Venice, Italy, by reading Venice is for Lovers by
Gary W. Bloom, WTA Member and Leisure Traveler/Writer. It features
a mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need
to know to plan your trip including how to get there, objective
information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the
end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact
information for your easy reference. Enjoy!
Venice is for Lovers
by Gary Bloom, Travel Writer and WTA Member
A nighttime view of
Venice’s Grand Canal.
are few places in the world with the romantic allure of Venice. The
birthplace of Giovanni Casanova, there must be something in the water
that makes people fall in love. And there’s water everywhere. There are
118 islets, 150 canals and 409 bridges in Venice. You’re not even safe
on land, with the frequent flooding of its piazzas and the seemingly
constant light drizzle that makes one want to snuggle up in a small
cafe, or simply stay in bed in a centuries old hotel.
Lying in a 25-mile
long salt-water lagoon, deposits of silt have built up over thousands of
years to form the islands of what is now Venice. This most impractical
of cities has survived the onslaught of water and tourists for 1,600
years. It is a fairytale town of gondolas, palaces, sidewalk cafes, and
quaint squares. The Pearl of the Adriatic, Venice is not a historic city
turned into a theme park. It is still a working city with homes that are
hundreds of years old, still lived in by generations of families that
have been here for hundreds of years.
The best thing
about Venice? There are no cars, no buses, no Vespas. In their place are
gondolas, water taxis, fire boats, garbage boats, and even hearse boats.
While I was walking near one canal, an ambulance boat came cruising up,
lights flashing and sirens blaring. An elderly woman was carefully
lifted into the boat on a stretcher, and the ambulance sped away. I was
left with the impression of just how well this city has adapted to its
It is impossible
not to get lost in Venice, and impossible not to find your way back.
After all, there’s only so far you can walk on a small island. A
labyrinth of narrow roads, passageways, and canals lead to surprises
around every turn. Venice’s main street is the Grand Canal, lined with
nearly 200 equally grand palaces.
Venice is easier than one might think. The “vaparetto” are Venice’s
public transportation. These long, narrow boats are the public busses of
the waterways. They’re an efficient and inexpensive way to leapfrog
surrounding islands. The sleek mahogany water taxies, while convenient,
are expensive. And for the hopelessly romantic, there are the gondolas,
which charge prices that are anything but romantic.
There is really
only one piazza in Venice - the San Marco. It is the heart of Venice, a
big heart the size of a couple of football fields. It is anchored at one
end by Florian’s and at the other by Caffe Quadri. These two elegant
cafes, complete with dueling orchestras, have been a meeting place for
artists, writers, and lovers for centuries.
Piazza San Marco,
as Napoleon so eloquently put it, is the drawing room of Europe. Locals
and tourists come here to eat, drink, see and be seen. Early in the
morning is the best time to wander the Piazza without feeling like
you’re actually in a football stadium. Like most of Venice, the piazza
is occasionally under water, which is either charming or disgusting,
depending on your frame of mind.
Near the San Marco
are two of Venice’s most important buildings. The Basilica di San Marco
has been the spiritual center of Venice since 830 AD. A law passed in
1075 required all returning ships to bring back a precious gift to
decorate the Basilica. The building is an eclectic mixture of
architectural styles and is an important work of art in its own right.
The Doge’s Palace,
built during the 14th century, was the center of government
for the Republic. The Bridge of Sighs connects the Palace with the
infamous prison where the inquisitors interrogated suspects with the aid
of red-hot pincers and the “rack.” The Armory has over 2,200 weapons and
suits of armor on display. Tintorello’s “Paradise,” the largest oil
painting in the world, is displayed in the Hall of the Great Council.
There are many
other squares to explore, some postage stamp sized and others large
enough to host a neighborhood soccer game. The campi, as the squares are
called, each have their own personality, and walking the dark narrow
paths of Venice, they provide a welcome resting place, surrounded by
restaurants, bars, and cafes.
A city as
beautiful, romantic, and unique as Venice has been a magnate for writers
and artists for centuries. Some were homegrown, while others trekked to
the city for inspiration. Hemingway, Vivaldi, Thomas Mann, Titian, Lord
Byron, Richard Wagner, Mark Twin, Anton Chekhav, Gore Vidal – the list
goes on and on.
It’s ironic that
Shakespeare, who by all accounts never visited the city, wrote one of
the most famous works with a Venice imprumpeteur, “The Merchant of
Venice.” But other writers had first hand experience. William Dean
Howells’ Venetian Life is one of the best books about Venice.
Hemingway’s Across the River and Into the Trees is a love story
about an American and a Venetian countess. And Thomas Mann’s famous
novel, Death in Venice, was set on the nearby island of Lido.
A view of
Venice’s amazing architecture from the Grand Canal.
Many of the islands
of Venice have specialized in a particular craft or service. Think of
them as boutiques surrounded by water. Murano is the place to go to buy
glass works, as well as to visit Italy’s only glass museum. If you’re
into lace, you’ll want to catch a water taxi to Burano. The Museum of
Lace is located on this island, tracing the history of the craft that
originated in Venice in the 15th century. Burano is also
known for its kaleidoscope of colorful pastel homes that line the
There’s also the
cemetery island, San Michele, where a premium on space requires burial
plots to be re-used after 12 years. If the cemetery island is too
depressing, visit the Lido, a 7-mile long island of fun and sun, with
beaches, a casino, golf course, and other attractions for the tan and
Venice is a work of
art in marble, velvet, and lace. As Truman Capote said, “Venice is like
eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” A flaming,
flamboyant city that has seduced lovers for centuries. This is where
newlyweds go for their honeymoon, and others for discreet and not so
the most famous of Venice’s philanderers, was born here in 1725. He was
on his way to an unlikely career as a priest when he was expelled from
the seminary for immorality. In what was to become a pattern, he was
later expelled from all of Venice. He then began a spiritual journey of
a different sort that took him across Europe, earning his living as a
gambler, writer, sometime spy, and always as a lover and seducer of
women. His name lives on here, perhaps as the person who epitomizes the
Venetian’s lazzei faire attitude toward love and marriage.
There are not many
limits to those seeking love in Venice. But the summer may be one of
them. The hot months turn the lovely canals into a smelly cauldron, and
the crowds of tourists turn the romantic city into a zoo. Better to
visit during the off-season. Although temperatures can get down into the
30’s during the winter, it is well worth the discomfort not to have to
share this fairytale city.
Venice’s Marco Polo Airport is located about 5 miles north of the
city. Airlines offering service from the U.S. to Venice include
Delta and Alitalia Airlines, which have direct flights, and
Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways, United, Continental, KLM,
American, Scandinavian, Austrian, Northwest, and Iberia Airlines
with connecting flights. As of May 2004, round-trip airfare from
the U.S. could be found for around $600.
There are bus
and water taxi shuttles from the airport to Venice. A water taxi
from the airport to your hotel will run about $100, but the ATVO
fly bus to Piazzale Roma is only about $3.60. Another alternative
is the Alilaguna waterbus (http://www.alilaguna.it),
which takes you to Venice’s St. Mark’s Square and other stops for
at Venezia Santa Lucia station, at the head of the Grand Canal.
There are public water buses and water taxis nearby, but if your
hotel is not far from the station and you don’t have too much
luggage, you may be able to walk.
The Cipriani is one of Venice’s most expensive hotels, and one of
the world’s best. It’s built on three-acres on the tip of Giudecca
Island, just minutes by boat from Piazza San Marco. It’s a quiet
oasis from the noise and crowds of Venice. The hotel has an
Olympic sized pool, fitness center, and Jacuzzis in some of the
rooms, with views of the lagoon, Palladian Church of San Giorgio
Maggiore, or the gardens and vineyards. Book rooms on their
website, for around $800 per night.
In a quiet
district close to the Accademia Gallery, this charming 17th
century hotel once housed the Russian Embassy. Furnished with
antiques and with a garden overlooking the Grand Canal, it is
moderately priced at around $160 for doubles.
Calle Fiubera, 951
S. Marco Venezia
Marco Square, and the Rialto Bridge, this small hotel has simple
rooms that are reasonably priced. Doubles go for about $130
What to eat:
Calle Lunga San Barnaba 2869/A
This is the
place to go for seafood. A cozy restaurant in a 300-year old
building that gets its name from “furatolas,” the small shops in
Venice’s early years that served seafarers. Today, it’s more
likely to be filled with local residents who know a bargain,
serving marinated and boiled seafood antipasti at prices of around
$20. It’s hard to find, so bring a good map.
San Marco 1323
bar and restaurant, opened in 1931 and a favorite of Ernest
Hemingway, this is the place to see and be seen in Venice, with
prices to match. Perhaps better known for its ambience and drinks
than its food, it still offers some notable dishes, including its
famous Carpaccio of beef, a plate of wafer thin sliced sirloin.
Its even more famous drink is the Bellini, a mixture of white
peach juice and sparkling prosecco. Prices are in the expensive
range, with entrees around $40.
Osteria da Fiore
San Polo 2202
Calle del Scaleter
You’ll need a map to find it and reservations to get in, but da
Fiore has been acclaimed as one of the best restaurants not just
in Venice, but also in the world. Such notoriety doesn’t come
cheap. Dinner will set you back about $90. Reservations can be
made on their website, and should be made well in advance.
When to go:
Venice has a mild climate and the weather is relatively pleasant
throughout the year, though winters can be cold and damp. Like
most of Europe, late summer is the busiest when everyone is on
holiday. During the spring and fall the weather is pleasant, there
are fewer crowds and hotel prices tend to be lower.
Walking is the best way to see this compact city; just be resigned
to the fact that you’ll probably get lost in the labyrinth of
alleys and canals. The vaporettoi, Venice’s public boat
transportation, is a fun and inexpensive way to see Venice’s many
islands. Depending on how long you’re staying, buy a 24 hour, 72
hour, or one week pass. The sleek, polished mahogany water taxis
are very expensive, at about $40 for a short ride, though you may
be able to negotiate. If you have a lot of luggage and your hotel
is not easily reached by foot, you may have to opt for a water
Italy, like most of Europe, now uses the Euro as its currency. The
U.S. dollar has declined against the Euro recently, and prices
have been rising accordingly. As of April 2004, one USD was equal
to about .82 Euro.
Piazzetta San Marco
Hours: 9am – 7pm daily April – October; 9am – 5pm daily November -
Entrance Fee: about $13.
Once the home
of the doge, the elected-for-life leader, the Palace is connected
to the infamous prisons over the Bridge of Sighs. The doge could
sentence, torture, and imprison people all in the confines of his
home. You’ll especially want to see the prisoner cell blocks, the
Bridge of Sighs, and the Armory. To really understand what you’re
seeing, you might want to get an audio guide at the entrance for
St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
Piazza San Marco
Tel: 39 041 522-5205
Hours: April through September: Monday - Saturday 9:45am - 5:00pm,
Sunday 2 - 5:00pm, October through March: Monday - Saturday 10am -
4:00pm, Sunday 2 - 4:00pm. (Check web site for treasury and museum
Entrance Fee: Free for the Basilica, about $3 for the treasury and
about $2 for the Marciano Museum.
St. Mark’s Basilica, one of the world’s greatest churches, has
housed the body of St. Mark since about 832. The Treasury contains
the goblets, chalices, and other precious items that were looted
from the city of Constantinople. The Marciano Museum is famous for
the four bronze horses that are the only surviving quartet of
yoked horses to have survived from the 4th century.
Note: you must be dressed appropriately to enter the basilica – no
bare knees or shoulders.
Naval History Museum (Museo Storico Navale)
Campo San Biasio
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:45 am-1:30pm; Saturday 8:45am-1pm.
Entrance Fee: About $3.
Part of the
imposing Arsenale, the Naval Museum is a one of the best bargains
in Venice. The museum has displays of Italian navy uniforms and
weapons, along with gondolas and other boats. An especially
interesting museum for kids, and anyone interested in maritime
Government Tourist Board
630 Fifth Ave., Suite1565
NY, NY 10111
Tel: (212) 245-4822
Fax: (212) 586-9249
Notice: This information is current as of April 2004. It is recommended
that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to
determine any changes to the information.