Venice: With sights on sail
Clear blue skies above, stone bridges built over canals and a kaleidoscope of colourful buildings to gaze at – there’s something for everyone in Venice
On a cool, crisp autumn morning, I wake up to the chiming of church bells. My room in a hotel on Lido Island overlooks the main street and in the distance, the vaporetto (public waterbus) station. With trees draped in hues of orange and red, it feels like a great time to visit Venice. But then, any time is a great time to visit Venice.
Labyrinth of dreams
An hour later, I am on board a sputtering vaporetto that bobs its way towards San Marco and some of Venice’s main attractions. Terra firma beckons, as does the beautiful Basilica and Piazza San Marco. A dream-like city of masquerades, Venice seems suspended between the worlds of fantasy and reality. Emerald green canals form a luminous labyrinth, twisting and winding their way around Venice’s colourful buildings.
Seen by day or night, this is a city of beauty and grandeur. The 117 islands that form the city are intertwined by numerous waterways and bridges. Forming the underbelly of the city are thousands of ancient wooden piles that were sunk deep into soft mud centuries ago.
A few metres away from the San Marco waterbus station is Doge’s Palace, dressed in pink and white marble. This was once the residence of the chief magistrate of Venice and a powerful seat of decision-making. Priceless works of art by Bellini and Veronese, among others, decorate the palace’s interior.
Into the heart of the city
Outside, on the Piazza San Marco, a man sells bird feed to tourists and pigeons flock around him in hundreds. The grey of the birds is mirrored in the paved stones of the piazza. Within the beautiful Byzantine-inspired Basilica di San Marco beats the sacred heart of Venice.
The mortal remains of St Mark the Evangelist are placed in a crypt inside this beautiful structure. Colourful frescoes encased in marble carvings greet me as I look up. The spires of the Basilica seem to reach out towards the sky. Visitors stop to look up at the glittering gold domes inside the church.
As soft light filters in through the ceiling, it bounces off the golden mosaics in the domes, which depict stories from the Old and the New Testament.
Out in the sunlit piazza, I stroll past the grand bell tower of St Mark, namely the “Campanile”. At a height of 99 metres, this square tower was once a lighthouse. It still sports a gold weathervane in the shape of the Archangel Gabriel. There are five bells that chime at different hours to denote different things.
I see the piazza is flanked on both sides by bands on podiums playing jazz standards.
Boutiques, restaurants and cafés line the perimeter of the square. This is a great spot to catch a snack and a cup of coffee.
Looking across at the canal, I see water buses chugging along on their busy routes, leaving behind foamy patterns on the water. Of the 400 ponti, or bridges, that knit together this watery landscape, Rialto, Accademia and Scalzi are the three most well known.
A colourful gondola ferries a young couple under the ivory-coloured Ponte dei Sospiri — or the Bridge of Sighs, as it is commonly known. It is said that prisoners sentenced to death on their way from the courthouse would cross this bridge sighing at their final glimpse of Venice.
Casanova had also once been imprisoned here. One way to keep romance alive is to take a gondola ride under this bridge while a crooner of a gondolier sings of undying love.
Romance in the air
Clear blue skies above, stone bridges built over canals and a kaleidoscope of colourful buildings to gaze at sure make for a romantic setting.
Every street-side Venetian café offers a variety of cheese, bread and pizza. There is no dearth of cafés and restaurants in the city. A little past noon, I stop to catch a bite at a restaurant near the wooden Accademia Bridge, which resembles a brooding matriarch keeping a lazy eye over the Grand Canal.
The pizza I order turns out to be amazing and I find myself wanting some Italian gelato.
My search takes me down meandering lanes and over tiny bridges to the canal’s edge for a mouthful of delicious ice-cold gelato. Perfect!
The sun starts sinking in the sky and little street stalls switch on tiny lights. I can make out silhouettes of handmade masks and hats in the shadows.
My parting glimpse of Venice at twilight is the light from a gondola lantern reflected on the waters of the canal. Hues of orange and violet fill the sky.
As I leave this city of multihued dreams behind, the shadows lengthen, drawing each of Venice’s domes and spires into the night and under its thick cloak of darkness.
Held a few days before Lent every year, Carnevale is a huge draw in Venice. Elaborate balls are held all around the city and the only way to be seen at this time of year is dressed up in masks and capes. Venetian masks are on sale throughout the year and make interesting gifts and souvenirs as well. Masks are painted in eye-catching colours and decorated with glitter, sequins and feathers.
- Savour Venice at a leisurely pace. Every street has architectural gems, tucked away for centuries. Grab a cappuccino at a street café or stop to listen to the bands at the piazza. Snatch a pizza alfresco and find a seat with a view.
- Water buses (vaporetto) are an economical way of getting around Venice. It may be a bit of a struggle with heavy luggage but it is well worth the trouble, as private water taxis can burn a hole in your pocket. If you do choose to use the services of a private water taxi, it is advisable to decide on a price before the trip begins.
- Safety is not an issue around Venice. However, it is advisable to keep a close watch on your belongings, as is the case in any busy city. Watch out for pickpockets as waterbuses can get quite crowded during the day.
While you’re there…
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection museum:
This museum is a haven for lovers of abstract art. It is located on the Grand Canal and was once Peggy Guggenheim’s home. The museum houses Guggenheim’s art collection, especially in Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Modern art seems to have woven its way into the ancient tapestry of Venice’s Gothic spires and domes.
Piazza San Marco and Basilica di San Marco:
No visit to Venice is complete without a visit to the San Marco Piazza and the Basilica. The piazza is one of the most beautiful in the world and is best to visit early in the morning to avoid crowds. Everything about the Basilica is awe-inspiring. Its façade, with the ornate frescoes and the golden-winged lion that represents St Mark, is the symbol of the city.
Santa Maria Della Salute:
This is one of the most beautiful churches in Venice. It is located between the Grand Canal and San Marco and visible even before you enter Piazza San Marco.
An ornate golden staircase and the largest oil painting in the world — Tintoretto’s Paradise — will keep you engrossed for the better part of the morning.
Island of Murano:
This needs no introduction. Known the world over for its glass-blowers and their products, Murano has a regular tourist footfall. While some are happy to watch glass-blowers at work, others get an opportunity to try their hand at glass-blowing.
Gondolas are seen everywhere in Venice. Though it seems a tad too touristy, where else on earth could you be in one with Venetian canals for a view? However, the ride comes at a high price — about 150 euros (Dh810).
This piece originally appeared in Gulf News, the UAE’s leading newspaper
Andrea Bailey is a Dubai based travel writer. She is also a travel consultant with Travel Counsellors and specializes in cruises, family holidays and honey moons. When she’s not out and about discovering destinations and different cuisines of the world, you would probably find her busy with her 3 daughters and her other passions involving art and music.
As a mosaic artist, she has travelled to Italy and studied ancient Roman techniques of the art form and as a jazz flautist she has had the opportunity of performing across various Dubai venues.