Irrespective of whether you have been or not, everyone has their own image of Venice. For me, it is a place that appears to literally float on water.
It has had a lot of notoriety of late, not least due to the high profile marriage of George Clooney to Amal Alamuddin. Described as the most romantic of settings it certainly looked fabulous as the flotilla of star-studded celebrities sailed gently down the Grand Canal.
The world of cruise news has also been buzzing. Would the banning of large ships mark the end of the most iconic of sailings down the Grand Canal?
Fortunately not. From 2015, there will indeed be restrictions on the size and number of ships allowed each day but irrespective of that for me Venice is a place to be savoured. The Grand Sailing is indeed an experience not to miss, but there is also a hidden Venice that can best be explored with a couple of days on ‘dry land’ either beforehand or after your cruise:
Starting out at 7 in the morning, with only the day here I was keen to see and do as much as possible.
With the perfect clear blue sky I had planned a day far from the madding crowd. We were joining the commuters on a water taxi to Burano. It was a truly beautiful journey, a chance to see Venice from a different perspective.
As for Burano itself, it was a real picturesque island with colourful houses lining the canals. Back to Venice as it used to be. We were there early – before 9. Early enough to see the normal daily business.
Observing this sleepy place as it opened up was truly exquisite. Elderly ladies embroidering in the streets, enjoying the tranquil calm before the tourists. Locals laughing and chattering in the square, children playing freely. The toll of the church bell.
Venice is all about ‘losing yourself’ – a little alley here, a winding pathway there. At least on a small island the lost bit was also a small one!
As I browsed the compact but charming shops, this was my kind of place. Delicate lace scarves, splendid Venetian painted masks, dainty handy-craft and colourful paintings. And always with that enticing smell from the local bakery.
I was like a kid in a sweet shop – unsure of what to purchase first. It was only as I began to notice ‘people’ in the shops that I realised time had moved on. The tourists had arrived (OK I know I was one myself but…).
It was time to visit another tiny island, Torcello. Much of this island is a nature reserve, accessible only on the prescribed walking paths. There are few shops and signs of commercialism here. The reason for our visit was to spend a while looking at the spectacular Byzantine mosaics in the seventh century Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell’Assunta.
Getting off the vaporetto, it felt about as unlike the standard image of Venice as one could get. Quiet, peaceful, a few people wandering around, but certainly a million miles from the throngs in St Mark’s Square. Wonderful.
Off again, determined to make full use of our vaporetto day pass, to the Lido this time.
As hubby and I walked along the quiet beach hand in hand (it was way outside of main season hence the lack of crowds), this was certainly unexpected romance for Venice. No gondola, and ‘Just one Cornetto’ gondolier. Just a serene and peaceful stroll along the beach with beautiful blue sky and glistening water. Perfect.
Deciding though we really could not come to Venice and miss seeing St Mark’s Basilica, we regretfully concluded it was time to leave this unseen side of the city and head back to the hordes that would not doubt be scrambling for position in St Mark’s Square.
Arriving back just half an hour before it shut, my plan was a good one. Most day visitors had ‘been there, done that’ and had headed off to other parts of the city. We strolled up to the entrance, not long until closing but at least it was relatively uncrowded (only if compared to the height of the day I hasten to add – there were still many people inside). Truly spectacular. Taking in the overwhelming awe of the place, glittering gold all around, the attention to detail was truly amazing.
Almost the last to leave, it was time for our ‘Tourist Trap Moment’. No visit to Venice is complete without a gondola ride. Yes I know they are expensive, I know they are crowded and cheesy but it still just has to be done.
Again, in an attempt to beat the queues, we headed down one of the tiny alleyways and to a station somewhat off the beaten track. I had done my research, and despite this it was, by my reckoning just a short canal-hop to the Grand Canal and hence we should still get the opportunity to be serenaded in style.
Once more my research paid off. Yes it was all those things I described above – expensive, crowded and cheesy – but still great nonetheless! And yes we were serenaded on the Grand Canal.
As the sun set over the waters, the majority of tourists having left, St Mark’s Square was still buzzing but no longer heaving. The heat of the day had dissipated as had the crowds. It was time for some hard earned dinner. We had had a marvellous time, completely different to that expected. Few crowds, but beautiful sights. I can thoroughly recommend a stay here. But if you do, be sure to mix it up. You must not forget the main attractions of St Marks and the gondola (and also Doge’s Palace – we managed that the following morning before we left). Crowds flock to them for a reason. But in addition, be sure to get under the skin of the city and you will discover there is far more to Venice than you thought possible.Show +