Lives in Bennington, Vermont
Since Jun 2011
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The Grand Canal is Venice's Main Street. If this is your first trip to Venice, consider taking the #1 Vaporetto (the water bus) at the dock immediately outside the train station. It's the slow vaporetto that stops at all the stops. Admire the incredible architecture that lines the Grand Canal. Look for the beautiful flowers when in season. At night, peek into the palaces that may be lit bright.
This gigantic square is a happening place! During the day it is filled with people and thousands of pigeons. On one end of the Piazza is the Basilica di San Marco - more about that later. On the other end is the Correr Museum - more about that later too. On both sides are shops (some very expensive) and several places to eat (some very expensive). Come here in the evening when the crowds have dwindled to hear the orchestras and bands playing in front of the restaurants. You can grab a chair (and pay for a glass of wine or a beer) or you can just grab a seat on the steps and listen to the music. This is a lovely way to spend an evening! Also, during rainy times or really high tides, the Piazza will likely have water to walk through. Or you can use the benches that seem to magically appear and walk on them to avoid getting your feet wet.
This Basilica is one of the most spectacular churches in Italy. It is filled with incredibly detailed Byzantine mosaics top to bottom, front to back, side to side. It is difficult to take it all in. As expected, biblical themes abound. We've been back to this building many times during our trips to Italy and Venice and we are always seeing something new. Whether one is Catholic or not, go to one of the Sunday Masses. You will then have plenty of time to marvel at the beauty of this place. The choir is superb. The rite is beautiful. And the mosaics will take your breath away. If you have time, pay the small fee and go up to the museum in the church. You get a great view of the inside of the basilica, a ring-side (and elevated) seat to look out at San Marco's Piazza, some cool up-close mosaics exhibits, and the real, historic "famous" horses inside (and the replicas of them outside on the balcony). [If you've read Sally Vickers' book "Miss Garnet's Angel" you will be well prepared for seeing the horses!]
Any time you take the vaporetto down the Grand Canal to and from the train station, you will travel under the Rialto Bridge. It is an exquisite piece of architecture. Take the time to walk across the Bridge too. It has shops lining both sides with cheap and not-so-cheap merchandise. And during much of the daytime, it will be teeming with tourists. You can see some of the beautiful palaces on the Grand Canal. There is a wonderful fresh fruit and vegetable market on the other side of the Bridge; and an absolutely awesome seafood market. We saw treasures of the sea in this market that we've never seen anywhere else. We even took pictures of some of the freshest seafood you can find anywhere! There are also some restaurants lining the Canal near the markets but we could not vouch for the quality or variety of the food.
The way you access the Bridge of Sighs is to take the self-guided or guided tour of the Doge's Palace in San Marco's Piazza. You can see the Bridge from the walk-way on one of the little canals on the side of the Doge's Palace. But to walk across it, imagining yourself a prisoner of the Doge, and to take a last glimpse of the Venetian lagoon before heading to the dungeon prison is a trip!
Buy a combo ticket for the Correr Museum and Doge's Palace which are on opposite ends of San Marco's Piazza. The Doge's Palace - the doge was the ruler of Venice for hundreds of years - is an incredible place. The architecture is magnificent (Venetian Gothic, I believe) with other eastern highlights. Walk up the grand staircase in the courtyard; then onto the golden staircase up into the palace itself; see the doge's living spaces; marvel at the incredible art and sculpture, the marble fireplaces, the government function rooms (very impressive). Check out the great hall with the largest oil painting in the world; then head to the Armory which has an impressive display of armaments, armor for man and horse, and a nasty looking chastity belt. Then head across the Bridge of Sighs before heading down to the prisons and dungeons. Take your time in the dungeons to look into the rooms and see the scrawling on the walls. In general, take your time to really explore the palace. It is a masterpiece! There also is a special tour called Secret Itineraries which can be reserved for an extra fee. We did not take this but we may on our next visit so we can see even more of the palace that isn't included in the regular walking tour.
The Clock Tower (the Torre dell'Orologio) is a cool place to see. You can observe the Tower from San Marco's Piazza (end closest to the Basilica) and you can see the bronze men swinging their hammers at the top of every hour. But you can also buy a ticket and take the tour of the inside of the Tower. It is a climb up but it's neat to see the inside of the Tower.
Santa Maria Glorioso dei Frari Basilica is a masterpiece! We saw many churches, cathedrals, and basilicas run by the Franciscans all over Italy but this one may be the most magnificent. Walk slowly and try to take it all in. You will see an unusual choir section as you walk towards the front of the basilica. The woodwork is awesome. Above the main altar is a spectacular painting of the Assumption of Mary. It is breath-taking. Sunlight flooded the main altar while we were there. If you walk to the right of the main altar, you will see an incredible wood carving of St. John the Baptist. Keep going right and you'll walk into the sacristy. Here you will see the beautiful Madonna and Saints painting. If you love Italian art, you've come to the right place! also in the basilica you'll see the massive tomb of Titian and a neat pyramid-shaped tomb of Canova (I believe). If you can only see two of Venice's basilicas, see Frari Basilica and San Marco's. They are memorable.
Santa Maria della Salute is worth a stop. We took the vaporetto past the Accademia and Peggy Guggenheim Museum to the Salute dock. It is an unusual octagonal-shaped church. It's neat to walk around the inside and realize that you can't actually see all of the sides at once. Take time to go into the Sacristy to see the large Tintoretto painting. The "Marriage at Cana" is very beautiful and has a very different perspective than one usually sees in Tintoretto's work. Also, check out the ceiling in the Sacristy. It was painted by Titian. Also, walk around the outside to not only see the outside of the church but also the great views back towards San Marco's and towards the sea.
San Giorgio Maggiore is worth the trip. It the church with the incredible Palladian front (named for the architect Palladio!). The art work in this church is quite beautiful, especially Tintoretto's "Last Supper" and "Manna from Heaven." Check out Brunelleschi's Crucifix and the paintings by Tintoretto's son, Domenico. Pay the fee to take the elevator to the bell tower (a.k.a. the Campanile). You will be treated to spectacular 360 degree views of Venice, the lagoon, the islands, and the Adriatic Sea in the distance. What's best is there are almost no lines to get onto the elevator! (If you try to get on the elevator at the Campanile in San Marco's Piazza, you will pay more and you will wait and wait.) Also, be aware that the bells in this bell tower actually ring on the hour so try to time your elevator trip up/down accordingly. We stayed up in the bell tower for quite a while and took many pictures of the awesome views.
This is a lovely district to just wander around. We walk and turn down calles (streets) to see where the path will take us. There are lovely Venetian house-fronts with flower boxes above doors, in windows. And very few tourists. We eventually found our way to a main shopping district called Strada Nuova. We stopped for gelato at Grom's (good gelato but expensive) then wander our way back to the Ghetto (more about that in another description on Campo del Ghetto). The Ghetto is a pretty incredible place to see and experience.
Santi Giovanni e Paolo Chiesa is a gigantic and old building, filled with tombs and monuments, and massive and beautiful art and sculptures. Take time to thoroughly tour this place.
The San Zaccaria church is one of the oldest in Venice. It's definitely worth a visit especially if you want to see some very unusual features. The inside is literally covered with paintings depicting all types of religious figures and events. After checking out the paintings, head to the crypt. First you'll see more paintings by Tintoretto, and the five gold thrones of the doges. Then head into the Chapel of San Tarasio. And then head down into the water-filled crypt. Fascinating. After leaving the church, walk around the back of the building for a rear view of the Bridge of Sighs.
The Museo Ebraico is a must see. We took the vaporetto to the Guglie stop and walked to the old Jewish Ghetto (more about the Jewish Ghetto later). Look up at the "skyscrapers of Venice" = the 6 story buildings where the Jews were herded and housed in the 1500s. Because they were compelled to live in this area, the Jewish community built "up" adding stories on the buildings to house them. We picked up a map at the Jewish Information Center and easily found the Museo Ebraico. We purchased tickets for the 12:30 p.m. English-language tour of the Museo. The guide was incredibly knowledgeable and informative. We saw three of the five synagogues each beautiful in its own way. Our guide pointed out buildings in the Campo (the Square) that we would check out after the tour. After the tour was completed, we then went back to the Museo itself and took a leisurely walk through reading everything we could about the Jews of Venice. Very interesting and informative displays and descriptions. There is a bookstore and small gift shop in the entrance to the Museo and there are bathrooms.
There is a combo-ticket to the Museo Correr and the Doge's Palace (less than 20 Euros/person to see both places = and worth the price). The Museo is at the far end of San Marco's Piazza opposite San Marco's Basilica. You purchase tickets at the top of the grand staircase. This museum is massive and does a superb job laying out the history of Venice. It is filled with incredible art and really showcases the aristocratic life of the city. The array of "things" in this collection is impressive: paintings, armor, coins, furniture, banners, clothing, games, etc. There are English descriptions of everything which, if you read them all, will add greatly to the amount of time you'll spend here. An extra added benefit is the view of the Piazza out the windows of the Museo. The only downside, if one can call it that, is that we simply couldn't see it all or read it all; there is just too much to take in. So pick and choose.
The Campo del Ghetto is a wonderful place to wander around. You can walk there, wending your way through the Cannaregio district or you can take the vaporetto to the Guglie stop and then wend your way into the Campo. Check out the Venetian "skyscrapers," the six story high buildings that house all of the Jews when they were herded into this part of the city to live back in the 1500s. To make room for all, they built "up" to add living spaces. We have visited this area a number of times during our trips to Venice and it has never been crowded. You'll find the Museo Ebraico here. It is worth the money to take the tour (there are English language tours as well as tours in other languages) and to see the Museo itself. While in the Campo, look for the bronze sculptures on the wall depicting scenes from World War II when the Nazis rounded up the Jews and sent them to concentration camps. These wall sculptures are powerful and very moving. Look for David's Shoppe and browse - and buy - some of his inexpensive jewelry. David speaks English and you will have a wonderful conversation with him. We always make it a point to stop and see his Shoppe and to buy some of his pins and other beautiful work. There are several restaurants in the area where you can dine indoors or outdoors. This is a lovely and uncrowded spot to spend a morning or afternoon.
The vaporetti are the buses of Venice. If you arrive in Venice by train and exit the train station, you'll find the vaporetto directly in front of you on the Grand Canal. You buy your tickets - or pick up your tickets if you ordered on-line - right here and board the vaporetto. If you're staying in Venice for a week, you definitely want to buy the 7 day pass. It is so much less expensive than buying a ticket every time you ride the vaporetto. And ordering tickets ahead of time on-line - and printing them right here - is very easy. You will often find the vaporetto teeming with people; occasionally, you might have to wait for the next one, especially if you're carrying luggage. There are inside seats, outside seats, and lots of standing room. And taking the vaporetto gives you an incredible view of the palaces that line the Grand Canal and the other canals and the lagoon. We encourage travelers to buy the ticket and have it available in case the driver or the staff asks to see it. We've seen this happen more during our recent trips. If you don't have the ticket, you can get fined. In addition to the vaporetto stops on the Grand Canal, you can take the vaporetto to the Lido, to Murano, Torcello, and other stops. It is a great way to see the city.
When we visit in Venice, we stay in an apartment in the Castello district of the city. This district is a ten minute walk from San Marco's Piazza along the Grand Canal. It's at the Giardini vaporetto stop. This is a very uncrowded part of Venice and you feel surrounded by local citizens not tourists. Via Garibaldi is the Main Street in this area. There are a number of restaurants on Garibaldi, grocery stores, coffee shops, a bank, a post office. a farmers market, and the vino sfuso shop. The vino sfuso shop is a bulk wine store where you bring your own container, pick the kind of wine you want to try, hand the clerk your bottle (glass or plastic), and she'll fill it right from the barrels. It is incredibly inexpensive. And you get to sample different kinds of regional reds, roses, and whites. There are other vias that intersect with Garibaldi. We walked down to the Grand Canal and then along the Canal until we could not walk any further because the sidewalk ended. Then back we walked until we came to Via di Novembre through tree-lined ways, saw playgrounds, flowers in bloom, other quiet paths, then over a bridge where the Biennale is held every other year, and on to the park that intersects with Garibaldi. This is a lovely area to stay in while in Venice and Via Garibaldi is great place to blend right in to the day-to-day lifeblood of the Castello.
If you want to see some of the famous Venetian glass being made, or you want to buy some gorgeous pieces to take back home, take the vaporetto to the island of Murano. We catch the vaporetto at the Arsenale stop and enjoy the ride across the lagoon to the island of Murano. Once you arrive on Murano, you will find a seemingly endless number of shops selling all kinds of glass: Christmas balls, necklaces and other beautiful jewelry, vases, drinking glasses, wine glasses, little glass trinkets, some relatively inexpensive and many pieces of very, very expensive glass, chandeliers, art. Some small, others huge. Look for one of the foundries where you can actually see these wonderful pieces of glass art being made. Wander the streets and find huge spectacular outdoor glass sculpture. If you get hungry, there are plenty of restaurants. Murano is a much more quiet part of Venice and you can stroll without being jostled by hordes of tourists.