I am so lucky. I live less than an hour from the most exotic city on the planet: Venice. By now, I have taken so many of my visitors there for a day-trip, I could probably qualify as an amateur tour-guide and I have, over time, figured out how many sights are possible to visit in a day.
But first of all the Grand Canal must be navigated. I always bring new visitors to Venice for an inaugural trip down that famous waterway on the Number One vaporetto, which stops at several places between the station and Piazza San Marco. This is an inexpensive way to get an overview of the city and is an interesting experience in itself.
Departing on the 08.28 train from Monselice brings me and my friend to the station in Venice – Santa Lucia – just fifty minutes later.
We have been transported over the long causeway which crosses the Venetian Lagoon where the first gondolas and water taxis are sighted and the city, with its myriad spires and towers, looms in the distance growing ever closer. Cars and buses keep our train company, dashing alongside, as we glide towards the station where we alight onto the busy platform.
A small newsagent in the station sells us our vaporetto tickets – a twelve hour ticket for €18.00 each – and we exit the station, pausing at the top of the steps where my visitor needs at least five minutes to give the inevitable squeals of delight at the sight spread before her (or him, as the case may be; though the squeal may be an octave lower, it is uttered nonetheless).
There are few more unforgettable moments than that first sight of Venice in all its hustle and bustle on the gleaming waters of The Grand Canal: gondolas; vaporetti (water buses); water taxis; barges; emergency and police launches and crowds of over-excited visitors poring over their maps, anxiously trying to find the correct vaporetto to take them to Piazza San Marco.
Shouldering our way through the busy throng, we make our way to the Number 1 vaporetto stop. Swiping our tickets – essential – we cross the small wood and metal bridge to the covered, floating landing stage and wait for the arrival of our water bus. This is not the place to hang back and be timid. If you want to bag a seat on the outer deck at the front you need to be assertive and hold your place in the queue.
The first trip down the Grand Canal is guaranteed to stimulate even the most hardened tourist. The vaporetto passes along the route of an ancient riverbed. Passing under the Scalzi Bridge, the metal one that brings the footsore and weary back to the station at the end of a tiring day, the Canal is spread before us.
We sail past several palazzi (palaces) on our journey down the Canal: Palazzo Barbarigo, with its painted façade, Ca’ d’Oro and Ca’ da Mosto are among these beautiful old buildings as we reach the Pescheria (fish market) on the right hand side.
Then we round a bend and the famous Rialto Bridge towers overhead, ready for visiting later that day.
A multitude of tourists peer down at us as we progress onwards past Ca’ Foscari and Palazzo Mocenigo, where the poet Lord Byron stayed in 1818, Ca’ Foscari and the famous Ca’ Rezzonico – a must-visit later – we approach the wooden Accademia Bridge, which is situated beside its eponymous galleries.
Now we pass the Peggy Guggenheim Collection – another must-visit – and haunted Palazzo Dario where we get a close-up view of the iconic church of Santa Maria della Salute. Off on our right we can clearly see a famous Palladian masterpiece in the form of San Giorgio di Maggiore on its own little island, as we approach the Doges Palace – Palazzo Ducale – and Piazza San Marco where we alight into the hordes of tourists who congregate at this famous spot.
Anyone for a coffee at Florian’s or Quadri where the orchestras play in the most famous drawing room in the world? Join me next time for a stroll through the ancient alleyways, cross some bridges when we come to them and visit some of the famous – and not so famous – places in La Serenissima.