26 August 2017
We are headed out on a cruise from Venice, so we decided to take a couple of days and see the city before we make our journey. You read about it everywhere, but from this Arkansas traveler, I’ll give you a few hints for staying only a couple of days.
1. Find a nice hotel on a small canal and pay for it.
We stayed at the Aqua Palace Hotel. It was *not* inexpensive, but it was well worth ever y penny. First, the room was huge. It was probably the second-largest hotel room I’ve ever had, and the biggest was a suite that I had once when the hotel I was at for a conference oversold rooms and upgraded me to the Presidential Suite – without charge. That was Dallas, years ago, and I was sadly alone. It was like I could have invited forty-nine friends with me and still had plenty of space.
The Aqua Palace is easy to get to from St. Mark’s Square. Don’t be fooled by the map and go to Rialto – go to St. Mark’s and trolley your luggage yourself – you can do it and there is only one small bridge (at the foot of the hotel) to cross. Don’t bother paying a porter, either. When you get off the plane, head for the water taxi area, but buy a ticket on the blue line instead. Two companies offer the service, and it was 30 Euros total for the both of us and our luggage. Comparatively, a privat water taxi would have been 120 Euros. The ride took about 30 minutes, and it was beautiful, as it heads down the Grand Canal.
Getting to the hotel is easy. I always buy a Rick Steves’ mini guide, as it covers the highlights and comes with a map. The streets in Venice aren’t always marked, marked correctly, or easy to follow, but once you’ve gone around a few, you get the hang of it. From St. Mark’s Square and the boat launch, it took us about 20 minutes to get to our hotel. THERE ARE NO CARS in Venice, outside of the mainland and the car park over near the cruise terminals. No bicycles, either. No Segway. You walk everywhere, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. We wore our tennis shoes and Texas just about the whole time we were there. They worked great.
The hotel is also great because it has air conditioning, a privat bathroom that is huge, and several sitting areas both inside the room and in the hotel. They also serve a full buffet-style breakfast. We paid $408 per night, but again, it was well worth it. You can probably find somewhere less expensive, but if you are only going for a day or two, splurge. They also have good wi-fi, for checking back in one last time before telling everyone to bugger off for a week.
2. Don’t Take a Water Taxi
See #1 above – too expensive, and they are not all that much faste or better than a water shuttle service.
3. Eat Local Food – in and Outdoor Cafe
I don’t recall seeing any true “fast food” i.e., McDonald’s or the like. I think they’ve actually banned it. Good. The on-street pizza and pastry offerings not only offer a true sense of Europe, but they also cost about the same as McD’s and are way better in taste and from a digestive standpoint. We never paid over 30 Euro for our meals, and we had good, real Italian food with a beer and glass of wine. Great value, and great food. I’m sure there are some higher priced spots, but we like to eat outdoors and take advantage of it every time we are in Europe or anywhere that offers it.
4. Go to St. Mark’s early or late
It’s just more crowded in the daytime, mid-day, but if action is what you’re looking for, go then. It wasn’t bad any time we went, really, although the scene in the evenings when it’s darker is something that you just can’t get anywhere else. If you want to tour the basilica, go early enough to get in before it closes at 5 or 6. I can’t remember which. If you go, you’ll stand in line a bit, but the line moves pretty swiftly. The whole tour takes about an hour or so, depending on how long you stay. You can stay as long or as little as you like. Be sure to wear longer shorts, pants, or a dress that isn’t too short. No tank tops or spaghetti straps either. If you wear those, they make you wear what looks like a tablecloth as a scarf/dress. If you don’t want to look like an idiot, wear something appropriate. Looking like a dining table with 2,500 of your closest friends is not something you want to do – trust me. I was appropriately dressed; others around me were not, and they looked ridiculous. Also, don’t be a goober and do follow the no-photo/video signs. It’s a place of worship, not Disneyland.
Both the Doge’s Palace and the Basillica are in the square. Go to both. A total treat is being able to actually walk across the Bridge of Sighs while you tour the Palace. The Basillica is free, unless you want to go to the treasure room or the other side room. The Palace was inexpensive – 20 Euros for the both of us. It reminded of of Versailles, which of course we loved.
5. Walk down the Grand Canal in the evening.
Take a leisurely stroll down the Grand Canal, starting at St. Mark’s Square, in the evening. You might catch a bit of the sunset if you get far enough down the canal. It sets over the other part of Venice, and it’s hard to see it from St. Marks’s, but you et the idea. There are pizza and pasta places with outside seating along there as well.
6. Go over the Rialto Bridge to the other side of Venice
Yes – you’ll have to do it and check it off your list, but the Rialto Bridge was not my favorite place to be. Extremely crowded. We made our way over the bridge to the other side and hired a gondolier for our trip. Walk, get over it, and move on is my philosophy with Rialto. It probably didn’t help that we went there first to get to our hotel, as it looked closer on the map. Don’t be fooled. Go the way I told you!
Once you cross the bridge,
7. Hire a Gondolier
Some people think it’s cheesy, but we were bound to hire a gondolier. It was worth every penny (or Euro) of the 80 Euro we spent. I’d do it again tomorrow. There are many spots you can hire one. We hired ours on the Grand Canal, so that we could experience a bit of Grand Canal and a bit of the smaller canals. Back in the recesses of Venice, it’s hard to imagine there are 100,000 tourists just around the corner. But, it’s so quiet in the back side that you get a little lost in your thoughts. The ride lasts about 40 minutes, but you can pay for a longer ride if you wish. If you have more than 2 people, you can save money, but only 2 of you get to ride in the “love seat”. If you are there with someone special, like I was, just hire one for yourself and enjoy it. It’s not something you can do anywhere else (the Bellagio doesn’t count), and it’s a one-time experience. Just think of all the other stupid stuff you’ve bought for $100 over your lifetime. You’ll remember this longer, I promise.
8. Go Into a few of the various churches
There are like 10 of them. Just pick a few. You won’t be disappointed.
9. Go see La Fenice (Opera House)
It has burned twice. The name is “The Phoenix”, and it lived up to its name by being rebuilt both times. It’s gorgeous, and if youre’ lucky, you might get lucky like we did and see rehearsal for an opera. They are playing Madame Butterfly soon, and I was amazed at the voices, even in early rehearsal mode. Now, I can’t wait to see an opera back home.
10. Enjoy yourself.
It’s a crowded city. We were there when 5 cruise ships were in town, which made it crazier, but I think it’s pretty crowded most of the time. We also went at the end of summer, so many folks were still out of school here in the EU. We don’t typically travel this time of the year and prefer to go in September, but this cruise deal was not available later. Overall, we totally enjoyed Venice and would go back again. We found it to be a city of history, water, culture, and fun. I can only imagine how fun it would be during Carnival in February/March. There were masks of all varieties in shops everywhere. Makes me want to book another trip back here then. I’ve not been to mardi Gray, but I think Carnival in Europe would top that any day of the week. Debauchery in a refined form, if you will.
Final Notes to plan for Your Trip to Venice:
* Pack for warm weather especially in the summer.
* Learn how to say a few important words in Italian – hello, thank you, you’re welcome, bathroom, etc.
* Don’t get frustrated. Europeans have no issues with personal space like Americans do. You are in their culture, not the opposite. Get used to it, embrace it, and enjoy the experience.
* Buy a hand held fan from a street vendor. They are cheap – 1,50 Euro and well worth every single cent.
* Change your money before you go – watch the exchange rate and order early from your bank. They’ll take back any you don’t use, or you can keep them for a future trip to Europe, like we do!
* If you’re going on a cruise, get a balcony. You can see the entire Italian coast if you’re headed south. Worth the money.