VENICE TRIP REPORT – OCTOBER 2013
My 13 year old son and I visited Venice in early October. Thanks to some wonderful advice and recommendations on this forum, we had the time of our life. I wasn’t planning to visit Venice this trip as I’ve already been there four times and thought I’d pretty much seen it – boy was I wrong. My son really wanted to go there – and I’m so glad we did. Here is a rundown of our four days.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed at Hotel Ai Do Mori which is probably 90 seconds from St. Mark’s Basilica. You turn two corners and you’re at the hotel. Any closer, we’d be sleeping on the aqua alta boardwalks. The hotel was a bargain at only 120 euros per night, it was comfortable, had a fridge, nice bathroom - only thing was we were in what they call the ‘annexe’ which is not in the hotel’s main premises. It’s around the corner in another building and like being in a small bedsit apartment. This was fine for us as I knew my way around Venice but it may not suit a first time traveller who needs to ask questions. Also juggling the series of keys to get in and out was – er – a challenge at first. Anyway, nice hotel and a top spot to explore.
WHERE WE ATE
I was in Venice last year and unfortunately ate at a restaurant on the well-worn tourist path between Rialto and St. Mark’s. Big mistake – awful food and 150 euro! This time around, thanks to the TA forum and advice from a friend in Rome, we had some amazing dinners. I can highly recommend Trattoria Alla Rivetta and Al Casin dei Nobili – for their amazing food, good prices, atmosphere and location. Our hotel didn’t include breakfast so we hunted for a local bar and had coffee and cornettos with the locals (I am a really early riser and was up at dawn every morning – great time for photos and peaceful walks). We had a great pizza lunch at Campo San Cassiano and some great sandwiches on Burano. The highlight was definitely Alla Rivetta which is near Campo San Provolo and definitely worth tracking down as it’s a little ‘blink and you miss it’ place. We loved it.
WHAT WE DID AND SAW
Our first morning we had a Walks of Italy DOGE’S PALACE AND SECRET PASSAGES TOUR booked. I’m not a fan of guided tours but this was amazing. There were only eight of us in the group, the guide (Moses) was so informed and engaging – he knows his Venetian history. I had no idea Casanova was imprisoned in this complex! The highlight was a toss up between the inside of the Bridge of Sighs and the bronze horses at St. Mark’s Basilica. I would really recommend this – expensive but worth it and my son’s attention didn’t drift for the whole three hours – that’s how good it was.
After that tour it was off to see some Murano glass hand made – thanks to forum contributors including ahopefultraveller who recommended it – otherwise we would never have known about this amazing guy who makes exquisite glass while you watch. It’s on Calle Dei Morti and the little shop is called Glass Hand Made – definitely worth tracking down but try and make an appointment and Mauro will work the glass for you. While we watched he took two rods of grey glass and in ten minutes had fashioned a conch shell – we were spellbound! We bought this shell and when I show it to people here at home, they think it’s a real one. Mauro custom made a Venetian pigeon for my son (Sam fell in love with the pigeons) and a little glass dolphin (thank you Kate!). I can’t rave about this place enough. You don’t need to go to Murano for beautiful glass. See his website at www.glasshandmade.it
DAY TWO – we went to PADOVA and– thanks to Lynne B and other forum posters – we were told about the SCROVEGNI CHAPEL. Oh….my….goodness. You MUST go here. We needed to reserve tickets in advance from home and you’re only allowed 20 minutes inside but this artwork is so astonishing it defies description. The emotion on the faces of the mothers in the panel ‘Murder of the Innocents’ was chilling and so very moving. This chapel is truly one of the western world’s artistic masterpieces – right up there with the Sistine. It’s worth it to take a day out of Venice and go to Padova for this alone.
We also went to St. Anthony’s Basilica, lit a candle and visited his tomb. The basilica is under a lot of scaffolding for restoration works but inside is spectacular. There was a long line of pilgrims heading for St. Anthony’s tomb so it’s hard to miss if that’s what you’re looking for.
Padova is a charming town with a beautiful historic centre and lots of university students whizzing around on pushbikes. We walked everywhere from the train station – it’s an easy place to see on foot and very close to Venice – we got there in under an hour using the regional train from Venezia Santa Lucia. To find the Scrovegni Chapel, just exit the train station, look to your right and there is a McDonalds across the street. Walk down this street McDonalds is on for about 400 metres and you’ll come to some parkland. The chapel is in here. You need to go to the ticket office first and check in and I highly recommend seeing the brief video they recommend you watch as it gives some great background information on the chapel. There is a nice café there and I had a quick espresso before the chapel which was only 80 cents – good value.
We had planned to go to Burano and as pure luck would have it – the day was gloriously sunny – so sunny that we could see the mountains in the distance from our journey on the vaporetto. Thanks again to the TA experts – Sophie particularly – directions for getting to Burano were on an old TA thread I looked up in the hotel that morning, lol! It was easy - you need to board the vaporetto at the Fondamenta Nuove stop and it goes via Murano and a couple of other places. I’d heard a little bit about Burano and its colourful houses but had no idea of the scope of its beauty until I saw it with my own eyes. Sam and I were staggered at how gorgeous the place is – especially under bright, glorious sunshine. We wandered the little streets and canals just trying to take it all in and absorb how bewitchingly pretty it is at every turn. We had some sandwiches on a canal, visited the church with its precariously leaning bell tower – but mostly just walked and walked and marvelled at the beauty. Try and visit here on a sunny day as the place just explodes with rich, bright colour like a box of licorice allsorts. I can’t recommend it more highly – I’m still dreaming of it. What a gorgeous place.
WHAT ELSE WE DID…
We took the vaporetto over to San Giorgio Maggiore for the views from the bell tower. It costs a few euro to go up the elevator and Venice in all its glory is spread out before you. Definitely worth the short hop from St. Mark’s. We also went up the top of the Campanile in St. Mark’s – this was a LONG wait with some very cranky staff herding people into the elevator but again, the view from the top is astonishing. Venice is so small and so unique and you really get a good picture of just how small from both of these bell towers.
We had a wonderful few hours getting lost in Dorsoduro. This neighbourhood was jumping with local residents going about their daily life, shopping from the boat vegetable market, picking up kids from school, hanging in the piazzas having Prosecco and doing their grocery shopping. Again, I was just spellbound by the beauty of Venice. We found Campo San Barnaba (famous from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and as luck would have it – again – we saw that there was an exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci inside the church. We had it all to ourselves. Why no one was in here was perplexing to say the least – it even had some of his original drawings on display. Despite my weary feet, this was such a hidden gem and I’m so glad we saw it. There was a really cool market happening outside the church – vintage clothes, vinyl records and all sorts of other stuff. I wanted to linger but Sam was worn out – so we caught the vaporetto at San Samuele and headed back to St. Mark’s.
ADVICE FOR FUTURE TRAVELLERS AND MY GENERAL MUSINGS
We got a three day vaporetto pass for 35 euros each and it more than paid for itself when you know that a single vaporetto journey costs 7 euro. Just be sure you validate the pass every time you use it – not just the first time and think it’s valid for the whole three days. There are no transport discounts for kids – Sam paid the same as me.
Get lost! Wander off the well worn Rialto-St. Mark’s track and disappear down one of the little calles. Venice was groaning with visitors when we were there but take a couple of turns and you’ll find peace and tranquillity.
One thing that really bothered me was the enormous cruise ships. These behemoths inch menacingly along the Guidecca Canal and tower over the ancient city. Sam and I saw quite a few protest signs saying ‘No Grande Navi’ and as I understand it, the issue is a big one in Venice. My two cents – they simply don’t belong there and are surely creating enormous damage. Sam was so worried about the issue he wrote about it for his school assessment task. I hope they are moved somewhere more suitable.
Sam fell in love with the pigeons around St. Mark’s. I know you’re not supposed to feed them and they are considered by some to be ‘flying rats’ but we thought they were beautiful – and found out that if you hold out your arms (like a scarecrow) they gracefully flutter onto your arms. My favourite photo of our whole trip is Sam smiling at a pigeon who has landed on his outstretched arm.
Venice is one of the world’s wonders. It is a treasure and I can understand why everyone wants to see it. I am so glad we were there for four whole days, hopping on and off the vaporettos, roaming the calles and bridges, finding something that would make us squeal with delight at every turn. Like stumbling upon the fishmongers hosing down their stalls at the end of the Rialto markets and calling out to each other in loud, laughing, boisterous voices. Like the astonishment on my son’s face as the aqua alta bubbled up through the grates in St. Mark’s Square. And like walking around in the still of dawn, seeing the gondolas covered with canvas and seemingly perched on glass, such was the stillness of the water at that hour.
Venice is utterly, truly astonishing. We can’t wait to return.