Venice – the Floating City
Venice is without a doubt one of the most famous and visited cities in the entire world. It is romantic, charming, unique, and a bit daunting. Visiting Venice is definitely a “bucket list” destination to any serious traveler. Our first visit to Venice was over 20 years ago, and looking back on that adventure, it was a disappointment. Our subsequent visits, though, were all remarkably memorable. MUCH has been written about Venice, and I doubt that I can add anything new, but I’d like to make some observations on: (1) Our first visit, (2) St. Mark’s Square, (3) the canals and bridges– specifically the Rialto and Academia Bridges, (4) The gondolas of Venice.
Our First Visit to Venice
During the summer of 1997 we spent several weeks in Europe traveling by train. Our system, we though, was a good one–until our trip to Venice. We scheduled our trips so that when we moved from city to city, we traveled overnight by rail, arriving at the new city early in the morning and ready to explore.
When we boarded the train for our overnight ride, somehow we were placed
on an American college car–pretty much a drinking and partying car. There was virtually NO sleep that night and when we arrived in Venice early the next morning, it was humid and hot, and we were exhausted. Not a good introduction to a world class city. Fortunately, we braved a return to Venice and since then have visited several times. Each visit is more enchanting than the last! This world class city is amazing.
St. Mark’s Square
Anyone who visits Venice immediately becomes aware that St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace are the virtual center of the city. St. Mark’s Basicila is the main attraction in the square with the famous Doge’s Palace beside it. The “doge” was a prince ruler of Venice, and over its history there were many of them; Enrico Dandolo did the most for Venice, and this makes him the most remembered doge.
You are allowed to visit the Basilica for free, but often there is a long line to enter. A shortcut is to go online and for just a few Euros reserve a spot in the Fast Track line. A walk through this massive cathedral is kept at a steady pace leaving little time to stop and look. Pictures are NOT allowed. Once inside the cathedral, you can pay a small fee which will allow you to go up to the roof of the Cathedral. From there, you will have marvelous view of the Square.
There is a fee to tour the Doge’s Palace and the tour is guided. I highly recommend this tour; the price is minimal and the information gained is well worth it. One of the most interesting parts of a tour of the Doge’s Palace is to walk through the prison and cross the
“Bridge of Sighs” with its small windows looking out over the canals of Venice. This small bridge between buildings got its name because the prisoners who passed over it “sighed” at their last view of the city.
There are a couple other places of interest in St. Mark’s
Square. Directly across from the Cathedral and the Palace is the Camponile–or the bell
tower which towers 323 above the square. Also, for another small fee you can ride an elevator to the top of the Camponile. This is where you can 360 degree photos of St. Mark’s Square and the canals. The bells are HUGE so cover your ears if you’re there when the bellow are ringing. Once again, I highly recommend going to the top of St. Mark’s Camponile.
All around St. Mark’s Square are lovely shops and restaurants. Each restaurant always has live music which, of course, adds to the romantic ambiance.
The most famous restaurant is the Cafe Florian which opened 1720. You name any famous person, and he/she has eaten there. Just for grins my husband and I stopped for a cup of coffee. That is all we had–ONE small cup of coffee each. The cost: $32.00 BEFORE a tip. Just a little “heads up.”
From St. Mark’s Square dozens of streets and canals spread out into the city. You can easily get lost in Venice as you meander down the narrow streets passing dozens of elegant shops or as your walk along one of the canals or bridges.
The Canals and Bridges of Venice
Venice and its neighbors Murano and Burano are all areas “rescued” from the
sea. Originally, this region was a huge mudflat but as people fled from enemies in Europe, they soon discovered that they could build on pilings and pass between homes and buildings via canals. Within the city itself there are 117 canals and 409 bridges! All commerce is transacted via boats on the canals. This includes deliveries of goods, mail and anything else that is found in a city. It is common to see water taxis, water ambulances, and even water police. Truly, Venice is a place that must be experienced personally to really appreciate.
Venice has many bridges but a visit there must include a walk over the
famous Rialto Bridge. It is a huge bridge with shops up and down both sides. The Academia Bridge (or Ponte del Academia is also a must. It crosses the Grand Canal toward the opposite side of the city from St. Mark’s. From this bridge you can get excellent photos of the Grand Canal in both directions.
The Gondolas of Venice
Possibly, though, the most glamorous and famous transportation in Venice is via a gondola that are guided by the colorful goldoliers. A gondola is a flat-bottomed boat that for years has been used in Venice because it is so well suited to the lagoon-like conditions. The gondolier uses only one oar which he guides in a skulling manner. The oar also acts as the rudder.
For centuries the gondola was Venice’s chief means of transportation and at one time there were 10,000 gondoliers. Today, the gondolas are most a tourist attraction and there are only 400 gondoliers working now. Even though a gondola ride is rather expensive, it is such an icon of the city that tourists take these rides by the 1,000s. Evening gondola rides are especially romantic when the gondolier not only guides the boat, but he also sings to his passengers.
How to Visit Venice
Europe is famous for its trains, and many people travel here by train. The train station is near the ship dock and the Academia Bridge. And, of course, you can visit on a cruise; I’ve been there both on Princess cruises and Viking cruises. Both of these cruise lines, allow two days here which is really great! If at all possible, allow yourself more than one day in Venice–several days if possible. Look for a later blog here about the Island of Burano.