VENICE, ITALY: Venice…Venice… Venice…by your soft touch, I was truly swiped off my feet. Where should I start? What should I say about this charming city? Every corner, every aspect, every little thing of Venice is magical. This is one of the most interesting and lovely cities in the whole world. The city didn’t lose its charm and magic even with its heavy tourist traffics. It is wonderful to see how a whole city adopted its life-style having water all around, living here must be like living in a fantasy world. Small inner lagoons are definitely nicer than the big ones.
The sad part of Venice is that the city is slowly sinking under water. Each year, water is rising about 2/3 cm. The houses by the water are slowly going under water. Our gondolier was saying that people cannot live in the bottom floor of these houses anymore because water rises really high in the rainy season and other times they are just damped and in an unlivable condition.
Venice is an expensive city. Public buses charge a lot for each ride. I think we paid about 6 euros per person from our hotel to go to Piazzale Roma which is the main bus station. From there we took water bus (public transportation), called vaporetti, to go to main island of Venice. Water bus is much cheaper than water taxi, which is a private service. Riding on these water taxi/water bus is half the fun in Venice.
TIME OF TRAVELLING: We flew to Venice end of April, 2012. The weather was great that time. I’ve heard that it gets really hot and sticky in summer. The water starts to smell and many mosquitos and infectious flies also come out during summer.
OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Park Hotel Annia near Marco Polo Airport, which had free shuttle pick up from the airport. It was a bit far from the main island of Venice, but hotel’s shuttle bus dropped us off each morning to the nearest bus station and we took a 30 minutes ride on bus to go to Piazzale Roma Bus Terminal from where we used to take water bus to reach Ponte di Rialto.
WHAT TO EAT AND BUY IN VENICE: Like any other cities in Italy, pasta and pizza are the most common. Gelato bars are everywhere too. Venetian masks are something expensive that you can bring back home. They can range from 80/90 euros to few hundreds or even thousand euros per mask. For the painting lovers, you can get reasonably priced oil on canvas (cheaper than Rome) near Ponte di Rialto. Another popular souvenir in Venice is Murano glass items, like beads, vase, jewelries, home decors, and etc. I compared the price of these glass items with the ones in Murano; they are almost the same, of course Murano has more variety to choose from. For any souvenirs, try to buy them away from Grand Canal, you will be surprised how prices come down as you get more inside the small alleys.
PLACES WE VISITED: We had 2 full days to soak up Venice’s atmosphere and 1 day to go to Murano Island. The 2 days we spent in Venice, we were mostly in or around Piazza San Marco. These are some information on the places we’ve visited which may help you planning your trip to Venice one day 🙂
1) PIAZZA SAN MARCO: Piazza San Marco is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the main square in Venice, you literally can spend whole day or may be 2 or 3 to explore different sides of this square. The place is packed with lots and lots of people, so be careful with your belongings. The square is dominated with Saint Mark’s Basilica. The piazza is loaded with many other important buildings, museums, and architectures. Palazzo Ducale is situated right beside the basilica. Clock Tower (Torre dell ‘Orologio) is on the other side of basilica which has an astronomical clock on top. Facing Palazzo Ducale is Bell Tower of St. Mark.
2) SAINT MARK’S BASILICA (BASILICA di SAN MARCO): This is one of the highlights and the most famous church in Venice. Located just off the Grand Canal, this glaring basilica overlooks Piazza San Marco. The present basilica was completed around 1071. Its fascinating details of exterior are truly enjoyable. I loved the beautiful golden ceiling with many fresco type artworks. The whole church is decorated with big candle holders hanging from the ceiling. The intricately-patterned floor is a 12th century mixture mosaic and marble in geometric patterns and animal designs.
There is a big line to go inside the basilica, but the good part is that it’s free to enter unlike many other churches in Venice. Visitors can’t carry any baggage with them inside the church but there is no place to put them either. Taking pictures is also forbidden here, but I saw everyone clicking their cameras here and there.
3) BELL TOWER of ST. MARK (CAMPANILE di SAN MARCO): Going on top of this bell tower is a must do in Venice. The current tower dates from 1912. The tower offers 360° view of Venice and the lagoon from the top. Take enough time to enjoy views of every side of Venice from here.
The tower is 100 meter tall and the lift takes you up to 60 meters high deck. There is a big line to go on the top. It is 8 euros to take the elevator which doesn’t include audio guide.
4) RIALTO MARKET & RIALTO BRIDGE (PONTE di RIALTO): The original wooden Rialto Bridge collapsed in 1524 and the present one was completed in 1591. This is city’s one of the most recognizable icons. We used to get off here from water bus then walk through narrow winding alleys to go to Piazza San Marco. There are hundreds of shops by Rialto Bridge in Rialto Market. You will find almost anything here with much cheaper price than Piazza San Marco. Keep your eyes open, you may see artists painting Venetian masks inside their stores.
5) GRAND CANAL & BOARDWALK: This huge and stretchy boardwalk by Grand Canal (near Piazza San Marco) is an energetic and lively place for tourists and locals to hang out, buy souvenirs/trinkets, enjoy view of the surrounding islands, and do people watching. You can see an island S. Giorgio Maggiore in the front and Chiesa della Salute (a big church) on one side.
Grand Canal is the main hub to rent gondola from. We paid 100 euros for about 30 minutes of ride on gondola for up to 6 people (though you will pay about 20 euros less if rented from small inner canals). Some interesting facts about these gondoliers are that they have to be male and born in Venice. They take pride in their job and usually this is their family profession for centuries.
6) MURANO: This can be a really pleasant day trip from Venice, just get on a water bus or vaporetti for a short ride to this small island. Like Venice, Murano is a series of islands linked by bridges in the Venetian Lagoon. But unlike Venice, you won’t see either any hustling-bustling or the heavy crowd. Murano is mainly famous for its massive glass production. Historically, these glass makers used to have their production in Venice, but around 12th or 13th century they were moved to Murano because of fire hazard. Murano is absolutely an admirable city with small old bridges, bright colored buildings by the water, glass sculptures in every square, and not to mention the small and big canals. Walking around by foot is part of the pleasure of Murano and since the island is only about 1 mile across it is very easily doable.
The most memorable souvenir you can buy from Murano is their world famous glass items. There are lots and lots and lots of Murano glass stores all around the island from small boutique shop to huge and gorgeous showrooms. Some of them demonstrate glass making techniques for free while some charge (may be 5 euros or something) and will give you the money back if you buy something from them. When shopping for Murano glass items, be sure to get the real stuff, some places sell non-Murano (made in China) glasses for little bit of lesser price.
Here are some of the places we visited in Murano:
a) CAMPO SANTO STEFANO: This is one of the most visited sites in Murano which features a 19th century clock tower. There is a blue glass sculpture at the base of this clock tower. This is not a big square but definitely a popular meeting place for the locals.
b) BASILICA dei SANTA MARIA e SAN DONATO: This is another highlight of the island. The basilica is rather a small one, but well known for its 12th century Byzantine mosaic floor. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but as usual everyone took out their cameras for some snaps, so did I.
c) BRESSAGIO: This is a small square which stretches into a big canal on the other end. There is also a beautiful red Murano glass sculpture in the beginning of the pedestrian zone surrounded by some old colorful buildings. Little bit further, you will see another glass sculpture, called Giardino Italia, when walking toward the lighthouse.