The International Writers Magazine: With Ryan Air to Venice
Tripper in Venice
A DAY OR A STAY
"Enjoy a holiday in the stunning Veneto region, including an
un-missable excursion to Venice," so read the advertising blurb
in my glossy travel magazine. Does Venice really only warrant a
detour whilst holidaying in Italy?
"Doing a city
in a day" has an appeal but surely you need more time to properly
soak up the atmosphere of any city, particularly Venice, which I was
keen to visit.
For what was to be my first trip to this beautiful city I felt I needed
2 or 3 days at the very least to fully appreciate what, for many, is
the most romantic city in the World.
The scales were finally tilted towards a short stay when I realised
that if I could arrange a visit in September I would get to see the
spectacular gondoliers regatta, scheduled for the first Sunday
of the month.
But would I find that after a day Id exhausted all that Venice-"Queen
of the Adriatic" had to offer? Only time would tell.
My partner and I flew from Stansted (UK) to Treviso Airport, the smaller
of Venices two airports. From here there is an expected 70 minute
transfer to the Piazzalle Roma, Venices bus terminal. Actually
the Ryan Air coach only took 30 minutes and at 8 euros return was money
The Piazzalle Roma is the main terminal for both road and water transport.
The valparettos (water buses), not only motor along the Grand Canal
but also circle Venice, linking both the Lido, Venices famous
beach resort, in the south and the islands of Murano and Burano in the
Northern Lagoon. If, like us, you planned to use the valparettos regularly
then the 3 day unlimited-use ticket is great value at 22 euros, roughly
a fiver a day. Compare this with the single journey ticket for 5 euros.
The city is quite small, covering just 7,000 km.sq, so being able to
hop on and off the valparettos, from early morning till midnight, allows
you to explore both central Venice as well as the outlying islandssomething
beyond the day-tripper.
Choosing a centrally positioned hotel is essential if you are to take
full advantage of a city break. The Hotel Al Sole was some 3 minutes
walk from the coach stop and some 5 minutes from the Grand Canal. At
approx. £50 ppp.night it was reasonably priced bearing in mind
its central position. Situated overlooking the quiet Tollentini Canal,
this converted palace had a faded elegance, perhaps just verging on
the scruffy, but that aside it provided a great base for our stay and
the vine covered garden was particularly popular with residents at breakfast-time.
Central Venice is divided into 3 areas Santa Croce, San Polo
and San Marco and adjoining these are Cannaregio to the north and Dorsoduro
in the South. Having the luxury of a three day stay we planned to visit
the "must sees" at the least crowded times.
St. Marks Square is home to both The Basilica San Marco and Doges
Palace, Venices top 2 attractions, so to avoid queuing you simply
have to go early or late. After enjoying breakfast in the hotel garden
we walked into the square just as the Palace opened at 9.0am. We were
then able to wander around this impressive Gothic residence and admire
paintings by Titian and Bellini without once feeling pressurised by
others... However when we eventually emerged again into the sunshine
we were amazed by the length of the queue to enter the Basilica. Needless
to say we didnt bother to queue but left the square to the tour
parties. We returned late that afternoon when the coaches had departed
and gazed in wonder at the Basilicas amazing mosaics. To get a
close up look at the roof mosaics pay the 3 euros to visit the upstairs
Without question visiting St. Marks Square without the hassle of queuing
certainly helped to make it a truly memorable experience. However having
extra time on my hands didnt persuade me to sit at one of those
delightful outside tables in the square. Not even to listen to the mini
orchestra playing at Europes oldest coffee shop, Café Florian.
At 13 euros for a hot chocolate I let common sense prevail and sat on
the adjoining steps to listen. Shame my good intentions didnt
last - Just around the corner I simply couldnt resist going to
Harrys Bar. It was here that Hemingways hero drank his first
Bellini cocktail. I too enjoyed the blend of fresh peach juice and sparkling
prosecco white wine. Delightful, but at 15 euros, definitely a "one
Venice at Night. Photo Sam North
of the nice things about having three days is that you dont
have to rush anywhere. You can wander along the canals, stroll into
tree lined squares pause and gaze from one of the 400 bridges and,
of course, along with almost all visitors to Venice - get lost!
It also meant that on day two we had time for a "water day"
travelling across the lagoon to visit the islands of Murano and
World famous Venetian glass is made on the island of Murano. Those
who have the money and like the incredibly ornate glassware can
buy direct from the workshop.. We chose to simply watch the glass-blowing
before moving on to the island of. Burano. This lovely little island
with its brightly coloured houses is renowned for its lace making.
Although I gather
most of the lace now sold originates from the Far East, the islanders
still cherish the old legend about a faithful sailor. He resisted the
Sirens call and was rewarded with a beautiful veil of magical
foam for his bride, which was later worked into lace. A trade that brought
fame and fortune to the island. and a good enough story to persuade
my partner that a lace memento would be a very romantic gesture. The
island is a delight and well worth a visit.
Hopping back onto the water bus we travelled to Torchello, some 40 minutes
from Northern Venice and 20 mins. from Burano. The lagoons oldest
building, the Torchello basilica, contains some of the Worlds
most breathtaking Byzantine mosaics - a must for all visitors. Apparently
in 1948 Hemingway stayed at a small guesthouse on the island, the Locanda
Cipriani, its still there but prices have climbed somewhat since
the Hemingway days.
Having completed this mini tour of three of the lagoons islands
by mid afternoon we returned to Venice in plenty of time to visit the
Giardini and its lovely treelined avenues. The Piazza San Marco
is just a 30 minute walk from the gardens along the promenade bordering
the Canale di San Marco and as the sun slowly set over the distinctive
domed San Maria Della Salute I began to understand the romance that
Our final full day in Venice was unplanned. We used our valparetto pass
yet again to travel the length of the Grand Canal getting on and off
when the fancy took. The Rialto market is the place to buy fish and
fruit and vegetables, but think carefully before being tempted at the
souvenir stallsprices are high at this tourist hot-spot. Further
along the canal get off at Accademia and you are then within easy walking
distance of all the main museums and galleries including the Peggy Guggenheim,
which houses a wonderful collection of modern art.
.Having picked up supplies in the market we decided to picnic on the
lido, just a 10 minute ride from central Venice. Walking along the beach
we found ourselves surrounded by men in suits.. Not being film buffs
we were unaware that the Venice Film Festival was on and the "suits"
were film company employees. We were told Tom Hanks was there to promote
his latest film, we set an extra place but sadly he didnt show.
Luckily it didnt spoil our lunch and we returned to Venice full
of Parma ham and Chianti.
As night fell and we settled back to enjoy a last drink at a canal-side
bar next to our hotel we pondered on whether staying in Venice had been
worthwhile. Certainly it is possible to see most of the main attractions
in a single day.
But seeing Venice is not queuing in St. Marks Square, its seeing
the women buy their early morning flowers in the Campo Santo Stefano.
Seeing Venice is not jostling to have your photo taken on the Rialto
Bridge, its sitting at an outside table in a restaurant watching
the local kids play games around the fountain. Seeing Venice is not
riding on an expensive gondola. Its more about walking along a
tiny canal and watching local boatmen decorate their boats for the Sunday
We enjoyed Venice, including the regatta, which we saw before catching
our afternoon flight. But I am certain that our determination to return
to Venice is not because we want to join the crowds in St Marks Square.
Its because the atmosphere that is Venice is so very special and
you can only feel it if you have the chance to stay awhile.
© Chris Thomas November 2004
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