Review and Photos by Andrew Hartl
The abundance of affordable on-line airfare deals with the likes of Germanwings, Ryanair, Air Berlin and a host of other airlines offering flights within Europe for under $100, brings any of Europe’s incredible cities within reach.
This weekend’s getaway brought me to Venice, Italy. If you’ve never been before, it’s definitely one of those bucket list cities. Since Venice is made up of 117 smaller islands in the Venetian Lagoon, there is no road traffic. For that matter, there are no roads, only narrow cobblestone lanes. The islands are separated by canals and linked by many, many bridges.
Upon arrival at Marco Polo International Airport, visitors are met with their first decision – to pay a few Euros and take the Vaporetto (boat bus) with all the other tourists and their luggage, or to pay $100 to travel in style in an Italian high-speed racing boat limo.
The boat bus option slowly makes its way from the airport up The Grand Canal, with designated stops along the way. And next comes the fun part – navigating the way through endless cobblestone alleys, up and over numerous bridges with luggage in tow, while attempting to find your hotel in this ancient labyrinth of a city.
The alternative – the high-speed boat/limo – offers classic and very powerful wooden boats that are small enough to manoeuvre through the narrow canals and then drop visitors at your hotel doorstep. Personally, I considered a hundred bucks well spent for the experience. After all, how often does one spend a weekend in Venice?
There are plenty of accommodation choices in Venice. I opted for the NH Venezia Palazzo Barocci, a former palace turned hotel. Considered to be rather pricey at $400US/night for a Junior Suite, the room offered 2 balconies with positively spectacular views and fittingly furnished fittingly with Venetian opulence. The hotel location is spectacular, set on the Grand Canal and overlooking The Rialto Bridge. It’s conveniently located within walking distance to almost everything, but far enough away from the main square madness that guests can get a restful night’s sleep. There is also a Vaporetto (boat bus) stop directly outside the front door.
Once guests have checked in, if you’re anything like me, you’re ready to run off and explore everything there is to see. But the best way to start and at the same time orientate yourself with the city’s layout is to take the boat-bus from one end of the canal to the other and then back again. The ride takes roughly an hour and a half and you’ll get some great views of Venice so bring a camera.
One of the nicest things about Venice is that visitors simply can’t get lost while exploring countless shops and restaurant gems hidden along the many cobblestone alleys. Given the many tours through the alley, it’s highly possible to encounter a sudden swarm of people. But it’s easy to duck down the next laneway, escape the crowds, and keep right on exploring. Simply put, it’s awesome.
St Mark’s Square with its cathedral, palace, and Bell Tower is one of the main attractions and gathers the most visitors. The square is lined with shops, boutiques, and cafes. And there are outdoor patios that feature live classical music every evening. Seating on the patio automatically elicits a $50 cover charge added to your bill, but a basket of potato chips is complimentary.
The Cathedral is spectacular and the tourist line-ups to get in seem endless, but guests with a little knowledge can the skip the line by visiting www.basilicasanmarco.it in order to reserve an entry time for the cost of 2 Euros. It’s a little-known fact that can be an excellent time saver. The Doge’s Palace is also worth a visit. It contains many works of art and is a great way to see how Venetian royalty lived.
The best view in town is a quick elevator ride to the top of the Bell Tower, directly opposite the Cathedral. The line-up can also be long but it moves quickly and rewards tourists with an unobstructed 360-degree view of Venice.
The Bridge of Sighs is just around the corner on the canal. The bridge linked the prison with the palace where legend has it that you could hear the sighs of the condemned as they were being led to prison and were getting their last views of daylight.
The Rialto Bridge is another very popular attraction. Sundown is the best time to visit, just as the lights are coming on. This offers beautiful photos of the hustle and bustle on the canal below. The bridge is lined with souvenir shops and it’s great to hang out at one of the cafes for an espresso or gelato and some people-watching. Following the alley past the bridge will take visitors to the train station and fish market, which is interesting to see if you don’t mind the intense smell.
If you have time, a tour of the Veneto Region is recommended, as an hour or two drive from Venice towards the Dolomite Mountains. This tour included stops in Bassano Del Grappa, the town best know for The Grappa (spirits made from grapes) it produces. Lunch is provided in a small-town rustic restaurant, followed by a tour and tasting at Prosecco Vineyard.
Try your best to get lost, enjoy a great meal, drink some world class wine, sit back, close your eyes and surrender yourself to the magic that is Venice.