One Venice bridge too far

I came back from Venice last Monday but I feel like I’m still there. It got under my skin…

This is what happens when I’m bored and I look at Skyscanner late at night. I saw very cheap flights to Italy, and since I always wanted to see Venice, although not in the high season, I quickly booked a £30 return with (very) small luggage only. It’s where I got really lucky: I had already pre-booked holiday at work, half a day on Thursday, full day on Friday and Monday and these cheap flights fell exactly on these dates! On Thursday I left work around lunchtime and went straight to Stansted Airport. For once, no delayed trains, my flight was on time and I even had an empty seat next to me. I had checked in advance how to get from Marco Polo airport to non-mainland Venice, and an option I really wanted was Alilaguna boat. Never done that before, how brilliant to catch a motor boat directly from the airport 🙂 I didn’t want to wait an hour for Blu line, so quickly figured out Arancio would take me to the stop just before mine, adding only an extra 5 min walk or so. I was 10 pm when I finally got there and I didn’t see this view from my Airbnb until the next morning:

One of my work colleagues shared with me worrying news of empty canals and gondolas stuck in mud. This proved to be untrue, at least when I arrived. My Airbnb host explained to me in detail how Venice waterways worked and why the canals sometimes appeared empty:

“There is no water in the canals because the moon is changing…lack of rain or earthquake has nothing to do with it. The tide comes and goes every 6 hours and this time of year we have this exceptionally low tide phenomenon. Venice is a world of its own, unlike other cities, strong and fragile at the same time. Water is essential for our transport and delivery of goods, but it can also be our enemy when the tide is very high. A dramatic example: when La Fenice theatre caught fire during the low tide, firefighters could not arrive in time and there wasn’t enough water to pump and put out fire…”

Another colleague suggested to stay on Lido island and “commute” by vaporetto – Venice’s water bus. I wanted to walk everywhere and chose a self – contained, spacious Airbnb apartment in an old building overlooking a small canal, 15 min walk from Piazza, over a tiny, single hotel room further away. I was anxious about checking in; for some reason those self check in locks don’t like me and this time was no different. I struggled with a mechanical lock for 10 min until a complete stranger stopped and help me open the first gate. Then I had to find and open another door in pitch darkness, and another…and then I was finally in. The apartment was pleasant, full of old furniture and very warm, with central heating on 24/7. To my disappointment, the terrace door would not open (previous guests had broken the lock…) which meant no Insta selfies with the canal in the background 😉 Nevermind though, the weather was too cold for it anyway. I found Rick Steves Venice guide book in the living room and during the next few evenings read it back to back.

Next, the weather… I knew it could be cold and very, very humid. I didn’t expect blue skies and T-shirt temperatures. On Friday morning I rushed to St Mark’s Piazza to beat the crowds and go up the Campanile tower before queues formed…except, there was no queue, only a fog warning. They would not have given me my €10 back if I’d complained about poor visibility up there. I went anyway and spent the next half an hour or so completely enamoured with what I saw. No mountains on the horizon (I only saw them on my last day, waiting for Alilaguna to go back to the airport), thick fog making St Giorgio Maggiore (or Morodore, as I called it) island barely visible, occasional ray of sunshine breaking through thick clouds, all sorts of boats calmly moving on St Mark’s Basin. Truely serene. La Serenissima:

It took me around 25 min to get inside St Mark’s Basilica. I prefered the exterior; it’s Byzentine, gloomy and dark inside. Still, I did what I always do in churches: put a coin in a box and lit a candle for my aunt’s beloved doggie Diana, who crossed a rainbow bridge a few years ago. I also lit a candle or two asking Universe for securing a very lucrative work position for one of my friends (it worked, although she claims it was a candle lit in St Magnus church in London that ‘did the job’), and for my other friend’s new job to start well. I didn’t ask for much for myself, only a career change, a job that makes me feel valued and happy and enough money to carry on doing what love most: travelling to awesome places and photographing them.

A huge bonus of visiting Venice’s churches was incredible art gathered in them. Basilica Frari I read about in Steves guidebook was literally like a museum, with Titian’s painting at the altar. His tomb was there as well.

St Mark’s Piazza and Basilica:

Interior of Santa Maria della Salute, ceiling painted by Titian:

Basilica S.Maria Gloriosa dei Frari:

It felt like an intense classic art course, all those Tintorettos, Bellinis, Veroneses. I am no art expert but I admire and appreciate it, and I find tons of inspiration when it comes to light and colours. For that reason I visited Gallerie dell’Accademia on Sunday, when the weather was very cold and windy.

My trip was kind of budget-y, if there is even such a scenario in Venice. I allowed for entry fees (€30 for Doge’s Palace; minimum €3 for St Mark’s Basilica with further fees inside; €10 for Campanile; €12 for Gallerie and €6 for Sacristia in Santa Maria della Salute Basilica) and transport (€27 for Alilaguna airport round trip; €9.50 for 75 min vaporetto ride). I bought gelato, take away pizza, snacks and sandwiches in mini supermarkets (prices Waitrose – like or higher) and a few postcards and magnets. No eating out. Walking cost me nothing, and the best view in Venice was also for free, booked in advance by email in a similar way to London’s Sky Garden: T Fondaco Rooftop Terrace, 15 min visit. And, of course, it was a bit foggy.

Doge’s Palace, as pricey as it was, was very impressive – gold, lavish ceilings, the largest Tintoretto canvas painting in the world – and I learned a thing or two about how Venice’s unique union of wealthy merchants and nobles ruled it so successfully for centuries. What would they say now, I wonder, if they could see 30 mln visitors coming to La Serenissima every year, and staggering 100 000 people coming daily in the summer months. They were shrewd capitalists so I guess they would be pleased to some extent to see the city’s strong economy.

There is a price, quite literally, to pay for a visit in Venice: a tourist tax for people like me who come and stay a few nights, and a separate, higher one, for day trippers. I paid €4 per night. Fog included 😉

I got lost countless times. On Sunday morning I outdid myself and got lost within 30 seconds of leaving the apartment because I went one bridge too far… By doing so, I accidently found a supermarket and yet another nice church. Venice is small and so walkable it usually only takes a few minutes to return to Google Maps route, or to start heading in the correct direction again. Plus, there is always a lovely canal, palazzo or chiesa waiting to be discovered round a corner. Phone sat nav mostly works but it’s not 100 % reliable. I’d recommend total immersion and a bit of aimless wandering rather than sticking to a map. Venice is too beautiful to waste time staring at one’s phone!

As for the water public transport, €80 gondola ride wasn’t included in my budget and I was able to get everywhere on foot, but I still wanted to hop on vaporetto and see Venice from the Grand Canal. The route from Ferrovia to St Mark’s took maybe 45 min, so the 75 min ticket covered it easily. A very well spent €9.5 in this expensive city.

I caught a few glimpses of local life. Dog walkers (more dogs in Venice than I expected!), people drinking Aperol spritz in bars at 10 am (and why not?), frail elderly signoras with shopping bags, people kayaking under Rialto bridge, bored gondoliers waiting for customers… Venice is losing its inhabitants at a rate of around 1000 people a year.

I hope to book a 3 day vaporetto pass next time in Venice and go to as many islands as possible.

I am chuffed to bits that I was able to organise this little trip in no time and enjoy it immensely on my own. We can buy ourselves flowers, holidays and even gondola rides, if we only choose to.