I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I first booked this trip to Venice. I knew nothing about the place, and had spoken to no-one who had been there. So it was basically a venture into the unknown - a mystery trip for me. I obviously knew there was water involved, but that was it...
What I did discover was that:
Venice IS a city in Italy.
Venice IS NOT connected physically to Italy in any way.
Imagine Manhattan without the bridges which connect it to the rest of New York State. It would therefore be accessible only via the water.
Imagine every pavement in Manhattan, whether it be outside a home, a shop, or a church. Imagine not being able to cross to the opposite pavement because between the pavements is not tarmac, only water.
Now THAT’s Venice.
Every street comprises of two pavements but the road surface is a canal, and if you wish to cross the road then one of the many bridges over each road will allow you to do so. Venice is a beautiful city, built on the water away from the mainland. Why? I have yet to figure that out.
After our flight landed in Italy we boarded a coach, which I had arranged for our transfers, and eventually made it to the coast 40km away. From there, two travel cards were purchased (a 3-day pass is 20.00 Euros each) which enabled us to get a water bus (Vaporetti) over to Venice island.
The water bus took us to within a 15-minute walk of the hotel we were staying in and this would not normally have been a problem but rather than take two small cases with wheels onto the plane with us, I decided it would be best to take one large suitcase, (and pay extra luggage costs for the privilege!). This is turn presented me with the problem of negotiating the 15-minute walk with said suitcase, through narrow passages which only one person at a time could enter, on surfaces which switched from cobbled streets to brick styled surfaces, over bridges, through pretty but very tiny squares smaller than my bathroom, and generally over an obstacle course. You could have 'knocked me down with a feather' as I realised that every road we crossed would be via a bridge. It was either that or sit on the suitcase and float across.
It was only later that we discovered that, just like on TFL buses here in London, we could have walked a few yards further along after our initially arrival on the island and caught a different water bus which stops OUTSIDE the hotel. The right information can be so valuable.
At this point, I should mention that I do consider myself fairly well travelled. The many overseas trips via my Modern Romance career, which still sustains me to this day, instilled in me a sense of what is, and is not, acceptable, when it comes to accommodation or meals provided abroad. Thus, as an 'experienced' traveller I did consider myself armed with enough knowledge to be alert to the pitfalls of overseas disasters and misrepresentations. Not so, I'm afraid. I now have a new mantra which I will advise all readers here to follow: "When booking somewhere for the first time, and with no recommendation from people you know personally, I do strongly suggest a visit to Tripadviser."
After a disastrous first night at the Hotel Vecellio, a result of booking without reviewing first, we moved accommodation to the Hilton Molino, Guidecca Island.
The difference between these two hotels is like night and day, and I simply cannot begin to describe the change in class. From the professional and sympathetic outlook shown by the check-in clerk after informing him of our move - to the pleasant smell as we walked down the corridors looking for room 265 - the Hilton hotel was everything our previous hotel would never be.
So after this bad start our stay became pleasant purely because it was now uneventful. This may sound strange but uneventful can be a good thing. We enjoyed Venice as it should be sampled. No dramas. No disputes. No disappointments. Just normal tourist activities. Walking to different areas, stopping off and sampling various desserts with coffee, window shopping, walking hand in hand, sharing lovely meals... everything as it should be.
The Hilton provides a regular free shuttle service which takes guests to two different stop on Venice Island - Zattere, which is directly opposite the hotel, and then on to Piazza San Marco (St. Marks Square). It departs every 30 minutes and booking is not necessary. You simply go to the small jetty situated literally outside the Hilton and hop on. This enabled us to go across whenever we wanted and then use our Vaporetti passes to catch water buses to various points on the island. Of course, returning is not a problem either but we carried a timetable of shuttle times with us to ensure we weren't stranded, as a water taxi to get back to the hotel would have been extremely expensive - we were quoted 80 euros!
Giudecca Island is primarily a residential island but there are a few stores and restaurants to service the needs of the locals. After a pleasant break of doing the 'tourist thing' daily, on our last day we decided stay near the hotel and explore the local alternatives, as opposed to the dining options inside the Hilton.
We had discovered La Foca the previous day and agreed that today would be an ideal time to try this pizzeria, which also served up ciabatta delights. However, once I'd seen the lady owner preparing the pizza bases I was in no doubt as to what the right course of action was - pizza all the way.
On taking the first bite of my thin crust, majestically covered pizza I realised it was absolutely the correct decision. Eating pizza in Italy is like eating a roast dinner in the UK, or skewered lamb in pitta bread with salad in Cyprus - it just has to be done in the place where they do it best, where the dish originated. Additionally, at approximately 7 euros it was a far more reasonable deal than eating the same food on the main island.
Although we didn't do the Gondola thing, there was a moment when we were standing on a bridge which encapsulated all the romance which the name Venice conjures. A Gondola passed underneath the bridge with a couple holding hands on board. A second man was on board playing an accordion, accompanied by a singer with a wonderful tone. It was a truly romantic moment and as a self-confessed romantic I must admit that it did give me goosebumps. Now THIS was romantic Venice.
In November Venice experiences a somewhat substantial rise in the water level. We had been told that there is 'water around' at this time of year and were advised to take boots.
By 6.30 pm on our third night, Anna and I were seated inside the Riva Del Vin taking in the ambience of this delightful, typically Italian restaurant. We were midway through another fine meal when a monotone siren sounded. We asked Gabriel, acting manager for the night, what the sound was and went into mild shock when he casually replied "It's a warning".
What? Are we about to be bombed? I thought WW11 was over - didn’t you lot get the news?
I was then casually informed that it was a warning that the water level was rising, and that further warnings would be heard during the course of the evening. I asked him if I should be worried. His reply was to say that he would be closing the restaurant up by 10pm as the water would flood the shop shortly after.
Apparently, this happens every year at this time when the sea level rises and the water not only comes over the canal edge but up through the ground - so in certain areas the barriers are ineffective. St. Marks Square is under 3 or 4 feet of water at times, as it is one of the lowest points of the island.
I cast a quick eye outside and the water which had been 18 inches below the canal edge three days previous was now over the edge, and a table we had been sitting at was now resting in an inch of water. It was only 7pm, so apparently a long way to go until we would be under siege.
Gabriel explained that every evening they close up shop in anticipation of the rising water. It drains away by the following morning, they clean up, and continue their day until it is time to close prior to the next flood. I was amazed by the complete indifference to, and acceptance of this phenomenon. By the time we left the restaurant at 9pm we carefully negotiated the two concrete steps down into eight inches of water.
As we splashed our way to the shuttle stop I was amazed at the matter-of-fact way the people of Venice continued about their business - truly remarkable. I saw people in shops, which were obviously at a lower level than our restaurant and already under six inches of water, tidying up and getting ready to close
By the time we reached the shuttle stop the walkways were covered with water, and being dark, care had to be taken to make sure you were in fact stepping onto a walkway and not into open water. What was comical is that when I had seen ramps on the previous days, which went over the many stepped bridges, I remarked that this was obviously a place where they had started to take wheelchair use into consideration. NOT AT ALL. These ramps, raised around 2 feet off the ground, were to allow access over areas where the water gathered and made it almost impassable. My praise of Italy's new found conscience towards the disabled, was obviously misplaced.
The Hilton concierge had informed us that when we were ready to depart 'there is a water taxi from the hotel directly to the airport'. Excellent news!
Our transfers via other more extensive travel methods were already paid for but it seemed sensible and far less chaotic to pay the extra costs and go directly to the airport using one mode of transport so on our departure date we did indeed travel as advised by the concierge, via the direct water taxi.
All very simple...
Once at the airport, I approached the information desk and asked where our airline check-in desk would be. The man I spoke to gave me a sympathetic look, and the words 'wrong airport' resonated as though I had been hit with a concrete filled sock!
Apparently there are two airports which service Venice - Marco Polo and Treviso. However, some of the good people of Venice do not consider the latter airport to be Venetian, even though all web sites, search engines and travel agents consider both to be equal in this respect. Thus, when booking make sure you know which airport you are travelling to so you don't get misled and end up in the wrong place.
All in all, Venice is a marvellous place to visit. It is romantic, picturesque, has a wonderful cuisine as one would expect, the people are friendly and when the sun is out and you are not wading down the water covered street, it is peacefully vibrant (a rare combination) and only a side street away from tranquil.