Venice is a world of its own. We took a train from Florence to Venice and never expected the train to actually stop in Venice (how was it going to cross the body of water?). Boy, was it spectacular – pulling into the train station and thinking to myself, “the only way around this city is by boat”. It was so interesting, so unique, so other-worldly. I felt like a kid in a candy store or like I entered a world of make believe. After gathering our luggage I purchased a cigar in the station and headed outside to wait for a taxi, a water taxi. I puffed on my cigar waiting for the taxi and trying to take it all in but it was impossible. It was everything I had seen the pictures and more. I was attempting to capture the buildings, the waterways, the culture and all the wonderful boats! This was an Italian paradise for me.
Venice is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is a combination of 118 small islands in northern Italy. Tradition has it that fishermen settled on the islands centuries ago and eventually it was used by the Italian military. Venice is full of history and definitely has a distinct culture. I would say Venice has a very cozy atmosphere because all the buildings are so snug together and it’s true what they say, “you haven’t been to Venice, unless you get lost in Venice.”
DAY 1, VENICE TOUR – VAPORETTO
Vaporetto (water bus). The first thing you should do when you arrive in Venice, after checking into your hotel is to take ride on the Vaporetto or the water bus. This will quickly get you acquainted with the water way system and will give you a great overview of the city. The Grand Canal is one of the world’s greatest waterways. The waterway starts at the train tracks end and completes its journey at Piazza San Marco. As you pass the hundreds of buildings surrounding you, you’ll be tempted to capture each and every unique building, but just take it in for all it is.
Most of the city was built between the 12th-18th Centuries by some Italy’s richest families. Taking line 1 on the Vaporetto will give you the pleasure of seeing it all. It will land you at one of Venice’s most popular plazas, Piazza San Marco. The ride is about 35 minutes of water time and will only cost you about 7 Euros (but you could purchase an unlimited ride pass for a 24 hour period for only 20 Euro: check ACTV website for updated information). I recommend purchasing the unlimited pass so you can take your time hopping on and off at every stop you desire. If you’re visiting with someone you love, like I was, this makes for a romantic experience (which is much cheaper than taking a ride in a gondola).
DAY 2, VENICE TOUR – PIAZZA SAN MARCO & BASILICA DI SAN MARCO
Piazza San Marco. This is the center of Venice. The large area of the plaza is amazing. Whether you visit in the summer or winter months this space is bound to mystify your mind. The plaza appears to be larger than it is, due to its odd shape. At the one end it’s much wider than the other creating an illusion. It is always busy and packed with people, birds and vendors. Napoleon ordered his architects to demolish and redecorate this plaza. Upon arrival you’ll notice two, high columns rising high above the waterway. On one is a winged lion (the emblem of Saint Mark) and the other has a dragon (representing Saint Theodore). History has it that between these two columns is where the republic would execute convicts.
This plaza is full of shops and things to see. If you want to take in the fullness of Piazza San Marco, you will need to set aside an entire day. Our hotel was next to the plaza so we were able to enjoy it a lot more than most visitors. Out of all the plaza’s we saw in Italy, this one is the most memorable and distinct.
Basilica di San Marco. This basilica is at the opening end of the plaza. It is world renowned and is one of Venice’s pride and joy. The church was originally built in 828 as a burial ground for the body of Saint Mark. A fire in 976 burned up most of the church but was rebuilt and reopened in 1094. The rebuilding was a message to the rest of the world that Venice was wealthy and strong. It worked. Even the Chinese merchants new this stop because of the “Golden Church.” The Basilica di San Marco is glorious in rich color, exquisite decorations and very high end building materials. Most of the columns are solid marble (talk about making a statement). This particular church is renowned for over 43,000 square feet of mosaics that line the walls and span from floor to ceiling (absolutely breathtaking). While inside you can climb to the top of the church to the gallery and the upstairs museum. Although the museum itself is wonderful the real treasure is when you step outside and gaze directly into the wonderful Piazza before you. This is unforgettable. Oh, and one other kind of bizarre piece of information: you cannot enter the church with your shoulders or knees showing. There are no shorts, skirts or tank tops allow. So if you go and visit in the summer months remember to dress modest.
These are just a few items for starters to explore when you venture into Venice. Take your time and read up before visiting. Once you’re there it is overwhelming which can make it difficult to decide on what to do first. Venice is a large maze. Use caution when you think you know where you are because just when you think you came “this way” you soon realize you may have come “that way.”
By Joey Papa