Back from a wonderful trip to Venice and Rome. Got a lot of advice and tips here when I was planning the trip and I would like to share our experiences:
Arrived in the morning on an overnight train from Paris. Train leaves from Paris Bercy. The compartment was small but comfortable, we had pillows and sheets and blankets. The AC was not working very well, though I didn't have trouble sleeping. The toilet stank; looks like it wasn't cleaned at any of the stops en route. Train travel is not everybody's cup of tea, I think many people would be happier flying in.
Reached Venice and was awestruck by the first glimpse from the train as we crossed the bridge into the station. Our B&B host Lorenzo had advised us to give him a call before boarding the waterbus so that he could meet us at the stop. Good thing we listened to him: we could never have found the B&B on our own.
Bought a three day vaporetto pass for about 28 euros each, which was very useful. A single trip costs 6 euros, and as the waterbus is the main mode of transport, the pass is very cost effective. Unless, of course, you plan to walk everywhere except the time you arrive and leave Venice.
We were met by Lorenzo who guided us through the narrow lanes to the B&B which is located not far away from Piazza San Marco, but away from the crowds. Our room was very comfortable and spacious. The bathroom was spotless and there was piping hot water. The AC didn't work very well the first night, but Lorenzo got it fixed.
We left our bags as the room wasn't ready and went off in search of breakfast. Hot toasted sandwiches and coffee were very welcome at a bar called, yes, Crazy Bar. The best sandwich I had in the trip. We browsed a couple of mask shops next door: What lovely masks in Venice. We bought some eventually to take back home from the shop called Tilly and the one two doors away (I forget the name) and the big ones were a bit unwieldly and needed to be carried separately, both because they wouldn't fit even in our biggest bag and had to be kept handy to show at customs to claim VAT refund.
Then we went back to the B&B where the room was all spruced up. After freshening up, we set out to explore Venice. We got lost immediately and twice came back to the B&B! When we finally found our way out, we landed up at San Marco which was absoutely teeming with people. So we boarded the water bus to Rialto and finally had our first taste of the famed Grand Canal! The famous Rialto Bridge was also crowded, so we decided to see the Rialto market. But it was all shut since it was already the afternoon. we were told by a friendly shop attendant that the market would be open in the morning, so we just wandered through the lanes in the Rialto area.
Lorenzo had recommended a pizzeria, Mamo's, and to find it took some time too, though it was just a stone's throw away from Rialto Bridge. Alas, it was closed and would open for dinner only at 7pm. We were tired so we looked for Lorenzo's other pick, D'ell Orso, which was open but not serving dinner till 6pm. As it was already 5.30pm, we opted to have some wine and wait.
The food was delicious and worth the wait. Then we went in hunt for Lorenzo's gelato choice: Fantasy Gelato, and that too was spot on. After our gelato, we found that we had walked back to San Marco much quicker than if we had taken the water bus. So we headed back to our B&B for an early night.
After breakfast served at the B&B, with delicious croissants and Lorenzo in attendance (he really was the perfect host), we set off for Rialto Market. This time we made it to the water bus without a wrong turn! We were already getting used to Venice's narrow alleys. But there are signs posted everywhere, directing you to San Marco, Rialto and Ferrovia (railway station), so it isn't really that difficult. We became expert map readers during this trip!
The Rialto market was lovely, with all the fresh veggies and fruits and the general local colour. After the market, my husband wanted to go to Murano to see the glass making. At San Marco, you are approached by men who offer you a free ride to a glass factory at Murano. Of course, the idea is to get you to buy something, but you don't really have to. You get there in 10 minutes as opposed to the nearly 45 minutes by the vaporetto.
So we went back to San Marco, and got a ride to Murano. I must say the glass work was exquisite. Don't be tempted, as I was, because they are not cheap and set you back by quite a bit if you get carried away. But since we bought a couple of vases, we got the factory to send us back to San Marco as well. Apparently, if you don't buy anything, you have to make your own way back!!
After leaving our newly acquired glass baubles in the B&B (advantage of staying near San Marco), we headed back to see the Basilica, Doge's Palace and went up the Campanile Tower. The notes I had painstakingly printed out had mentioned that it was cheaper to go up the tower on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore across from San Marco, but I didn't see it until we had forked out 8 euros each. Going up the tower on San Giorgio costs only 5 euros, and the views are said to be even better, so if you have the vaporetto pass, take the No. 2 line to the island and save some money. It also has a beautiful church, which I didn't get to see, sadly.
After the day's sightseeing was done, we went to Campo San Margarita for dinner. It is a bustling square with many restaurants and more locals than tourists. Restaurants in Italy aren't cheap, and they don't serve you water; you have to buy bottled water if you want any. The best way to save money on food, we found, is to go to bar and pack sandwiches to take away. There are many lovely places to sit and munch your sandwiches and a cheap lunch means you can have a sit-down meal for dinner.
It was already our last day in Venice. We felt quite at home in this lovely city with its friendly people, a welcome change from the brisk, cool efficiency of Paris. We were happiest wandering through the alleys, consulting our map and finding our way to wherever we were headed.
On the agenda was to visit a few more churches: the San Salute and the Basilica Dei Frari among them (both beautiful) and the Galleria Accademia (a tad disappointing with a lot of rooms closed for renovation and restoration), but once you've gone to the Louvre, it's difficult to find anything comparable).
We wasted time going back to Murano to claim our VAT relief form, only to be told that the price had already factored in the VAT relief. I could have hopped over to San Giorgio Maggiore in that time!! So remember, no VAT relief is offered in Murano. At least, the factory I went to didn't, and I suspect the same goes in other factories too. Agents for different factories are stationed at San Marco, so the second time we went we were taken to a different factory, It was obviously evident to the salesman that we weren't going to buy anything, because he vanished halfway through the visit. We had to find our way out on our own and hunt for the factory we had visited the day before. All in all, a lot of time wasted!!
For our final dinner, we went back to Mamo's (which was shut the first day) and had pizza and the best bruschetta of the trip.
We had to take the 8.30am train to Rome, so we set off early. Lorenzo offered to pack us breakfast, but we didn't take him up on it. The station cafeteria has plenty of choices. We felt quite sad to be leaving Venice. I could happily have spent a few more days there.