Art, History & Hordes
On our way home from London, we decided to stopover in Venice for a few nights. I knew full well what a tourist haunt the place was, but I wanted to see the city for myself.
- Layers (it can get warm during the day in April, then cold at night)
- Comfortable, smart walking shoes or boots
- A camera
- Four-wheeled suitcase*
*You could also carry everything on your back. The key is not to lug around a suitcase without wheels as you have to walk everywhere. Alternatively, feel free to pay a porter.
In larger cities, I’m a big fan of Air BnB as houses and units offer plenty of space to stretch out. They also normally have kitchens and laundry facilities (essential on long trips). In Venice, I booked a large, bright split-level apartment in a former power station on the island of Venezia. The block overlooked a canal on Calle Priuli dei Cavalletti, a small nondescript lane just behind the Santa Lucia train terminal. The location was excellent – away from the crowds yet close to a number of great canal-side restaurants – yes, Ristorante Ai Tre Archi and Trattoria Bar Pontini, I meant you.
Images courtesy of AirBnB.
The unit was accessible by lift and inside, there were three bedrooms, two living areas, a kitchen, multiple bathrooms plus a powder room. Decor was contemporary. There was even a little balcony upstairs overlooking the city. Great value.
Sign up to airbnb using this link and get free travel credits on your first booking: www.airbnb.com.au/c/klaw11
Pro Tip #1: The main benefit of staying close to good restaurants is that you can either get there before the crowds arrive or you can have piping hot takeaway in the comfort of your own apartment. Believe me, there were two nights we waited in line until 9pm for dinner.
While the main sights- St Mark’s Square and the Palazzo Ducale – were a decent distance away, the good news is that everything in Venice is perfectly accessible on foot, by vaporetti (water taxi) or by overpriced gondola.
We walked all over the place, discovering gelato parlours, old-world sweet shops and of course, got our daily espresso from cafes where you drink your coffee standing up at the bar.
Pro Tip #2: Coffee drunk sitting down at a table can cost double what it costs at the bar. Also, be sure to ask for a “caffe latte”. Without thinking, I asked for a “latte” one morning and got a glass of warm milk!
On the agenda was the Palazzo Ducale or Doge’s Palace, which houses some fabulous artworks by Renaissance artists Tintoretto and Veronese as well as the fabled Bridge of Sighs. I had the benefit of travelling Rome, Siena and Florence with The University of Melbourne’s Associate Professor in Renaissance & Baroque Art History way back in the early 2000s. This time, I had to make do with an audio guide – which is totally worth it if you have any interest at all in history and art.
Saint Mark’s Basilica was also gorgeous, but very crowded. As it is a church, be sure to dress modestly – no bare shoulders or legs. Also, no big bags or photography so be prepared to leave backpacks and cameras in the cloakroom.
Pro Tip #3: Pre-booked tickets to Saint Mark’s Basilica are a must if travelling during peak season (1st of April to 2nd November and €2 per ticket at time of writing). This gives you entry at the special group entrance. Otherwise, you could be waiting in line for up to 4 hours. A no-brainer!
Pre-book here: http://www.venetoinside.com/en/saint_mark_s_basilica/.
We didn’t have much time so on our penultimate day, we opted to take the vaporetto from the relatively quiet terminal at Fondamente Nove out to Murano, of glass-working fame. Of course, every second shop here sells glass trinkets of some kind so if you’re after a souvenir, take your time and check a number of different places out.
What I enjoyed most about the island was the boat ride, when I wasn’t crushed against other passengers. The return journey from Murano to San Marco is especially scenic – as you get to see the main sights from the water.
Pro Tip #4: The one-day – biglietto un giorno – pass costs €20 and lets you on and off. It’s pretty good value for money if you’re planning to go to Murano, Burano or any of the outlying islands in the lagoon. There are also multi-day options if you’re staying longer.
We also went to see the Rialto Bridge, which unfortunately was covered in scaffolding and covered with boards printed with a picture of the bridge. Points for effort, Venice! It’s virtually impossible to get lost on the main island – you simply follow the hordes of camera-clicking tourists.
My opinion of Venice is this: the city is worth seeing at some point in your life. It has some seriously beautiful architecture and centuries of history. For these reasons, expect touts, queues and a ratio of of 90 tourists to 10 locals.
Pro Tip #5: If you’re after an authentic Italian experience and you don’t have much time to spare, go to Siena, Florence or even Rome, where everyday Italians go about their business around the major sights. To find this in Venice, you’ll just have to stay longer and dig a little deeper.