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VENEZIA SAN LUCIA (Venice)

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Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy
View of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge

The city tourists think of as Venice is an island called Venezia San Lucia by Italians.  Make sure not to confuse this with Venice Mestre, which is a few minutes away on the mainland.  If you get off the train when it arrives in Venice Mestre you will be disappointed by Venice because you've actually missed it.  Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Today Venice is famous for St Mark's Square, gondoliers and glass blowing.  Its architecture and its complete independence from motor vehicles make it one of the world's most unique and romantic cities.

Weather:

The presence of the Adriatic Sea moderates the climate in Venice and prevents temperatures from falling below freezing in winter, but it can snow at times.  Summer highs in July and August average 84 F (29 C), while lows are about 66 F (19 C).  From December to February average highs are 46 F (8 C) and average lows stay at or near freezing.  Precipitation is lightest from January to March and is fairly evenly spread throughout the rest of the year.  Spring and fall are good choices for reasonable weather and smaller crowds of tourists.

   

Transportation:

There are several methods of reaching the historic island of Venice.  Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE) is located on the mainland about a half hour away.  A causeway runs from Venice Mestre on the mainland to the island of Venice San Lucia.  The causeway supports taxis, buses and frequent rail service at either the train station or the nearby Piazzale Roma for buses and taxis.  There is a foot bridge between the train station and Piazzale Roma.  Beside Piazzale Roma, cruise ships disembark their visitors too.  A People Mover takes cruise ship passengers to Piazzale Roma on a 3 minute ride.  After that, there are no roads in Venice.  The options are to walk or take a water taxi (vaporetto).  For those staying in a hotel on the island it's essential to use a water taxi or pick accommodation near the Piazzale.  There are even water taxis from the airport to hotels on the island.  If you use roller bag luggage, you will find it to be a noisy, inconvenient journey on the cobblestone streets and small bridges.  Locals can always tell the arrival of a tourist by the clacking sound of their luggage.  For those walking to the Rialto Bridge and on to St Mark's Square, there are signs along the way that direct you through some of the trickier sections.  Returning to a hotel after a day of sightseeing can be a challenging experience that is reminiscent of laboratory mice in experiments where they get lost in a maze while seeking cheese.

Venice, Italy

View from St Mark's

Attractions in Venice:

Things to see and do:

  • Walk to the Rialto Bridge.  You might get temporarily lost in a maze of pedestrian streets that keep getting cut short by canals, but you can't wander out of the city.  It's self contained.

  • Walk or catch a water taxi (vaporetto) to St Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco).  There are some signs providing direction if you walk from the Rialto Bridge.  St Mark's includes the Basilica, the Campanile (tower) and the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale).  The church has no admission, while the Doge's Palace and the Campanile charge a fee.  The Campanile is well worth it, as there is an elevator.  The views and cool breezes at the top are very enjoyable.  Skip the Line tours are a good idea during the height of the tourist season in July and August.

  • Take a gondola ride or the shorter, cheaper version is a quick canal crossing in a traghetto.  Try Viator's Venice Tour Including Gondola Ride.  The number of gondoliers is limited by permit in Venice, which standardizes the experience but also keep the prices high.

St Mark's, Venice, Italy

St Mark's

Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Doge's Palace

Things to see and do Near Venice:

Savor the Tastes of Venice:

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Grand Canal

Venice Tours:

Hotels in Venice:

Take That Vacation Recommendations for Venice:

Hotel Rialto

Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal

Locanda Gaffaro

Hotel Concordia

Palazzo Selvadego

Hotel Kette

Baglioni Hotel Luna

Venice Marco Polo Airport - VCE (Booking.com) - including a list of hotels with a shuttle.

Venezia Mestre (Venice on the mainland) - Venice Mestre is not somewhere we recommend staying. Hotels are much less expensive, but in 2010 this was not an area frequented by tourists.


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A Day in Venice by Tim Anderson
Early in the morning, we headed to the train station in Mestre to train the last few miles to the islands of Venice SL. In order to buy a cafe latte and a pastry, you have to pay a cashier first and then head with your voucher to the service area. They gave us the wrong receipt, so we couldn't complete our order without staff shouting back and forth in Italian to square the matter away. We then headed out to check the schedule and debated which of the numerous trains we would catch to Venezia S.L. We went to the cash only ticket machine and discovered you didn't have to commit to a specific time. As I dropped the $1E coin in for each ticket, a train arrived on the track beside us and we hopped immediately on. We were in Venice in a few minutes and were feeling like seasoned travelers.

From the train station in Venice we carried and rolled our bags in search of Locanda Gaffaro. With no map due to my error, I was forced to use the laptop a couple of times and we asked directions once. We understood the directions even though they were entirely in Italian. Finally I was stumped as I seemed to be in the right location. A pleasant gentleman walked up and called us by name, which was shocking. He explained that he recognizes his clientele by the clicking of the luggage wheels on the pavement bricks. We stored the luggage and headed out to see the city.

View of St Marks from the tower, Venice, Italy

View of St Marks from the tower

I never really fully understood that the city of Venice has no cars in it, just a tangled mass of canals, foot bridges and narrow pedestrian streets. It was easy to find the Rialto Bridge and the Piazza San Marco (St Marks). There are signs that continually point the way through the twisted maze to these premier locations.  If you are going anywhere else, like back to your B&B, you are in quite a different situation altogether.  Walking the pathways you continually come to places where there is no bridge across the canal you want to pass.  Walking inland, you frequently come upon dead end court yards. It reminded me of a video game gone bad. Even our map didn't help, as we couldn't actually find where we were on it most of the time. 

The Piazza San Marco was full of people even though it wasn't the busy season.  The Basilica had a long line up and we joined in for the free visit. The line moved fairly quickly and we were in within a half hour. Inside it was very strange.  The interior was very dark and covered in large mosaics.  It was a gloomy, faded atmosphere that was endearing.  I paid the small charge to see the gold altar and extra charge to the second floor, which had a small museum with views down into the church and an outside balcony.  The museum had the original 4 horses, which are duplicated on the outside of St Marks. It also had old books, mosaics and tapestries. 

Rialto Bridge, Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Rialto Bridge, Grand Canal

Next we went to the Palazzo Ducale, known in English as the Doge's Palace.  For the price, it's a questionable visit.  There were large rooms with ornate ceilings, dark oversized paintings and extensive dungeons.  The most interesting part for me was the large collection of armor and weapons, including cross bows of every size and early revolvers.  There was even armor for horses and children. 

We stopped for lunch in the square. I had the most delicious Genovese sandwich of ham and soft white cheese, tomatoes and lettuce on a bun that was so soft it almost tasted doughy.  In the heat, the cola was wonderful too, though I did realize later that the price for drinks was double in the square.  We sat on a stone ledge in the shade and fed pigeons while we ate.

Feeling revived, we decided to ascend the Campanile (tower) next.  The $8 Euro charge seemed excessive for a venture that looked to involve a climb of 200 - 250 steps.  To our pleasure, the charge was for the elevator ride.  The views at the top were an amazing 360 degree view of the city.  The cool sea breeze was blowing through the tower creating a perfect recovery from the excessive warmth of the square below. 

Crossing the Grand Canal for 50 cents in a traghetto, Venice

Crossing the Grand Canal in a traghetto (gondola without seats)

From there, I led us on a disaster trying to find a vaporetto to cross the Grand Canal, but it turns out my failure to find one was related to the fact that I was actually looking for a traghetto.  Finally we followed the only other reliable set of signage back to the train station and then we basically started over and retraced our route from the station to the B&B.  We were worn out, sun stroked and blistered.  Not a good afternoon. 

Our room at Locanda Gaffaro was wonderful.  The room was large and quiet with air conditioning and a full bath.  We even had a balcony with a slight view in to a canal.  The tile floors were pleasantly cool on our feet.  I sat on the balcony and listened to the animated Italian conversations as unseen individuals prepared dinner in their apartments.  Nighthawks screeched overhead.  A gondolier was singing.  Thunder rolled and a light mist of rain fell. It was enchanting.  After a few hours to recover, we were ready to try Venice again.  This time with much better results.  First I planned a route to the nearest traghetto and this time we succeeded.  There were passengers waiting and the price of 50 cents was posted.  We were both in shock with what happened next.  You board the gondola, but there are no seats.  You shuffle to form two rows of standing passengers as the gondola rocks side to side.  All those canoeing safety instructions flashed in my mind.  The elderly woman in front of me exuded confidence.  Off we went across the Grand Canal with everyone standing.  What blast!

Next we wandered over the Rialto and found a waterfront table coming free at Ristorante Terrazza Sommariva.  The maitre d indicated the table was ours provided we would have dinner.  This turned out to be a highlight of Venice.  The waiter took our picture in one direction with the Rialto in the background and another with the gondolas for a background.  He indicated photography was his second occupation.  I had a draft beer, we shared an insalda mixta.  I had spaghetti al fruiti de la mare.  My partner was given parmesan cheese and when I asked for some the waiter indicated it was a mistake to put on this on my meal.  He put a little on one small area just to show that he wouldn't deny a customer the right to be stupid.  He was right.  This was the best spaghetti I've ever had - without parmesan.  Lovely shrimp, scallops and tasty clams in the shell.  Afterward we stood on the Rialto and watched the world as if frozen in time.  An excellent conclusion to our stay in Venice, though we did get lost again on the way home and had to retrace our steps from the train station again. 

In the morning we were at the station early.  We knew the routine for buying cafe latte - pay one person for a voucher and then collect drinks from someone else. There were no announcements to board our train.  We boarded and it left with no announcements whatsoever - there's only one direct to go and that's off the island.  With assigned seating, a free beverage and a snack, it seemed more like a plane ride to Florence.  Meanwhile one of the passengers in front of us had forgotten to self stamp his ticket at the train station.  A Gestapo impersonator charged him $65 payable on the spot.  Always an adventure on Italian trains.


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