Visiting Venice

My fiancé and I recently returned from the most lovely trip to Venice and I wanted to tell you about it! Venice had been on my bucket list for a while (I had visited for a day as a teenager on a school trip to Italy many moons ago but that was it) and I have to say it didn’t disappoint.

It is definitely the most unique place I have visited on my travels so far and the no roads/all boats took a bit of getting used to.  It’s so iconic you spend a lot of time gasping and ahhing at all the sights you’ve seen in images over the years – its really quite surreal. After landing, we took a pre-booked bus transfer from the airport and then walked into Venice from the mainland via the main drag.

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We stayed in a lovely hotel in walking distance to all the sights – the beautiful, opulent and very romantic Hotel Ai Mori D’Oriente and found the cost per night for 4 star hotel quite affordable. Venice is pretty small so you really can cover a lot of it on foot and by water bus but its always good to have a central base I find. The hotel and its rooms are beautiful and the staff couldn’t do enough for us so I would definitely recommend it.

So Venice…where to begin?

I always think theres two parts to a mini break – the sights and the experiences so lets starts with the sights we visited…

Places to visit

Piazzo San Marco (St Marks Square), St Marks Basilica, Doges Palace and the Campanile Bell Tower

It is said that Napoleon called San Marco “the drawing room of Europe” and it is a breathtakingly beautiful place. Busy and filled with tourists it is one of the main areas to visit in Venice – probably number 1 on most peoples lists.  There are queues for both the Basilica and the bell tower, expensive restaurants with musicians playing on the square, streets of designer stores and LOTS of pigeons.  The stunning, multi domed Basilica is free to enter and is dark, dramatic and rather solemn with no talking (and some shushing!), but you do need to pay to see the Pala d’Oro – a magnificent golden Byzantine icon of 4,240 square meters of gold mosaic.  The Bell Tower is a must – take a lift (there no access via stairs  – my boyfriend was furious!) and admire the views of Venice – your wont find a better place to view the city or in our case, share a kiss.

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The views from the Bell Tower and breath taking…

Rialto bridge

The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. Connecting the Sestieri districts of San Marco and San Polo, it has been rebuilt several times since its first construction in the 12th century, and is now a significant tourist attraction.  It is huge – breath-takingly so, with shops running down the centre of it, it is so wide.  Again it is VERY busy with tourists so it is easier to see from a boat than on the actual bridge. As well as walking it, we went underneath it in a gondola and it was really something – definitely recommended.

Bridge of Sighs

This enclosed bridge is made of white limestone, has windows with stone bars and passes over the Rio di Palazzo, connecting the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace.  The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment and the bridge’s name, given by Lord Byron comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.

Island of Murano

This was a lovely treat – a free trip provided by our hotel which we travelled to by water taxi (more of that later).  A 15 minute speedboat ride takes you out of Venice and on to one of the various islands – Murano, famous for its glass production.  Anyone that knows me, will tell you I LOVE glass and collect vintage Murano pieces mainly from the 1950’s and 60’s.  The island of Murano is renowned for its long tradition of glass-making and visitors come to explore the Museo del Vetro, which tells the story of glass through the centuries, and to shop for locally crafted souvenirs.  We were lucky enough to visit one of the main glass producers and see how the glass is made which really was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far.  There is a bit of hard sell to encourage you to shop but we politely excused ourselves as bespoke pieces cost up to 100,000 euros!

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Glass shops

There are a lot of glass shops in Venice.  Image the weirdest thing you can…they will have it made of glass.  Prices start at a euro so anyone can treat themselves though.

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Things to do

Take a Gondola ride

We couldn’t of visited Venice without doing this – yes its expensive but totally worth it.  Gondola fares are set officially, these are the minimum fares for a standard gondola ride but rates can go higher (most fares are higher at night).  During the day it is 80 euros which is what we paid. Gondolas hold six people and can be shared without affecting the fee so you can save money by sharing a tariff with other people if you want to – personally though I wanted the love seat (the main decorative seat) and it feel romantic so there was no sharing for us. I didn’t get to eat a Walls Cornetto on one, but this was definitely the highlight of the trip for me.

Take a water taxi

Want to feel like Sophia Loren in the 1950’s?  Beautiful speed boats with leather and walnut interiors are the taxis of Venice.  Fantastic fun but not the most affordable way to travel so we also made good use of the water buses which you can ride all over Venice for 24 hours on the same ticket for 20 euros. But for glamour? The taxis (and their drivers who seemed to want to go as fast as possible) had it all!

Eat and drink…alot!

Pasta, Pizza, Gelato, wine, butter biscuits… Italy is the home of great food and drink. Alongside the usual Italian fare, Tramezzini, also called Venetian tea sandwich was a must for me. These triangular sandwiches (starting 1.50 euro per piece) come with many different filling.  My favourite? A whole boiled egg surrounded by tuna – utterly delicious.

Buy a mask

There are mask shops everywhere in Venice with lots of street sellers selling cheap Chinese version from market stalls and discount tourist shops.  Visit one of the traditional artisan shops where you can see the masks made by amazing craftsmen and women.  It really is amazing watching the creations be made and discovering the many different types of masks many that have been used in film and TV.  As well as the traditional masks you can now pink SteakPunk versions, ones inspired by 50 shades of Grey and fashion pieces intricately cut out of metal and leather. My boyfriend fell in love with them and we ended up bring one home with us which now has pride of place in our bedroom.

Look at Art

There’s a lot of art in Venice.  As my taste is more contemporary, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection of 20th-century masters was my dream visit, with art by Jackson Pollock, Picasso, Magritte, Max Ernst, Andy Warhol and an amazing outdoor collection of sculpture and experiences.  It was founded by one of Venice’s most colourful expat residents, Peggy Guggenheim, whose father went down in the Titanic, leaving her a fortune.  Admission is 15 euros a person and well worth it.

Visit a supermarket

We always like to find a nearby supermarket whenever we travel (who wants to pay mini bar prices, right?) and Venice did not disappoint.  Want the most dramatic, glamorous SPAR ever?  That’s Venice…

Add a love lock

A tradition for us, Russ engraved a padlock before we left.  In our usual way, we added it to one of the many bridges in the city (there were quite a few locks there already) and threw the keys in the canal.  Another Sarah & Russ love lock left in Europe xxx.

Do some exercise

OK, OK I know we are annoying.  Another ‘me and Russ’ tradition achieved though as we ran a 5k route round the city.  We had eaten a lot of pasta and pizza by this point so it was probably needed!

All in all Venice was an odd, amazing, tiring and slight surreal trip.  It is small enough to do via a mini break and can be done on a variety of budgets.  It definitely is the strangest place I’ve been so far and loved seeing views and sights I’d seen in photos for so many years.  Yes it’s busy.  Yes its touristy.  Yes you have to pay for every toilet. But overall?  It is just amazing.  Oh and I got that Cornetto at the airport before we left!!!

All photos via my Instagram – follow me here.

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