It was mentioned to me in passing recently that my post were a little heavy on the Hellanism (Greece). So in this post we’ll take a look at Venice, Italy and best bets when visiting the city.
I would first like to explain if you are just visiting Earth from a far-off planet (welcome!), the Italian city of Venice isn’t actually floating on the water. The ancient city was built by mainland Italians on a series of low-lying islands as a refuge from the constant barbarian invasions after the fall of the Roman Empire in the west. The structures are built upon pylons driven into the marsh and encased in a stone foundations. The floating appearance comes from the Venetians’ habit of building right to the water’s edge and the fact that every piece of dry land is taken up by stone walkways and structures. Yes, the city is sinking at a rate of 2-3mm a year due to compaction and other factors, but that’s nothing compared to the 2-3 inch rise of sea level per decade causing more and more instances of “Alto Aqua” (high water) swamping the city. So, visit Venice now, while it doesn’t require SCUBA certification.
When you arrive in Venice, you will most likely arrive by air at the Aeroporto Marco Polo on the mainland, because any landing closer to the city would take Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s skills. We found a multitude of ways to get to the city when we arrived. You can take a private water taxi if you have $100 or more to spend on transportation and want to feel like a high roller, or take the bus like normal people do from the airport to Piazzale Roma for about $4. Your Venice experience truly begins as you board a vaporetto (water bus) to take you from the piazza across the lagoon to the island city for about $9. The biggest complaint about the vaporetto is that it is slow. I happened to love it; I found the 20-minute trip a great chance to unwind. The boat is also a great platform for getting pictures and video of the city from the water. Check with your hotel ahead of time and know which vaporetto stop is closest to your hotel.
Warning: Your baggage is heavier than it appears! Yes, you packed it but you really didn’t have to carry it very far (at least to this point). You probably hauled it to your car, to the trolley at the airport, then to the bus. Upon arriving in Venice, you may have to walk blocks and blocks to get to your hotel. If you’re wheeling your luggage, know that the wheels can be more trouble than help on cobblestone, stairs and bridges. Dragging a bag will get old really fast. Hiring a porter will cost an arm and a leg, so we suggest wearing a backpack, packing light, or suffering the consequences.
A few places that have reasonable rates, for Venice, include The Hotel Bernardi-Semanzato (a family run hotel in a converted palazzo for $146 per night) or the Locanda La Corte (also $146 a night). The prices may very a lot depending on the time of year. The Al Gambero, where we stayed just off San Marco Square cost us $120 per night in the off season, March. A check of the price in the high season has rooms going for as much as $400. The rooms were great with silk wall treatments, nice bathrooms, classic furnishings and we even had a window opening to a small canal. We found it the perfect place for our first trip to Venice. Warning: Elevators are rare in Venice! If you have trouble with stairs ask for a room on a lower floor, 0 if you can, because ground floors are 0, the next one up is 1 and so on.
Assuming you’re not a honeymooner and you plan to leave your hotel room to see the legendary city of Venice, here are a few must do’s. You should visit the Plazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). The elaborate marble building is striking and was the home for the elected Dukes of Venice for over 1000 years. The building is filled with art and history; we suggest taking an English language tour. The cost of admission is $17.50 to the palace or you can get a St. Mark’s Square Museum Pass for under $25. The pass is good for one visit to the Doge’s Palace, the Museo Correr (Art and History), Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Archeology) and Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (National Library).
The most beautiful structure on St. Mark’s square is the Basilica di San Marco (Saint Mark’s Basilica), the final resting place of Saint Mark. The architecture is a combination of Catholic Gothic, Byzantine, and Muslim influences. The four bronze horses above the entrance were stolen from Constantinople during the 4th crusade. The interior of the church is dark, but illuminated by hundreds of pounds of gold leaf and jeweled mosaics. The entrance to the church is free but the small museums inside the church, like the treasury and presbytery (area of church reserved for clergy) will cost an extra $4. Unless you have a special interest in the church, the additional areas aren’t necessary. You can in take all the architectural and artistic highlights from sitting quietly in a pew. I do suggest dropping a euro or two in the donations box as a thank you for all the free art. Warning: The dress code is enforced! No shorts, bare arms, or skirts above the knee, please.
The Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) was once called the drawing room of Europe by Napoleon. You will find yourself surrounded by tourists and pigeons these days, but the arcade-boarded square is still the heart of Venice. I suggest climbing the campanile (bell tower) ($8 in 2004, now $10.50) for a great view of the city. You will be surprised to notice you can’t see any of the canals except for the Grand Canal. The buildings are too tall and the canals are too narrow to be seen.
You need to take a gondola ride. I know it may sound cliché and the cost may seem a little high at $120 to $140, but it is Venice. You know me, it’s all about the story and a gondola ride is one of the great ones. I know for me it is the location of my wife and I’s much disputed first kiss. She says I kissed her, I say she kissed me. We may never know for sure because we were drinking two bottles of wine a night and were fairly drunk most of the time. I would ask your hotel to recommend a good gondolier. We had a guide who spoke English well and gave us a history lesson as we glided along for 40 minutes. You should check out the Instituzion per la conservazione dell goldola e la tutela del gondolier (The Gondoliers Guild or Union) for the official going rates. I also suggest watching Discovery Atlas Italy to see what it takes to become a Gondolier. They don’t just let anyone row your boat.
If you’ve worked up a good thirst and want to get off your feet, have a drink at Harry’s Bar: the home of the bellini. Sipping a peach and prosecco drink is a great way to spend the evening. You’ll also be spending it in the company of greats that frequented Harry’s like Marconi, Charlie Chaplin, Barbara Hutton, Orson Wells, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway.
While you drink your bellini, relax and know you’ve checked Venice off your list of places to see before you die (and all before Venice disappears into the sea!). In the last 10 years amazing efforts have been made to secure the city for future generations so it can continue to earn its marvelous and romantic reputation, but the task is far from complete and when fighting Mother Nature she always has the upper hand.