everything was just beautiful.
When it started to get dark, we began to make our way back through the maze and to the train station. I decided I would definitely, definitely, definitely be coming back to Venice while I'm in Italy, because it has won the position of my favorite city I've ever been to.
The train sped back over the bridge to dry, solid land, lacking Venice's canals and waterways. We zoomed past mountains to our own Italian hometown.
I love Brescia too, but in a different way. It's not so mysterious; these days I always understand it. And after a long day of wandering, it welcomes me home.