“Four days in Venice, isn’t that a little long?”
“Well, it’s more like three days, four nights...”
“You know it’s full of tourists, locals who will scam you and it smells, right?!”
And that is how one conversation went when I told an acquaintance we were off on a summer holiday to the famous Floating City. Had we overestimated the time we’d need? Was it going to be one big stinking hot mess? What had we gotten ourselves into?!
Luckily for us, said acquaintance couldn’t have been more wrong.
From the moment I first stepped foot in Cannaregio, the northernmost of Venice’s six historic districts, I was in love.
It was well after 11pm when we dropped out luggage at the hotel (Hotel Nazionale) and despite the fun of budget airline travel we were ready to hit Venice’s cobbled streets!
But before we could go anywhere I was in desperate need of a gelato and thankfully (dangerously) there was an amazing gelato shop right at the door of our hotel *bliss*.
We had arrived in town on the eve of Festa del Redentore (more about that later) so the streets were fairly deserted as we strolled over the famous canals for the first time.
However, come the morning the city was buzzing.
Travellers of all ages and all nationalities wandered up at down the streets while men opened their stalls selling souvenirs and replicas of traditional Venetian masks and Murano glass.
It’s fairly easy to spot the authentic stuff – they are usually found in dedicated stores and have price tags that reflect the quality.
With nowhere in particular in mind we made our way slowly into the middle of the island.
I would recommend spending at least one day getting totally lost, wandering up and down the thousands of small alley ways that sprawl across the city.
They are also a great escape from the crowds and the hot summer sun.
Making our way into the heart of Venice, we followed the official (and handmade) signs showing the way to Piazza San Marco and Rialto Bridge and were joined by an ever increasing number of fellow travellers.
The square is massive and in the blazing midday sun we were grateful for the shade from the shop front canopies.
If you’re spending a few days in town I’d recommend you pick up a 3-Day Youth Card (Rolling Venice) it gives you access to all public transport including waterbuses (vaporetti) in the city for 72 hours and discounts at museums, shops and restaurants.
That night after take a rather long detour on a vaporetti we found ourselves on the island of Dorsoduro right in the middle of Festa del Redentore celebrations.
Hundreds of tables filled with big Italian families ran the length of the canal looking out across to the city centre. They feasted on giant plates of local food (it smelt so good!) and glasses of wine. Grandparents, parents, aunties, uncles and cousins singing, dancing and gossiping the evening away, waiting for the main event – the fireworks!
And what a display!
For at least 45 minutes pyrotechnics took over the city. Colours lit up the night sky and booming explosions echoed around the ancient street – if you didn’t know better you’d swear it was a war zone!
The following day we tried a bit of island hopping, Venice style. First stop, Murano.
Famous for its glasswork, the island was largely empty on the Sunday we stopped by.
Still, there were plenty of opportunities to pick up pieces of jewellery and take in the sights.
It was a recommendation from a colleague that proved to be one of my trip highlights - the island of Burano
Every Venetian lagoon seems to be famous for something, and in Burano’s case it is lacework and rainbow coloured buildings – my kind of place!
The first thing you see when getting off the boat is a rather frightful looking wailing woman – no idea what she represents, but it can’t be nice.
Thankfully your eye is quickly caught by the brilliant red building to your left and from there you can’t help but smile at the array of pinks, blues, yellows and oranges of the town.
Oh, and I also ate the best pizza I have had in my whole life! Cheese, mushroom, artichoke and prosciutto – delish!
Venetians are a lovely people – very friendly and helpful.
Despite the extraordinary lack of Italian language skills in our group we managed to get by.
As long as you can point and say hello, please and thank you you’ll be fine in this largely English speaking (or at least understanding) place.
Our final day was spent catching up on all the little things we had missed – a last stop here, a last stop there.
St Mark’s Basilica was one such destination and there in the July sun we joined a surprisingly fast moving queue to enter the 11th century church.
Many European churches still enforce a traditional dress code meaning men and women must cover their shoulders & knees.
I specially brought a church-suitable dress with me, but if you forget to wear appropriate attire it isn’t such a big deal as the staff will provide you with lovely papery shawls to wrap around you.
Be careful of the men on the door though – they are more like nightclub bouncers than church ushers grabbing visitors showing too much skin as they walk passed.
While it lacks the grandeur and quiet spiritual aura of St Peter’s in Rome, the interior and exterior are stunning nonetheless.
So how do you put the perfect finishing touch on a perfect holiday in Venice? With a gondola ride of course!
Lying back in our luxury boat it was hard not to feel like royalty gliding through the narrow canals the vaporetti can’t reach, our gondolier filling us in with bits and pieces of local history.
And that was it - what more can I say? We ate, drank and sweated our way through this magnificent island, cameras always at the ready.
Bellini, gelato, pizza and spaghetti. Fireworks, bridges, canals and history. The list goes on!
Venice, you surprised me. I didn’t expect to love you this much!