GUEST ARTICLE: With or without a map, find yourself getting lost over and over again amongst the winding passages and canals of Venice (Venezia).
Disembarking the train at Venezia Santa Lucia stazione from Roma Termini stazione will leave you amazed.
There are no cars, traffic snarls or traffic lights. There’s some water pollution, but no air pollution. There’s no noise from horns or engines. All you’ll hear is the gentle whir of boats and the buzz of tourists. All services – emergency, food, water, couriers and transport are provided by water and come at a price. Welcome to Venice.
Shops sell tourist favourites – decorated theatre masks and Murano glass jewelry. Restaurants on the main strips advertise menus targeting undiscerning tourists with prices, cover charges and quality to match.
American, Canadian and Australian tourists mill about everywhere. As with other hot spots, some tourists convince themselves that they can ‘do Venice’ in a day because it’s a tiny island.
But, like the many millions of visitors that came before them, they get lost in the never-ending web of passages and canals, rolling their luggage or carrying their packs around town.
You’ll notice that some visitors just give up looking for their accommodation after constantly hitting dead ends facing brick walls and canals and go sight seeing – bags and all.
L’Imbarcadero hostel is a 10 minute walk from Venezia Santa Lucia station. It offers excellent value and the Grand Canal on your doorstep. Dormitory rates are subject to seasonal fluctuations, but can start from about 26 euros. LAN internet, slim lockers, linen, breakfast, kitchen facilities are included.
Before you book your accommodation, it’s wise to check its exact location on Google maps. Many places advertise themselves as being in Venice, but don’t mention they’re in Venezia Mestre, off the main island of Venezia.
Venezia Mestre offers lower prices and has its own train stazione which means you’re only minutes away from the main island of Venezia. Other visitors get stung and catch an expensive vapporetto (waterbus) to and from their accomodation.
Vapporetto tickets must be validated before boarding and are available from ‘Hello Venezia’ ticket desks and authorised resellers. A one-way ticket is steep at 6.50 euros. If you plan to island hop around Venice, a 24-hour travel card offers better value at 18 euros.
As you walk over the many bridges and passages of Venice, you’ll spot tourists floating past in gondolas and gondoliers tempting you on board for a ‘special price’. Don’t become the latest victim of the gondola scams.
Negotiate the deal before you’re taken for a ride and charged extra to listen to live music and for riding the ‘classic’ route. Gondola rides are a tourist trap and you can expect to pay accordingly: 2 euros per minute or on average, about 80 euros for 40 minutes.
But, if you want to experience one of the world’s most famous boulevards and save a packet, then hop on a bus… that is, a vapporetto, a bus Venice-style.
Board a vapporetto from the stop across from Venezia Santa Lucia stazione and you’ll experience what makes the Grand Canal so unique. You’ll pass under the Ponte Rialto whilst taking in the buildings, palazzo (palaces) from the 12th to 14th centuries and houses standing defiantly with front doors just a metre or two above water level.
The ride down the Grand Canal lasts about 40 minutes as the vapporetto pauses to thud into every terminal down the canal. Get off at Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), the last stop before Lido Island, an average tourist beach.
Piazza San Marco is the quintessential first stop on most visitors’ itinerary. As you stroll around this expansive, beautiful and expensive patch of the world, take a moment to admire the ornate decorations on Basilica San Marco (St Mark’s Cathedral) and the buzz from the crowds posing amongst pigeons circling the square.
Admission into Basilica San Marco is free. To beat the queues, deposit your backpack in the baggage room around the corner and the attendant will hand you a token which you wave as you walk through the entrance.
Photography is ‘strictly forbidden’ as are so many other activities marked on signs around Italy. Of course, some visitors had to spoil the experience by not-so-discreetly taking photos with flash and shooting videos like they were special.
The interior of the cathedral is jaw dropping. The dome and ceilings glitter and drip with gold frescos. Multicoloured marble walls, floors and designs are tiled everywhere else.
If you continue walking past Palazzo Ducale and towards the waterfront, you’ll see what makes Venice a city of spectacular contradictions. Even with the constant threat of rising tides and flooding, Piazza San Marco is in immaculate shape and packs in the crowds year-round.
Walk along the waterfront at sunset towards the Castello district and you’ll witness a spectacular scene of gondolas and splashing waves amongst a burnt orange sky.
The downside is that the path towards the Castello district is littered with tacky souvenir stands and hawkers trying to flog dodgy handbags produced using child labour (warning signs are posted by the local authorities to alert passers by). But, if you press on, the hawkers vanish and you can watch the sun go down over Venice.
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is situated by the Grand Canal and overlooks Piazza San Marco. It’s worth visiting to check out the views alone. Most other cathedrals in Venice charge an admission fee.
To view more of Pranav’s photos from around the world visit his Flickr PhotoStream
This article has been written by Pranav Bhatt. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Economics and Business at Sydney University. He has an interest in world travel, cricket, politics, technology and the media.
If you’ve travelled somewhere off the beaten track, can write well and have good quality photos I encourage you to contact me and I’ll consider publishing your travel diary here including generous attribution and links back to your website as thanks for your contribution