Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Visions of Venice and a few Tips for Travelers

Grand Canal, Venice, Accademia Bridge

Ahhh, Venezia... timeless and stunningly beautiful, at each turn she becomes a photographer's dream.  With multitudes of watery canals and winding alleyways, Venice provides a mosaic of color, texture and pure brilliance in addition to traditional history, architecture, and art.

The first stop on our summer 2012 vacation, Liv Life and Family arrived to the Grand Canal by water taxi, all four of us gushing at the sheer beauty of the city.  Traveling down the bustling thoroughfare, we had not doubt that we were no longer in San Diego.

Flowers, Venice, Italy
In my research for our vacation, I found myself craving photos of Venice along with trip reviews outlining what others had done during their own stays in this Jewel of the Adriatic.

The stunning photos I stumbled across only served to grow my excitement, while tips regarding water taxis, churches, architecture, gondolas, costs of tours, worthiness of tours, Vaporettos, etc., etc., etc., helped me to plan my own trip.  Tailoring my days in Venice to suit my tastes, I'm ever so thankful to those who took the time to post their own thoughts and tips along the way.

Now, with my own trip now under my belt, we wanted to share a few of the tips that worked for us...

First of all, I can't say enough how much we enjoyed and appreciated our arrival to Venice by water taxi.  Arriving mid morning at Marco Polo airport, the water taxi was easy enough to find - turn left outside of the terminal and follow the signs - and once on the path to the water taxi departure area, one has about a 5 minute walk.  Note that walking with heavy luggage could be a bit challenging, and I found myself more thankful than ever for my rolling suitcase.

water taxi, venice, italy, marco polo airport
Once arriving at this stand we found a man with a clipboard and he coordinated with one of the drivers to take us to our hotel by way of the Grand Canal.  The cost to go directly to the hotel was quoted at €110, an additional €50 was charged to take the canal route.  With our limited time in Venice, this was indeed the way to go as the taxi not only provided easy and personal transportation, but a tour of the canal.  Watching the kid's eyes as we entered the canal, viewing the real Venice for the first time, is a memory I will carry with me forever.

Knowing the ease of the water taxi, our hotel arrangements became even more attractive as we learned of the ability to step off of the taxi and into the hotel (i.e. no schlepping your cases over footbridges, etc).  The historical Palazzo Pisani, overlooking the Grand Canal, provided a delightful stay for our overnight in Venice.

Time and again my research highlighted how Venice is an attraction in and of itself.  I too, found this to be indeed true, and took great pleasure in simply walking the alleys and stumbling upon hidden treasures, shops or gelaterias.

Yes, you will get lost in Venice, but that in itself is indeed indeed a treat!  A good map helps to gain perspective (and ease frustration), but streets are not always well marked and as such, sticking with the direction of main landmarks, such as one of the major bridges or a major church, is helpful.

Without getting lost we would not have found some of our most beautiful and interesting views of Venice...

Canals, venice, Italy

Canals, Venice, Italy

Graffiti, Venice, Italy

St. Mark's Square remains a major destination for most Venetian visitors.  Know that since it is such a main attraction, crowds of tourists may jam the square at peak times during the day, especially during summer and as cruise ship passengers visit during their docking hours.  Most of my research advised to visit the Square either early, or late, and indeed my earlier morning visit proved to be far more pleasurable than my ultra crowded mid-afternoon visit.

With attractions such as the beautiful St. Mark's Basilica and Doge's Palace in addition to St. Mark's Campanile, one could feasibly spend hours in the stunning square and still not see it all.  Add in time for gelato, shopping, feeding the pigeons, or an evening taste of prosecco whilst listening to the dueling orchestras, and one has a very full day.

Pigeons, Venice, Italy

As our time was somewhat limited, this trip only allowed for one stop in the square, and our family chose the Secret Itinerary Tour of Doge's Palace.  Mixed online reviews had me slightly worried that the kids would find the tour boring, however we all walked away happy that we had chosen this tour, and Liv to this day is still talking about facts and lore of ancient Venice that she learned from our animated tour guide

Doges Palace, Venice ItalyBooking our tickets ahead of time directly through the Palazzo Ducale website over 3 weeks in advance, our midsummer tickets were the last available for the day we desired.  As such, booking as early as possible, especially in summer, is highly recommended.  I did find numerous sites available for booking the tours, but also found numerous prices for tickets as some of the sites charged extra booking fees.  Hence, we chose to book directly through the Palace website.

Note that no backpacks or large bags are allowed into the Palace, and for most of the tour, photography is also not allowed.  Note also that I did carry a medium size shoulder bag and had my camera slung over my shoulder for the entire tour with no issues.

Lion head, doge's palace
Within Doge's Palace (Venice, Italy) courtyard, these "mail slots", shaped at lion's heads, can be seen.  In ancient Venice, one could slip a paper into the Lion's mouth to anonymously report the crime of a neighbor.  Careful though, if you falsely accuse another you will suffer the punishment of the crime reported.  Would you report your neighbor??
Attached to the Palace, one finds the infamous Bridge of Sighs.  Made of sparkling white limestone, the bridge passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the prison with the interrogation rooms of Doge's Palace.  The view from the bridge became the last view of Venice that convicted prisoners would see as they were led to their cells, and legend has it that prisoners would sigh while passing over the bridge.  Hence... the Bridge of Sighs.

Bridge of Sighs, Venice
Liv and I capture the Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs, Venice
Our Secret Itinerary tour had us travel the same path as the prisoners and see for ourselves the view from the Bridge of Sighs.

Rialto Market, VeniceHeading back out into Venice, getting away from St. Marks will often lead you to less crowded areas, and our day had us heading back across the Accademia Bridge.  With a bit of time to spare in addition to my Farmer's Market obsession, I couldn't help but visit the Rialto Bridge Market.  Brilliant vegetables, fragrant melons, and mounds of sun dried tomatoes in addition to just about any vegetable you can think of, beckoned to me, and it took every bit of willpower I had to resist filling up a bag.  With no kitchen though, my shopping was done through my lens, and while the photos did bring the market back home, they are missing the abundant aromas of fresh produce that just can't be captured.

Venice, Grand Canal, View from Rialto Bridge
View of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge
With the addition of the extensive fish market, the Rialto Market becomes one stop shopping. Featuring big fish, little fish, shelled fish, and unshelled fish, the market brimmed with choices and freshness.

Octopus, Rialto Fish Market, Venice, Italy
Octopus chilling on ice
While the produce and fish themselves provided endless enjoyment, it was the people of the market who made my visit even more special.  Haggling is not something I'm familiar with, but the enthusiasm with which these shoppers bargained with the sellers, all followed by comments checking on grandma's health, held me entranced.

The last stop for our day was the majestic Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, or easier i Frari.  Known as a minor basilica, the church stands on the Campo dei Frari in the San Polo district.  Granted the land to build on in 1250, the Franciscans completed the magnificent structure in 1338, with the campanile (bell tower), the second tallest in Venice, completed in 1396.

Housing numerous excellent examples of Renaissance art, the austere church drew oohs and ahhs from my teenage children.  Their first visit to a major European church, so historical and different from home, has remained with them and both have spent time reading about the history of the churches of Venice and reveling in the fact that they actually visited a few.

Note, again no photography allowed inside the church.  Tempted as I was to snap a photo or two on my cell phone, my photo-guards (kids) literally slapped my hand with a stern "No!".  As such... no photos of the Frari Church.

With our day in Venice drawing to a close, we made our way back into the alleys of the city.  Passing over footbridges, through back alleys and past even more winding canals and gondolas, Venice remains a vibrant memory with visions tempting us to return.

Venice, Italy


  1. Arrghhh! I'm sitting here at the library and am supposed to be working since our internet at home is down and this is a small window of time. But I've been dying to read about your trip and have snuck over here for a quick visit. Now I'm homesick for Italy, and Venice.


    Thank you for sharing your trip. It's as magical as I remember.

  2. my son is going soon and he loved this post... thanks its a great trip.... nicely written

  3. Amazing! Great photo's! What a wonderful time! Have a great week!

  4. Wow! I would frame almost every one of these photos and hang them up all over the house! :)

  5. What wonderful pictures! We went to Italy (including Venice) 5 years ago and your pictures brought back amazing memories! The food, the culture and the general vibe of Italy is something that I'll never forget. Enjoy!

  6. Rome, Venice, Barcelona this summer with my family. Thanks for all the information.

    Vancouver, WA

  7. Ian, sounds like a fabulous vacation!! Bon Voyage!!

  8. Wonderful choice to go on vacation! I am glad you enjoyed it! Good luck planning your next trip!


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