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gardkarlsen Venice - A travel report by Gard
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Venice,  Italy - flag Italy -  Veneto
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gardkarlsen's travel reports

A hot stay in Venice

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Venice travelogue picture
This is a travelogue about the trip that my wife, Nikki, and I took to Italy (Milan and Venice) in the period from June 7th to June 14th 2003. We spent the first 3 nights in Milan and then we took the train to Venice - where we stayed for 4 nights before returning home to Norway (via Milan). The trip report is divided into two. This report will focus on our stay in Venice. If you want to read about our stay in Milan please check a separate review.

Favourite spots:
Venice travelogue picture
San Marco obviously :-), Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and all the little back alleys

What's really great:
Venice travelogue picture
One of the places that I was looking forward to seeing was the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). And it turned out to be great. There are more details in the report.

Accommodations:
Venice travelogue picture
We arrived by train in Venice and when we got out of the train station I found Venice just the way that I had imagined it to be: sunny, Canal Grande, lots of boats and lots of tourist. Fortunately the Hotel Continental is not very far from the train station so after a 5 minute walk we were there. The hotel didn’t look very impressive on the outside. It looked grayish and some of the building was covered due to construction work. But the hotel is located by the shore of Canal Grande and it is close to the vaporetto stop (vaporetto is the boat “bus” that goes up and down Canal Grande) and close to Scalzi bridge (bridge crossing Canal Grande from Cannaregio to Santa Croce/San Polo)

In the hotel area you will find lots of shops, restaurants, internet cafes, a laundry place, ice cream shops, markets, mask shop and so on.

Restaurants:
Venice travelogue picture
One place that is worth mentioning is Trattoria Antica Bessetta. This little restaurant is located in an alley in San Polo and we had a bit of trouble finding it when we were going there. This place has tables both outside and inside and we chose to sit inside to get some air conditioning because it was pretty hot the night we were there. We also found this place in the guidebook. We started out by having some Parma ham and you can’t go wrong with this dish :-) The second ”starter” was the seafood risotto (also know as Risotto ai frutti di mare). I enjoy my risotto and the meal we got here was very good indeed. It was served in a big sea shell, it was piping hot and it tasted very good. After we had finished the risotto we got the main meal and this was grilled seafood. We got a mixture between squid, fish and crawfish. The fish was served whole but the waiter de-boned it right in front of us. And it was a delicious meal

Other recommendations:
Venice travelogue picture
Arriving in Venice
The train ride from Milan to Santa Lucia railway station in Venice gave me another chance to read the guidebook. It was a very comfortable train ride by the way. The Eurostar had air condition so we didn’t have to deal with the heat. And the trip only took 2 ½ hours and on the way we had stops in Verona, Padova, Vicenza and Mestre.

I guess everybody has heard about Venice and seen pictures of it. I knew that it was a city full of canals but I was not aware of the fact that this is basically an island and I also discovered that it is quite a small town. According to the guidebook there are about 70.000 people living in Venice at the moment and there are over 14 millions visitors each year! When we came out of the Santa Lucia railway station we met Venice just like I had pictured it in my mind. It was hot and humid and kids were playing in the fountain right in front of the station, we had Canal Grande right in front of us and it was buzzing with boats and there were of course lots and lots of tourists :-)

I mentioned that Venice has quite a lot of visitors each year so getting a hotel room can be a bit difficult. We actually didn’t get around to booking a hotel room until 1 week before we went to Italy so we were of course a bit curious about what kind of room we would end up with. We booked a room at the Hotel Continental for 150 € pr night including breakfast and we booked it on www.holidaycity.com. There is quite a selection of hotels that you can book by using the internet by the way and that is great. We had studied the map in the guidebook before we came to Venice and we knew that the hotel was not far away from the railway station. And after about 5 minutes in the blazing heat we came to Hotel Continental. The check-in went fast and a porter took us to our room. It turned out that we got a pretty big room with a view of Canal Grande :-) I have posted more detailed information about the hotel in a separate review.

The first thing we did was to go out for a walk to get to know the area a little better. The hotel is located in the main street and it is buzzing with life. We didn’t have to go very far away from this main street to find places that were more quiet. Venice is quite amazing because there are no cars or motor bikes driving around…the only noise you hear is the people and the traffic on the canals. In the end we found a trattoria that looked good and we had dinner. A trattoria (and osteria) is a place for eating out but it is not supposed to be as smart as a ristorante.

The Italian way
Italian men are not like Norwegian men by the way :-) Most Norwegian men do enjoy looking at good looking women of course but I have a feeling that we are a bit more discreet when it comes to this. Italian men on the other hand … If a good looking girl was walking down the street you could see Italian men turn around to get a better look at the girl :-) We also noticed that Italians don’t always have full focus on the customer. This we experienced at the post office when we, as the only customers, patiently stood in line and waited for the clerk to finish conversing with her colleague. Only to be almost kicked out as we started licking the stamps – it was siesta time, of course! :-) Local stores in both Milan and Venice closed for a few hours during the summer heat.

Get lost....in Venice!
Our first day of walking led us to Rialto Bridge, past San Croce and San Polo. Soon we were lost of course and Nikki got a bit frustrated because I just walked on and said that we would get somewhere eventually. Sometimes we would end up in a dead end street and sometimes we would end up in alleys leading right into Canal Grande. Most of the time we would walk though narrow alleys but many places this opens up to little squares where you can find decorated wellheads (all locked down, by the way) restaurants and shops. All of a sudden we were in Dorsoduro and we had walked way too far to get to Rialto bridge. But this was not a problem because we just changed the plan and we crossed the Accademia bridge to get to Piazza San Marco. It takes talent to get really lost in Venice by the way. If you do get lost you can just walk a bit more and all of a sudden there are signs telling the way to the main attractions such as Rialto, San Marco etc.

Some people say that Venice is sinking (a billboard near San Marco stated that this is not true) but I think that they should be more concerned about Venice falling apart. When we walked around in the alleys we would see houses that were in desperate need of some maintenance. On some walls you could even see that they had put in reinforcement to prevent the bricks from falling out. Many doors were rotten probably due to flooding and moisture. But even if the doors were about to fall apart there would still be a shining bronse sign with the name on it and a spotless doorhandle :-)

Tour the Piazza San Marco
The Piazza San Marco is dominated by three things: the bell tower Campanile, the church Basilica San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). We started out by visiting the Campanile to get a better view of the area. The tower that stands here today replaced a tower that collapsed in 1902. Today you can take the lift to a viewpoint located 70-80 meters above the ground and you get a great view of the square and the surrounding area. The Campanile is 98.5 meter so it is pretty dominating in the square. Be prepared to get in line if you want to go to the top in the middle of the day. It cost us 6 € to take the lift and it was pretty crowded at the view point at the top. But the view was great :-) I’m not sure if the bells in this tower are still in use. If they are it will be advisable to cover the ears because once you are at the view point you are right underneath some pretty big bells

The Basilica San Marco used to be the church for the Doge. Today it is open for visitors and you can get in for free. Be prepared for a long queue if you come in the middle of the day. The church itself was impressive (but still not as impressive as the Duomo in Milan :-). San Marco square in one area of Venice that gets flooded easily and it seems like they are trying to do something about this now. It looked like some construction work was going on to make better drainage. It looks like the church has been influenced by the flooding because the typical marble Venetian style floor in the church resembled warped damp wood. Once inside the church we were not allowed to take any pictures so we walked around looking at the magnificent mosaics that can be seen around the church. Although you don’t have to pay to enter the church you do have to pay to see the treasury, the Pala d’Oro (the alter piece) and to see the horse of St. Mark and get onto the terrace of the church. We paid the 1.5 € to get to see the Pala d’Oro and it was a beautiful piece of art. We also paid the same amount to be able to climb the stairs to get to the top floor of the church. Here you will find the original horses of St. Mark and you will also get access to the terrace in the front of the church. Here you get a pretty good view of the square and the surrounding area.

The whole square is buzzing with life - tourists walk in line to look at the shops and cafés that are located along the edges of square and there are plenty of pigeons flying around.

Hotter than…
It was pretty hot and humid when we came to Venice. In fact it was more than 30 degrees Celsius the days we were there and I remember coming back to the hotel one evening at about 6.30 pm and it was 35 degrees outside. Needless to say it got pretty hot when we were walking around all day so we tried not to cover too much each day. I can’t say that I envied seeing backpacker carrying around their big packs in the heat looking for a place to stay at night. I had also read that Venice stinks in the summer time when it gets hot. We didn’t really experience this. The only canals that did smell were the ones that were closed in both ends for different reasons.

I normally pack too much when I travel but this time I was a bit surprised by the heat. After a day of walking my t-shirt would be soaking wet and in the end I ran out of fresh t-shirts. But we found a self laundry near the hotel were I could get the stuff washed (about 8 € for washing and drying). And there was an internet café next door so while the clothes were getting cleaned I was on the internet checking my mail. The internet café was called Planet Internet and I paid about 5 € for 30 minutes. The pamphlet says ”Turbo connection” but I can assure you that this was not the case :-)

Transportation in Venice
As there are no cars and motorcycles around in Venice this means that all the transportation is done by using the river. I did of course cover the transportation of humans in my mind before getting to Venice. But how do they get rid of the trash? And what if people need an ambulance. Well, boats are used for all sorts of transportation including the examples mentioned above.

When it comes to transportation of people you can use the vaporetto. This is a sort of bus boat service that runs on Canal Grande (and on some of the other larger canals). For 5 € you get a ticket and you can jump of wherever you want to. The number 1 boat is the slowest and it stops on more or less all the stops along the Canal Grande. This is a good way to see the city but the only problem is that it can be really crowded. We took it one day when it was hot outside and let me assure you it was very hot inside the boat. And it was so full that it was almost impossible to see anything of the surrounding. Don’t forget to punch the ticket before you go on board by the way :-) There are only 3 bridges across the Canal Grande but it is also possible to cross it by boat. In certain places along the canal there are Traghetti stops. This is basically a gondola ferry transporting people from the one side to the other. We never got around to trying it so I can’t say how much it cost and if it is an effective way to cross the canal.

That brings us to gondolas of course….and brace yourself for the shock: we did not go for a gondola ride. Why not, you ask? Well, I don’t really have one good answer for that. The Gondoliers hang out in certain places around town and when you walk by the approach you to try to get you on a ride. According to the guidebook they charge about 60 € for about 45 minutes but we never did look into the price when we were there. I don’t know if it is worth the money to ride in line with lots of other tourists. Is that really so romantic? Maybe I’m just being a cheapskate and maybe we should have tried it.

Finding the good stuff in Venice
Before going to Venice I tried to get some recommendations for places to eat. I didn’t get much feedback from different websites. So how do you find places that serve good food? Do you just take a chance? Well, we tried to use the recommendations from the guidebook when we went out at night to eat. Generally I would like to say that we had some non-memorable lunch meals around town. We had lasagna that tasted more or less like a microwave meal. We had pizza that didn’t taste much and it was not very cheap. I guess with that many tourists it is hard to find a place that is not influenced by the tourist. We ate at Ostaria da Rioba (nice quiet area in Cannaregio where we sat outside but the food was only ”ok”), Trattoria alla Madonna (busy restaurant in an alley in San Polo. I think that they have been listed as a top restaurant too long because the food was not very good and the service was slow. We ate a place called Trattoria Rivetta in San Polo (good pizza and pretty good pasta, service was a bit slow). But there is one place that I would like to say a few more words about and that is the Trattoria Antica Bessetta. This little restaurant is located in an alley in San Polo and we had a bit of trouble finding it when we were going there. This place has tables both outside and inside and we chose to sit inside to get some air conditioning because it was pretty hot the night we were there. We also found this place in the guidebook. We started out by having some Parma ham and you can’t go wrong with this dish :-) The second ”starter” was the seafood risotto (also know as Risotto ai frutti di mare). I enjoy my risotto and the meal we got here was very good indeed. It was served in a big sea shell, it was piping hot and it tasted very good. After we had finished the risotto we got the main meal and this was grilled seafood. We got a mixture between squid, fish and crawfish. The fish was served whole but the waiter de-boned it right in front of us. And it was a delicious meal. I guess I should also mention that it was not a cheap meal. I can’t remember what we paid for the ham but I think we paid 20 € for the risotto and 40 € for the fish. I think the bill was something like 100 €.

The escape of Casanova
One of the places that I was looking forward to seeing was the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). While we were in the San Marco we booked tickets for the ”Secret Itinerary” tour at the palace. We had read about this in the guidebook and it sounded like a good idea. So one day we went to the palace and paid the 12.5 € (per person) for the tickets and joined the tour. I thought it was a great tour and our guide spoke pretty good English so it was not a problem understanding what he was saying. I just have to say a bit about where the tour goes. In the palace you will find that the 1st floor is full of magnificent rooms with high ceilings and beautiful paintings and decorations. Well, when you get to the second floor you’ll find the offices that were used when the Doge ruled in Venice. And these rooms are totally opposite of the rooms below. They are small, wooden floors and walls, not a lot of decoration. On the tour we got information about how Venice was run while there was a Doge in charge (did you know that this ruling continued for 1100 years?), how people were locked in cells in the palace and tortured and questioned at night and in between all the facts we also got the story about how Casanova was imprisoned here and how he finally escaped. The tour was both educating (information about the ruling of the Doge) and entertaining (story of Casanova) at the same time so it was well worth the money. The palace has leaden roofs so when we were on the third floor is was almost like being in a sauna :-) After about 1 hour we were done with the tour and we got access to the palace and could tour this on our own. We got to walk up the magnificent staircase Scala d’Oro, walk across the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs), walk in the Sala del Maggior Consigliore (The hall of the great council) and so on. This last mentioned room was amazing. First of all it is an extremely large room and it is just amazingly decorated with paintings and wood carvings. Once again we were not allowed to take pictures inside this place but the Palazzo Ducale is well worth a visit. More information can be found on www.doge.it/smarco/pali.htm

Behind the mask
We were a bit in doubt on what to bring home as a souvenir from Venice. But when we came there are walked around in the city a little bit is was pretty obvious what we had to buy: a carnival mask of course. There are shops selling masks everywhere and they come in all sizes and shapes (and prices I guess). After a long discussion we were able to agree that a small Casanova mask would be the one to buy :-) I guess it would be fun to visit Venice during the carnival in February.

In the ghetto
Did you know that Venice had the first Jewish ghetto in the world? Well, in 1516 the council of Ten decided to confine the Jews of Venice on an island which has previously been occupied by a couple of foundries. The Venetian word for foundry is geto and hence the name ghetto which has later been used to describe Jewish enclaves around the world. We paid about 8 € each to get a little tour of the ghetto and I’m not sure that it was worth the money. But we did get to see the synagogues inside and that was nice because it was really hard to tell that there were any synagogues there from the outside of the buildings. This was due to rules and regulations in Venice. One of the Synagoges has an original Venetian floor. We experienced this in other buildings as well and at first I was afraid that the floor was about to collapse because you could actually feel the vibration in the floor when people were walking. But according to the information we got the floors were meant to be flexible like this.

My feet are HOT
Apart from this we did quite a lot of walking around town. Venice is not a big town so we could walk from our hotel in Cannaregio to San Marco square in 40 minutes. We passed by the Rialto bridge several times. This bridge is one of the three bridges that crosses Canal Grande and it dates back to about 1590. It is a beautiful (and quite big) bridge and it is one of the main attractions of Venice. Due to this you can find lots of shops and cafés in this area. Right next to the bridge you can find San Giacomo di Rialto. This church has a clock that is know for being a poor time-keeper. And the clock didn’t let us down….it was about 1 ½ hour wrong when we were there :-)

On our walks we also passed by the opera house La Fenice. At the moment this is just a construction site because they are rebuilding it after a fire in 1996. We passed by Palazzzo Contarini del Bovolo with it’s strange looking external stairway. Well, walked passed is maybe an exageration because it is hidden in some alleys so you have to look for it if you want to find it J And we walked by several beautiful churches of course and I still find it amazing that it has been possible to build stuff like this on small islands.

Home sweet home
On Saturday 14th of June we started on our journey back home to Norway. We bought tickets at Santa Lucia train station and once again we were met by a guy behind the counter that was more interested in talking to his colleagues than us. Well, we got some tickets in the end but when we came to the platform it didn’t look like a Eurostar train (like the one we took to Venice). And when we asked the guy that was checking the tickets at the platform he hardly spoke any English. But we walked to our coach but it turned out that this coach didn’t include our seat numbers and it was smoking and not non-smoking. But hey, the train did get us to Milan even if it went a bit slower than the Eurostar train. At Stazione Centrale we changed to the Malpensa Shuttle. We landed back home in Norway at about midnight and it was still light outside and considerably cooler than in Venice.

Final words
So did Venice meet all our expectations? I’m not sure. As I have mentioned Venice was smaller than I thought it would be and it didn’t have that much to offer. I know that people will disagree with me and say that Venice is so beautiful and unique. Yes, it is beautiful and unique and it was nice to have seen it with my own eyes. But in many ways I feel that it is a bit artificial. Yes, it is a city where streets are replaced by canals and it is unique in that way. And it is amazing to think of the long history that Venice has. But how much of the real Venice is left when there are 70.000 left in the city and there are 14 million visitors every year? It seems like everything revolves around the tourist business. But I have to say that we had a great time in Milan and Venice and I do hope to go back to Italy again in the future. I hope to see Rome, Pompeii and some of southern Italy.

Published on Tuesday February 3th, 2004


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Sun, Sep 19 2004 - 09:35 AM rating by saleha

Nice report...and quite a detailed account of the place...Best part...ur unbiased comments...both the postive n negative ones...

Wed, Apr 28 2004 - 01:52 AM rating by britman

Really enjoyed reading your report - Venice can be a rip off! It is a memorable city nevertheless - I'll save up to return some day!

Tue, Feb 03 2004 - 08:44 PM rating by anna_moon

Great report - incredibly in-depth for time you spent in Venice, with lots of important information! I was there at the same time, and the heat really was terrible, especially staying in an un-air-conditioned apartment. Your final words are a good summation. I felt we found a bit of the "real" Venice while we were there, but much of it does feel like "Disney" Venice, as one of my travelling companions called it.

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