Wondrously wide-eyed in Venezia

Italy's flag
Europe » Italy » Veneto » Venice
May 15th 2010
Published: May 19th 2010
Edit Blog Post

We arose very early (6am) to pack and eat a 7.30am breakfast in preparation for a travel day that involved a 40 minute bus to Como, a 50 minute train to Milan and a 2 hour train to Venice. We arrived in a rain sodden Venice around 2.30pm, checked into the hotel and then headed out for an orientation walk that started in the Jewish Ghetto, rambled through to (and across) the Ponte di Rialto and ended in the Piazza S Marco. Incessant rain in tourist capitals means molto umbrello, and I nearly lost my eye on numerous occasions as obnoxious tourists oblivious to anyone and everyone rampaged through the streets with one single point of focus - themselves. We made our way back to the hotel, arriving at 6.30pm thanks to the brilliant navigation skills of a fellow traveller. We were sodden and cold, but nothing a quick shower and a few glasses of red couldn’t fix. We then headed out to dinner in the Ghetto area. I had a Venetian speciality that was almost as good as Mum’s liver casserole, and two other travellers agreed it reminded them of their childhood when liver casserole was a staple family meal. We walked back in the rain, stopping at a gelato stall to pick up a gelato for Ren.

We slept in and headed down to breakfast at 7.30am before venturing out to the Isola di Murano. We were treated to a glass blowing show and then pottered around Murano before heading back to mainland Venice for lunch. We ate and drank in the midday sun and decided to ferry around the city until 6pm. Venice without rain means tourists without umbrellas, and experiencing the city in warm sunlight was fabulous. It is a tourist mecca, and I was one of many travellers cascading relentlessly through its streets. Yet as the afternoon slowly closed in, Venice revealed itself as a beautiful Italian city, and not simply a metropolis underpinned by tourism. While I doubt I’ll ever return here, I loved feeling the intimacy of the small quiet streets that don’t beat a path to the Piazza.

We returned to the hotel to prepare for dinner. After a quick shower we headed out for a farewell dinner (three of our fellow travellers were leaving the group). The La Dolce Vita tour had come to an end. We also welcomed two new travellers who were joining us on the Umbrian Escape tour. After a short walk home we retired in readiness for an early start to see Piazza S Marco in the early morning.

We ventured out at 6.30am and ambled our way to the Piazza S Marco. Venice is beautiful in the early morning (given the fact that tourists are not yet packing every street to and from the Piazza). We dropped into a small café for breakfast (caffe latte), slipped into an early morning mass in the Basilica di S Marco, wandered around the empty Piazza and then headed back through a maze of small backstreets to our hotel for an 8.45am meeting.

After a quick nap, we ventured out again around 10.30am. The sun beamed down on us as we weaved our way through the small streets and canals to the Ponte di Rialto market. As we passed through the Ghetto we chanced upon a woman taking her dog for a walk in a small campo (piazza). She pulled a soccer ball out of her bag and dropped it on the ground, and the little pug proceeded to chase and manoeuvre it around the square, pushing it into the nearest person and waiting for them to kick it for him. What made it all the more amusing was that he was smaller than the soccer ball, but his skill was outstanding. We were highly amused, but it was just another day of life in Venice for the locals. They kicked the ball for the little pug whenever he bustled his way towards them, but they hardly looked twice otherwise.

Venice is seeping into my skin. I normally hate market shopping, but I loved wandering through the maze of market stalls at the Ponte di Rialto. My aversion to the marauding tourists had disappeared, helped in part by the unbelievable disinterest the market stall owners had towards selling. In Vietnam, we were chased down streets (and onto buses) by stall owners if we even looked at their products - the smallest sideways glance would suffice. In Venice, no one was interested in serving us. Ren was even told off - twice - once for picking up a pen in a window display and once for unfolding a tee shirt. So much for the Merchants of Venice! I love this approach to selling, and I am beginning to love Venice. Maybe I will return here, but if I do, it will be to roam the backstreets and soak up the daily life of this unique and intimate lagoon city that is so unlike any other place I have visited.

We decided to head back to the hotel, stopping along the way to buy clothes for Ren and supplies for dinner and our travel day tomorrow. We packed and organised ourselves for an early start the next morning and then walked to an apartment rented by two fellow travellers who had left the group and finished their three month European holiday. After a fantastic meal with fantastic travel friends, we walked and ferried back to the hotel, arriving just after 11.30pm. The magic of Venice by night had now completely captured me. I love this place!

After catching a bus to Como, and then two trains, we arrived in Venice. Anticipation kept our energy levels somewhat buoyed and it was interesting watching the train snaking through beautiful Lombardy country and giving way to Veneto landscapes. Even though it wasn’t a long travel day, we were very happy to arrive at Stazione di Santa Lucia, and finally set foot in Venice.

Venice is a fully fledged Byzantine city, beautiful and inspiring beyond words with its lion of San Marco, ornate churches, Murano glass, countless canals, 400 bridges, 118 islands and thousands of cafés and bars - big, small and tiny. It is slightly surreal to be faced with a city with only gondolas and boats and no cars, buses or vespas! If you like to get to know a new city by walking extensively through it, Venice is definitely the place for you. The tangled lanes can only be explored a piedi (on foot) given there really is no other transportation on land.

The orientation walk of the city which Alvaro took us on was overwhelming - a more stunning sight around every corner… I think I may run out of superlatives! We experienced the cramped but character filled old Jewish ghetto; a slightly nerve wrecking but fun traghetto ride; the picturesque Grand Canal; the charming old-world shops of the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge); the wonderfully romantic Piazza and Basilica di San Marco; and the beautiful but poignant Bridge of Sighs. The Bridge of Sighs is a good indicator of how tourist driven this city is - it had Mont Blanc signage draping it that was bigger than the bridge itself. Even though I was ‘good’ overwhelmed by the sights and feel of Venice, our first day here was a rainy damp grey day with thousands of boat cruise tourists walking around narrow lanes with oversized golf umbrellas...this overwhelmed me in a ‘not so good’ way. Luckily the sun came out for the rest of our stay and we also quickly learnt to avoid the tourist throngs.

Now to Venice’s waterways - the water traffic is hectic. Slow gondolas hinder the chaotic canal traffic of private boats, ambulance and police services boats, ferries, water taxis and delivery boats loaded with everything from food to furniture. To add to the confusion there are only four bridges on the Grand Canal, so traghetto (gondola like boats) carry standing passengers from one bank to the other, zigzagging across oncoming traffic! A much safer alternative is a vaporetto (water bus), which was a bit weird at first but we got used to it very quickly, and we caught vaporetti to get around central Venice as well as to do a trip to the island of Murano. You can buy a single-destination vaporetto ticket; but the 12/24/36etc hour unlimited travel tickets are much better value. We did not bother with the gondolas because they were very expensive and overly touristy, but we found out that catching the #1 vaporetto at night along the Grand Canal is wonderfully beautiful and romantic. 😉

The trip to Murano Island was interesting for the glass workshops with their centuries old craftsmanship and glass blowing demonstrations; however as much as I love Murano, we found the glass shops there somewhat pricier than in central Venice and so we didn’t buy anything. However Café Cam Fornace in Piazzale de la Colonna (near the #41 vaporetto stop) on Murano has the best gelato I have had on this trip!

Our hotel - Hotel Villa Rosa is an old but refurbished villa (in parts). It is extremely well located in the quiet area of Cannaregio which is a five minute walk from Santa Lucia station, and a gorgeous 20 minute vaparetto ride from Piazza San Marco, i.e. well away from overpriced tourist traps and the masses of tourists. Venice is more touristy than any other city I’ve been to and if I was a local here I would really resent having to give up my city in this way. We headed out for dinner on our first night and thought we’d been transported to different city - the streets were near empty with the day trippers gone - yey! While walking back to the hotel after dinner, the quietness of this city with no vehicles was suddenly very very apparent. All you heard was the distant murmur of voices, an occasional boat and the lap-lap of the water in the canals.

One morning we were up very bright and early to visit Basilica di San Marco and the Piazza before the crowds gathered... but first we both threw down a café latte in the local style at a little café along the way. Thus prepared for the journey, we set off from the very top of the Grand Canal to the very bottom of the Grand Canal while Venice awoke around us. We got some fabulous photos of a near deserted Piazza and gleaming Basilica in velvety morning light. The Basilica wasn’t open yet, but we stumbled upon a side chapel that was open for morning mass, but I felt we were intruding so we didn’t stay long.

We allocated a full day’s agenda to getting lost in the little lanes and shopping. Yes Piazza San Marco and the surrounds are magnificent and we were completely blown away by it, but we found that places off the beaten track were just as or even more interesting. The main tourist area is unsurprisingly located around Ponte di Rialto and Piazza San Marco, and any major trail leading to them is also lined with tourist shops. However walking in any other direction, you will find yourself in a labyrinth that is the heart of local Venice. We spent hours wandering the narrow lanes and small campos (piazzas), and crossing many tiny bridges of all ages, shapes and sizes over the smaller canals. While it is very easy to get lost here (especially as the maps don’t mark all the streets and bridges)...we used the well signed landmarks of ‘Per S. Marco’ and ‘Per Rialto’ to navigate ourselves south, and ‘Piazzale Roma’ and ‘Alla Ferrovia’ to get back to our hotel. We only got lost once and that was only for a few minutes.

There is a huge disparity of exterior and interior here - the buildings are a series of close-fitting structures with foundations permanently under water and facades that are bowed, cracked and crumbling, with visible rising damp on everything; and yet when you look through the weathered windows or step inside through equally weathered doorways - you find yourself in a world of marble foyers, elegant hallways and sweeping staircases… the interiors of even the plainest buildings are just gorgeous!

We spent many many hours at the Rialto Market (right next to Ponte di Railto). It is a combination fish, produce and souvenir market. However it gets extremely busy given its location and also because it is a great market! There are fine views across the Grand Canal here as well. The little square nearby is very atmospheric, helped along by the beautiful 11th century San Giacometto church and it’s very large and eye catching 24 hour clock. I also love the shops on Strada Nova (near Ca’D’Oro) and indulged in a little retail therapy there too. 😊

We are yet to have a bad pasta dish on this trip, but it has to be said that the fresh pasta here is just divine, and so we have been having fresh pasta like it’s going out of fashion (especially the spaghetti di mare (spaghetti with seafood)). The risotto in Venice is runnier and soupier than in Lombardy, and more along the lines of what we had believed good risotto should taste like. Not surprisingly Andrew has been trying all the local fish dishes and also tried a Venetian style liver dish which he loved. However even though I’m not that impressed with the meat dishes which tend to be dry and too salty, I am more than impressed with the grilled seafood dishes and the bestest tiramisu I have ever had. Gelato in the north is not as creamy but carries a bigger flavour - I highly recommend the pistachio gelato. After each meal, and sometimes in between meals, happy little tummies hobbled back to the hotel via a gelataria. 😄

Our group composition changed on our second day in Venice in preparation for our travels back to Rome through Umbria. Our mate Taryn is travelling on to Paris and London from here and our other mates Claire and David are spending three days in an apartment here before flying home to Australia. We will miss them, their friendship, and their jokes very much. Susie and Pete, also from Australia have joined the group and will be travelling with the rest of us to Rome. We had dinner at Claire and David’s lovely Railto-side apartment on our last night and our contribution to the meal was a local delicacy we have fallen in love with - torta al pistacchio (a moist dense pistachio cake). Yum!

Even though Venice is by far the most touristy and expensive stop on our travels yet, we highly recommend a trip. If you have the luxury of time, it is really worth spending a minimum of three days here.

We travel south to Gubbio in the Umbrian region next…

P.S Sorry again about the extra long blog post...like I said at the start of this trip...blog length = excitement plus energy levels...and much excitement here in Venice!


19th May 2010

Inspiring Italy
Great reading of all your experiences particularly as you explore off the 'beaten track' as often as possible. Gives a real feeling of being there and enjoying the little back streets, the food ...oh that Torta al Pisacchio.! ..and your travel companions . You 're my preferred over breakfast reading and I don't mind how long the blogs are as they are so well written by both of you. I am a RENanDrew fan for sure
20th May 2010

A rain sodden Venice
I thought I had jinxed you there, but it occurs to me that it probably (I blame the Heineken) rained the whole time I was there [mumble] years ago... So you've done well getting some sunshine and away from the tourist traps. And don't apologise about the length - it's an extraordinarily entertaining tale, as usual. Seasoned travellers (and travel writers) indeed!
24th May 2010

OOPS just realised I am waaaaay behind - you have been to Venice already and it sounds fabulous. Andrew's excitement about the markets says it all. Guys, it all sounds great despite the telling off - Ren was never good at folding...
25th May 2010

Re: Inspiring Italy
Thanks Dotti! So glad you are enjoying reading about our travels :)
25th May 2010

Re: A rain sodden Venice
Hey Keith - we thought the rain was over with as we travelled further south, but apparently not! Hope all is well in sunny qld :)
25th May 2010

No problems Rom, but I shall have you know that I'm a master folder thanks very much...the guy just didn't like this 'stuff' touched...needless to say he had no sales at all! Wish you were here with us. xx

Tot: 0.308s; Tpl: 0.077s; cc: 12; qc: 31; dbt: 0.0183s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.3mb