Continued from my last post – “Venice – A First Timer’s View”
The island area of Venice comprises of 118 small islands , 177 canals and 400 small bridges across the myriads of canals . We stayed at a hotel in the upmarket Canareggio district of Venice bounded by the Fondamenta Nova which is the sea front facing the Adriatic sea and the Grand Canal on the other .The area is studded with numerous churches and cathedrals all dedicated to Santa Maria and maintained in a very good state . An evening stroll took us past many of these churches and we just admired them from the outside as we walked by the numerous homes painted in different colours – Possibly as a guide to tourists like me who get lost in the by lanes of Venice. Fundamenta Nova is the pier on the Adriatic sea and faces the islands of Murano and Burano across the sea . Getting lost in Venice on foot is a great experience but I felt a boat ride around the Venetian Islands would give us another perspective of the city . We bought an all day pass and hopped onto the water bus headed for Murano Island, one of the many islands which form a string around Venice protecting from the vagaries of the sea.Venice has been known for its stylish and ornate glass manufacturing the finest quality for hundreds of years . Venetian glass merchants were once part of the rich and famous ruling elite of the city . Glass making was shifted to the island of Murano in about 1300 as it posed a serious fire hazard to the wooden structures . Even today there are a few glass makers on the island but the retails shops also sell cheaper glassware from China ! We visited the Museum of Glass which had displays dating back to the 3rd century . A lively demonstration and a well made documentary held our interest for quite some time . Coloured glass and stern ware-long stemmed glasses from Venice adorned the tables of nobility across Europe and Asia .The boat ride to Murano takes about 20 mins from Fundamenta Nova pier across the lagoon through a well marked channel where one could see all types of boats plying the Adriatic Sea . From Murano we set course for Saint Marks Square by boat which traversed all round the Venetian islands . We went past the La Vignola island through the narrow gap overlooking the Arsenal .The Arsenal was one of the largest ship building yards from about the 1100s till the late 1500s when the size of the sea going ships far exceeding the capacity of the Arsenal . Much of Venetian riches and its rise as a mercantile power can be attributed to the mass shipbuilding capabilities of the Arsenal . Post the 1600s the Arsenal was used as a naval base by Napoleon . Today the huge sheds of the Arsenal are used for purposes other than shipbuilding such as the Biennale festivals of Venice .A Naval museum is also housed in the former warehouses of the Arsenal.
From the Sea – Murano to San Marco
Past the Arsenal through the gap between Le Vignola island the boat sails past the Lido , a narrow 11 kilometre long sandbar . The North of the island houses a golf course and one of the homes of the Doges.Public buses also ply on the island .Today Lido hosts many prominent hotels and is an upmarket residential area .
We then sailed past the San Servolo island into the Guidecca channel .On the left is the island of Guidecca which overlooks the Palazzo Ducale and the the St Marks cathedral . Guidecca is a residential area and boasts of the Molino Stucky (Molino – mill & Stucky after the businessman who built it ). now a very large Hilton hotel – It was once a water powered flour mill built to cater to the needs of the seafarers of ships passing through Venice.Many water bus routes stop at the San Marco and the adjacent San Zaccaria pier to disgorge thousands of tourists all headed to the St Marks Square . As the boat approaches San Marco Pier one gets a brilliant view of the silhouettes of the Doges Palace and the St Marks Basilica.The photo below shows a view of the Doges Palace and the campanile or bell tower of San Marco Basilica from the sea with the San Marco pier in the fore ground .We hopped onto the pier and after a quick lunch at one the many sidewalk cafes on the pier we continued our journey by boat. The high point of the lunch was a “Bellini” a cocktail supposedly a Venetian creation which is a cocktail of Prosecco and blood red orange juice . (For more on the Bellini read my earlier post (Exploring Amalfi )
We continued our journey by the ‘vaporetto” or the water bus through the Guidecca channel, past the mouth of the Grand Canal onto the cruise harbor of Venice skirting the Tronchetto- A huge and ugly man made imposing structure created on an artificial island for vehicular parking . Skirting past the Tronchetto and under the Ponte Della Liberta, a four km rail cum road bridge we enter the Canal Grande or the Grand Canal- the most distinguishing feature of Venice and settings for many a story and also the beginning of many a great tourist experience.
The Grand Canal cuts right through the center of Venice and shaped like a reverse S .It is about 4 km long with the Santa Lucia Railway station at one end and empties into the San Marco Basin just off the San Marco pier at the church of Santa Maria Della salute or simply the Salute . Just at the start of the Grand Canal is the ferry station of Pizzale Roma which is the water terminus for all water buses passing through the canal. Going past the Pizzale Roma we enter the Grand canal passing under the Ponta Della Constituzione which is newest of the four foot bridges spanning the Grand Canal and was opened to the public in 2008. The other bridges are the Ponta Della Scalzi(ponte =bridge) connecting Ferrovia at the railway station (1934) , Ponte Delle Accademia(1854) and the oldest bridge , the Rialto bridge .The Rialto bridge was originally a pontoon bridge built in 1181 and the current stone masonry bridge was built in 1591 and still stands.To cross the canal at other places there are small gondolas known as Traghetto and for a few Euros you can be ferried across.Past the two bridges we cross the Ferrovia water bus stop ( for the railway station) and glide through the canal past fourteen water bus stops till we end up again past the San Salute Cathedral to San Marco pier . It is interesting to note that these bus stops alternate on both sides of the Grand Canal . Most tourists get off at the Rialto bridge and journey either to the Strada Nova the shopping area or Piazza San Marco but we continued past as we had walked the streets around Rialto the day before . All along the canal we saw buildings or rather palaces dating from the 13th to the eighteenth century and one outdid the other in architectural excellence . Some of these buildings are museums , department stores and even a casino.Entry into these building is straight from the boat onto the steps of the building There is no equivalent of a footpath or promenade!Tickets on the water bus are easy to get and are available at every ferry stop . Since tickets have a specific duration -one journey /day/ month/ week tickets need to be validated or else they have an endless life,Validation simply means entering the date and time stamp on the ticket by way of a small yellow machine at the entrance of every boat stop .
In Venice simply flash the ticket an a green light appears on the machine. In some other towns such as Florence an onboard printer on a bus serves the same purpose but with a date and time stamp on the ticket .Traveling on an “unvalidated ticket” is treated as ticket less travel and attracts heavy penalties on surprise checks.( do check out my review on Trip Advisor for a more detailed explanation). Past the Rialto bridge we saw the Pallazzo Cavialli ,a palace built in the 1500s and brought to grandeur in the 1800s by Archduke Ferdinand of the Hapsburg dynasty. Today it is a grand hall and a hosts cultural events and even weddings .Sailing along we saw the Church of Santa Della Maria(San Salute) at the mouth of the Grand canal from another direction and ended back into the San Marco pier in the San Marco basin .
A very imposing structure , this church was built as a thanks giving to the Virgin Mary for delivering the city of Venice from the plague attacks of 1630 when nearly one third of the population of the city was wiped out. Venice had suffered twice from an outbreak of plague ; the earlier one being in the 1300s. Sadly I do not have a picture of this beautiful work of architecture in my album and have borrowed it from Wikimedia . And so we had completely circumnavigated the Venetian islands , the lagoons and sailed on the Adriatic Sea on the front deck of a Vaporetto! A great way to see the city and also give our aching legs some rest !We had been up on our feet for the three weeks journeying through Italy – This ride was a fitting finale to our trip to Venice and Italy . We now move onward to the last leg of our journey .To Vienna By day train – Venice Santa Lucia to Vienna Central – Wien Hauptbahnoff through the scenic beauty of Italy and Austria and back home to to India .