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Monday, 7 June 2004

Death (of cold) in Venice [brit]

The other half and I decided to take some time off, and went to Venice for 4 days, mobiles off, no computers, and no work. I was a bit uncertain about it when the idea was mooted because aside from it being old and wet, I'd no idea what to expect.
So, if you're thinking about going to Venice for a long weekend, here's the skinny on our trip and things to see and do.
Flights were cheap; Stanstead to Treviso (1hr45) cost £88.00 return for the two of us. You then have to get a coach from Treviso to Venice itself, which stops once to let more folk on board - this costs 8 euros (£6.00) per person and is a return ticket valid for what appeared to be a month. The coach trip takes about another hour or so and drops you right into Venice at the last place vehicles are allowed.
Hotels are expensive generally and don't believe their star rating system. Many are so called 4 star, but given what I know about how these stars are earned (24hr bar, concierge, room service etc) I don't believe they mean anything outside Venice itself. Our hotel was a 2 star job on the island of Lido which is reached by boat; a 20 minute journey by double decker bus (6 euro (£4.60) return per person to Lido from Per San Marco, the big ass main square) or 15 minutes by single decker - same price - or 45 euros (£34 for 2 people) by taxi; James Bond-a-like hugely powerful boats which will do the journey in 5 minutes.
Our hotel, booked through expedia was clean and simple - TV (Italian TV is fucking atrocious so don't even bother), ensuite bathroom (excellent water pressure and loads of hot water), and clean and simple. £33.00 a night (for both of us) including taxes and VAT, but no breakfast or anything; as a place to lay your head, it was excellent.
So that was getting there and crash space sorted; we slept for a few hours and hit Venice.
The experience was massively underwhelming. Bearing in mind we went in January, the weather was freezing (much colder than London) and a ridiculous fog bank sits over the city until about noon/1pm most days. 30ft visibility, and the taxis/buses don't slow down at all. It's at once quite the most awesome and scary thing I've done in a while!
The transport system is first class, with timetables for public transport stuck to like glue. Don't expect to find the bus there +20 seconds after it's claimed to have left, it will have gone bang on time. Talking of transport there are of course the gondoliers everywhere - these are hugely expensive tourist traps, and at 80 euros (£61) for 2 people for a 30 minute trip, it's just not worth it.
Venice is we discovered a summer city. Nothing is open except bars, hotels and shops selling carnival masks and glass trinkets. It means therefore that our time was spent walking (putting in at least 5 miles a day) and exploring, and of course going to a lot of cafes and restaurants; a coffee will set you back 4-6 euros (roughly £3.50) and beer about 7 euros (£5.30) a pint. Spirits are in the order of 5-8 euros a shot (£4.20), but they don't measure per se, and more often than not you'll walk off with a quad JD & coke.
Food is expensive too; a meal for two, with two courses and wine cost 117 euros (£90) and they usually throw in a cover charge of approx 3 euros (£2.30) per person *in addition* to a service charge of between 10 and 15%. It should be pointed out that whilst the food is great - seafood lovers will adore the eateries - it's not huge portions and I must confess we ended up in McDonalds a couple of times.
Exploring Venice leads you over all sorts of tiny alleys and bridges; whilst Venetians bustle past (don't dawdle and always stick to the right, the locals walk like locomotives) in huge Russian style furs. It's steeped in history obviously, and it's extremely pretty, but it's really targeted at the older (45+) generation since there is nothing to do in terms of clubbing, loudness, or entertainment outside of the Carnivale / summer season.
However that said, it was 4 days away from the UK with my fella and it rocked; just don't go there expecting to be continuously serenaded by genuine Venetian folk unless it's high summer - and here's another important bit of info; the whole city practically shuts down at 10.30pm; nightlife just doesn't exist when it's not 38 degrees C.
Pros: Staggering history, great food, and yes romantic! Cons: Pricey and activity limited out of season - absolutely not the place to take kids, as you walk everywhere.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry for resurrecting this old blog, but I used it as reference before I went to Venice recently, so I thought I'd add my tuppen'orth.
    We went late May with some friends, we share wedding anniversaries, ours was 11th, there's 10th.
    Flights were crazy cheap, £55 booked about 6 weeks in advance, from East Midlands to the closer Venice Marco Polo with Easyjet. The coach to the bus station/water bus station, Pizzala Roma costs 3 euro and takes 20 mins. Once you find where the waterbuses are, (no clues kids), then pick the shortest route, get some tickets and hop aboard.
    We also stayed off the main island, on the small island of Guidecca, which is on the main shipping canal opposite St Marks Sq, in a small B&B. It was 100 euros a room and included a really nice continental breakfast with fresh warm homemade bread buns. The view from the breakfast room was fantastic, one minute you are gazing at the early morning promenaders 100m away on the main island, then next a enormous cruise ship would go past the window, or a low loader with 4 gaily-coloured cement-mixers on. The rooms were on the top floor, there are only 4, but they were modern, nicely decorated with a good en-suite, a Nokia fta telly box (including snake! YAY!), a sparsely stocked fridge with reasonable priced items. I certainly didn't begrudge paying 40p for can of beer after traveling all day. The place was called B&B De Zorzi and we booked it through
    As the island was off from the main, but home to one of the most expensive hotels (Cipriani) and expensive bars, Harry's Dolci Bar, where the Bellini was invented, the island was surprisingly dirt cheap as it was a mainly residential area. Consequently, a pizza at the restaurant a few doors away was about 5 euros/£3.50 add a litre of house wine for 10 euros and you've got one happy pappy.
    The transport system was excellent, and we bought a 72 hour pass for 22 euros, no idea why we bothered because i don't think anyone has ever asked to see anyone's tickets. It's based on an honour system where you validate your ticket prior to boarding on little machines at every stop. I only ever saw one person do it, we didn't need to as we had a pass, but I can't believe no-one else needed to! The boat gate operators certainly weren't interested in your tickets, they had enough on looking cool in their shades and white gloves.
    As for the city, well it is the only place that surpassed my expectations, it was an embarrassment of riches every corner you turned. However, initially I was concerned about the crowds, it was the start of the high season after all, and when we got off on our first day and got snarled a huge crush of people to see the Bridge of Sighs I feared it was going to be a nightmare. However, once you got away from the main square and into the back streets and canals, the crowds melted away and a serenity came over us.
    We walked for miles, and when a gondolier asked us if we wanted a ride, we gratefully said si! We got the price down to 60 euros for four of us, so for a tenner each? Why not. The odd thing is, no Venetian would be seen dead in a gondola, but it really is the best way to travel, it's a comfortable and silent mode of transport, sure beats puttering around in motorboat. We got a 30 minute ride around the quieter canals, plus a jaunt onto the Grand Canal, which was superb fun. Your 2ft wide gondola threaded it's way through a barrage of speedboats, taxis, delivery boats and waterbusses all seemingly going in different directions, passing on any side they fancied!
    If you plan to go even for a short-break and plan a visit to the Palazzo Ducale, dukes palace/bridge of sighs/prison on St Marks Square, then consider ringing/booking online a Special Itinerary gguided tour. These run three times a day in English, and are limited numbers. For 13.50 euros you get the regular access every other pod gets, normal cost 12 euros, and a trip into parts they can't get to, the Council of Three torture chamber, the Council of Three meeting room with an incredible ceiling painted by Tintoretto, and a walk in the roof space of the Grand Hall, the 2nd largest room in Europe, which was the first to not have the usual column supports, it's like an indoor suspension bridge. Very impressive, been up 400 years and it's never needed any renovation or modern bracing etc.
    In the same area is the Doges Palace, probably the most famous building in Venice, it's free to get in, but they charge by attraction once you're in. There is always an enormous queue but it moves along at a fair old clip, you're never waiting that long. Inside, the artifacts of St Mark including cool whithered hand and a good set of teeth is 1.50 euro. The golden alter is 1 euro. Upstairs to access the ramparts and the four bronze horses plundered from the Turks is 3 euro, and it's the best bit.
    Opposite is the bell tower, dead tall, there is an elevator up, costs 3 euro, get up around midday to have your ear drums destroyed by some hot bell ringing action. The views on all four sides are the best in Venice. There is a cool urban myth about the two brothers who designed and built the tower, apparently the Doge was so pleased with their work, he had their eyes burnt out so they couldn't make a better one for someone else. Hoot!
    Right, who likes churches/cathedrals/basilicas? Everyone? Great, then make no mistake and get an 8 euro Chorus pass, which covers 16 of the top churches and stuff and is valid for two years. They tick them off as you go in, or sometimes not bother. Those crazy I-ties. Included in the price is a cassette audio tour but you have to insist, sometimes they'd don't offer it, and sometimes try and charge you. Exploring some of the further afield churches was some of the best bits of the holiday as you really got amongst the quiet secluded squares and streets where the real Venetians live. Beer was cheaper out there too :)
    Eating and drinking is as expensive as you want to make it, even round the main touristy bits, Grand Canal/St Marks Sq, all the eatierys had a 3 course Menu Turistico for about 15-17 euro, service and cover included. We ate well, with plenty of it, cheaply. The only time we visited McDonalds was for a MacShit... the cunning blighters had key coded all the bogs though, the code was on your receipt. However, if you waited long enough in the toilet ante-chamber someone would leave the door open as they left.
    As for nightlife, as brit says, it's dead any night of the week past 10 o clock. Don't try and eat later either, this ain't Spain. Apparently, there are 'happening' clubs and bars but they tend to be well off island in Mestre, but as you can stick that sort of caper up your arse, I was happy with the early nights, lots of walking scheduled for the next day, and at 37 I ain't getting any younger.
    Pros: Fantastic history, very reasonably priced triple-A historic attractions, great food. Friendly people.
    Cons: Lots of seafood cack on all the menus. This may be a pro for some. Some unfriendly people, the non-smiling mares who work the ticket counters for the waterbus at the Pizzala Roma.