Apologies for the length of this report - it was meant to be brief but got a bit carried away!
Just arrived back from a 3 day visit to Venice - our first time. We stayed at the Antiche Figure hotel which we thought was in a perfect location, esp for first timers, as it is so close to Piazzale Roma and directly opposite the train station so no worries about having to figure out the vaporetto when you first arrive. The hotel staff were very friendly and helpful, offering help every time they saw us. We arrived in the pouring rain at about 10.30am and were soaked through as we had walked/run from P.Roma and to our surprise, our room was ready so we could go straight up and dry off and get changed. We headed out about an hour later when the rain died down a bit and the day turned out to be a scorcher. We just thought we’d start walking to get our bearings and headed towards the Scalzi bridge where we picked up a sandwich and drink on the way from one of the many shops in that area. We spotted the yellow signs (which later became a Godsend) pointing towards the Rialto so just followed this route. It was a good walk with plenty to look at along the way. The Rialto area was very busy, as I was expecting. We decided not to go any further as I had booked the secret itineraries tour of the Doges Palace for the following morning so didn’t want to spoil the surprise of seeing San Marco for the first time.
We headed back, taking a different route, following signs for Ferrovia/P Roma – far easier than following a map – another reason our hotel was in a good location, wherever you go, you can nearly always find signs for Ferrovia/P Roma. Got back to the hotel and rested for a bit before getting ready to go out for dinner. We always make the mistake when we go away of wandering around for hours looking for just ‘the right’ place so this time, because hubby was starving, stopped at the first place we came across near the hotel and it was a good decision. We had a nice meal (yummy pizza) with a very drinkable house wine at 14 Euros a litre which I thought very reasonable; the meal came to about 44 Euros. I had planned to do the night tour of the Grand Canal by vaporetto but by now we had walked, in the heat, for quite a few hours, it was 11pm and we had been up since 3am (due to early flight) and were absolutely knackered so decided to give it a miss - there was always tomorrow. Went back to the hotel slept like a log - most unusual for me.
Day 2 - after breakfast at the hotel (outside, by the canal), got our 24hr vap ticket and took our first boat trip to San Marco where we just followed the crowds to the palace where I had booked the secret itineraries tour. We enjoyed the tour, particularly as there were only about 20 of us - it was good to get away from the heat of the midday sun and the madding crowds! Had a very nice tour guide who was very knowledgeable about history in general and was happy to answer any questions. By the time we came out, it was even busier with queues for San Marco and the Campanile snaking right across the square but it was too hot for us to join the queues and the crowds put me off. I was expecting it to be extremely busy so it was no surprise but I (personally) just feel that you can’t appreciate the splendour of such a place amongst the masses - but a good excuse for a return visit methinks! We wandered around the area, down the alleys etc and headed off in no particular direction, just to explore.
We had decided that we didn’t really have time to visit any of the islands and would rather explore more of Venice and we didn’t have to go far to find much quieter areas with hardly anyone around which we actually preferred, much easier to get a real feel for the place that way. Having said that, our legs ached from so much walking (another mistake we always make when visiting cities but hey ho, it’s worth it) so we decided to get on the first boat we came across which just so happened to be going out to the Lido. We debated getting off at our stop but it was soo good to sit down and watch the sights go by with a lovely cool breeze so decided to go all the way. Felt much better by the time we got to the Lido so got off and wandered down the street towards the beach, picking up a lemon iced drink on the way for Eur1.50 which the guy offered to put vodka in, which we declined this time. It felt strange having actual roads and traffic even though we’d only been in Venice for about 36 hours – amazing how quickly you become accustomed! Sat on the beach for an hour or so before heading back to the vap stop – big mistake re timing. It was about 5.30/6pm and the vap stops were absolutely packed with people returning to Venice. A bit of argy bargy even broke out in our queue amongst a couple of elderly people, one of whom was trying to jump the queue – must admit, it was quite amusing listening to the old lady yelling at an old man in Italian. Didn’t have a clue what she was saying but she was very cross!
Anyway, got back to our hotel in one piece and got ready for dinner. I wanted to see if we could find Campo Santa Margarita, which we did (eventually) and chose a restaurant (don’t know the name) with lots of tables outside. Had pizza (again) and got chatting to some of our neighbours – it was a good atmosphere and everyone was friendly/in holiday mode. Then the heavens opened! The canopy just about stretched to the edges of the tables so we remained dry and kept thinking ‘it will stop soon’ but it just got heavier with thunder and lightening as well! We’d finished our meal and drinks etc and the rain didn’t look like it was going to stop any time soon so we made a run for it, following those wonderful yellow signs – which I’d spotted earlier on the square in two different places pointing in different directions! Took the general direction we came in and got back in no time. This was our last night and we still hadn’t done the Grand Canal tour but it was late, we were soaked through and it was still pouring so it wasn’t going to happen tonight either but we had seen a lot of the Grand Canal earlier so didn’t feel like we’d missed out completely.
Day 3 – only had a few hours before heading off for the airport so couldn’t stray too far (in case we got lost) but I’d always had it in my mind that we couldn’t be too far from Santa Maria Glorioso dei Frari so headed in that general direction and surprisingly came across it quite quickly. Most things are closer than they seem in the map. I’m so glad I found it, I’ve read many posts that say it’s well worth a visit and they’re not wrong. Paid 3 Euros to get in – worth every penny. It’s vast. There were workmen high up on scaffolding carrying out restoration works but only a handful of people inside at any one time so had plenty of time alone looking at the many paintings/sculptures etc.
From there, wandered back to the hotel where we sat outside for a while watching the world go by on the Grand Canal. It's quite a busy section of the canal and it was fascinating watching all the different boats with people going about their daily business, lots of deliveries, workmen etc. I commented that if this was a main road, don't think we'd be so happy to sit and watch and even eat our breakfast there! Then it was time to head for the airport, picked up the airport bus from P.Roma and were there in 40 mins – sat around the airport for hours afterwards but that's a whole other story……………
All in all we really enjoyed Venice, have recommended it to all our friends and would definitely return esp now we've 'got the hang of it' - thanks to all the helpful comments on this forum.