Leslie (the Vanessa Redgrave of the gentle Venetian waves) and Captain Michele (who loves trying to set me straight on all things Italian) were the locals who generously showed me the ropes of real Venetian life. I owe them a lot. Here they are on their captivating rooftop on a night they prepared a lovely dinner--it was a delicious cookout done Italian style.

In "Death in Venice," the great Thomas Mann compared gondalas (which are lush inside/sleek and black outside) to coffins. Mann went on to draw on the fading glory of Venice as a metaphor for luxuriant decay. I found the city to be a lot more alive, fun and upbeat--but then I was enjoying an insider's peek at the remarkable city, thanks to my friends and hosts, Leslie & Michele!

On another beginning note, I'd like to say that I traveled far to look at Venice and wound up staring at myself. I say this--in part-- because while touring the Doge's Palace one day, I ran into a very old group portrait that included someone who eerily resembled me (the forbidden photo was a disappointing blur).

Refreshingly, there's not one single car to be seen or driven on the tiny, winding Escher-like maze of alleys and bridges that make up this most unique city. Now, without weighing you down with a ton of narrative, here's what it looks like to meander around Venice (note: photos in most churches and museums were verboten--so if you see any, I don't know nothin' about it, babe!)

Venice is also a city of eye-catching facades and masks -- these Carnevale (Mardi Gras) jobbies are sold around nearly every corner.

The famous Rialto Bridge viewed from a vaporetto--one of the city's "water buses," and the way you get around town if not walking.

The beautiful palazzo I was graciously put up in as a guest.

Loved this--the palazzo's mask-like doorknocker

Outside of St. Mark's, the stunning Byzantine church that in part defines Venice.

Part of St. Mark's square.

Crazy beautiful, huh? I'll share a few more photos/memories/impressions over the next couple nights!