Words can’t really describe the feeling you get when you’re travelling through Mestre and you’re surrounded by the usual train scenery. Grass and fields and the odd isolated house and then as if by magic…within a second it feels like we are on a floating carriage because all I can see for miles and miles is the beautiful blueness of the Venice Lagoon.
Known as ‘The Floating City’ this sanctuary is virtually the same now as it was 600 years ago and stepping out of Venezia Santa Lucia train station on the West side of Venice proves it. In the Veneto region in North-East Italy, Venice is made up of 118 small islands. All of which are separated by canals and linked by bridges of every shape and size. The Times Online once described it as being one of Europe’s most romantic cities and The New York times described it as ‘undoubtedly the most beautiful city built to man’.
I have to agree with all of the above… being the only pedestrian city in the world suited us great as we literally took off on foot to find our hostel. After getting lost quite a few times, asking strangers for directions and re-reading the street names a thousand times we found our not so nice home for the next two nights. We were staying in the San Marco district, about a ten minute walk from the train station in a very, very old lodging that I imagine would of been typical to Venetian living many years ago.
Exploring Venice on foot is probably the best way to see this amazing city but it’s definitely not the best way because after a while every street, canal and building starts to look the same. This however is not a bad thing. The gothic style of the architecture and the fact that Venice is famous for its theatrical and artistic references makes every step you take special.
Another way of getting around is the ‘Vaporetti’ (water taxis) which are cheap and cheerful and can be hailed down by stepping onto a bobbing platform. These are located all over the main canals and walkways. To see the more interesting parts of Venice we boarded the Vaporetto dell’ Arte. The boat version of the hop on-hop off buses. Leaving the main canals and travelling along it wasn’t long before we were out on the main lagoon and heading for Piazza San Marco. The views were absolutely spectacular and the first thing we spotted as we approached the square of St Mark was the Campanile di San Marco. This bell tower stands tall and looks out over the main square and basilica.
San Marco square is so beautiful that it takes a while for the eyes to adjust. Also known as Doge’s Palace (Palazza Ducale) the first thing we did was get some ice cream or gelato as its known in Italy. Standing in the middle of this magnificent piazza is an experience in itself but as you venture to the peripheries it is lined with quirky fashion boutiques and jewellery shops. Despite the beauty and the atmosphere it was very expensive and will set you back the guts of 15 quid for a coffee. At this price we opted for wine instead. Having a glass of home brewed red wine in the sunshine on the edge of the Rialto Bridge was a truly amazing experience. Watching the gondolas with their proud gondoliers sailing past really made the trip.
Venice has more tourists than residents and with islands like Murano and Burano where you can buy the most beautiful, colourful, elaborate and skillfully made Venetian glass and lace it’s easy to see why. ‘Bussolai’ which are butter biscuits are kept secret to non-venetians but are a classic breakfast of choice and are definitely a must try. As a bit of a Shakespeare geek it’s also nice to know that the Merchant of Venice and Othello were both set in this charismatic city. It’s no wonder that the whole city of Venice is listed as a World Heritage Site.
Everything about Venice has to be seen to be believed. From school children going to school on speed boats to people’s front doors leading onto the Grand Canal. You can order a litre of beer for breakfast and not get funny looks and you will share your path with more rats then you care to imagine. Live orchestras play on the main squares and local men play their instruments on street corners. It’s honestly the most unbelievable place on this earth. A mystic place built on the clearest of waters simply so people can escape reality and enter a magical, enchanted place.