Our visit to Venice (Long)
Posted on Jul 02, 2013 by
We`re just back from a trip to Venice, as well as nearby Padua and Verona. Since so much has been posted about Venice, I`ve done a somewhat "impressionistic" account of
our trip. It`s not comprehensive, but hopefully will still be useful, particularly to those who haven`t travelled there before. Feel free to ask questions.
While we are readers, we tend not to buy books - but make an exception for travel. We always buy at least one guide book when planning trips. It`s fun to have a great guide book handy for the months when you`re in the planning stages. Well worth the money.
We`ve become converts to the Rick Steves` series, which we find extremely practical, with excellent advice on how to make the most of your time and suited to the way we like to travel, i.e. staying in the centre of the action at clean, small, inexpensive hotels. For this trip, all three hotels came from his Venice 07 Guide and were right for us.
Our trip was only 10 days, but flying non-stop from Toronto to Venice, we saved a lot of time without stopovers. We flew Skyservice, a Canadian charter airline. The plane was
half empty on the way to Venice, and I was able to lie down across four seats and to actually sleep, unusual for me.
From the airport in Venice, we took a short bus ride to Padua. We learned that it was easy to do this, from Steves` guidebook. Without this info, we`d likely have taken a more complicated route to Padua. Right then and there, we started calling Steves "The Rick" and referred to his guide as "The Bible!"
The most important sight in Padua is the Scrovegni Chapel, a sort of mini-Sistine Chapel, with wonderful frescoes by Giotto. You book in advance for this. Only 25 people are allowed in at once, and before entering, you must watch a video in a sort of "decontamination chamber". You are only
allowed to stay 15 minutes. We`d booked for 8:00 p.m, figuring it would be least crowded after dinner. We needn`t have worried - it turned out that we were the only ones there at that hour in mid-October. It was indeed magical, and we had a good laugh when the security guard came in behind us with his daughter, her husband and little grandson. Obviously no lover of Giotto, the little boy managed to climb under the railings and almost got into the model of Giotto`s bed! So much for all that security.
We enjoyed visiting the huge Basilica of St. Anthony, staying at the nearby Casa del Pellegrino. This hotel has many visitors who come specially to visit the basilica. It`s very near a large piazza, where we enjoyed having coffee at the outdoor cafes which lined the lovely space. While we did see the exterior of the ancient University of Padua, we were unable to visit the Anatomy Theatre, which was closed for the weekend. We knew this ahead of time, so weren`t really disappointed. It was the only sight which was closed during our entire stay in Italy. It was unavoidable, but with good planning from "The Bible", we managed to see everything else we wanted to.
We really enjoyed having a Spritz (the Italians pronounce this Spriss!) sitting outdoors on the Market Square, before dinner. This drink is very popular in the area and consists
of one sort of aperitif such as the bitter Cynar, or the sweeter, orange coloured Aperol, or perhaps the better known Campari, along with white wine, possibly the sparkling local Prosecco, bubbly water, and garnished with a green olive and a lemon or blood orange. Delicious, and fun to drink like the locals do. We`re looking forward to recreating this at home.
After two nights in Padua, we took a city bus to the train station, and had a brief ride to Verona. On arrival, we bought the Verona Pass at a Tabacchi - 12E for 3 days, which
covered most of the sights in Verona, such as Juliet`s House and Balcony, the Castelvecchio Museum, as well as riding on the city buses. (Tabacchi are little storefronts or kiosks, like a newsstand - they sell transit tickets, maps, stamps, postcards, cough drops, etc. and are everywhere.) While it`s easy and enjoyable to walk everywhere in these towns, it was nice to have that bus pass also, even if it was just for a ride back to the train station.
We loved Verona. Everywhere we went, there were wonderful twisting streets and lanes. Out of nowhere, you`d come upon incredible shops, some very specialized, in the most unlikely looking areas. I once looked into a wonderful shop filled with antique jewellery, but was somewhat afraid to enter, because of the Doberman reclining on the floor, wearing the most gorgeous rhinestone necklace I`ve ever seen, on a person or a dog! Who knows - maybe it was diamonds! I didn`t buy anything, but drooled over the
We enjoyed the outdoor cafes on Piazza Bra, with the Roman Arena beautifully lit up in the evening sky in the background. There is an opera festival held each summer in
this arena. For opera lovers, it would be a fabulous event to attend. We also visited the Roman Theatre and Castel San Pietro, with that gorgeous view of the Roman bridge across the river Adige. The river burbles its way through Verona, with many twists and turns. There are many wonderful churches in town and we managed to see most of them.
We stayed a few steps away from Piazza Bra, in the Hotel Torcolo. It has only 19 rooms, and is well run with that personal touch. The rooms are nothing fancy, but it`s clean, very central, and we loved eating our breakfast outside in the little square in front of the hotel, with cyclists, cars, motorcycles rushing by on
their way to work. There was a tiny breakfast room inside, but the staff was happy to bring your entire breakfast outside for you. A bit chilly, but like most Canadians, we
love to eat outside whenever we can.
We left Verona a little sadly, but the best was yet to come. Another easy train ride, and we were in Venice before we knew it. We took the slow vaporetto, # 1, as The Rick
recommended. This gives you a really good way to take in the Grand Canal at a leisurely pace. I`d been to Venice 43 years before, but this was a first for Les, and I loved
seeing his reaction to the gilded palazzos, museums, bridges, life on the water, etc. as we made our way to St. Mark`s Square. With the map we`d printed out, we found the
Hotel Riva in no time. It was so close to St. Mark`s, but down such twisted alleys that you`d never suspect you were so close. We had a tiny corner room, overlooking the Canale dei Sospiri - the same canal where the Bridge of Sighs perches, although the bridge was too far away for us to actually see it from our hotel.
We love to be located as close to the main action as possible, and in Venice, this proved a great idea. We could come back to the hotel easily to rest, and then dash out at
the unlikely hour of 5:30 p.m. to find all of the day trippers gone, and no lineups at St. Mark`s, the Doge`s Palace and all of the nearby sights.
We sat in the two corner windows in our room, shutters wide open, listening to the singers and accordionists, serenading the tourists in gondolas. Often, in the mornings, whole flotillas of Asian tourists would glide by, one gondola after another. I waved to them, and they waved back. One person actually videotaped me waving to him from on high!
We decided against a gondola ride for ourselves. Instead, we opted for a traghetto ride across the Grand Canal. A traghetto is a smaller, gondola-like affair, which takes about eight passengers across the Grand Canal in the places where there is no bridge (there`s only three bridges) and if you`re not on a vaporetto or water taxi. They are mostly
for locals, although some tourists use them. It`s traditional to stand. We faced each other and held on for dear life, prepared to hit the floor if it got too tippy. We
made it across, standing all the way! Best of all, it just cost one Euro for the two of us. Now, that`s a ride I will definitely never forget!
There`s so much to see and do in Venice. If you can, it`s best to plan your days to make the most of your time there. We had a plan pretty much mapped out in our heads, and we stuck to it. We tried to group the sights together to save doubling back and wasting time. Even being organized, it`s impossible not to get at least a bit lost, although the many signs pointing you to San Marco, Rialto, etc. do help somewhat. One spends a lot of time - really a lot of time - walking around. Take good walking shoes.
There are many kinds of passes you can buy for Venice, if you are planning to visit lots of museums, galleries and churches as we did. We opted for the Museum Pass, which
gave us entrance to all the museums and sights of St. Mark`s Square which charge admission, ie the vast Correr, the Doge`s Palace, and it also included many other sights. We managed to also include the Ca`Pesaro, Burano`s Lace Museum and Murano`s Glass Museum, etc. It was 18 Euros, and included one entry to each sight, good for six months - well worth the price.
We really enjoyed visiting the old Jewish Ghetto district in Cannaregio, with its Museo Ebraico, and guided tour by a Jewish Venetian, of three small old synagogues and the
Campo di Gheto Nuovo. Tours are frequent and very interesting. You definitely don`t have to be Jewish!
Best of all was the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, housed in an "unfinished" palazzo, right on the Grand Canal. This gallery was Guggenheim`s actual home for 30 years until her death in the late 70s. Her modern art collection is wonderful, and not overwhelmingly big. There are photos of Guggenheim in her home, and written accounts of her life,
loves, family, etc. on the walls of the gallery. Some of her original furniture is there. There`s a wonderful garden, complete with a special olive tree planted by Yoko
Ono, the graves of her beloved dogs, and Peggy`s grave. There`s also a beautiful terrace right on the Grand canal, with incredible sculptures. And a café, if you need a bite
to eat and want to splurge.
It`s a memorable place to visit. Even without the art, just to gaze out the windows at that view of the Grand Canal - worth the price of admission.
Venice is expensive, no doubt about it, but we saved where we could. We brought along tuna "kits" bought at Costco, which included a small tin of tuna mixed with mayo with a
pop top, and a little package of crackers, spoon and napkin. We`d find a place to perch - not at St. Mark`s! - and have a little picnic. We also brought lots of granola bars and
chocolate for dessert. We`d buy inexpensive bottled water in the supermarket and refill a smaller plastic bottle.Gelato is everywhere - we loved it.
The majority of better restaurants were just way too expensive for us, and food is really not our major priority while travelling. Although we`d done research on a number of restaurants and thought we might splurge at one for our 40th anniversary, we decided against it, and ended up eating at the same restaurant for a few nights. It was around the corner from our hotel, Ristorante All`Angelo.
It`s very large and near St. Mark`s, and you can eat outside in the little laneway, which we did. It had the kind of atmosphere where you`d strike up a conversation easily with
the people at the next table, which is exactly what happened each night. There was a tourist menu if you wanted it, lots of delicious pizzas, pastas, etc. It was unhurried and they didn`t care how much or little one ordered. While it wasn`t gourmet dining, we definitely didn`t want to spend more. Yes, Venice is terribly expensive, just as you hear. There`s usually a 12% service charge, and then another charge for "Coperto" - the cover charge for bread, etc. And the bread was never very good - we have much better bread right here in Toronto. And don`t even think about the price of a bottle of water in the restaurants or it`ll keep you at
home, and you`ll never get to Venice.
We found that a restful day touring the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello made a nice change. It`s easy to take the vaporetto to these places, and we enjoyed watching the glass blowing, lace making, and the ancient church on Torcello.
Although we`d originally thought we`d take the vaporetto back to the train station, and take a bus from there to the airport, we learned that for only a few Euros more, we could
take the Alilaguna Speedboat right from St. Mark`s Square, and not have to transfer. The trip took about an hour, made several stops and was quite scenic. What fun to take a boat right to the airport - if there`s another place in the world that you can do this, I don`t know about it.
While Venice is always crowded no matter when you go, very pricy, and exists now purely because of tourism, it`s still enchanting and unique. They say that you have to visit
Venice before you die. No argument from me!
Toronto, Ontario, Canada