Overview and getting around

For those with impaired mobility Venice can present problems. Bridges can be a major obstacle, and there are a great many of them in Venice.  To its advantage, the main city of Venice is compact; the public transport system - the water buses - is very efficient and easy of access. On the other hand private water taxis may be very difficult to board or alight from. The many great buildings and art collections are well scattered over the whole of the main island and some of the smaller islands in the lagoon.

Planning is the key to the visit. Venice isn’t as big as you might expect and can be crossed on foot in just over an hour. However, with a wheelchair to manage, if you want to get about with the minimum of effort, time spent in poring over the many maps which are available is essential. One of the most helpful sites to start with the  Accessible Venice Map. There are also links to accessible attractions, public bathrooms and barrier-free itineraries. Detailed maps are also available here.  Be careful - they may not be  fully accurate - the “disabled” route across Piazza S Marco in reality goes down three unmarked steps which can be a bit of a surprise (there is an alternative route via Bacino Orseolo). So be prepared for the unexpected.

You have a choice – either to work your way about on land or to use the vaporetti - the latter will be less tiring, but you will miss out on a lot of local detail. Remember, there are only four bridges across the Grand Canal and both those at the Rialto and Accademia look like the North face of the Eiger as you approach them and are as about as welcome as they are very busy with lots of tourists admiring the views There are a very limited number of bridges which are fitted with lifts – the majority are in the S Marco area, one in the eastern District with one on Murano and two on Burano. The lifts are operated by keys which are available from APT offices. The best one to approach is the S Marco office which is on the right hand side under the archway approaching the Piazza from Salizzada San Moise or telephone +39 041 5415887. Not all these lifts are likely to be operational – some could be out of commission. Furthermore, the instructions provided may not be clear.

Then, decide precisely what you want to see. For museums, http://www.museiciviciveneziani.it/ma... gives access to a site providing location, opening times and layouts as well as what can be seen in all the city’s museums. If it’s a really popular sight, arrange to get there for opening time. However, there are clearly different views on popularity and as in visits to other Italian tourist centres, many people will simply go to see the famous bits which take a few minutes in each building before scurrying onto the next “sight”.

The disabled access map of Venice shows the areas around each waterbus stop which can be accessed without crossing a bridge. The secret therefore is to use the waterbus system to move between these zones and to travel on land within them. For example, the route that everyone takes from St Marks to the Accademia involves crossing five bridges plus the seriously daunting Accademia bridge. Get onto a Line 1 waterbus at San Marco Vallaresso and two stops later, you are dropped off directly in front of the Accademia.

http://www.actv.it/english/navigazion...gives access to online timetables while the Hellovenezia website provides both on-line and a downloadable timetable which can be printed off and is in both Italian and English. It also includes separate maps of the various routes which are less confusing than a single general map. This is a really useful document and is vital to planning.

The waterbuses themselves are highly reliable and with wheelchair access to those on most routes. Lines 1, 2 along the Grand Canal and Laguna  Nord out to the northern islands are reliable. Unlike UK public transport, they turn up on time and on the popular routes, if the boat is full, there’ll be another one along in a few minutes. Many landing stages have electronic displays showing the next arrivals with times and destinations. Wheelchairs are accommodated in the covered area immediately behind the bridge which gives good views off to either side in you can fit yourself into a corner against the stern cabin. The landing stages are all floating and therefore (in theory) are on a level with the boat deck when you land or embark. The ramps to the stage from dry land move with the tide – yes, this is the Mediterranean or rather the Adriatic and so there are tides. Of course, due to waves on the canals, there is a tendency for the landing stage and boat to move up and down out of sequence. Moving on and off the boat can requires a bit of skill and choosing the right moment – best when what you are moving onto is above where you are - but the crew will ensure that the boat is kept secure against the landing stage and will offer help. They are good at offering help to those who are unsteady on their feet.

Without doubt one of the most dramatic routes is up the Grand Canal from S Marco at dusk. Lights flickering on the water, illuminated buildings, cafes on either bank. It is worth going all the way up to Piazzale Roma and then taking another boat back to S Marco, sitting on the opposite side to get another view coming back..  Views are much better from the few outside seats in the bows or the stern than from inside the cabin.

Other general information

Toilets – there is a habit of fitting very low lavatory pans without seats. While the latter is inconvenient, the level of the pan is difficult and requires careful manoeuvring – even more interesting if the lights go out as well if they are on a timer!

Flooding – Venice does have a flooding problem which can be serious. However,

http://www.arpa.veneto.it/bollettini/... will give you a forecast for the next three days ahead if you’re worried.

Airport

The Sanitrans water taxi ( cab be arranged in advance through your hotel for €65 exclusive of tip or direct on + 39 041 523 99 77) from Marco Polo is a wonderful experience: you will be collected by the two man crew at arrivals, assisted onto the shuttle bus which runs to the landing stages from the terminal – about five minutes drive and the bus is fitted with an access ramp so there is no problem in getting on. At the landing stage, a scissor lift on the motor boat allows a wheelchair to be wheeled on in complete safety and lifted down into the cabin. A rather bouncy ride across the lagoon to the city was followed by a superb trip down the Grand Canal in brilliant afternoon sunshine (rather than the more rapid route via Rio Pieta) culminated in landing at a private pier and accessing the hotel through some government offices complete with armed guards.

The alternative is to take an Alilaguna ferry from the airport. This takes around an hour depending which route is used and there is space on each boat for two wheelchairs. http://www.alilaguna.it/?funzione=120...gives access to the Alilaguna timetables and route maps for regular services from the airport to the City.

You can also use a private water taxi - not cheap, costing around 80 euros for the launch, but it will take all your luggage and up to 6 passengers for that price. The great advantage is convenience as the launch will take you directly to your hotel landing stage. Or if you hotel is not on a canal to the nearest canalside; though you should make sure your hotel has its own landing stage.

If you use any other method of transfer - the bus/coach to Piazzale Roma or the Alilaguna ferry to San Marco you are left with the problem of getting to your hotel which inevitably leaves you having to move your own luggage.

Accessible Sights to See

Book in advance for “sights”?

On balance, it isn’t necessary.

Concession cards?

The Chorus card giving access to churches was available at a concessionary rate. The museums either waived entrance fees altogether or sought a nominal payment. The Venicecard although available to disabled travellers is not worth it.

Basilica

Unmissable. Disabled access into the Basilica during the morning only is by a doorway from the Piazzetta dei Leoni on the North side of the church controlled by an attendant and currently surrounded by building works. At other times, it is closed off and you have to find an attendant. This side entry also doubles as access for worshippers. Although the parts for a ramp system were stacked up inside the door and could have been in use at some stage, the way in is over a raised step which is just wide enough to pull the chair up onto it backwards, turn it very carefully through 180 degrees so it doesn't slip off ; they it will be facing the right way, so it can be carefully let down on the other side. Once inside the porch, a ramp runs up into the chapel and there are no more steps throughout the main body of the Basilica unless you want to look at the Pala d'Oro. A charge is made for this and the area is only accessible via steps to the immediate right of the altar and through a turnstile, returning the same way. There is space just before this area to leave a chair out of everyone’s way.

Arrive at the Basilica around 15 minutes before the main doors are opened and you can enjoy the interior in some peace before everyone else is let in. This is at the end of Mass so it is expected, quite properly, that you be quiet. You will be restricted to a side chapel behind a barrier until the service finishes, but you can see a great deal from there. Although it is claimed that visitors are limited to ten minutes (and probably most only stay ten minutes as they come in groups and are marshaled through intensively by their guides) there are plenty of corners to get you out of the flow and no-one seems to be too worried if you go against the flow . A pair of binoculars is strongly recommended to help in viewing the ceiling mosaics.

It is now possible to get up to the Museo Marciano where the originals of the four bronze horses are on display together with displays of mosaics, tapestries and books and to look at the ceiling mosaics from a different and closer vantage point. Disabled access is not advertised in any way, but up the steep stairway to the Museum there is a lift in a corner. It is also challenging. Ask one of the attendants: the way from inside the Basilica is down a flight of steps to the left of the altar and then left again into the cloister.

It may be possible to enter through an office building which faces onto the Piazzetta dei Leoni which involves fewer steps – it is physically a lot easier but you’re dependant on what the staff will allow you to do. Once in the cloister, two more steps and the lift from a storeroom takes you up to the first level of the museum. An attendant will wait to take you to the second level and also operate the two stair lifts when you need them. The stair lifts are narrow and will only take a standard wheelchair but will deliver you to the area where the original horses are on display and allow you to look down the nave. The view is well worth the effort. The museum has WCs on the first level.

Doge’s Palace

One of the easier ones. The entrance from the Molo San Marco is on the level but tickets are only available from the office on the left-hand side as you enter which is up some steps. Once into the Palace courtyard, the disabled WC is next to the general lavatories on the right-hand side and is kept locked – the key is available from the attendant in the general toilets and because the entrance to these is unisex, there can be a queue to be worked around.

Access to the upper floors is via a lift from the cafeteria at the end of the central courtyard again on the right-hand side. Attendants will operate it for you and are very helpful. A great deal of the floor space is accessible with ramps up to the ballroom area which is incredible. The Palace does get very busy but during our visit people tended to come in groups, leaving spaces between them to see everything if you were patient – and a lot of what you really want to see is high up in the rooms.

The Secret Itinerary (reputed to be one of the best tours in Venice) can’t be done in a wheelchair.

Museo Correr

Difficult but worth while: an elegant flight of stairs runs up from the main entrance in the arcade running under the museum by the post office. You need to send your companion up to the ticket desk on the first floor to arrange for an attendant to operate the lift which is accessed from Calle Larga Ascension which runs down to Bacino Orseolo. Best to go down in the lift with the attendant so you know precisely where it comes out. It is a very small lift and while it can be accessed via a ramp, you may have to fold the wheel chair up to get it in and stand for the ride (if you can).

Once on the first floor, it’s very straightforward and you can happily ramble through to the Archaeological Museum and Library but to get to the second floor – which is strongly recommended because of the paintings there – including the famous “Two Venetian Ladies on a Terrace” by Carpaccio - requires another small lift which is well hidden accessed by ramps and difficult to get into.

Ca Rezzonico

Described as “fully accessible”. Close but not quite accurate. To get there, you have a choice of disembarking at the Ca Rezzonico vaporetto stop and crossing a wooden bridge to the front of the building or taking an 82 to Zattere and walking for about half a mile over what appears to be a bridge-less terrain. “Appears” is the word because the steps of the Ponte San Barnaba just as before you arrive at the museum extend across the pavement you will want to use.

Anyway, once at the Ca Rezzonico, there are only a couple of steps down into the entrance foyer. Lift, WC and café are fully accessible. However, one room on each floor is not accessible due to steps and the attic gallery over the main top floor is step access only. Also, as is to be expected in Venice, some of the floors are decidedly off line and uneven so some care with the chair is necessary.

Accademia

Something of a challenge but well-worth all the effort.  Three steps up into the entrance foyer and then two long flights of stairs to the main floor. A stair climber is available - call in advance with a day and time to visit. However, once on the first floor, there are two further sections of a couple of steps each to be negotiated - once past these, the floor is open. Disabled WC about halfway round. It is locked but the key is available from attendants. More steps to be negotiated on the way out before heading down the two main flights again with the assistance of the climber.

Ca Pesaro

One of the easiest for disabled access -- go through the doors accessing the WCs from the entry courtyard and then into the cloakroom and then the main hallway. If locked, the key can be sorted out at the ticket desk. Lift to all floors. Very accessible. However, a question mark does exist over the contents – in addition to some very well known work, the gallery contains some late C19th /early C20th examples of doubtful meaning and content ...

Ca d’Oro

Steps into foyer but it's possible that a ramp can be provided. Lift to upper floors access from ground floor by temporary ramp. Access to loggia on first floor, up steps.

Lace Museum

Flight of steps up to first floor where the displays are, internal steps. WC. Access very complicated. Note: The Lace Museum is closed up to the 1st of November 2008 for restoration works.

Palazzo Mocenigo

Very difficult. Two flights of stairs to first floor. Promised stair lift has not materialised.

Churches

Scuola Grande del Carmini

Difficult – steps to ground floor and two flights of stairs to upper floor

Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Difficult – two steps up to entrance on ground floor and two long flights of stairs to the first floor. Call ahead to make arrangements because the first floor is incredible and worth the effort.

Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

Steps to the ground floor and a stairs to the first floor. In reality, it’s the ground floor which is the interest with the famous sequence of paintings by Carpaccio showing St Augustine with his fluffy little dog, St Jerome with his Lion

Bridges

A very limited number of bridges have been fitted with stair lifts. They do not always work so don’t rely on being able to use them.

The instructions which are available at http://www2.comune.venezia.it/handica... may not be very clear. One of the keys unlocks the lid on the lift itself to reveal the control panel. There is a separate lift for each side of the bridge and the “rest” position is at the top of the bridge to which the lift will return automatically if not used after 10 minutes. Each lift has a control pillar at the bottom of the rails on which it runs. If the lift is not in the rest position, it is called by inserting the key in the pillar, turning it and pressing the button When the lift has reached the bottom of the rail, open the cover to the control panel on the lift itself – this is secured by a lock on the top of the panel.