Magic. That’s what I always find myself searching for in life, and it’s everywhere.

I read quite a few blogs before we left for Venice, and found that many travelers claimed the city was either underwhelming and overrated, or crowded, touristy, and smelly. My husband had spent a day in the city while at a conference in Padua several years prior, and he insisted I would love it. But after reading all of the hopelessly negative reviews online, my response was understandably lukewarm when my husband asked if I wanted to spend our 10-year anniversary in fair Venezia (with our young son in tow). Despite my apprehension and preference for a Cretan adventure, I agreed. After all, I’m pretty sure I could be convinced to travel just about anywhere.

But I quickly learned that those travel blogs and forums were terribly mistaken.

Venice is magic.

As soon as we stepped off the waterbus and into the darkness on our first night, I fell in love. I fell in love with the constant lapping of the water, the dimly-lit streets, the twists and turns, the modes of transport (only by foot or boat), and the architecture. Venice is otherworldly. There are no cars noisily zipping past you, the city seems to rise up out of the water, and everything appears peaceful.

We visited in October, which may have contributed to the magic I found. The weather was cool, though still pleasant, and the droves of summer tourists were nowhere to be found.

Leaving plenty of time to get lost was the smartest thing we did. In Venice, it’s possible to set out in any direction and find yourself surrounded by beauty, or face-to-face with a lovely café or gelateria. One of my favorite finds was an unusual bookshop, Libreria Acqua Alta, which was jam-packed with books — a bibliophile’s personal heaven. Its back doors opened up right onto the water. It was a true celebration of printed work. Some of my fondest memories are those of my adventurous eight-year-old running ahead of us, exploring new sections of the city, dashing around corners, terrorizing the local pigeons, and taking in the atmosphere that makes Venice so special with a sweet and innocent sense of wonder.

One of the reasons I love photography so much is that it allows me to hold onto the imagery associated with my past adventures. I will forever have photos to accompany the memories of my son having his sixth gelato in 24 hours, and those of my husband and son strolling ahead of me as the gondolas smacked against the walls and water lapped gently against the ancient, Venetian architecture.

My trip to Venice was one of the first on which I didn’t arrive with a detailed itinerary in hand, and it was precisely what I needed — to just be for a few days instead of rushing around with a new destination in mind. Looking back on my photos of the watery city reminds me that being is something I need to do a bit more whenever I travel.

Maybe that’s what magic truly is.