Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Shanwah's Venice

Crossing the bridge from mainland Venice to the lagoon islands is one of those moments that gets you every time. You clatter through the mainland town without so much as a second glance at your surroundings and suddenly the rails shoot you out into the open ocean, your first glimpse of the Venetian lagoon is before you and you have no choice but to sit up in your seat and stick your nose to the window. It gave me goosebumps the first time and a giddy grin every time since.

For my first stay on the island I spent days agonizing over accommodation and ended up at the lovely Hotel Abbazia right near the main station, it taught me a valuable lesson about accommodation in Venice, if you choose a location near a train station or Vaporetti stop then you can always find your way home.

This time around we opted for a more budget friendly base camp near Vaporetti stop Fondamente Nouve and were rewarded for our frugalness with a view over the cemetery island of San Michele and a broken air conditioner affectionately nicknamed "the agitator". Despite having a room that was hotter than Hades, we were well located for some great food and a much quieter position closer to the locals.

After dumping our bags we made an attempt to visit the baroque church of Santa Maria Della Salute, interesting because it was built as an offering to deliver the city from the plague of the 1600's, but instead we succeeded in getting quite lost. Fortunately we spotted an affordable(ish) restaurant that fulfilled my lifelong desires to eat on the waterfront called Linea d'Ombra.

The irony of my chosen attire for the day is not lost on me.

This is Venice, pure and simple. 

On our way back (lost again) we stumbled into Piazza San Marco. We'd planned on visiting San Marco the following day but his have us the perfect opportunity to take some moody dusk pictures around the square and watch the clock tower chime with beautiful statues of young and old representing the passage of time (how apt) called 'the moors'. Something I will definitely be repeating on my next visit.

Some of my artsy dusk photos (so moody...right?!)

Basilica di San Marco all covered in gold. Palazzo Ducale (Doges Palace) is connected to the right.

The bustling Piazza San Marco at sundown.

Day number two started off with an early morning Vaporetti trip to the island of Murano, famed for its glasswork. This island presents a great opportunity for shopping as the glassware is generally of a higher quality and much cheaper! You are often buying form the very same place the glassware was made so the shopkeepers are usually a lot more passionate about what they are offering you. I picked up a really beautiful (and very kitsch) piece from an artisan studio for €20.

The canals of Murano... Also a random Gondola picture (always necessary).

Attempting to return from Murano proved more confusing than originally thought, we rushed onto the Vaporetti laden down with purchases only to discover we had taken the Vaporetti in the wrong direction! This meant we had no choice but to take a leisurely tour of Venice from atop The Grand Canal itself (there are certainly worse things). In the afternoon we visited Palazzo Ducale (the Doges Palace) and got to walk across the Bridge of Sighs! The self guided tours of the prison and palace are amazing and I definitely recommend you make some time for it (even If it's only to look out from the little windows in the Bridge of Sighs and see the crowd of people crammed onto the tiny little walkway outside). We finished off the day with a climb to the top of the famous campanile just in time to be at the top when the bells chimed (although it's more of a ear shattering clang when you're that close to them).

The view from the top. I mean look at that! (Btw that is Santa Maria Della Salute in the top right).

Telephone box at the top of the Campanile... So you can share the deafening bells with loved ones.

Basilica di San Marco and the Campanile on a windy summers day.

My last two days in the stunning lagoon city of Venice involved the very glamorous task of laundry followed by more aimless wanderings, waterside dining and a spot of historical theatre for good measure.

If you made it through this lengthy ramble, well done! I suppose I could have just given you a top ten list of things to do in Venice... But that would have been boring for me so too bad! I have included links in case you've been inspired by my trip... so I'm not that selfish.

My feet dangling dangerously close to the lapping water/seaweed/algae.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Shall we share a Gondola?

Venice is amazing... No doubt about it, no questions asked... Amazing. So often is this beautiful island associated with crowds of tourists, tacky gift shops and overpriced eateries that people choose a fleeting visit that is just long enough to see some canals, scoff at the cost of a Gondola ride and take a few selfies in St Mark's Square. Venice has so much to offer if you give it a proper shot! Just remember, everything here is going to be a bit more expensive than the rest of Italy so budget appropriately.

See Venice is Beautiful! "Boy with Frog" statue outside Punta della Dogana (the statue is now removed but the location is amazing), a shiny black gondola resting on the canal, Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) and the inside of Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace).

Here are some easy steps to ensure you get some quality Venice time.

Step one... Book your accommodation on the ISLAND of Venice.
You can choose to save money by staying on the mainland town of Venice, but it means that you have to catch a train to the island every day and you are at the mercy of the traders and their steep lunchtime prices. My preferred option is to stay in one of the hotels on the island. It is definitely a more expensive option but with some persistence, you can get reasonably priced accommodation and nothing beats sitting by the canals in the evening after the throngs of day tourists have left the island and listening to the water lap against the city.

Step two... Stay at least three nights.
You will need one day for settling in, one day for exploring the sights of Venice and one day for heading to one of the smaller islands (Murano, Burano, Lido or Carnellio). Venice is such a labyrinth, that you will inevitably get stressed out if you try and fit it into a smaller stay. For me, a big part of enjoying Venice is aimless wandering... a bit difficult to do if you are power walking between sights to cram them into one day.

Step three... Set up camp somewhere easy to find.
From a way-finding point of view, Venice is a mess! There is no order at all and it would take you months to remember your way around. If you are smart about where you stay, then you should always be able to find your way home. At the fork of every street or canal there are signs on the walls pointing you to one of four things: S Marco (St Mark's Square, Rialto (Rialto Bridge), Ferrovia (Train Station) and Vaporetto. The Vaporetto are the water buses and these signs point to the various stops in the area. If you stay near one of these, all you ever need to do in order to get home is follow the signs to the nearest Vaporetti stop and use the water network to get you home. Much easier than a map and more fun too!

Step three... Get lost.
As I mentioned earlier, Venice has the most to offer to those who wander it's streets aimlessly. Spend a day meandering around the tangled streets until you get completely lost! This is how you find those amazing foodie gems, legitimate handicraft stores and photo opportunities that will make everyone jealous! When you are finished being lost, just follow the signs to one of the many Vaporreto stops, or main tourist destinations and find your way back from there.

Bonus step (because I almost forgot it)... Share the fun.
Gondolas are expensive! You can haggle and you can shop around, but at the end of the day you are going to pay more than you thought reasonable. To save yourself from buyer's remorse, do as the title of this article suggests and share. These bad boys are priced per ride, not per rider, so if you are happy to share the journey with a friend or fellow traveller (or three) then I suggest you do.

That's it! These are just a few basic tips and I should also mention that these steps aren't an original creation of mine and most of the credit should go to Jessica (see my last post).

Stay tuned to see what I did on the lagoon wonder that is Venezia!