A few weeks ago, I found myself with a spare month in which I could do whatever I liked. As some of you know, I finished my job in the hostel at the beginning of October, and with an imminent winter starting in Scotland, my first plan was naturally to travel and find some sun before it all disappeared.
As I idly wandered through the orange rabbit hole of the easyJet website looking for inspiration, I mentioned it to Mum. “I’m thinking of going somewhere in Europe,” I said, my cursor hovering over Venice as my mind immediately started to form plans of going to Lake Bled in Slovenia, then working my way down through Croatia.
“I’d love to go to Venice,” she said. Huh. Well that was unexpected; I hadn’t mentioned any destinations in my musing. That’s got to be a sign.
Flights came up cheap, and I sent her another message. “Shall we actually go to Venice?!”
And so here we were. My first ever holiday with Mum, with bets on who was going to drive the other nuts first. (Answer: it was both of us!!)
I’m not gonna lie: I was actually a little bit nervous about Venice, because for some reason I had found it really hard to plan the trip, I was worried it would be horrifically crowded, and I had no idea what to expect from anything; from the narrow, winding paths to the ferry system, from getting lost in the side canals to the crowds in the busy canals. It’s one of those places that has sat idly on my bucket list for most of my life, but in reality I didn’t even know all that much about the place and thought perhaps I had set myself up for disappointment. But the more I researched, the more comfortable I felt in the fact I was probably going to love it.
We arrived in the evening, which is unlike most trips I take where I try to book a morning flight out and an evening flight back; unfortunately flights from Edinburgh are a little more limited, so our first view of Venice was in darkness. Which, given that we had a hotel two minutes from the bus station, with a balcony view over the Grand Canal, wasn’t all bad at all. Mum loved it already.
I wanted to explore our surroundings, so we took a quick walk down the side canal beside our hotel and then over along the edge of Cannaregio where we found tons of restaurants and shops. It was touristy, but it had a certain charm to it, and I loved all the Venetian masks on display.
After our walk, we had dinner at the nearby Ristorante da Nino, which I found out later has awful reviews on TripAdvisor, but it was perfectly okay and we sat by the Grand Canal watching everything go by as the water gradually became more peaceful. It was like the calm before the storm, because after all my organisation worries, I ended up having a LOT planned for the next day…
Here’s what we got up to on our one full day in Venice!
Riding the entire Grand Canal
After breakfast, we planned to jump on the vaporetto line #1 or #2 down to Rialto bridge. As it happened, we managed to get front row seats, and we didn’t want to give them up that easily! So we rode it for the full 45 minutes all the way to San Marco and got to the square just as all the attractions were opening.
I don’t have a lot to say about the boat trip… just a lot of photos.
It’s probably the best way to see Venice without getting totally lost!
St Mark’s Square
The first thing we noticed in St Mark’s Square was a lot of water on the ground, and lines of boardwalks everywhere for the queues outside the basilica. It turns out that the square is extremely prone to flooding in high water (the term is “acqua alta” and if you Google image it, it throws up some astonishing photos!), but it made for some pretty cool reflection photos – or it might have done if the sun had been out.
Unfortunately, just as I thought, the crowds were already starting to get ridiculous in the square – even in November, just as everything was opening. The queues were moving pretty quickly though, so I wouldn’t have minded queuing for the incredibly ornate basilica or to go up the bell tower, but Mum can’t stand for long, so we decided to give it a miss and soak up the atmosphere instead. It sounds ridiculous, but everywhere I go, I am more likely to look at things from the outside than spend hours queuing to go in.
As expected, it was all very touristy in this whole area. Suit-clad men were setting up tables and chairs outside restaurants, the usual stalls lined the way from the gondolas on the edge of the Grand Canal along to the square, and we spent ages looking for a toilet. When we finally found it, with several directions and down some back alleys, it was a quite astonishing €1,50 to use.
I said I’d happily piss on the street for that, thank you very much. Luckily, I didn’t need to go badly!!
We also took the short walk along the shore front with the famous photo of the line of gondolas, and along to the Bridge Of Sighs. I became Mum’s personal tour guide and started telling her the history of the bridge; how prisoners would cross over from the palace to the prison, and it would give their last ever view of Venice. She was very impressed by my online research, ha!
Our plan had been to walk from Rialto bridge to St Mark’s and then catch the vaporetto out to Burano, but now that we had done it the other way around, we decided to go to Burano first.
To get to Burano, we caught the vaporetto from Zaccaria station, just next to San Marco, like we’d read that we could online. We jumped on the #14 which confused me because I had read that you catch the #12 – we soon learned that this was a mistake, and got a lovely but very long-winded tour of the Venetian lagoon instead. Mum was happy – she had wanted to get out on the water, but along with our 45-minute Grand Canal tour, I was starting to get sick of it. Altogether, it took almost an hour and a half with one change to get to Burano, which was ridiculous. (the #12, for comparison, takes less than 45 minutes)
But we made it, and the second we landed, I knew we’d made a good decision. I loved Burano!
If you’ve ever been on Instagram, you’ve probably heard of Burano, with its picture perfect colourful houses hugging small, winding canals. No word of a lie: this was my favourite place in Venice!
Add in the fact that traditionally what Burano is really famous for is its lace-making, and you’ve got a special island! I love lace, and was thrilled to see loads of awesome creations. We even watched a lady making the final stitch on some pieces – did you know that there are four stitches, and each person only learns how to do one of them, so it takes four people to make one piece?! Of course, machines have taken over much of this tradition, but I found it fascinating and hope it doesn’t die out.
I could have spent hours wandering the streets here (in fact, I think I walked most of them!) with houses displaying traditional Venetian windows and laundry draped along the outsides, and the whole place oozes charm. But we needed to get back to Venice proper, and after a quick lunch at a cute but totally unauthentic takeaway place next to the ferry terminal, we were off again; this time on the much quicker #12 line.
What I didn’t realise was that the #12 doesn’t actually go to Zaccaria at all, which is why we had ended up on the #14. So we wound up on the other side of Cannaregio, a district I was keen to explore but nevertheless I also knew one thing: we were about to get lost.
Getting lost in the side canals
As it happens, I don’t think we got horribly lost, but we quickly stopped seeing any signs whatsoever for Rialto as they all changed surreptitiously to “S. Marco”, so I started following those instead, which led us a little further afield. Mum stopped people to ask for directions every two streets (or canals), and they would send us in the same direction as I was taking us, but eventually I had to admit we were slightly lost.
But then we turned a corner and saw this.
Holy crap. Venice is just full of surprises, and my photo does not do it any justice. It was huge, ornate and totally spectacular!
After that, we found Rialto bridge (and many crowds) very quickly, but by this point Mum was really annoyed with me for getting lost and making her walk for an extra five minutes, and decided she was going back to the hotel! I have a photo of her looking really pissed off on Rialto bridge, and although I’m afraid it won’t be shared, I have it to use against her one day!!!
Anyway, *I* enjoyed our little detour through canals that I’d never find a second time, and all the dilapidated buildings (we literally saw one building that was sinking into the canal, its windows all lopsided!) lining them. She enjoyed it too until approximately one minute before we found Rialto Bridge, and then decided she’d had enough.
I asked Mum if she wanted to sit down at a cafe somewhere, and she stubbornly said no and set off towards the vaporetto. Which was so full that there were no seats anyway.
Wandering back to Rialto
After our little paddy, I came back to Rialto bridge as I still wanted to do a couple of things, but this time I was so fed up of boats that I walked the whole way through Cannaregio and Ca D’Oro. Again, I loved it! The atmosphere on some of the streets was really good, you’d turn a corner and find a church plonked next to a quiet canal, and I ate a “red velvet cheesecake” flavoured ice cream which was delish! It took around half an hour to walk from Piazzale Roma to Rialto bridge.
By the time I got back to Rialto, the sun was starting to go down and I set off on my first mission: to go to the rooftop terrace above Fondaco dei Teschi for views over the city.
Unfortunately, it seems the cat has been let out of the bag with this one, and although it’s still free, you now have to book online, which I never knew from anything I had read. You can book it on the spot, but you HAVE to do it online, and my data wasn’t working and the wifi was being uncompromisingly inefficient. Eventually, I got on the website to find that there wasn’t a space for another hour and a half, by which time it would be dark and pointless.
So I fully recommend booking online in advance; I really wish I’d done it!
So that was a waste of time, and I crossed over Rialto bridge to check out the market just as it was all closing up. So my final mission: ride a gondola for €2.
A gondola ride for €2
I did it!!
I took the traghetto (local ferry) from just next to Rialto market across to Ca D’Oro, straight towards the giant hand installation, which was pretty cool! Unfortunately it really was starting to get dark now, so my photos didn’t come out great but it was fun for a two minute ride, AND I got the front seat! And I got to ride on a gondola without paying €80. Boom!
By the time I got back to the hotel, Mum was in a much happier mood, and we went for a quick dinner at the place outside the hotel (not my idea). It wasn’t great, but it was fairly cheap. I wouldn’t have gone there if it was up to me, but it met my expectations.
We spent the rest of the evening sitting watching the world go by from our balcony again, with a cheap bottle of Prosecco. Our hotel, the originally named Hotel Canal, wasn’t fantastic by any means but it was ridiculously cheap for Venice and gave us exactly what we wanted: a comfortable bed, a clean bathroom, a balcony (the only room with a balcony in the hotel!) and cheap drinks. The small bottle of Prosecco only cost about €2.50!! We may have had more than one.
The following morning, we took another wander around the side canals of Santa Croce as well as the park next to the bus station, but sadly it was time to go home. I managed to do almost everything I wanted to, but I’d be more than happy to take another visit to the sinking city. Until next time, Venice!
P.S. Our flight home was pretty amazing, too!
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