Reminiscing, looking back in my files, and I see that I didn’t post anything about glorious Venice, La Serenissima… Chris and I spent a few days there at the end of May 2014, and it is everything that you think it is, and more!
Over 40 years ago I made my first (and previous to this year, only!) visit to Venice. The main thing I remember from my childhood trip is feeling how much my feet ached from walking around with my family! Where were all the canals, I wondered? I imagined we would be graciously transported around the city’s waterways, all day long, by gondola, like medieval duchesses and contessas. Well, I was sorely disappointed! Yes, Venice is a collection of islands, linked by bridges, with much of the transportation taking place by boat: vaporetti, traghetti, and the traditional gondolas of many tourist photos. But there are many small streets, alleys and passageways criss-crossing the city, that make it a delight to wander round and get lost in the sights and smells of this unique place.
This year we arrived by train after having spent a few weeks with family in Lucca. From the train station at Venice Santa Lucia, we caught the no. 1 vaporetto (ferry/waterbus), for the 45 minute ride down the Grand Canal to our stop just past St Mark’s Square. Well, I’ve seen the photos and the films, and I consider myself a fairly experienced traveller, but the thrill of going down the Grand Canal and seeing the beautiful old waterside buildings unfolding around each bend, is worth every penny of the high-priced ferry ticket (locals pay less than tourists!) I was ooh-ing and aah-ing with the best of them, and must have taken over 100 photos just on that ride alone!
Travel tip: when you go to Venice, take as little luggage as possible, and make sure it’s wheeled, or that you can easily carry it. You’ll be on boats, then walking through narrow streets, going up and down steps on multiple bridges over canals to reach your destination!
UPDATE on luggage: there has been a lot of press lately (November 2014) about a proposed law to ban wheeled luggage in Venice, due to go into effect in May 2015. Well, it might not be all it seems! Read this, and this, it seems the press misunderstood and over-reacted. However, please do your research before you book a trip, and find out what the current situation is.
We stayed in a perfect little apartment, booked through airbnb, about 5 minutes’ walk from St Mark’s Square, in a quiet backstreet courtyard. We had a comfortable bedroom and bathroom (with washing machine), kitchen and living room, all for only US$138 a night. A small hotel room with no other facilities would be three times as much in this location!
We spent hours walking, immersing ourselves in Venice. It’s touristy, it’s elegant, it’s shabby with layers of peeling paint, and flooded ground floors of ancient palazzi. I don’t know how the peeling painted walls here manage to look so charming and perfectly decrepit, where anywhere else the owners would rush to repair them. It’s part of the charm of this city. I imagined penniless old counts eking out a living on the top floors of the family palazzo, attending the masked balls of the Carnevale in February. Who knows what goes on behind those peeling walls?
It’s a city for tourists, living on tourism, but locals still live here, running businesses, buying their groceries in neighbourhood shops, decorating their balconies with beautiful potted plants, and hanging their laundry out of third-floor windows. There are no cars in Venice, everyone walks, or jumps on a ferry. An ambulance siren heralds a speeding motorboat. Master glassblowers still make delicate, beautiful, colourful masterpieces on the neighbouring island of Murano, as they have for centuries.
A tour guide we spoke to was very disapproving of the colourful tile mural on a large palazzo by the side of the Grand Canal, telling us that it wasn’t original, it was about 100 years old, and therefore not authentic.
We heard the tale (no doubt invented by an enterprising gondoliere) that if you kiss your beloved, while floating in a gondola, under the Bridge of Sighs, on a night of the full moon, as the clock in St Mark’s Square chimes midnight, you will have eternal love! I wonder how many night tours of Venice by gondola that story has prompted!
Yes, Venice is touristy, but it’s magical and special, and we’re looking forward to going back there one day! (we haven’t yet taken that midnight gondola ride!)
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