If there is one destination that no couple visiting Italy, especially on their honeymoon, can afford to miss, then it is Venice. After Rome and Florence, the city on water was our next destination in Italy. It took us a little less than two hours to reach Venice Mestre station from Florence. In Mestre, we struggled a little with directions but eventually got to the bus stop from where, after a bit of help from the locals, we got the bus for our hotel.
Earlier, while looking for places to stay in Venice, we found that there were not many good budget hotels or even apartments on the main island. Also, Venice has no transport other than water taxis which provide access to only a limited area and thus moving around the narrow streets with big bags can be troublesome. So we ended up choosing Hotel La Rescossa located in the town of Mira just 20 minutes away from Venice by bus. Amongst all the hotels we had booked, this one had the best reviews and soon we found out why. Nestled in lush greenery and a river flowing alongside the road, the location just couldn’t get any better.
The cozy little hotel was owned by an elderly couple, who greeted everyone personally and even prepared and served breakfast themselves. The rooms too were decorated tastefully with a very personal touch. We quickly freshened up and took a bus to Venice.
By the time we reached Venice it was 4 p.m. There was a chill in the air and the black clouds hung above threatening rain at any moment. Since the closing time for most places was 5 p.m. we decided to visit sites which were closer to us.
Venice is a maze of alleys and bridges in which one can easily get lost but with a little help from the crude signs which were placed at many places and Google maps we soon reached Scuolo Grande di San Rocco. This medieval era building is an art lover’s paradise and its numerous frescoes and paintings left us spellbound. Unfortunately, photography was forbidden in the building but we will leave you with one image sourced from scuolagrandesanrocco.org just to give a glimpse of the place.
A few minutes away from the Scuolo was the Basilica dei Frari. The exterior and interior of this 14th century basilica could not be more contrasting. From outside it looked like a huge plain brick structure but from the inside it was extremely beautiful. It contained some stunning paintings and intricately carved woodwork and stone figures. Many famous venetians are also buried in this basilica, chief among whom is the 16th century renaissance painter Titian. Titian’s marvellous painting – Assumption of the Virgin is located on the altar of the basilica while his tomb is one of the best pieces of art in the church.
By the time we exited the church, it had begun to drizzle and the temperature had dropped significantly. We noticed a kid with a large slice of pizza seeing which our mouths watered instantly and we decided to have an early dinner. We came across a tiny pizzeria which had various slices on display. The owner, a young lady, probably expected us to order a couple of those slices but once we told her that we wanted an entire large pizza she invited us inside and gave us two stools to sit. And then right in front of us she made an authentic Italian style pizza starting from the dough. And yes, it was as delicious as it looked.
After the dinner, we took a bus back to Mira but intentionally got down a stop prior to our hotel so that we could enjoy a walk in the quaint and beautiful surroundings.
The next day was the coldest day of our entire trip and the intermittent drizzle wasn’t making things better. We reached Venice via bus and started walking in the direction of Piazza San Marco which is located at the opposite end of the island. Our first halt was Ponte di Rialto, the most famous and oldest of the bridges built over the Grand Canal. To our disappointment, a section of the bridge was covered and under renovation robbing us of a chance to admire this Venetian icon in its full glory. Just next to the bridge, there were many gondoliers offering gondola rides, but a combination of exorbitant cost (€80), unclean water and cold weather made us pass up on the ride.
We continued with our walk and in a short while reached Piazza San Marco, the busiest part of the island. The thing that I most vividly remember is the cold and wind we encountered on reaching that vast open square.
We quickly made our way inside the magnificent and most renowned church of Venice – Basilica di San Marco. To our continued misfortune a portion of the front facade of the basilica was again covered with scaffolding for renovation work but the columns, arches, marble carvings, mosaics and statues on the rest of the exterior gave us a good idea of the grandiosity of the church and the opulence of the old Venice republic. The architecture of the church is also unique and has a Byzantine influence which is visible in its 5-dome structure. In the interior, the dazzling gold mosaics were a feast for the eyes and gives the church a surreal look. The altarpiece of the church – Pala d’Oro (Golden Pall) – which is a panel of gold embedded with gems is a sight to behold.
We also went to the upper floor which gave us access to the basilica’s museum and the terrace from where we got a fantastic view of the Piazza San Marco. The museum houses the original four horses of San Marco while those visible in the exterior are the replicas.
Next, we decided to go up the San Marco Campanile to get a bird’s view of the city and the surrounding areas. Fortunately we didn’t need to climb that 300 feet bell tower as a lift took us to the top. As soon as we came out of the lift we were greeted by a gust of wind that had the dual effect of chilling us to the bone and almost blowing us off our feet. We hastily tried to absorb in the whole view and take a few photos but the wind was so strong that it was making it difficult for us to even hold the camera still. Once we were done, we quickly joined a queue of people waiting to go down. It was probably the only place in our entire trip where people were queuing to leave rather than enter.
By the time we came down the tower, it had started to drizzle again. We quickly got in line to enter the final monument we had planned to visit– the Palazzo Ducale or the Doge’s Palace. This palace, which served as the residence of Doges – the elected leaders of Venice – for many centuries, is a masterpiece of art. Apart from being the home of Doges, this palace also served as the seat of justice hence it contains many exquisitely decorated rooms dedicated to official government work and stark inhospitable prisons to hold convicts.
Some famous highlights of the palace are the Golden Staircase – a staircase with a ceiling decorated with spectacular golden stucco, the Giant’s Stairway – a staircase with 2 big statues of Mars and Neptune at the top depicting Venice republic’s supremacy over land and sea, Il Paradiso – the biggest oil painting in the world painted by Tintoretto and his workshop, magnificent ceilings and walls of the various halls like Senate Hall, Voting Hall and Higher Council Hall, a well-stocked armoury with an assortment of ornately decorated weapons, guns and canons and the Bridge of Sighs – a completely enclosed bridge connecting old prisons in Doge’s Palace to the new prisons built across it.
We finally emerged from the Doge’s Palace, spellbound by the spectacle that we had witnessed in the last couple of hours barely realizing that it was late evening and we hadn’t even had lunch. So we made our way to a pizzeria to get something to eat. After that we walked along the Grand Canal, reached the bus station and took a bus back to our hotel. And so our two eventful days in Venice came to an end with our next stop being Milan.
PS: If you choose to stay outside the main city of Venice as we did then buy bus tickets of the region you are going to stay in. When we first reached Venice Mestre station we just found the nearest tobacco shop and bought the bus tickets. We later realized that those tickets were just for Mestre region and not Mira, the place where we were staying. A couple of times the ticket validating machines on buses did not accept our tickets but we put it down to some technical glitch. In the end, we were fortunate enough to not face any problem because of it.