Venice Tours and Tips

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Hidden Venice Tour

On a whim, Michael and I took a two-hour walking tour which promised to show us “hidden Venice.”  In a paraphrase of an old axiom, we waited for the guide at the top of the Rialto Bridge with high aspirations but low expectations.  Boy, were we wrong, and never have I been so glad to BE wrong.  The tour was informative and fascinating.  Our guide not only knew her art, history and city, but dished up an abundance of facts and sights without once losing our interest.  From historical facts to artistic details to recipes for different “spritz”, the Italian version of a spritzer, we had a packed two hours roaming the San Paolo and San Cassiano sectors of Venice.  Below is just a few samplings from the tour.

The Rialto Bridge was the first permanent bridge built over the Grand Canal. The Rialto itself has been the heart of Venice for centuries, boasting the city’s largest market, as well as the central banking and trading venue in Venice. The ancient market, still thriving today, is on the left side of the canal in the above picture.

Despite the presence of the bridge, we learned that many Venetians, after doing their day’s shopping at the market,  prefer to take the special two-man “ferry” gondolas across the Grand Canal, rather than schlep their heavily laden bags up and over the bridge. These larger gondolas require two oarsmen, or gondoliers, both to propel the large vessels as well as to avoid the boat traffic on the canal.  The route is directly across the canal from the market side to the right bank in the above photo, a distance of about 150 feet.  (I think the guide was too polite to say that an additional motivating factor was to avoid the hordes of tourists on the bridge!)

And that brings me to the subject of gondola vs. sandolo.  Our guide pointed out the difference:  the gondolas are higher-prowed, and larger, while the sandolos are smaller, lower, and flatter than their more elegant cousins.

You can see the difference in the prows and lines in the above:  the sandolo is in the foreground, with moored gondolas behind.

A Venetian spice shop, the only one left on this street in the city that used to be the crossroads of the lucrative spice trade

Spice Street, as loosely translated from the Venetian dialect.

From about 1000 to 1500 C.E., Venice was the mistress of the Mediterranean, effectively conducting and controlling sea trade between the Asian and Islamic worlds and Europe.  Their control was hard-won and, at times, at great cost to this small republic.  Yet, through their intrepid seamanship, shrewd negotiation and trade savvy, the Venetians managed to attain the pinnacle in the spice and silk and other trade for 500 years.  Of course, many times Venice had to resort to warfare with its neighbors, primarily with arch rival Genoa, in order to maintain supremacy.  Yet several times the Venetians also managed to take on — and beat — a somewhat (at times) united Europe, the Byzantine empire, and even a succession of popes.  More than once a pope threatened excommunication, and at least twice excommunicated the entire city trying to reign in this unruly, independent-minded republic.  It took two world-changing events in the 15th century to topple the mighty Venice:  Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World and Vasco de Gama’s discovery of the sea route around Africa.  Both forever changed the balance of both trade and power in Europe, and Venice never quite recovered its former position as a sea power.  I won’t go further into further detail, but I will recommend a fascinating book that covers this period in Venice’s history:  City of Fortune:  How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley.

Sadly, the sole spice shop remaining on Ruga dei Spezieri  is the one above.

Unbelievably, this is not the most narrow street in Venice. But this is a residential street, with three or four doors leading from either side of the 2+ foot wide passageway to 3 and 4 story homes.

This street should be in an advertisement for IKEA furniture, a good argument for furniture that must be assembled after the  flat-packed boxes are delivered to the houses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tour ended at the Frari Church, which has one of the most beautiful interiors in Venice after the Basilica San Marco.  Alas, photography was prohibited.  I highly recommend visiting the church, which has huge paintings by Bellini, Titian and Canova.  Titian is buried here in a sumptuous monument, and Canova’s heart is housed in a comparably ornate crypt opposite Titian’s.  (Note:  the following pictures were taken from a Google search.)

The Frari Church.

Titian’s masterpiece, The Ascension of the Virgin Mary, Frari Church.

To see info on the Hidden Venice Walking Tour and links to other tours on the website, go to:  www.tours-italy.com.  Also: http://www.dosomethingdifferent.com/experiences/hidden_venice_walking_tour

Tips on Venice Travel

Transportation from Marco Polo Airport

http://europeforvisitors.com/venice/articles/venice-airport-transportation.htm  Has lots of good links and info.  Note:  prices for water taxi have gone up considerably since this was published.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g187870-c2870/Venice:Italy:Airport.Transfer.With.Heavy.Suitcases.html  Excellent article and up to date.

The Trip Advisor site has excellent advice and links for transportation from Marco Polo Airport to Venice proper, especially useful when you have heavy or more than carry-on luggage.  Walking a  distance to your hotel with lots of luggage can be strenuous and awkward as you have to haul your bags over bridges and cobblestone streets.  We didn’t feel like forking out 120 Euros to take the private water taxi (or the Alilaguna) so we took the ATVO Bus instead.  It’s very convenient,  just outside the international arrivals area.  You can get your tickets on the bus or at the airport Tourist Info desk, which is also just outside the international arrivals.  It’s 5 Euros per person one way, 9 round trip.  The air-conditioned ATVO buses go about every 20-30 minutes to Piassele Roma, where you can either take the vapretto (public water bus) or if you’ve got lots of luggage AND your hotel has a water dock, then the water taxi might be the best option.

Transportation from the main train station:

If you are arriving by train at the main station, your options for getting to your hotel are easy:  walk, take the vaparetto, or a private water taxi.

Museum and Church Admission Discount Options

If you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing in the primary museums and churches, you should probably get a “Venice Card”.  Go to www.hellovenezia.com and check it out.  You can also reserve on line, for 1 euro, tickets for the San Marco Basilica and the Ducal Palace.  You can also buy separately the “Museum Card” which gives discounts as the top museums but no churches, or the “Chorus Card” which in reverse, gives discounts to several churches but no museums.

www.museiciviciveneziana.com

www.chorusvenezia.com

Getting Around Venice

One thing to keep in mind is that none of the above cards provides any public transportation discounts. The options, essentially, from least to most expensive are walking, the public transport vaporetto or private water taxi.  You will have to purchase your vaporetto tickets separately.  They have various passes available, such as 1 day, 48 hour pass, and 7 day pass (and more).  I suggest checking where your hotel is located, then decide what you want to see, and how much you want to walk versus taking the vaporetto, versus splurging for the very expensive private water taxi.

Buon viaggio!

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