I’ve been infinitely fortunate to have visited Italy several times in the past, and like many others have fallen hopelessly in love with the culture, the people, the sights, the history and of course, the food. Previous trips have included Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terra, Lake Como and the beautiful Amalfi Coast, but for one reason or another I never made it to Venice. So, I was determined to make “The Queen of the Adriatic” a priority stop during the European leg of my gap year tour.
Some key sights in Venice
I arrived in Venice around noon via a bus from Villach, Austria, having connected from a train from Ljubljana. The entire journey took about 4 hours and was surprisingly comfortable. I was a bit apprehensive about taking a bus, but was assured by my booking agency that it would be much faster than taking a train the entire way. Surprisingly, the bus was amazingly modern, sleek and new, and provided easy access to the Tronchetto stop for the vaporetto (basically a water bus), which would take me along the Grand Canal to my hotel near the Rialto Bridge.
A vaporetto on the Grand Canal
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about Venice, as I’ve heard conflicting reviews about the city—magical, touristy, dirty, romantic, dynamic, smelly, crumbling, magnificent. I’ll cut to the chase and say that I absolutely, positively, unequivocally loved it. I’ve never seen anything like it, and though I could understand some of the criticisms, my feeling was that the positives far outweighed any negatives.
In my day-and-a-half in Venice, I made it to most of the key sights via a combination of vaporetti, traghettos (gondolas that make quick passes across the grand canal) and walking – ambling around Piazza San Marco, climbing the Campanile, exploring Doge’s Palace (crossing the Bridge of Sighs into the prison cells) and visiting Frari Church.
Piazza San Marco prominently featuring St. Mark’s Basilica and the Campanile
Hall of the Grand Council in Doge’s Palace – home to Tintoretto’s Paradise – the largest oil painting in the world
Bridge of Sighs – leading from Doge’s Palace to the prison
I loved the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern-art museum housed in the palazzo of the late heiress, featuring many works that she collected during her lifetime. Right on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro district, it is a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, admiring the artwork and strolling through her home and courtyard (where she is buried along side her beloved dogs).
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
An excitable sculpture at Guggenheim Museum
My one big “oops”…I may be the only person to have visited Venice without actually venturing into St. Mark’s Basilica. I was waiting in a long line to get in and at 5pm promptly, they closed the doors…oh well, next time.
By far my favorite thing to do in Venice was to get lost in the maze of streets and alleys outside of the heavily touristed areas. I think it’s here that you experience the real magic of the city, stumbling across quaint little squares, medieval churches, lopsided houses, interesting shops and amazing bridges (I think there are more than 400 in the city) that cross the tiniest of canals. It’s hard to comprehend how it was all constructed and even more amazing that it is so well preserved today.
One of more than 400 bridges
Tragicomica Mask Shop near Frari Church
I highly recommend my hotel – The Ai Reali – recently opened in a centuries-old building, and a nice combination of old-world charm and modern convenience. The staff there was excellent – super helpful and charming. They recommended a great restaurant for dinner on my first night, Trattoria Antiche Carampane near Piazza San Polo, which has a sign outside: “no pizza, no lasagne, no menu turistico”. It was a bit hard to find (I was 20 minutes late for my reservation because I kept getting lost on my way there), but it was well worth the trek, featuring the freshest of local food served steaming hot. Delizioso!
Canal entrance to Hotel ai Reali
Trattoria Antiche Carampane
I wish I was able to spend more time in this amazing city, and hope to return one day. My schedule was tight however, and I was obligated to leave early in the morning for my next destination. I decided to leave in style, and splurged on a private water taxi to the railway station where I bid arrivederci to beautiful Venice and boarded my train for Aix-en-Provence.
A water taxi – spendy, but worth a splurge