We have three full days here near Venice, and only planned to go into Venice itself for one of those days. We chose the first day (Saturday) to go based on the weather forecast. Big cities are much more tiring in the heat, and the forecast was for cloudy and cool. The cloud turned out to be of the invisible variety but there was still a slight cool breeze which made for perfect conditions.
Our camping ground is only 2 km from Punta Sabbioni, a stop on the main Venice public transport system. We caught a #15 Vaporetto (water bus) which took us to near San Marco Square direct in half an hour. It was magic chugging across the lagoon watching the famous sights come into view
We disembarked from the boat and joined the mobs of people. There are far more people visiting the famous cities than when we lived in Europe in the 1990s. The popularity of cruises brings huge swarms of people into a city. They hang around in packs, wearing name tags and numbers and following their leaders like a flock of sheep.
After walking past the Doges Palace and stopping for a compulsory photo at the Bridge of Sighs, we fought our way into San Marco Square. The beauty of the Basilica amazes me each time I visit (4 visits now!) and we were lucky that only a small part was covered in scaffolding. The only way to sit and enjoy is to pay a small fortune at one of the cafes – it is actually illegal to just sit down in the square! So we had a quick look around the beautiful square before escaping in search of quieter Venice.
In spite of the crowds, you do not have to go far to escape. Matt had two things on his wish list for Venice. One was to explore the tiny canals by boat. At around NZ200 for a gondola ride, he didn’t have a chance on that one. The other was to get lost in the back streets so that was no problem. There was a cache in a quieter part of the city, so we wound our way through the maze of streets. Some of them are barely wider than your shoulders so there is plenty of shade. We found the cache, hidden in a wall in a tiny covered alley that required a torch.
After a respite from the mobs, we were brave enough to head for the Rialto bridge. It was elbow to elbow on and near the bridge, but again it didn’t take long to get beyond the mobs. The tummies were rumbling so we found a canal side pizzeria, which we shared with a large group of sea kayakers who we didn’t think had washed in a while! I was keen to visit the Rialto market. I have vivid memories of my Mum buying expensive peaches there in 1982. When she discovered some of them were rotten and took them back, the stall holder got overexcited and threw them across the market at us. I wanted to return to see if their customer service had improved. I am pleased to report that Anna bought half a kilo of strawberries for about NZD3.50 and they were absolutely delicious – well done Venice!
After lunch we decided to explore a different side of Venice and visit the parks of Giardini and Saint Elena, where the locals hang out on a sunny day. To get there we rode the Vaporetto almost the full length of the Grande Canal. The kids had a play on the playground with the local kids, but gelato cravings soon set in. We have become fussy about gelato and didn’t want to waste our gelato allowance on pre-packaged ice cream. As that was all we could find, we caught the first Vaporetto back towards the central city. The stop we got off at was in the art gallery area, and it seemed that art gallery types don’t have the same need for gelato as us. We knew we were on the trail when we started seeing people walking towards us with gelato and eventually arrived at the source of the cones for our daily fix.
Anna and I were keen to poke in some of the shops so we split from the boys and arranged to meet then an hour later in San Marco Square. We made the mistake of leaving the boys with both the GPS and tablet as well as our travel cards. We walked in what we thought was the direction to the Rialto bridge but ended up hopelessly lost on the opposite side of Venice. It was a very long hot walk to get us back on the tourist track. By the time we found the shops, most of our shopping time had elapsed – thank goodness for mobile phones to arrange an extension of time with the boys! We had a lovely time poking in the shops and bought a few little glass things. I found a replacement for the Murano glass pendant I bought on the last trip that was stolen on Hawaii on the way home. The last stop was a cake and lolly shop where Anna bought a long length of marshmallow.
The boys had a nice relaxing time while we shopped, being entertained by the pigeons and Moroccan hand bag sellers of San Marco Square. When Matt saw Anna’s marshmallow, he begged to be taken there. I thought it would be a simple case of following the signs back to Rialto to find the shop, but underestimated the number of ways you could follow in the maze of streets. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, but miraculously we did eventually stumble across the same shop.
It was a stunning evening for a ride back to Punta Sabbbioni. We finished our day with dinner in one of the camping ground restaurants. When we were planning this trip it was hard to decide between Venice and Rome, but I am convinced that Venice was a better choice for the kids.