Venice is Italy’s city of canals, built on a series of islands in a lagoon. The original lagoon dwellers were fishermen living on the then marshy islands. Others retreated there to avoid various armies after the fall of Rome. The lagoon protected them the way walls protected other cities of the era because people not local to the area did not know where to find the safe navigation channels to avoid running their ships aground if the invaders happened to have any ships – which they generally didn’t, leaving the islands unreachable.
This isolation from the political upheavals of the mainland eventually allowed the Venetians to thrive rather than just survive. Venetians were early explorers, traders, and sailors. San Giocomo, the first church, was built on the islet of Rialto in 421, and is considered as the traditional founding of the city. Architecture of the city is based on pilings driven into the ground supporting the stone slab foundations of the buildings. Between these pilings sinking and water levels rising over the centuries the original ground floors of some buildings are flooded and unusable. High tides and storms flood places like the famous San Marcos square frequently enough that they put portable raised sidewalks out so people have somewhere dry to walk. Raincoat-like boots that pull on over people’s shoes are a popular item sold by vendors around the area.
Cruise ships visiting Venice currently dock at Stazione Marittima at the western end of the city near Tronchetto, where many tour busses arrive. There’s a parking garage there where visitors who come to the city by car leave their vehicles, as there are no roads through the islands that make up the main part of the city. There is a movement to dock ships elsewhere or change their entry route to the port, but the alternate route requires dredging and the alternative ports need infrastructure before either of those things happen. Meanwhile the amount of ships visiting Venice has declined and the largest of cruise ships don’t go there.
Things to do in Venice
In this city with canals for roads, gondola rides are the quintessential experience. Architecture is the main attraction with places like St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace. Piazza San Marco is the main square, and the Rialto Bridge and Bridge of sighs (named for the sighs of the condemned said to have been heard from the bridge as they crossed between old and new prisons or to execution) are also attractions. There are museums, and local cuisine featuring seafood from the lagoon is an attraction in itself. Seafood, pasta, and pizza restaurants are mainly what is found around Venice. Even the little place near where we stayed ran by Chinese people served pasta and pizza rather than Asian food.
Since there are no roads transportation is on foot or by water. Public boats called vaporettos function like a water bus transporting people across Venice. It’s not a big area, and walkable if you can find your way through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways and bridges. Here and there signs direct people to the major attractions and Google maps is quite useful if you don’t want to feel like a rat in a never ending maze.
City passes are available for 24, 48, or 72 hours with entrance to museums and churches, Doge’s palace and the option to add on public transport. Besides the vaporettos, transportation is available by water taxi and from Alilaguna, which has both public transport boats and cruises to specific places.
Other highlights are a visit to Morano island to watch glass blowing or going to the beach on the island of Lido (so that’s where the Lido deck name comes from, which is the name of the pool deck on many cruise ships). More points of interest include visiting the mostly abandoned island of Torcello with ancient buildings and walking paths through a nature preserve or see the Jewish ghetto where all of the Jewish people of Venice lived during the time when they weren’t allowed elsewhere in the city.
Boarding the MSC Lirica
We spent 3 nights at an Airbnb in Venice before the start of our cruise, which was supposed to begin there. On the night before boarding we got a call from our travel agent at Vacations To Go saying that our port of embarkation had been suddenly changed from Venice to Trieste, 98 miles away. Luckily we did not have to get there on our own, but rather were to go to the port in Venice as planned where MSC would have busses to take everyone to the new port from 10am to 3pm.
From our bnb in a residential area of the Santa Croce district, it was a short walk to the San Stae vaparetto station where we could catch a boat to the end of the line stop, one beyond the train station where we had first arrived. There were busses at that stop, but not the ones from the ship, which were at the port. To get to the cruise port you have to walk a bit to a building that says people mover. There you pay for a ticket to ride an elevated shuttle train out to the first stop, which is for the cruise port. The second stop is Tronchetto.
The people mover doesn’t go straight to the port. You have to walk a bit from there. The gate guard looks at your ticket and says which terminal to go to. If the ship actually ports there it would be at the dock and you could probably see it, but there were no ships at the dock the day we were there. Since ours got transferred elsewhere we walked down to the end of the terminal we were directed to. They had an open entrance into the building and people to take the luggage at the farthest possible door. Then we went on through the terminal until we came to a place upstairs where they checked tickets and passports and assigned bus numbers according to the order people came in.
We left our bnb at 8:30am figuring to get there early to try and get on the first bus. We arrived around 9ish and ended up on bus #3 so they obviously started far earlier than 10:00. We waited awhile until our bus was called, which was when enough people had arrived to fill it. The driver said it would take an hour and a half to get there, but it actually took a bit over 2. The scenery most of the way was road construction and a highway wall. When we finally got to the shore there would have been some nice views had it not been quite foggy and raining too hard to see much.
At the port we ended up in a long slow moving line because the people from the first 2 busses had been waiting in a room there and were just turned loose to head for the ship when our bus got there. The line at the scanners and passport check would move a little, then stop, move a bit again, and stop some more so it took quite awhile to get through even though we weren’t terribly far back in the line. Finally we got through and had a bit of a walk down the outside of this terminal until reaching the end where we had a short distance to go out from under the sheltered side of the building before reaching the stairway up to the ship. Luckily it had stopped raining by then because for awhile on the bus ride over it was such a downpour we’d have been soaked in just that short distance and our luggage didn’t get to our room for hours so we would have had nothing dry to change into. It did finally arrive long after all the rooms around ours got theirs, so at least it made it on the ship. First loaded in the truck, last off. It was probably well buried under the luggage of everyone who got to the port after us. If you have things you think you might need before your luggage gets delivered it’s a good idea to keep them in your carry-on, but it hadn’t started raining yet when we checked our bags.
We didn’t see anything of Trieste other than what we could see from the ship, but this is what MSC’s daily planner had to say about it:
Trieste is in the heart of the gulf of the Friulian coast, rising to the boarder with Slovenia. Its ancient origins date back to human presence in prehistorical times. It is currently one of the greater harbors on the Adriatic. The city has many historical buildings, and the Castle of Miramare which is the symbol of Trieste. The castle was built in 1850 as a residence for Austrian Prince Maximillian of Augsburg. It is surrounded by a park and currently has a butterfly garden.