Bucket List Travels: Venice, the Impossible City

Morristown resident Paul Partridge has been building a travel bucket list for years. Now he’s diving in – near and far – and shares his adventures in this column.

 

“The day you go to Venice . . . will be one day quite by itself in your life. You will be alive that day.”

– E. Temple Thurston, British poet & playwright

 

Text and photos by Paul Partridge

 

My wife and I are met outside the Venezia Santa Lucia Railway Station by a private water taxi. Its wooden hull is gleaming, looking like it’s been hand polished for hours. We settle into the leather-upholstered cabin and take in the dazzle before us.

 

The Grand Canal is alive with every kind of watercraft from rowboats to sailboats, working ships to luxury yachts – and of course, gondolas. Golden hour sun rays glisten off magnificent ancient buildings, churches and bridges. 

 

A Bellini is offered as we push off from the dock. Offer accepted. I’ve only taken one sip but feel my balance is off. Is it the drink? The boat? Or is it the brain trying to make sense of an entire city sitting on water? Its existence is impossible, surely. This watery Oz must be either mirage or magic.  

 

The captain maneuvers through traffic to the front entrance of the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel. The dapper hotel manager greets us and ushers us in. It feels like a palace because . . . it is. An ancient noble residence from the 15th century. Another drink awaits – a Spritz Veneziano. As we’re escorted from the grand stairway to the magnificently frescoed music ballroom to our room, which features a panoramic view of the Grand Canal, it finally starts to make sense: 

 

Evidently, we’re co-stars in a movie – a period piece, a sweeping romance no doubt. The director is about to yell, “Cut, that’s a wrap!” whereupon we transform back to our normal lives of peeling potatoes and taking out the trash. 

 

But no, the scene continues, and the next scene is better, and the next better still. 

 

Venezia… La Serenissima. The most serene. Despite its moniker, Venice conjures up strong feelings even among Italians; you either love it or you hate it, I’m told. Naysayers point to high prices, rising water levels, foul smells, hordes of tourists, hordes of pigeons. 

 

Certainly, Venice has faults. But I would argue many more charms. Just ask Dante, Byron, Henry James, Hemingway, Mark Twain and Ezra Pound – all or who lived or spent significant time here. Do you appreciate art? History? Romance? Mystery? Venice is soaked in them.

 

Plus, you can eliminate many of its blemishes just by choosing the right time to visit. For example, don’t go in August. It’s hot, humid, and overrun with turisti. Flooding from hide tides (acqua alta) occurs infrequently, only a couple times a year; highest tendency is in November, December, and October – in that order – according to local statisticians. The foul smell rap is suspect at best. In several trips to Venice, I’ve never experienced it – and I’m extremely sensitive to smells.

 

The high prices complaint, however, is valid. Yes, Venice is expensive. But whether you’re visiting Hawaii or Nantucket or Saint Lucia, aren’t prices always higher on islands where everything must be shlepped in by boat?

 

A couple observations: One is, you don’t have to spend two weeks in Venice. Two to four days is enough for most visitors. Also, prices decrease the more you venture away from St. Mark’s Square. St. Mark’s is ground zero, where most of the tourists – especially day trippers – congregate. Do your eating, drinking, and shopping away from the tourist hotspots and your dollar will go much further.

 

Here are some other low-cost options:

 

Ride a VaporettoA vaporetto is a public water bus. This is how many Venetians get around and is the best way to explore the Floating City. Save money by buying a 1-, 2- or 3-day pass. The theater onboard is entertaining, especially during commuter hours. Pets, bikes, trunks, furniture, groceries, the kitchen sink – if you can carry it on, it’s welcome. Meanwhile the view outside is . . . Venice.

 

Explore the Fish Market – Conveniently located only a one-minute walk from the famous Rialto Bridge. Since 1173, local fishermen have brought their daily catch here, including octopus, writhing eels, giant swordfish, squid, prawns, tuna, soft-shelled crabs and much more. A place full of energy, life, and fishmonger characters.  

 

Marvel at Venetian Architecture – Venice is a unique city that’s been built up layer upon layer over many centuries. You can witness many different architectural styles such as early Romanic architecture, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassic, and Byzantine. 

 

Get up Early for St. Mark’s – Early morning is a wonderful time to experience Piazza San Marco. Captivating. Serene. Simply splendid. Other preferred times: under the moonlight or in the fog. If you’re not careful you may get goosebumps. Before you sits St. Mark’s Basilica (tour the inside for free), the Doge’s Palace (sign up for a tour), and the Clocktower (venture inside), with the columns of San Todaro and the winged lion standing guard. It’s easy to see why Napoleon called it “The drawing room of Europe.”

 

Walk – Grab a coffee or cappuccino and start exploring off the beaten path. It may seem counterintuitive that a city built on water is very walkable, but it is. No cars. No blaring horns. No motorcycles to dodge. Just endless beautiful passageways to wander. And gentle church bells as a soundtrack. Getting lost in Venice is a delight.

 

Visit Murano – In 1291, the glassmaking industry moved from Venice to Murano to avoid fire risks and to enforce strict control over glassmakers. So valuable was the glass trade that any glass master who tried to leave the Republic of Venice faced a death sentence. Today you can still see glass artisans at work blowing glass and molding it into exquisite shapes. 

 

Resources

 

Ca’ Sagredo Hotel: https://www.casagredohotel.com/ 

 

Private Water Taxi: https://www.motoscafivenezia.com/en/ 

 

Murano Glass Factory: https://www.visitmuranoglassfactory.com/ 

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