I have been to Venice a number of times and enjoyed great, good and terrible weather. Which in turn means I have experienced Venice at various levels of flooding. Venice in the sunshine is enchanting while Venice in the rain is in my opinion, miserable and unpleasant if you have to walk outdoors. On our most recent trip in October 2018, my husband and I were treated to beautiful weather and no flooding. News reports immediately following our stop, showed us that we had dodged the flooding bullet by four days. Whew, the last time we had visited Venice we had not been so lucky and wading through mucky water was not my idea of a fun or sanitary activity. In the photos tied to this blog I have provided pictures of Venice when flooded and in the sunshine.
In this particular blog I am going to address Venice as a shore excursion for one or two days as opposed to an extended vacation stay. As such I will cover the highlights you might want to see and leave the rest for an article on longer visits to the city and surrounding area.
As with previous cruises to this port, we enjoyed the scenic sail past the older section of the city. Whenever we cruise to Venice I select a balcony cabin on the starboard side of the ship so we can be treated to an outstanding view of Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace as the ship sails past. Having a balcony is a bonus for viewing the entrance and departure to Venice and on previous cruises we had hosted viewing parties. For those who do not have a balcony, a spectacular view awaits you from any common bow or stern viewing point. The first photo I have included is the view of San Marco Square as we sailed past it.
The reason I specifically comment on this particular port entry is that it will soon come to an end. Due to an impending change in how cruise ships arrive in Venice, passenger liners will soon begin to arrive via a different route that involves entering the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic through an inlet far to the south of the routing presently enjoyed. Consequently, for those wanting to participate in an experience that will have them sailing within a few hundred feet of historic buildings, you might consider taking a cruise to Venice sooner rather than later. This sail past also allows one to get an outstanding view of just how flat Venice is. The skyline is broken by church steeples and working cranes. A review of my photos from previous trips shows me that there are always cranes at work as there are so many older buildings in need of repair or shoring up due to the danger of sinking.
By way of background, Venice is located in, and the capital of, the Veneto region of Italy which is one of the northernmost states. Originally built on numerous little islands, Venice has few roads with travel on the canals being the main method of moving between areas. Bridges also connect various sections of the city and some of these bridges are little historical marvels. The prevalence of boats as a means of traveling from point to point, make it both interesting and unique and I will speak a little more on that later in this blog.
Once our ship docked in Venice my husband and I have, in the past, taken one of the ship organized water shuttles to Piazza San Marco (San Marco) which has long been the drop off point for water shuttles. This time we were determined to try to navigate the streets on our own and make our own way to the old town.
If this is your first visit to Venice, I strongly suggest San Marco as a starting point. Three of the biggest draws in the historical city are there and you will find a lot of interesting things to see in the square and immediate area. You don’t really need an organized tour to reach this location as it is easily done on your own. However the stress-free and fastest route is by taking one of the shuttles organized by the ship or by a water taxi (which can be expensive).
As mentioned, on this occasion, we were determined to find our own way to San Marco and we found the walk to be enjoyable, fairly easy and well signed. For those wishing to save money on transportation and don’t mind a little walk, choose this option. For those who want to do most of their walking when they have reached the major historic areas, then you can easily walk to the people mover from the dock and take the train to Pl del Roma (1.50 euro per person). Then switch to a water bus which you can take to the Rialto Bridge or the San Marco area. If you get off at the Rialto Bridge stop, it is an easy and fairly well signed walk to San Marco with interesting little shops vying for your attention along the way.
Venice was one of the major centres of the Renaissance so the buildings are magnificent. Unlike some cities wherein the older historical sections contain the most beautiful buildings, you can find architectural treasures all around this city. On my first visit to Venice (pre-digital cameras), I took over 300 photos. At that time it was unusual for me to take so many pictures given the expense so that is an indication of just how amazing I found this place to be. Now that I have been to Venice too many times to count, I find myself still taking photos and I continue to be enchanted with the whole Venice experience. No matter how you get to the San Marco area, make sure to enjoy the architecture and scenery enroute.
Once you get to the San Marco I strongly suggest a visit to St. Mark’s Basilica. There is almost always a line up to enter but it usually moves quickly and the basilica is well worth a look. It was built in the 9th century to essentially house stolen goods. Specifically the body of St. Mark the Evangelist which had been stolen from Alexandria, Egypt. In the creation of St Mark’s, the Venetians ensured that the body was housed in an elegant and grand resting place. The basilica has over 500 columns (not all in the same style), and 85,000 square feet of mosaics. Pay particular attention to the Icon of the Madonna Nicopeia, the four bronze horses and the Pala d’Oro, a Byzantine altar screen of gold embedded with over 1,300 pearls, 300 emeralds, 300 sapphires and other assorted jewels. That certainly gives a whole new meaning to the term “richly decorated”.
Exiting St. Marks, turn to the north side of the Piazza where you will find the Renaissance style building with the clock tower. As for the Piazza itself, it is large and when not flooded, quite interesting. However there are a few things to note. For example there are a significant number of pigeons that inhabit the square and which are prone to flying close to people. I have seen more than one person startled by the birds and their droppings. Eating or drinking at establishments/outdoor restaurants in and around the square can be quite pricey so move away from the square if you don’t want to pay outrageous prices. Beware of pickpockets who work the heavily trafficked area.
One of the buildings that also draws visitors attention in this area is the Doge's Palace. A splendid example of the Venetian Gothic style, the palace is now a museum and full of interesting things to see. As with the basilica, there is an entrance fee and it can be a busy place to visit. If you want to skip the line-ups, buy your entrance tickets online before you go. While in the area of the palace, look for the Bridge of Sighs. Built in 1600, it is a white limestone bridge that passes over the Rio Di Palazzo and connects the New Prison to the interrogations rooms in the Doge’s Palace. The name is reported to have come from the sighs of prisoners as they were taken to the prison. One of our gondoliers told me that it was so named because the family members would sigh as they caught a glimpse of a loved one being taken to the prison. Regardless of which version is correct, both are good stories and the bridge is worth a photo.
In and around San Marco are many little streets and alleyways that are full of shops selling Murano glass, Venetian masks and assorted tourist items. The prices vary and things become a little less expensive as you move away from the square.
There are a number of places to see in Venice such as the Murano glass factory, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection or the Galleria dell’Accademia Venice for those who love the Renaissance period. Don't forget to buy your tickets in advance, online if possible.
For those wanting to complete their Venice experience, I suggest a gondola ride. Move away from the San Marco area and towards the Rialto Bridge to find more Gondoliers. Remember to negotiate the price. The further away from the San Marco area, the cheaper the price. The further away from the Grand Canal, the less choppy the water and the smoother the ride. Try to negotiate a routing that takes you past the old prison. The Rialto Bridge area has gondolas awaiting tourist but that is a heavily trafficked area and again, it can be quite a rocky ride. The quieter canals offer stunning views and smoother rides.
It is possible to negotiate travel on other types of boats through the canals and if it is raining, I suggest this option as a means of seeing the sights from the water, while securely covered. As mentioned earlier, Venice in the rain is not my favourite city.
Over all, Venice is a beautiful, historic and unique experience and one that you will remember.
For those wanting to ask specific questions about Venice, contact me at email@example.com