How to describe Venice? It is hard to describe the indescribable. I felt like I was on a film set; that it wasn’t real and any minute I would see the director and lots of industrial-sized lights. It was too beautiful and surreal to be true. It was also everywhere. Everywhere I looked, there was picture-perfect scenery – from the gondolas to the majestic buildings on the grand canal, to the tiny alleyways to get lost in. So quaint, so perfectly Italian.
The highlights are indisputably the Grand Canal and St Marks Square.
The Grand Canal was busier and more full of life than I expected. It is very much a practical means of getting around, rather than the serene oil painting that I had expected. We witnessed a fire engine rushing to a fire (or at least I assume that’s where they were going). And yes, the fire engine was a speed boat which left a massive wake behind it!
The best view of the Grand Canal is probably from “Ponte di Rialto” bridge (see photo above). However I would also recommend taking a water taxi (or, for a budget version, one of the water buses. These are Venice’s answer to a public bus, so are reasonably priced and stop every hundred metres, so you can hop on and hop off, or cruise the length of the canal. I’m swooning just thinking about it!)
St Mark’s Square was full of pigeons, but mercifully was not underwater. It was the regular flooding that had brought me here, as I was worried that being underwater would cause irreparable harm to Venice’s foundations. The Basilica di San Marco (beautiful domed cathedral – long queues to get in, and no bare shoulders) and Doges Palace can be found on St Mark’s Square. There is also a lovely view from St Mark’s Square across the sea to Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore (a church on one of the islands – as pictured below).
It was exciting to see Gondolas everywhere. Whether to ride on one is a matter of personal choice – some people will think “I’m only coming to Venice once, so I’m going to have a Gondola ride” and others will think “What?! 75 Euros for a Gondola ride? No way!”. If you are in the second camp (which we were) then I can offer two tips:
(1) I did hear gondoliers offering a lower price to persuade people to ride – I heard 50 Euros offered, so you may be able to bargain them down – good luck! 😉
(2) We took the traghetto which is a gondola that acts as a ferry and goes back and forth across the Grand Canal at selected crossing points (one crosses from the fish market by the “Ponte di Rialto” bridge). It ferries several people at once – normally locals, who often stand up. I was too wobbly to stand up so had to sit down! It is frankly scary how many people you can fit on a gondola 😉 It was only 50 cents (ie. 0.5 Euros) each. So we rode across the Grand Canal on a kind-of-gondola – a traghetti- and that’s sufficient for us!
We also enjoyed just wandering through the tiny alleyways, gawping at the next little square with fountain / canal with gondola / tiny bridge that revealed itself every time we turned a corner. The alleyways were a maze, which we got lost in daily on the way back to the bus station. Allow plenty of time for these if time is of the essence! 🙂
The Outer Islands should not be forgotten. We unfortunately did not have time to explore these fully, so will do so next time we get there, whenever that may be! This trip we managed to take the water bus out there, and they looked really interesting. One of the islands (Murano) specialises in glass blowing.
In terms of food, I wish I could report that Venice had the best food in the world ever. Sadly this was not our experience. We tried to avoid the touristy restaurants and headed for a back-street. We were grabbed by a man promising reasonably priced pizza in his restaurant which looked perfectly nice, so ate there. The pizza was not much better than a cheap supermarket pizza (as in, not a nice supermarket pizza but the cheap range). Now cheap pizza has its place in society, but it wasn’t what I wanted in Venice. Nor did I expect to pay a lot for it. I felt like telling the owner that he should be ashamed to call himself Italian, serving this rubbish. I didn’t. But I felt like it, especially when we were presented with a bill which was a lot more expensive than the reasonable price we were initially quoted. It seems there are various forms of tax that are added on top of the price.
The next night we headed straight for a touristy restaurant, as they seemed more transparent with their prices, and all taxes were included. This included 3 courses and we sat right next to the Grand Canal. This meal was much nicer. Of course, nothing we ate in Venice was as fresh and delightful as the fresh pizza we had had in Trieste (or the fresh pizza we had in a small village near Trieste airport).
Toilets – I found this quite funny, but you can buy toilet passes over the internet. These are priced very steeply at 1.50 Euros for a day (which includes two toilet trips), or 7 Euros for a week (which includes 10 toilet trips). That’s right, it’s not cheap to wee in Venice 🙂 We had some of these cards as my mum had bought them on her holiday the previous year and she gave us the ones she had left. We only used a couple and it was nice to have a toilet pass for peace of mind, so you know you can access a clean (ish) western toilet if you need it. There weren’t any queues – probably due to the price! Howeverif we had had to buy the passes ourselves I don’t think we would have done. It is possible to avoid this cost by going to the few free public toilets, and using toilets in restaurants or cafes. But I should add that in cafes there is a risk that the toilet will be the “hole in the floor” type – which isn’t to everyone’s taste (I hate them!).
Hotels – I was shocked by how expensive the hotels were here. Venice is on a kind of island (or a collection of islands) which are connected to the mainland by a road and rail link. We stayed at a cheaper hotel on the mainland and took a public bus onto Venice each day. The bus was inexpensive – about 1 or 2 Euros. There is also a train that runs between Venice and the mainland regularly. Obviously it’s much nicer to stay in Venice proper and stroll out of the hotel into all this loveliness, but if you’re in a budget it may not be possible. I would also recommend booking well ahead!
If you take the train I recall that you need to get your tickets stamped/punched by a machine on the platform or else they are not valid. We knew about this as we took the train from Trieste to Venice and were almost fined on the train for not having a valid ticket, despite the fact that we had bought the correct ticket and paid full fare etc. Luckily he realised we were clueless and let us off.
I should also add that some friends had warned me that the canals smell. I didn’t think so at all. So maybe they experienced this at a different time of year, I don’t know.
Overall, despite the expensive hotels and overpriced food and toileting, I cannot recommend Venice highly enough. It is one of the most magical places I have ever been to.
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