The train from Padova to Venice was packed so I had to stand for most of it, but was a short ride so I didn’t mind. On arrival I noted how much better the Venice train station was looking compared to three years ago. When I came to Venice last time, the station was a chaotic mess due to renovation work being done on it and I had a hard time getting my next transit connection set up. This time everything seemed to be in order, however I wasn’t going to be leaving Venice by train, so it really didn’t matter. The hostel I was staying at was just beyond San Marco Square. Looking at the map it didn’t seem like it’s that far away, but I had forgotten just how long it takes to walk from the train station to San Marco. There are almost no straight/direct paths to anywhere in Venice. You also really need a detailed map if you’re intending to walk anywhere other than the train station, the Rialto Bridge, or San Marco Square. Those places have signs directing you along the path but for anything else you’ll need a map to navigate the maze that is Venice. When I got to San Marco Square I saw that it was partially flooded from the high tide that occurs at certain times of the year. Normally the drainage systems of the city send rainwater out into the lagoon, but during these high tides (called acqua alta) the water from the lagoon comes flooding in and can partially submerge the lower parts of the city. As Venice continues to slowly sink these events will come more regularly unless the government’s efforts to set up tide barriers are successful. Venice is an almost dreamlike city and my favorite town in Italy, but the dream will likely one day come to an end.
After checking into my hostel, I set out on a similar mission to that which I had done when I arrived in Florence. I tracked down a gelato shop that I had enjoyed the last time I was in Venice and was glad to find them still in business. The gelato in Venice isn’t as good as the gelato in Florence, but you can find quality shops if you know where to look. From there I set out to get intentionally lost, which isn’t hard in Venice. I started wandering near the Rialto Bridge and turned down whatever street I felt like walking. A few hours later I wound up at the Accademia Bridge and put myself back on the grid. It was past 6:00pm at this point so I got dinner. Later that night I returned to San Marco Square. The tide had subsided and the elevated walking platforms had been taken down. The bands at the various restaurants were playing and I listened in while having some gelato. Back at the hostel I was up late doing both writing as well as uploading photos to social media. I would have rather gone to bed than manage photos on Facebook and Instagram, but I wanted to keep my “fanbase” up to date with what I had seen and done.
I had a few plans for what to do on the next day, but changed them during breakfast as I looked over the map and realized that there it made more sense to group certain together and postpone others to the following day. After leaving the hostel, I passed through San Marco Square. The line to get into the basilica extended around the side of the building and out of my line of sight, once again confirming the advice I’ve given other people; never do any of the sights on or near San Marco Square in the morning. I continued on and walked all the way around to the Grand Canal and then crossed over it, making my way towards the Santa Maria della Salute, a church at the bottom end of the canal. On the way my feet got soaked by a rogue wave that came up over the pavement. I got a few photos of the area before going into the church itself. Many churches in Venice are more historical sights than actual religious buildings and have entry fees, but thankfully Santa Maria della Salute is not one of them. After checking out the church I visited the Accademia Museum, which I had skipped on my previous visit to Venice. The museum specializes in art by Venetian artists from the middle ages through the high renaissance. It also has an unavoidable combo ticket with another museum, so the entry fee is higher than what I would normally have paid. I continued my exploration of the west end of Venice after finishing up at the museum. The gondola workshop I found on my last visit was still building and repairing gondolas and I passed by a college of some sort. Nearby there were a few students getting publicly hazed. I had read that in Italy this sort of thing sometimes happens at graduation, so maybe that was what was going on. Way out in western Venice you’ll find hardly any tourists, as there’s nothing to see other than apartment buildings. Walking out there felt like being in a ghost town and the silence was striking. Eventually I came back from that area and went over to Scuola San Rocco. If you look inside Scuola San Rocco from the entrance window you might wonder why this place is so highly rated in travel material, but if you pay the entry fee and go up to the second level you see why it is called the Sistine Chapel of Venice. The walls and ceiling are covered in dramatic paintings, and for me the best part was that nobody was enforcing the no-photo policy. I snapped a few shots and then just sat in a corner, staring at the ceiling. To help combat neck stress, there are a number of large mirrors lying around that you can borrow to more easily examine what’s above you. The Scuola San Rocco also has a few small exhibits on the upper levels of the building but they’re only worth a quick look. The San Rocco church next door also doesn’t warrant much time, though it is free. The nearby Frari Church is not free, but if you have the time and money and want to see more Venetian art then by all means go in. It also appeared to have the tomb of Titian, but I could be wrong about that. The day was progressing quickly and it was already late afternoon when I left the Frari Church. I walked first to the Rialto Bridge and then back to San Marco Square. I had hoped to get there in time to enter the basilica but I got there too late and it was already closed for the day. After dark I went back to the area around Santa Maria della Salute to do some nighttime photography. My little camera was having trouble focusing of some objects, but on the plus side I was able to do a few experiments that would help with getting difficult photos later in the trip. Back at my hostel there was a group of Spanish teenagers making a lot of noise near the lobby. I’m guessing it was a school group, but like so many teenagers these days, most seemed addicted to their smartphones and alternated between talking loudly to each other and staring at their screens.
Most of the next day was spent exploring the lagoon of the greater Venice region. Normally I avoid the water buses in Venice because of how expensive they are, but on this day I bought a 24 hour pass and proceeded to max it out. I started one of the stations near San Marco Square and then rode on a water bus that was doing a clockwise loop through the western half of the city. The water bus that I got on was one of the older models with open air seating in the front, so I got a great view, but it was also a very windy day, so it got a bit cold where I was sitting. The water bus took me around the west edge and past the cruise ship dock. These parts of Venice don’t get featured in travel material. The water bus continued on, passing under the causeway that links Venice to the mainland and came around to train station. Lots of people got on the water bus at the train station and then it went down the Grand Canal. It’s one thing to look out on the Grand Canal from the sidelines. It’s quite another thing to actually be in the middle of it with all the boats passing around you and being able to see all the people walking along the bridges and pathways. It took awhile, but the water bus got back to San Marco Square and I got off and then got on a different water bus which took me to San Giorgio Island. There’s a church with a bell tower on the island that has possibly the best views of the city. The wind was still blowing strong so it got cold up there, and the noon bell went off just before I came down. Another water bus took me back to San Marco Square and then I got on another one that dropped me off at the Rialto Bridge. From there I walked to the north edge of the main islands. At the Fondemente Nova station I took a water bus to Isola di San Michele, a small island that holds Venice’s main cemetery. As you can imagine, there’s no room in the main part of Venice to bury people, so this entire island was converted to be the city’s burial grounds. I only paid a short visit, but I can say that it’s very beautiful. The next water bus took me further north to the island of Murano. Like Venice, Murano is actually not one, but many islands linked together. It is known for its glass-making shops, though there’s only a few of them left. The vast majority of glass you’ll see for sale in Venice is actually mass-produced over in Asia and then shipped in (this is also true of all those Carnival masks you see being sold all over Venice). I came across an actual glass workshop and got to see the guys inside blowing and molding the glass into the various shapes. The furnace was glowing hot and molten glass was oozing out of it. When I felt I had seen enough of Murano I got on another water bus in the direction of Burano. It was a 20 minute ride and along the way the water bus passed a few islands with the remains of old buildings on them. Burano is similar to Murano in that it’s a small island cluster, but Burano is linked to other adjacent island clusters by a bridge. While Murano got famous for glass, Burano made its name with producing lace. Burano also has a leaning tower, but unlike the one in Pisa, no one seems to care about Burano’s tower, which is just a church bell tower. Even way out in Burano there’s still a decent number of tourists, but for me my favorite part of being out at Burano is actually not Burano itself, but the Mazzorbo island cluster next to it. There’s a park there with a garden and vineyard on it, and not another tourist in sight. It’s so strange to find such a quiet and peaceful place in the Venice region. I stayed awhile there and wished I could have stayed longer, but the day was wearing on and I wanted to get back to the main part of Venice by sunset. On the ride back, the water bus passed by Torcello, another island cluster near Burano which has the oldest settlements in Venice. It’s mostly marshland and gives probably the closest look to what the Venice region looked like before it was developed. If I ever come back to Venice I’m going to try to get out there. When I finally got back to the north side of main Venice islands, I got on a water bus that took me around the east end of Venice. On the ride I was standing next to a young American couple who must have been in Venice on vacation and I remember the woman asking the man what he had learned on this trip, and him giving what I thought was an incredibly token/cliche answer. In his defense, I think he was caught off guard by that question, and he asked the same question of her, which generated a similar platitude. I arrived back at San Marco just as the sun was going down and got a few photos before grabbing dinner. I also got some interesting Italian toothpaste, which lasted me through the rest of the trip and I still have at my home for the moment. For my final water bus rides of the day, I went back up to the train station and then got on a water bus going down the Grand Canal. It was a nice ride, though the Grand Canal at night isn’t as well lit and I thought it would be. The water bus stopped service at the Rialto Bridge and I walked back to San Marco Square from there. Some gelato and late night photo uploads finished off the day.
My departure from Venice the following day was not until the afternoon. During breakfast I was talking with one of the guys from my room and it turns out he lives in Oakland, so I might end of seeing him when I pay a visit to the Bay Area in December. On the rooftop of the hostel I was able to stage a photo of me sitting on a bench looking over the city. It took a number of attempts to get my GorillaPod properly mounted and the camera aimed at the right angle, but I was able to get a pretty good shot. I then went over to the eastern part of Venice and walked around there. Like the west end, there aren’t too many tourists out there and it’s a good place to go if you need a break. When I came back to San Marco Square I saw that the line to get into the Doge’s Palace was short so I got in line and went in. The no-photo policy from the last time I was there had been removed and the route of the tour had been adjusted, cutting out the meager Doge Apartments which no one really cares about. Instead you get to go right to the Senate Chambers, which are the best part of the tour with their large rooms covered in gold and paintings. Afterwards you pass through the armory, the Bridge of Sighs,and the prison before leaving. I next went into the San Marco Basilica, whose no-photo policy was being enforced, resulting in me having to be sneaky. For me the most notable part of the church is the ceiling, which is a giant mosaic. The upper floor also has the bronze horses of Alexander the Great. When I finished in the basilica I walked across San Marco Square to the Correr Museum, which I visited mostly because it was part of the mandatory combo ticket for the Doge’s Palace. The museum itself is fine, but mandatory combo tickets are always annoying. That said, if the Doge’s Palace has a long line, you can skip it by going to the Correr Museum first and then bypassing the ticket line for the Doge’s Palace. By now my time was running out so I went back to the hostel and got my backpack. I had to get to a ferry terminal in the southwest part of Venice, and on the way I got a slice of pizza and french fries for a quick meal. The fries were surprisingly good. In fact they were some of the best I’ve had anywhere, to the point where I felt back that I had to eat them quickly. At the ferry terminal I had to go through border control because I was going to Rovinj in Croatia, which is not part of the EU’s free-movement group of countries. When I first landed in Paris in August I didn’t get my passport stamped, (they were just letting people in) and this caused a little confusion with the immigration officers. After a minute of me explaining what happened, one of the officers said something to the other one and I was cleared to board the ferry. I got a window seat and as the ferry slowly left the city I took in my final view of Venice, and Italy. Next in line was Croatia, and my transition to Eastern Europe.