On the list of places I’ve always romanticized, Venice was always right up there with Paris.

So after checking the beloved City of Light off my must-travel list and even returning for round two, Venice quickly moved up to my top spot.

Now considering that I’ve read numerous accounts from travelers who found Venice “too touristy,” “too dirty” or “too crowded,” I tried my best to keep my expectations in check. But from my first water taxi ride to our hotel, I was totally enchanted. Not surprisingly, the city looks even better at night, and our strolls through this gorgeous and thoroughly unique city by the sea were among my favorite from last fall’s European adventure.

Our time in Venice began like the best ones do—with a soul-satisfying dinner. Unlike many of the other places we visited, we decided to “wing it” and not make any restaurant reservations ahead of time. We did look for a place where a good mix of locals and everyone merely passing through were both eating and made our decision accordingly. And while I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, I still remember the gnocchi with brown butter and sage and the prosecco I drank with it. Like the best Italian dishes, simplicity is absolute bliss. Gnocchi is nothing more than a humble riced potato with a bit of flour, egg and salt, but when executed properly, it’s a total showstopper with nothing more than browned butter and fried sage. I was in heaven.

In terms of presentation and wow factor, Will’s whole fish with tomatoes, olives and capers was a total winner too. Colorful and hearty with an emphasis on the local bounty, it was the perfect introduction to Venice. After dinner, we sought out something to satisfy the ol’ sweet tooth, so what better than homemade gelato, right?

While I went straight for the Nutella varietal with even more hazelnuts dotting the top, Will opted for the crowd-pleasing stracciatella. While mine was plenty tasty, his was the real winner of the evening. Nothing more than a vanilla gelato studded with irregular pieces of chocolate throughout, it was yet another example of something simple that packs a real punch. I’m pretty sure we returned the next evening for more—that’s how yummy it was.

Other than having my breakfast stolen by an angry seagull one morning as we dined alfresco (yes, the experience totally reinforced my fear of birds), our time in Venezia was every bit of wonderful as I’d hoped. If there weren’t so many other places I want to see, I’d go back without an ounce of hesitation—even just for the water taxi rides, gelato and gnocchi. Heck, I’d go back for a cappuccino—Italy’s coffee goes down so smooth, it’s practically otherworldly.