Having seen overnight train cabin photos, I thought it was a good idea to take an overnighter to Venice from Vienna. The reason for this was that it saves the travelling time as we could arrive in Venice early for a day of sightseeing while getting accomodation on-board the train. While the idea was good, the implementation wasn’t though. The problem was the 3 of us travelling was not able to reserve a triple cabin which meant there was an additional passenger sharing the cabin with us. The trains was quite safe though with attendants ensuring safety of passengers, and there was the ability to choose a ladies only cabin for lone female passengers. Another not-so-good factor was the cabin didn’t feel too clean and neither was the bed comfortable. Expecting a smooth ride like the rest of the high-speed trains ended up in disappointment. Definitely not an experience I would bring my parents with, though there was another night train from Milan to Paris later in the trip.
The night train stopped at Salzburg close to midnight and several other stops when we were sleeping, while around an hour before arrival to Venice, passengers were woken up and provided breakfast sets of pastries with a choice of coffee or orange juice. The order was taken the night before and it was a nice touch. It also ensured that passengers have time to refresh themselves before their arrival in Venice, and get to enjoy the sights while crossing the causeway linking Venice with the mainland. During the train ride, I got to know of this Singaporean student on an exchange taking the same overnight train. Thats the draw of Venice I guess!
While taking an overnight train is a pretty bad idea, I guess train travel to Venice works best as visitors alight at the Santa Lucia Station where there are easy access to parts of the island via waterbus from outside the station. There were also some reviews stating of beautiful alpine scenery on the train ride from Vienna to Venice, so maybe that could be another trip to be done in the morning or afternoon. It was a pretty crowded Saturday morning when we arrived in Venice and having bought day passes for transport in the Venetian public transport network which was the most expensive at around 18 Euros for a 24-hour period or 6.50 Euros for a 60 minute period. I would like to think of it as the entrance fee to this little amazing conglomerate of islands. Having printed out a map of the hotel we were staying, we took the vaporetto or water bus as it is known to the stop at Rialto Bridge. It wasn’t as difficult as I imagined to bring luggage up and down the vaporetto and the ride was quite fast. The final problem was walking from the Rialto Bridge area to our hotel as the numerous alleyways of Venice truly becomes a maze where new sights abound at every turn. Even the locals didn’t seem to helpful or knowledgeable in finding our hotel location. After some guessing and meeting wrong turns, we still managed to find our hotel though with our luggages, it was pretty cumbersome due to the need to cross one bridge which meant lugging the suitcase up and down the stairs. The lesson here: pack light when travelling to Venice.
A small door leads to the small hotel lobby and without any sign boards or visible plank names, it might be easy to miss the spot. The hotel I chose was a small establishment, though I think most hotels in Venice are small-sized. However this hotel had rooms that could take in 3 persons, and it was a very nicely furnished with a much more modern Venetian style. Definitely beats the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas or Macau any time! Due to our early morning arrival and the small scale of the hotel, our room wasn’t ready yet and we would have to wait for a couple of hours. During this time, the receptionist arranged for a boat transfer which would take us to the island of Murano to view the art and craft glass making. One of the guides fetched us from the hotel where we took a walk to a small jetty where we boarded a water taxi with another couple from Canada for the island of Murano. The water taxi ride was great as it brought us to the northern part of Venice and bypassing the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo, one of the largest church in the city as well as the burial site of 25 doges.
Once we left the canal in Venice, we had great views of the bell towers dotting the city skyline and I got to spot a water ambulance, several vaporettos as well as larger ferries plying the waters of Venice. The ride lasted for around 15 minutes and upon reaching, we were whisked into the glass making workshop, where a skilled glass blower demonstrated on the craft of making a vase and a horse sculpture all just with simple turns and twists of the metal rod dipped on the end with molten silica. The colours formed on the final product are due to metal deposits in the silica which is added beforehand. After the demonstration we were able to view a wide range of completed products in their showroom. There were several splendid pieces and they usually provides a price which includes insured shipping to the buyer’s home address. After browsing through their collections, we were then shown to their souvenir or bargain area where one can get cheaper Murano glass trinkets as a memento of their visit to this small island north of Venice. From the showroom, a small lane leads out to a water bus stop where we waited around 5 minutes for one that will bring us back to Riva degli Schiavoni. On our return journey I managed to capture some great views of Venice as well as find some interesting sights including a Naval Military School in the city. Pretty nice for the navies to be posted to Venice, don’t you think so?
The water bus stopped us outside the Hotel Savoia & Jolanda, which is close by to the Piazza San Marco or St. Mark’s Square, which is perhaps the most bustling part of the city. As we were pretty hungry by then, we chose to have our lunch settled at Principessa Restaurant which is in the Hotel itself. We were satisfied with our orders of 2 Seafood Marinana and one Squid Ink Pasta. Seafood and especially squid ink pasta is one of the specialty of Venice, and our meal at the Restaurant was pretty reasonable considering we had our meal in such a busy tourist spot. Service staff in Europe seems pretty helpful thus far, always willing to provide some information on the city and we got directions to a supermarket where we could get some mineral water. Turns out the supermarket is just between the walking route from the restaurant to our hotel. Walking past the Bridge of Sighs which was literally covered by posters of Toy Watch, and the Palazzo Ducale or Doge’s Palace which is under renovation we decided to come back in the evening as the sun was scorchingly hot in noon time. On the way, we got ourselves some gelato and it was suprisingly good for a roadside serving. Maybe it was the hot weather but who cares as long as it does the job of cooling us down! In Venice, sometimes just let yourself get lost amongst the alleyways and somehow or the other, we still managed to find a supermarket, get our stuff bought and return to the hotel where we got our keys to the room on the second floor. There was only 5 rooms per floor and a total of 5 or 6 floors with only one lift. This is a really small hotel indeed, but we weren’t disappointed in the richly decorated room with a view over a small canal. At the second floor outside our room, there was a small lounge with doors leading out to a small ledge that overlooks the canal as well. Overall I was really satisfied with the hotel, given that breakfast was also included in our room rate.
After getting a short nap and refreshing ourselves with a shower, I brought Dad and Mum out for shopping as my Dad wanted to get short sleeved Polo Tees for the hot weather in Italy. Amazingly, there was much to shop for in Venice and it was a nice experience to shop in the city with shops to discover at every turn! It’s kind of like not knowing what you’re gonna find! In fact the area between Rialto Bridge and our hotel has several mid to high end boutiques like La Perla, Benetton and Max & Co., all of which are Italian fashion brands. We took this opportunity to walk towards Rialto Bridge while shopping to take the views of the Grand Canal from the bridge. One of the cheapest way to enjoy Venice is to see the boats ply to and fro the Grand Canal since a gondola ride will cost around 80-100 Euros for a 40 minute ride. Or take the Vaporetto down the Grand Canal, which will set one back only 18 Euros for the whole day including transfers to Lido and Murano.
Crossing the Rialto Bridge, one can find the old market area which used to be the crowded heart of Venice in medieval times. Now, though it is lined with souvenir shops selling all kinds of ornaments and jewelries. There are several nice spots around the Rialto Bridge to take photos of the Venetian buildings along the Grand Canal and its definitely worth a walk to get ice cream, and food. From the Rialto Bridge, we took our time to explore the alleyways that finally brought us back to Piazza San Marco where the major architectural landmarks of Venice are located at, including the Basilica San Marco or St. Mark’s Basilica and the Bell Tower of St. Mark’s. It was unfortunate though that the half of the Basilica was covered up during renovation works, as I thought it was one of the most beautiful buildings in town. From the Piazza San Marco, heading west will lead to a narrow archway which will lead to a small square outside Hotel Bauer. This area is of interest for those keen to shop in Italy’s luxury brands like Bvlgari, Gucci and Prada. By the evening at around 7pm when most of the shops close, we headed back to Piazza San Marco where we took a sunset cruise out towards Lido, one of the larger islands in Venice and where there are roads for cars. Lido is also perhaps one of the areas where accommodation would be more economical, though with just one day in the city, it was better for us to make use of the time to stay in Venice proper. The ferry ride towards Lido is recommended especially during sunset as one gets a very nice panorama of the city with the bell towers of St. Mark’s and San Giorgio Maggiore standing out like ‘twin towers’ inviting the hordes of boats into the Grand Canal.
The water bus ride to Lido took around 20 minutes and we alighted just across Hotel Panorama in Lido, where we did a little of walking before settling down in a pizzeria on a corner of a side street for dinner. Our 2 orders of pizzas was good enough to share for 3 persons and one was a pepperoni pizza with paprika and the other was a pizza with bacons and eggs. Both were pretty good and it was another satisfying meal at Lido. Due to the summer season, the skies were still filled with a little bit of light by the end of dinner and our return trip by the vaporetto which runs 24 hours a day was another memorable ride. The lagoons surrounding Venice are apparently lit up with small lights to create the pathway for the vaporettos and upon reaching the Piazza San Marco, the lightings in the area was amazing, giving it a surreal feel. To lengthen the boat ride, we decided to stop at Rialto before walking back to our hotel. It was interesting to note that the vaporetto was more crowded on our way back, since it seems the majority of the people were trying to get the nice night view of the buildings along the Grand Canal. The vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal is thus a great way to end the day in Venice!
Having realized one of my childhood dream destination, I would have to say Venice did not disappoint in the single bit. This was even after I have visited both Venetian Casino Resort in Macau and Las Vegas. The atmosphere, the authentic architecture, the cobblestone alleways, the bridges and most notably the Grand Canal can never be replicated anywhere. I just hope that it doesn’t sink before I have another chance to head there again!
Must visit in Venice: Take the Vaporetto Ride along the full stretch of the Grand Canal, since I do think that it embodies the whole essence of Venice. It is also the stretch with the most magnificent palazzos and beautiful churches.