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The International Writers Magazine
: With Ryan Air to Venice

Day Tripper in Venice
Chris Thomas

"Enjoy a holiday in the stunning Veneto region, including an un-missable excursion to Venice," so read the advertising blurb in my glossy travel magazine. Does Venice really only warrant a detour whilst holidaying in Italy?

"Doing a city in a day" has an appeal but surely you need more time to properly soak up the atmosphere of any city, particularly Venice, which I was keen to visit.
For what was to be my first trip to this beautiful city I felt I needed 2 or 3 days at the very least to fully appreciate what, for many, is the most romantic city in the World.

The scales were finally tilted towards a short stay when I realised that if I could arrange a visit in September I would get to see the spectacular gondolier’s regatta, scheduled for the first Sunday of the month.
But would I find that after a day I’d exhausted all that Venice-"Queen of the Adriatic" had to offer? Only time would tell.

My partner and I flew from Stansted (UK) to Treviso Airport, the smaller of Venice’s two airports. From here there is an expected 70 minute transfer to the Piazzalle Roma, Venice’s bus terminal. Actually the Ryan Air coach only took 30 minutes and at 8 euros return was money well-spent.

The Piazzalle Roma is the main terminal for both road and water transport. The valparettos (water buses), not only motor along the Grand Canal but also circle Venice, linking both the Lido, Venice’s famous beach resort, in the south and the islands of Murano and Burano in the Northern Lagoon. If, like us, you planned to use the valparettos regularly then the 3 day unlimited-use ticket is great value at 22 euros, roughly a fiver a day. Compare this with the single journey ticket for 5 euros. The city is quite small, covering just 7,000 km.sq, so being able to hop on and off the valparettos, from early morning till midnight, allows you to explore both central Venice as well as the outlying islands—something beyond the day-tripper.

Choosing a centrally positioned hotel is essential if you are to take full advantage of a city break. The Hotel Al Sole was some 3 minutes walk from the coach stop and some 5 minutes from the Grand Canal. At approx. £50 ppp.night it was reasonably priced bearing in mind its central position. Situated overlooking the quiet Tollentini Canal, this converted palace had a faded elegance, perhaps just verging on the scruffy, but that aside it provided a great base for our stay and the vine covered garden was particularly popular with residents at breakfast-time.

Central Venice is divided into 3 areas – Santa Croce, San Polo and San Marco and adjoining these are Cannaregio to the north and Dorsoduro in the South. Having the luxury of a three day stay we planned to visit the "must sees" at the least crowded times.
St. Mark’s Square is home to both The Basilica San Marco and Doge’s Palace, Venice’s top 2 attractions, so to avoid queuing you simply have to go early or late. After enjoying breakfast in the hotel garden we walked into the square just as the Palace opened at 9.0am. We were then able to wander around this impressive Gothic residence and admire paintings by Titian and Bellini without once feeling pressurised by others... However when we eventually emerged again into the sunshine we were amazed by the length of the queue to enter the Basilica. Needless to say we didn’t bother to queue but left the square to the tour parties. We returned late that afternoon when the coaches had departed and gazed in wonder at the Basilica’s amazing mosaics. To get a close up look at the roof mosaics pay the 3 euros to visit the upstairs museum
Without question visiting St. Marks Square without the hassle of queuing certainly helped to make it a truly memorable experience. However having extra time on my hands didn’t persuade me to sit at one of those delightful outside tables in the square. Not even to listen to the mini orchestra playing at Europe’s oldest coffee shop, Café Florian. At 13 euros for a hot chocolate I let common sense prevail and sat on the adjoining steps to listen. Shame my good intentions didn’t last - Just around the corner I simply couldn’t resist going to Harry’s Bar. It was here that Hemingway’s hero drank his first Bellini cocktail. I too enjoyed the blend of fresh peach juice and sparkling prosecco white wine. Delightful, but at 15 euros, definitely a "one off" experience.

Venice at Night. Photo Sam North
One of the nice things about having three days is that you don’t have to rush anywhere. You can wander along the canals, stroll into tree lined squares pause and gaze from one of the 400 bridges and, of course, along with almost all visitors to Venice - get lost! It also meant that on day two we had time for a "water day" travelling across the lagoon to visit the islands of Murano and Burano.

World famous Venetian glass is made on the island of Murano. Those who have the money and like the incredibly ornate glassware can buy direct from the workshop.. We chose to simply watch the glass-blowing before moving on to the island of. Burano. This lovely little island with its brightly coloured houses is renowned for its lace making.

Although I gather most of the lace now sold originates from the Far East, the islanders still cherish the old legend about a faithful sailor. He resisted the Sirens’ call and was rewarded with a beautiful veil of magical foam for his bride, which was later worked into lace. A trade that brought fame and fortune to the island. and a good enough story to persuade my partner that a lace memento would be a very romantic gesture. The island is a delight and well worth a visit.

Hopping back onto the water bus we travelled to Torchello, some 40 minutes from Northern Venice and 20 mins. from Burano. The lagoon’s oldest building, the Torchello basilica, contains some of the World’s most breathtaking Byzantine mosaics - a must for all visitors. Apparently in 1948 Hemingway stayed at a small guesthouse on the island, the Locanda Cipriani, it’s still there but prices have climbed somewhat since the Hemingway days.

Having completed this mini tour of three of the lagoon’s islands by mid afternoon we returned to Venice in plenty of time to visit the Giardini and its lovely tree–lined avenues. The Piazza San Marco is just a 30 minute walk from the gardens along the promenade bordering the Canale di San Marco and as the sun slowly set over the distinctive domed San Maria Della Salute I began to understand the romance that is Venice.
Our final full day in Venice was unplanned. We used our valparetto pass yet again to travel the length of the Grand Canal getting on and off when the fancy took. The Rialto market is the place to buy fish and fruit and vegetables, but think carefully before being tempted at the souvenir stalls—prices are high at this tourist hot-spot. Further along the canal get off at Accademia and you are then within easy walking distance of all the main museums and galleries including the Peggy Guggenheim, which houses a wonderful collection of modern art.

.Having picked up supplies in the market we decided to picnic on the lido, just a 10 minute ride from central Venice. Walking along the beach we found ourselves surrounded by men in suits.. Not being film buffs we were unaware that the Venice Film Festival was on and the "suits" were film company employees. We were told Tom Hanks was there to promote his latest film, we set an extra place but sadly he didn’t show. Luckily it didn’t spoil our lunch and we returned to Venice full of Parma ham and Chianti.
As night fell and we settled back to enjoy a last drink at a canal-side bar next to our hotel we pondered on whether staying in Venice had been worthwhile. Certainly it is possible to see most of the main attractions in a single day.

But seeing Venice is not queuing in St. Marks Square, it’s seeing the women buy their early morning flowers in the Campo Santo Stefano. Seeing Venice is not jostling to have your photo taken on the Rialto Bridge, it’s sitting at an outside table in a restaurant watching the local kids play games around the fountain. Seeing Venice is not riding on an expensive gondola. It’s more about walking along a tiny canal and watching local boatmen decorate their boats for the Sunday regatta.

We enjoyed Venice, including the regatta, which we saw before catching our afternoon flight. But I am certain that our determination to return to Venice is not because we want to join the crowds in St Marks Square. It’s because the atmosphere that is Venice is so very special and you can only feel it if you have the chance to stay awhile.
© Chris Thomas November 2004
ann.thomassk at

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