Whilst in Italy in May, we took an excursion to Venice. I’m not an excursions kind of girl but I think when you’re in a place of the unknown and on a timescale, it’s a quick way of summarising the best things to do and places to go.
We had a wonderful Venetian tour guide called Michaela, her passion for her home evident throughout!
Venice is BUSY all of the time but May and September are less busier.
Standing on the Venetian stone pavements, supported only by aged wooden structures embedded into the laguna, I felt like we could float away with the gondolas at any time…. That feeling eventually subsided. The Pizza most definitely helped.
According to our guide, there are 4 factors that make up the Venice ‘vibe’ stone being one of the. Cast your eyes to the sky, stone buildings dominate the views. Each building equipped with arches, sharp edges, balconies, terracotta plant pots and chipped wooden window shutters. The stone giants line the streets, giving a symmetrical and therefore pleasing view to the brain and eye.
The stone bridges (there’s over 400 of them) connect the tiny, meandering streets and are a picturesque place to stop off and admire the emerald canals.
As we wandered through the narrow and endless Venetian streets, I couldn’t help but appreciate just how beautiful this stone city is – artistically run down is how I’d describe it. A world in itself, full of contradictions, with it’s 5* hotels, local graffiti scrawled on abandoned buildings, gold clad churches, child beggars and a designer quarter starting at 3,000 Euros and upwards!
Did you know Venice is home to 2 7* hotels?
It’s a city of extreme contrast. Tourism has made it too expensive for locals to live here. Therefore, it’s common for locals to live off of the main island and use to water taxis to commute. Talking of expensive – we ‘paid’ a visit to the famous St Mark’s square. A place in Venice which will set you back 15 Euros to have just a coffee (but a great one)! And part of that fee contributes to the talented musicians, dressed in black ties and posh suits with tails, who play live music for you. There’s a lovely atmosphere here which I suspect the music contributes to greatly.
As part of the tour, we visited St Mark’s Basilica. An impressive building which was built using materials everywhere in the world but Venice! I think I heard the guide tell us there’s an exact replica in Istanbul. We were handed over to another guide at this point who rushed us into the church before the Priests decided to close – it’s up to them when they open and close. I was ‘granted’ entry in but Rik was declined due to him wearing shorts. My skirt clad bottom and flashing knees were obviously appreciated! So beware men – cover up…. 😉
Sadly I didn’t get to look around much here as a fellow tour member wanted to talk ‘at me’ instead of taking in the beautiful surroundings so I got out of the as soon as I could. From what I did see, it was impressive. The ceilings were painted in golds and depicted colourful and intricate religious scenes. The play of light was astonishing with the help of an array of tiny arched windows.
For the record, I didn’t see the ‘No photography’ signs…
Rik and I decided to leave the tour as I’d lost the guide in the church and we were desperate for ‘the facilities.’ We informed Michaela that we’d meet back up later for the water taxi ride. The great thing about this tour is you had a lot of free time to explore as long as you were back before they left!
If you’re visiting Venice on a budget, avoid the main squares and get gladly lost in the back streets where it’s a fraction of the cost. Remember it’s common for the front of the house to try and attract your attention and nearly everywhere charges a 12% service fee. On reflection, I wished we had not been so caught up with rushing human traffic and frantic energy as we wouldn’t have eaten at the first place we saw…. Trip Advisor should have been our first port of call. We may have avoided the service fee but the food was a little on the poor side and the facilities somewhat scary- you get what you pay for ladies and gents!
I say the food was on the poor side but that doesn’t mean the handmade pizza was microwaved and reheated.
After dinner, we rejoined Michaela and the group for more stories on the Venetian past. We passed by the opera house where only the VIP’s arrive by boat at the rear side.
A man’s rich and deep voice echoed through the canal-lined streets (it wasn’t about Cornetto). Teatro La Fenice ‘The Phoenix’ has been burnt down 3 times between 1774 – 1996 (the Phoenix really does rise from the ashes).
The gentlemen stirring the gondolas took it in turns to sing to their guests, their songs also rippled through the water. I imagine the singing is not a standard part of the gondola ride but it added wonderfully to the atmosphere as they passed on by, slowing bobbing but frantically paddling to miss nearby water traffic.
Ah, the water ( one of the other Venetian factors) dark green, and sulfur-scented (mild at this time of year so I’m told but I didn’t notice any smells). This old city is slowly sinking thanks to the neglect and destruction of marshes which act as sponges, soaking up excess water to stop flooding. The city used to flood every 5-7 years and now it’s a few times a year. A project is currently being developed to help rebuild the marshes in a hope to ensure the island’s survival.
Did you know 118 islands make up Venice?
After stopping for a Cappuccino (one of MANY!) we pushed our way through the crowds of tourists on the Rialto Bridge.
The water in the grand canal is especially green and alive with water taxis. It’s here that you get a glimpse of just how fragile this city on the water is. We then boarded our water taxi and floated through the canals, I’d been told this was the best way to see Venice from the water.
Oh my, the sunset was magical. It kissed the terracotta-coloured stone building and made the water gleam. It flooded in between the stone giants and glazed the city in a honey colour.
We passed Palaces, most which are open to the public with an exception of a few privately owned ones. We floated under traditional stone bridges, some wooden and as we got further away from St Mark’s square, we witnessed more modern elements including the Ponte Della Costituzione ‘Constitution Bridge’ built in 2007. There was lots of modern art too.
We lazily drifted deeper into the laguna. The taxi’s engine suddenly sped up and soon we cruised over emerald currents. In the midst of the laguna away from the serene canals only do you realise just how precious and vulnerable Venice is.
The sunset was at its finest here but darkness was soon to take over….. Half an hour later we re-entered the calm narrow canals, and Rik and I were still ‘Oohing’ and ‘Ahhing’ at the sites we’d just seen.
Taking a water taxi in Venice was one our favourite things to do.
As the light continued to fade and your eyes begin to adapt, the wind chill from the canals made me wish I’d brought a jacket. We dashed back into the narrow corridor type streets which were warm and filled the air with delicious smells thanks to the surrounding restaurants. Our spidey sense was attracted by Pizza and so we left the group (again) to get a slice of ricotta and spinach pizza (1 slice was nearly the size of half a pizza!) for only 2 Euro and 50 cents – it was delicious. We ate fast since we had to catch the group up and you can’t eat in St Mark’s square unless you’re in a cafe. No one really looks at you in disgust as you stuff your face – it’s mandatory all over Italy.
We had about an hour to appreciate Venice at night. Music filled St Mark’s Square – sharp violins, rubbing base, jazzy saxophones. The moon nearly full, stood proudly in the sky and we watched as night came, the laguna settled and so did its people. There was no sense of urgency. People gently walked, chatted, held hands, kissed, sipped their coffees and Rik and me, well…. We slow danced under the Italian stone arches, drinking in the musical atmosphere and admiring the soft glow of lights.
It was romantic until I stepped on his toes…
The colours of Venice, the fourth and final element of the Venetian vibe are magical. Something that the street artists capture so well in their live watercolor paintings. From the oranges and reds and watery grays and beiges of the buildings to the gold churches, palaces, and statues ( all that glistens in Venice is gold), to the emerald green (in the day) and inky blue (at night) laguna.
As we hopped back onto our boat to connect to the mainland, I reflected upon the day’s events. I’m not one for history but I appreciated hearing the many positive spins on it from a passionate Michaela (who’s been a guide for 39 years, studying English at 16). I learned that despite Venice’s many influences from all over the world they’ve retained their own culture whilst happily embracing others. It’s a city that accepted an array of different people in times of need (it’s got a BIG Jewish influence).
Visiting Venice certainly left me wanting more. As Michaela said ‘ you’ve been to Venice but you haven’t seen it.’ I felt so inspired to write whilst I was there. I could imagine myself staying in a canal side apartment with a deliriously delicious pizzeria below me.
I’m glad to say it’s been ticked off my bucket list but I will return.
Visiting Venice soon?
- May and September are the quieter seasons to visit;
- Beware of people giving you free flowers – they’re not free and can get nasty if you don’t cross their palm with Euros;
- There’s a 12% service charge at most cafes and restaurants;
- You can’t eat in St Mark’s square;
- No shorts for men or women if you want entry into religious places;
- Water taxis and gondola rides are a separate fee from excursions and are better shared with a group to keep cost down ( we paid 18E each);
- Public toilets are hard to find (some are located in St Mark’s square) and have a few Euros handy.
- The later you go in the summer the more humid and stuffy it will be but take a jacket in Spring time.
I’d love to know if you’ve visited Venice before, please tell me all about it.