Venice Trip Report (August 2013)
This was my third trip to Venice in the past seven years. Venice is my favorite city in the world followed a distant second by Singapore (can you say complete opposites?). I now consider myself an above average visitor of la Serenissima. I’ve been to Venice as a participant in the film festival. I’ve been there on my honeymoon. And, this trip, I went as a tourist/tour guide for my mother in law and my step son (this being their first trip anywhere abroad). So, I believe I’ve seen Venice from several different vantage points. Rather than just give a typical “we went here, we went there” trip report, I thought I would contribute some up to date useful information for those who may be travelling to Venice in the near future embedded in a trip report. These will be noted below as NOTES. If you would like to skip the fluff in this report…just read the NOTES. I hope this works…Here we go…
We arrived at Marco Polo at approximately 3:00 PM (Wednesday) in the afternoon. We pre-paid for a water taxi to our hotel.
NOTES: Marco Polo is fairly small and getting out of the airport takes very little time. You can pre book your water taxi online (about $100 Euros) for the same price and skip having to do this upon arrival. You can just make your way to the landing by exiting the airport and making a left and following the walkway to the docks. This really is a great way to arrive in Venice and is actually quite cost effective depending on how many travelers are with you. They also offer a sharing service which lowers the cost even more.
Our hotel was actually a 2/3 bedroom apartment just behind the Piazza San Marco. The hotel was the Suites Torre dell’Orologio. This hotel is owned by the same owners of the Hotel Royal San Marco. I won’t waste too much time here to review this hotel except to say DO NOT STAY HERE. Also note, due to several bad reviews, I believe they are changing the name to Bellevue Suites to disguise themselves. Just do not stay here.
After checking in, we ventured out just a bit to become familiar with the area around the hotel and pickup some supplies. While doing so, we discovered what, my friend in Venice would later tell me is one of the best gelato’s in Venice.
NOTES: A friend of mine is a fairly prominent tour guide in Venice. She has been featured on several travel shows. She confirmed for me later that Gelato Fantasy is one of the best places to get your gelato from. It is a very short walk from Piazza San Marco on the calle dei Fabbri. This street is a wonderful way to get from the Piazza to the Rialto area as it is a straight walk and a lot less crowded than the Mercerie which seems to be the way the MASSES make their way to the Rialto. The Mercerie is the route taken from the Clock Tower. Avoid this during the afternoons if at all possible. Take the Calle dei Fabbri.
Thursday we pre-booked the Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doge’s Palace. This was my third time on this tour and it is worth it but getting a little monotonous for me now. The guides seem to spend a lot of time on Casanova which I suppose is what the masses like. But, for a first time visitor, this is a must and should be booked early in your visit so you gain an appreciation of Venetian history before discovering the rest of Venice.
NOTES: You can pre-book your tour online at http://www.vivaticket.it/index.php?nvpg[evento]&id_evento=409912&idt=566&wms_op=museiCivici&SiteVersion=1. Definitely book for the earliest time possible in the morning in the summer as it get’s very hot in the upper sections of the palace. Also note, although you pay online, you will still need to “convert” your online receipt to actual tickets inside. Do not expect to be able to walk inside and get a ticket for the tour on the same day. Book in advance. The Secret Itineraries tour is well worth it (at least once) but bear in mind, this does not include a guided tour of the rest of the palace including the sections with the all the wonderful art. You may still visit these areas after the tour but it is not guided.
After the Doge’s Palace we made our way to Dorsudoro and our favorite Pizza at ai Sportivi.
NOTES: Ai Sportivi is located in Campo di S. Margherita. Don’t be fooled by the “non-Italian” looking wait staff. The pizza is OUTSTANDING and the setting is beautiful and can be enjoyed for hours. I cannot praise the pizza here enough. Do note waste your money on pizza on any of the major thruways of Venice. It is definitely worth researching. While there are many good places to find pizza, I highly recommend this one. I also recommend a sgroppino after your meal. Trust me. This mix of Prosseco and lemon sorbet is absolutely delightful.
NOTES 2: There is a nice little supermarket in this square where you can pickup some general necessities along with a wonder selection of cheeses and meat for picnicking.
Dinner that evening was supposed to be at Trattoria Andri on the Lido. I made the mistake of not pre-booking. Apparently I have recommended this hidden gem too often and we could not get in. The owner recognized me and promised me a table the next day.
NOTES: MAKE RESERVATIONS. Partially because of Trip Advisor and other travel sites, the good places book up quick. Also note that in Italy, people tend to really take their time and enjoy dinner. Therefore, a restaurant table may be held for the entire evening which makes reservations even tougher to come by. Reservations for popular places should be made days in advance. I recommend making them the week before.
NOTES 2: If staying for five or more days in Venice, I highly recommend spending a quiet afternoon on the Lido. Even if you don’t go to the beach, the Lido makes for a quiet little getaway with plenty of places to sit and enjoy lunch. Take the Number 1 Water Bus out to the S. Maria Elisibetta on the Lido. Walk down the S.M.E. and hang a right on Lepanto (about three blocks down). It’s a nice little side street with a nice selection of bars/cafés/restaurants.
Friday we pre-booked the Basilica San Marco. The Basillica is just beautiful. We stayed for about an hour and a half.
NOTES: Pre-booking is only a couple of Euros and will allow you to bypass the queue by entering through St Peters entrance on the left of the basilica. IMPORTANT, this is the left entrance and not the left SIDE of the basilica which is the entrance for worshipers.
NOTE 2: My tour guide friend recommended arriving after 11:30 as they “turn the lights on”. We arrived at about 10:30 and stayed until about 12:00 and did not notice a difference. It may have been the time of year and the fact that the sun was shining bright.
Lunch was at Al Paradiso near the Rialto Bridge and was wonderful as usual.
NOTE: the restaurants lining the canal near the Rialto are nice spots to take in the view but NOT to get good food. I suggest taking your pictures and enjoying the beauty of the surroundings, but then heading down the side street to Al Paradiso.
Dinner that evening was for my wife and I only. We had pre-planned a “date night” without grandma and son in tow. We booked a table on the terrace of La Cusina inside the Westin Regina and Europa. The food was wonderful, the view incredible, and only made better by my wife in it with the Grand Canal and Salute right behind her.
NOTES FOR GENTLEMEN: This is a real winner guys. Book a table on the terrace here and she will be putty in your hands.
Saturday was our trip to Burano. I had never been to Burano during my past two trips and I’m sorry I did not go sooner. I’m not sure I would need to go again, but it is definitely worth it for the first time. The colored houses are beautiful and, even though I kept thinking how much of a pain all the tourists must be to the residents, I couldn’t help but think they actually enjoy (just a little) putting on a show. Most of the houses were just beautiful and presented well.
The real reason for our trip to Burano was a visit to Trattoria al Gatto Nero (you might be guessing by now that I’m a foodie). This restaurant has been featured on many travel shows and is touted for serving one of the best Risottos in the world. Because Burano is so far off the beaten path, you can book here only a day or two in advance (but definitely book). All I can say is WOW!!!!! The risotto here will ruin risotto for you anywhere else. This was a sexual experience. Do not miss.
The rest of our trip was pretty much fly by the seat of our pants. Just getting lost in Venice, shopping, enjoy Spritz’s, etc. We returned to Marco Polo using the water bus and land bus service just to experience it (I had only ever taken water taxis to and from the airport). It was actually not very difficult especially since we had an early morning flight. The buses (both land and water) were practically empty (although we did have to stand for part of the land bus ride).
Here are just a few more NOTES from our trip…
NOTES 1: Definitely plan an itinerary in advance but don’t make it rigid. Part of Venice’s charm is just relaxing and taking it all in. However, some things you do need to plan such as the tours and restaurants. Additionally, planning will help you decide whether or not you need a water bus pass or not and how many days you will need one.
NOTES 2: Book a hotel near a water bus stop. Lugging baggage across Venice, even if for fairly short distances isn’t a lot of fun.
NOTES 3: If staying near the Piazza, try to use the Zaccaria water bus stop. It’s a bit less crowded than the San Marco one and, if you are going down the canal, you will be more likely to get a seat before the water bus makes its call at the San Marco stop.
NOTES 4: Don’t forget to stop in the lobby of the Danielli for a quick photo op of the lobby. It is quite beautiful. I don’t recommend going in with a horde of people but if you walk in like you are staying there, no one will question you.
NOTES 5: If heading out to Burano, you can save yourself some time by taking the number 12 from Fondamente Nuovo. Leaving from the San Zaccaria stop, it will take you an hour and a half and will require you to switch boats at Punta Sabbioni. It’s a nice and quiet ride but, like I said, will tack on an hour of travel time.
NOTES 6: If shopping for little touristy knick knacks, prices seem to go down the further away you get from the Piazza or the Rialto. Even if you save a Euro or two here and there, it can add up if buying more than just a couple of souvenirs.
NOTES 7: It took us about an hour and 15 minutes to get from San Marco to the airport via the water bus and land bus. This was during a slow time. Other times of day, I would add another possible 45 minutes to your planning.
NOTES 8: Forget those Check in Kiosks at the airport. Just go to the ticket counter.
NOTES 9: Try to go online and get your seats assigned for your return flight. Flights in and out of Venice (and Germany) are always full and a larger party will get seats assigned all over the plane if you don’t.
NOTES 10: Try not to fly through Frankfurt. It’s just a God awful airport that often takes over an hour to get to a connecting flight.
NOTES 11: Learn proper coffee ordering procedures and terminology. Un caffe will get you what we Americans refer to as an espresso. When entering a café/bar you can just call out your order. If you wait for the barista to find you, you may be waiting for a long time. During my stay, it seemed as though the most often ordered coffee in the morning was a macchiato (a shot of espresso with a small amount of milk). Here’s a great website to indoctrinate yourself with the coffee culture… …about.com/od/…italian_coffee.htm
FINAL NOTES: In order to fully appreciate and enjoy Venice, you have to relax. Sit down for a while and enjoy un caffe or a spritz (con aperol is my favorite way). If you don’t “stop to smell the roses”, you may not find Venice enjoyable. Venice is not a city to be seen as a drive by. If you learn a little about this wonderful city before you go, then allow it to sink in without a rigid schedule, you will leave anticipating your next return.
I hope you enjoyed my report and find it helpful in some small way. Let me know if you have any questions. I will answer as best I can on the current comings and goings of “what’s news on the Rialto”.