“Serenissima”, “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Water”, “Floating City”, “City of Canals”
3rd to 5th of December, 2010
As December came, it also means the trips for the year are almost over. Just one more to go before closing another successful year in travelling figures. On this occasion and for the astonishing amount of 12£ return tickets with Ryanair, Venice was the deal. Ever since the summer of 2001 I never returned to the city therefore was very exciting being able to come back and on a totally different season of the year, Christmas time!
From my 2001 trip memories I could actually remember everything. I admit I have a great memory for the places I travel to, but remembering absolutely everything, those little streets I once walked, or where I had food and what I saw was not challenging at all. The most clear difference was the weather between both visits.
Now I can gladly say I have enjoyed the city in the summer -hot, sun and clear skies; and the city in winter -cloudy, cold and rainy; and something unique, acqua alta, the phenomenon where the city gets flooded with water levels reaching meters in height at some points. This usually happens between winter and spring months.
This city has so much to see in so limited space that it’s incredible how could it be built since the very beginning like this, in the middle of the lagoon with the houses on top of wooden pillars stick to the mud below the water level. The tide (acqua alta) always happened since the city was built, but it is only in recent decades that it is getting worst and worst with levels reaching score heights hence the terrible damages it cause. This is due to change hopefully once the lagoon barriers are fully operational in order to content the water rising in the city.
Experiencing acqua alta is nothing of a hassle. They lay over the flooded streets high walkways therefore you will be walking everywhere with your shoes dry nor you will need the special shoes as locals use. Also the same way the level rises, it decreases and disappears. It only lasts few hours of the day. Make sure you notice the impressive drainage system when the water levels are decreasing.
Just as a note, being in Venice and not taking a gondola, as harsh as it sounds, its a crime. Yes, they will quote high prices unfortunately, but if you are in a group, its the best you can do as you share the cost. Prices depend on time and if you share with others or not, its your choice. But, and here is a good note; there is a way cheaper option instead of a gondola, this is, a vaporetti (water bus) along the Grand Canal. You can take it from beginning till the end and you would have spent only 7 Euros instead of 40 and more.
Where to eat can be challenging and I only mean this because of the amount of overpriced restaurants everywhere. With so many millions of tourists coming here, it is very lucrative business, therefore finding anything down to earth more Italian local is almost impossible. As a way around you have of course every western fast food chains and small trattorias where to get some pizza slices.
What to see and do in Venice:
With almost every single building a sight in its own, Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world retaining intact such an impressive collection of architectural masterpieces, remnant of its rich past. I will concentrate below on the major sights as I will not go deep noting single entries for each of the churches, basilicas and palaces.
- Piazza di San Marco Without doubt icon number one in the city. Seen in the movies, documentaries, adverts, magazines and painters pictures like those of Canaletto. Around the square you will find also some of the finest and important buildings.
-Basilica di San Marco The current structure was built in 1073 and ever since although it has been modified over the time, the shape is still much the original. It is the greatest example of Italo-Byzantine architecture. Among its jewels is the Greek Hellenistic sculpture of the gilded bronze horses captured in 1204 in Constantinople and brought to Venice. The current ones on display are a reproduction of the original ones. The Tetrarchs Roman sculpture was also looted in Constantinople and brought to Venice and are ever since located on the west corner of the Basilica. The interior upper levels are completely adorned with mosaics. The Treasure has an unique collection of Byzantine portable objects in metalwork mostly looted from Constantinople.
-Campanille Arch-known symbol of the city, originally built in 1514, the current one dates from 1912 after the original one collapsed in 1902. From the top you will get the best views of the city, the lagoon and nearby islands, but incredibly, you will not get to see any of the canals from the top. Entrance fee 8 Euros.
-Clock Tower Torre dell’Orologio An early renaissance style building from the last decade of the 15th century. The arch underneath the tower makes way into the main street in the city, Merceria, linking the square with Rialto. You can climb up the tower for nice views over Saint Mark’s Square and the city but you must book the tour in advance.
-Doge’s Palace Also known as the Ducale Palace, is another of Venice’s landmarks; the former residence of the Dodge of Venice. Consturction pre-dates to the 9th century, although the current building started construction in 1340 and finished in 1442, with changes over the centuries due to the three fires it suffered. The building you see today is from the 16th century.
-La Fenice Theatre A perfect reconstruction of the original opened in 2003 after the fire of 1996. You can tour the inside when there is not any concert at the fee of 7 Euros.
- Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute Located on the tip of land marking the entrance to the Grand Canal and in front of Saint Mark’s Square, makes one of the most picturesque corners.
- Bridge of Sighs Ponte dei Sospiri Venice has lots of arch-known monuments, and this is without doubt one of the most picturesque. It connects the New Prison to the Interrogation Rooms over the Rio di Palazzo. Built in 1602 it was the last view the convicts would see before imprisonment. Located on the main front to the right of La Fenice Theatre.
- Grand Canal The heart of the city and major water traffic corridor, busy at all times. With almost 4 kilometres in length on a S shape, the incredible wealth of Venice’s past can be seen from the hundreds of palaces and imposing mansions on both sides of the canal.
-Ponte Rialto From 1591 is a masterpiece in its own and one of the most recognisable icons in the city. At both sides of the bridge you will find jewellery shops.
-Palaces along the canal From Venetian-Byzantine, Venetian-Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque styles. among the most beautiful are Ca’ Rezzonico, Ca’ d’Oro, Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, Ca’ Barbaro, Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, Palazzo Bembo, Palazzo Labia, Palazzo Grimani di San Luca and many more. The best way to enjoy this rich architecture is from a vaporetti or gondola.
- Canals There are more canals than walkways in the city. They are the reason why Venice is Venice. Since the very beginning, the city was built in the water. You will enjoy the hundreds of views either if in a gondola or walking the little streets. Vaporettis cannot navigate through those canals, only along the Grand Canal.
- Murano Is a small island in the lagoon world famous for the glass originally produced here, although nowadays factories are elsewhere while in the island all is left are hand made local business. You can reach the island using a vaporetti.
There are 2 airports serving the city, both international. While Marco Polo is literally across the bridge in mainland in the city of Mestre and serves most of the international routes, the farther airport is 25km apart in Treviso and serves low cost airlines. Both airports are greatly communicated by bus, train or even boats as its the case in Marco Polo. The bus from Treviso to Venice costs 13 Euros return while from Marco Polo to Piazzale Roma in Venice is 6 Euros single or 11 for a return ticket. A much cheaper option is the local bus which runs between Mestre and Piazzale Roma for 2.5 Euros return or the commuter train between Mestre Station and Venice Centrale.
Within the city the only transport available are vaporettis, which are water buses running along the Grand Canal, the nearby islands and other places along the coast in the lagoon; and the obvious gondolas, which are for rent and prices will be quoted depending on distance, time you want to spend and how many people will be in your party.
The fare for a vaporetti is 7 Euros, and does not vary depending on distance. Therefore the best you can do is getting a travel card which comes in many options depending on how many hours you want it to be valid (12, 24, 36 and so on). 12 hours is 18 Euros while 24 is 20 Euros. Since you can walk everywhere in Venice because its not big, the best you can do is either taking a 12 or 24 hours card and enjoy riding the vaporettis in order to have the views of the city from its canals.
Hotels in the city of Venice itself are expensive overall. Since space is so limited and tourists like to stay in the lagoon rather than mainland, this makes for the prices to rise even more and specially if it’s high season. In the other hand, just minutes away you can enjoy much better choice at lower prices. Honestly, for just having a place to sleep and unless you want to be romantic, save yourself the hassle of finding any available room and the unnecessary cost. It is only 15 minutes from Mestre to Venice Central Station.
From the two times I’ve been to the city I’ve been at a different location each time. Back in 2001 I stayed in Lido di Jesolo, which is the resort area where most of the hotels are, the beaches and the largest night life. On the other hand, you require of a vaporetti to move in and out of Venice city. I could not remember which hotel was, been too many years ago.
As for this recent visit we stayed in Mestre, at the modest Hotel Regit. Simple but comfortable and conveniently located minutes away from the railway station, just across the road/rail bridge connecting to Venice Piazzale Roma where the Central train station is. The choice of hotels here is great and prices really competitive and all it takes is 20 minutes at most either by bus or train.