We chugged into Venice Mestre station on a cold morning. Made our way, freezing in our boots, to our hotel. It was so nice and warm there but we knew we had to head out to explore. After a hot coffee to warm ourselves, we headed off to the station. Quite an experience that!
Getting to Venice
We had to figure out how to buy a ticket to Santa Lucia station from a machine, which I must say was not very user-friendly! We figured out how anyway and ended up buying tickets for 7 others on my card. They very quickly and gratefully gave me the required Euro! A ten-minute ride on the train over the Ponte della Liberta across the lagoon to the island of Venice – Santa Lucia station.
There was as a sea of people loitering on the banks of the Grand Canal. We stood on the Rialto Bridge and watched gondolas and water taxis and Vaporetti (water buses) go by. This bridge used to be a pontoon bridge. It is now a stone bridge and connects the districts of San Marco and San Polo. Numerous shops and cafes are on either side of this famed tourist attraction.
Doge’s Palace is worth a visit. Originally a palace, it is now a museum. On display are beautiful frescos and other pieces of art. The ceilings are superb. One part of the building overlooks the lagoon.
Saint Mark’s Basilica
You must visit the Saint Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) on the Piazza San Marco. It houses a Hellenic masterpiece – the gilded bronze horses. It has some priceless treasures and some fascinating secret alcoves. Situated at the Eastern end of Piazza San Marco, it’s a good example of Italo-Byzantine architecture. The interior houses many bright mosaics which are quite breathtaking. They tell stories of the history of the relic of St Mark. The Bell Tower is a much-recognised feature in the Venice skyline.
We walked along the Grand Canal – it’s actually a bit smelly and dirty. The waters to me looked and smelled stagnant. But that is me! Others find it supremely romantic. Since it’s a major waterway, there are water taxis abound. Some of the buildings that line the canal have no road access. The facades are colourful and the architecture is quite magnificent. There are many Fondaco houses i.e. residence and office in one building. Famed among these is the Fondaco dei Turchi. Architectural styles are Italo Byzantine, Venetian Gothic, Renaissance, Venetian Baroque and neoclassical.
We mulled over the thought that we should take a gondola ride and kiss under the Bridge of Sighs or Ponte dei Sospiri at dusk while the Bells of St Mark Campanile toll! Turns out gondola rides are very pricey and I thought it would be better-used shopping! The bridge is an enclosed one and connects the prison to the rooms in Doge’s Palace which had interrogation rooms. The prisoners used to sigh as they looked at the view of beautiful Venice before they were locked up in their cells. Of course, now it’s romantic to kiss under the bridge and be loved eternally! Fables are not for a realist like me!
Tour of the Islands
We did the tour of the islands though and that was well worth the euro we shelled out. Murano Island which is home to the famed Murano glass was amazing. We visited a factory and saw how the glass is made. So intricate and fascinating. You get a lot of imitation stuff. So remember that real Murano glass is frightfully expensive. I also got tiny glass animals – goat, horse, pig, duck etc. to add to my collectables.
We went to charming Torcello Island. A longish walk to see an old Church and the “Throne of Attila” was nice. A very peaceful and picturesque Island. Wished I had thought to take some sandwiches and wine along so that we could have sat on the grass and had a picnic!
Next, we went to Burano – a colourful and beautiful Island. Houses on this island sport different pastel shades of paint. And I say pastel lightly – they are actually bright and in some cases gaudy! But beautiful to see splashes of orange, pink, green, yellow etc as you approach the Island. They have their own small leaning bell tower (like in Pisa) and the main street which is bustling with activity. Cafes dot the streets and lace is good to buy here.
Museums in Venice
Museums are many. My favourite was the Lace Museum – phew! The beautiful and intricate lace is mind-blowing. Other museums house art, antique dress collections, frescos, culture, Renaissance art etc. You need at least 3 days to do justice to them.
Tips for going around Venice
Venice is best seen by walking the streets. It can get pretty tiring so wear good and comfortable shoes with thick socks to prevent blisters. Don’t even try to touch the water – untreated sewage goes straight into the canals! Yuk! Most of the alleyways end suddenly and if you’re not looking where you’re walking, you could fall into the water. So be careful.
If there is a waiter outside a restaurant asking you to grace the place, please avoid. Chances are they are not very good. Polenta (made of cornmeal) and cuttlefish ink sauce risotto are famed dishes. I found most of them expensive but one has to eat, so try the spritz (a mix of Prosecco wine and Campari). The Grappa is also good and has a strong taste. Top it off with an Espresso! The Sarde in Saor is an antipasto – fried sardine which is marinated with onions, vinegar, raisins and pine nuts is good if you like eating fish. Try the Baccala Montecato which is a creamy codfish mousse. For the rice lovers – seafood risotto, risi e bisi or rice with peas cooked a la Venetian style. Try Bigoli which is wheat spaghetti in salsa or Baicoli which is like our crispy rusk. I tried the Fritole which is a fritter made from milk, sugar, nuts, flour, eggs and butter. Deep fried, they are then sprinkled with powder sugar. Try all the vinos – Prosecco, Valpolicella, Amarone, Orto di Venezia, Venissa – all locally produced they are very heady.
Venice Mestre where our hotel was, is a boring place. All restaurants seem to shut by 7 pm! Just when I wanted to chill with a glass of wine! We had to walk around for a good hour before we found a restaurant that was willing to serve us dinner.
Not as romantic as I hoped it would be but I’m not complaining!