Santa Maria Novella Station in Florence
We began to explore Venice by following our map to find some interesting sights. We walked along the Guidecca Canal to the tip (Ponte della Dogana), and then circled around to the Grand Canal. We stopped to check out a church (Chiese …) which had some well preserved frescoes from the 17th century and some beautiful mosaic tile. We then headed to see the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which is the largest collection of Italian modern art (along with others such as Picasso, Dalhi, and Kandinsky).
Venice is very touristy near most taxi ports and Campo San Marco (Venice refers to plazas as “campo” instead of “piazza” in Rome and Florence) is very touristy (which is a shame because the plaza itself is spectacular, if not in need of some repair).
It’s lined with gaudy trinket sellers and what appear to be overpriced restaurants (similar to Ocean Drive in South Beach). If you move inside and away from the trinket vendors, it is easy to appreciate what Venice once was. We walked through winding and intersecting narrow roads, markets, churches, shops, and homes all encircled by water. After attempting to navigate by map for a while, we finally gave up and did what the tour books advise – just get lost in Venice! It’s impossible to be truly lost, since you’re surrounded by water, and there are many signs around pointing the way to the main attractions (San Marco, Rialto, and Accademia). It’s incredible to think of how the city has adapted to the rising waters, by converting streets to canals, and exchanging cars for boats.
Riding the vaporetto on the Grand Canal
We were able to explore a good deal of Venice on foot.
We stumbled upon a beautiful exhibit of antique violins (of course the best are still made in Italy), and passed many different retail stores, including high end Italian designers such as Prada, Gucci, Fendi, and more. The shopping in Venice (other than the tacky vendors) is pretty good. We also saw a really exclusive eyewear shop, where the glasses were really pieces of art!
Gondola in the Grand Canal
After exploring a bit, we did finally learned the trick of navigating in Venice – you find your way from the nearest campo or canal (“rio”), rather than specific streets or alleys. (All the plazas and canals have signs which clearly identify them). We found our way to Campo San Margherita, known for its bars which are open late unlike the rest of sleepy Venice. We happened upon our first authentic Italian experience – at about 7PM, there was a large crowd of people standing outside the bars, sounding rather boisterous.
We went into one (Bacona del Vino?) and tried to order what everyone else (apparently all Italians) were having. We ordered some sort of pinkinsh cocktail (made with Campari and Prosecco) and several bites or bar food (Italian tapas?) including prosciutto and/or sardines inside mozzarella (deep fried), olives stuffed with sausage (also deep fried), and mushrooms in dough (you guessed it, deep fried). It was delicious! The crowd was quite fun and everyone seemed to be having a great time. After about an hour, the crowd slowly died down, and we headed home to refresh from our long day.
View of the Accademia Bridge and Grand Canal from our room in the Hotel Galleria
We timed our trip back to the hotel perfectly – a seemingly makeshift regatta of gondolas (piloted by amateurs) went up the canal for 15 minutes or so.
It was a rather beautiful, if not romantic, sight! We sat and watched for a while. We ventured out just after sunset and caught some beautiful nighttime views of Venice. We walked around San Marco, which was a bit more tolerable in the evening as fewer people crowded the square; several restaurants had live bands playing. Here’s a helpful tip – don’t order a “martini” in Italy, you’ll end up with a glass of just that – Martini (the dry wine we in the U.S. use to make martinis!) in a glass with ice. We headed back to San Margherita to check out the bars (which were a bit more American and could provide a real cocktail). It had picked up again for the night crowd. We stayed for a few drinks, and ended our night with a slice of late-night pizza (aka, we hit the “Spiritus pizza” of Venice).
Lunch overlooking the Guidecca Canal
Inside Chiesa in Venice
On Thursday, we got up and had our second continental breakfast at the Hotel Globus. We took a brief walk around the Santa Maria Novella Stazione (station), and discovered it was a beautiful Art Deco structure. (On the Tuscany tour, our guide Christine had mentioned that Florence has a law protecting historic buildings, so there S.M.N. Stazione must have been built prior to that).
We boarded the 2 hour train to Venice, and ended up sitting next to a young Italian couple with a newborn baby. The baby (“bambino”) seemed very taken with Rob, and after staring at him for a while, he emitted a loud burp! The scenery on the train to Venice was pretty bland (compared to the tour of Tuscany) until the very last crossing over the lagoon into Santa Clara Stazione.
Exciting art at the Peggy Guggenheim museum
After getting off the train (and paying €0.80 to use the public restroom), Don went to the ACTV ticket window (“bigliotteria”) to purchase 36-hour passes for the Venice public transit. This was our first travel snag – the attendant informed us that the next day (Friday) would be a public strike (apparently a planned annual event?), so we would not be able to use public services. We opted for 24-hours passes instead, and began to wonder about how we were going to get to the airport on the following day.
As a city surrounded by water and having canal ways instead of streets, Venice’s public transportation system is entirely based on boats. The “vaporetto” are subway-like boats that run several different “lines” around the islands – they are incredibly efficient and have modern LED signboards with arrival times.
We boarded a vaporetto (Line 1) to head towards our hotel near the Accademia bridge. It was really amazing – suddenly you are travelling down the Grand Canal, surrounded by tourists riding in gondolas, water taxis, and all sorts of shipping boats. We passed under several pedestrian bridges (the Ponte Rialto is the best known), then arrived at Accademia after several stops.
Gondoliers in Venice
Another interesting thing about Venice is that addresses aren’t based on a street number; rather, numbers just refer to a neighborhood. As such, it took us a bit of walking around to find the Hotel Galleria (at 828A Dorsuduro).
We finally found it (after circling around once). We rang the door and were buzzed in. We had to walk up one flight (I believe pretty much all places in Venice are like this), and the reception and rooms were on the second floor. Without too much exaggeration, our room was spectacular, with a full window view directly on the Grand Canal and the Accademia bridge, with a sitting table right in front to take it all in. We dropped off our bags and headed straight out to grab some lunch and explore. Several Italians in Florence had warned us about the food and prices in Venice (bad and high, respectively). However, we were pretty hungry after a long trip, so we settled for a mediocre Italian meal (primo and secondo), but the tables overlooked the Guidecca Canal, so it was worth the price.
"Happy Hour" in Campo San Margherita