Our last train ride on our pre-cruise trip through Europe before boarding the MSC Lirica went from Innsbruck to Venice via a change of train in Verona Porta Nuova. Luckily it was a long train because it was quite crowded. There were people still hunting for somewhere to sit after it left the station so we were happy to have reserved seats.
The scenery was lovely passing through the Alps by train. Eventually snow gave way to the rolling hills and green fields of rural Italy. Nearly everyone on the train got off at our stop in Verona Porta Nuova. There we caught our final train of this journey, which unlike the one we had just left had plenty of open seats. Reminiscent of Australian trains, this one had a small electronic display at the front of the car that said the name of whatever the next station would be so there was fair warning before it was announced.
Our station at Venezia Santa Lucia turned out to be the end of the line. From that station you find docks with boats or watertaxis. To get to this station the trains cross a brick and stone causeway bridge across the lagoon. The Venice Railroad Bridge was completed in 1846. Cars cross the lagoon on a causeway called Ponte della Libertà (Liberty Bridge) built in 1933 next to the train bridge. Prior to that access was by boat only, which was the whole point of the earliest Venetians living there because they knew how to safely navigate deeper channels through the lagoon and their enemies did not. There are places to park near the train station, which is close to the cruise ship port. Once you go to the canal side of the station there are no more cars.
In Venice we booked an Airbnb rather than a hotel room. We wanted a place with a washer and dryer as there were no guest laundries on the ship we were about to board so we at least wanted to start the cruise with clean clothes. The Airbnb was an entire apartment, and gave us a little taste of living like a local since it was in a locals neighborhood rather than the touristy area where the hotels are.
Our Airbnb host had sent directions on how to get there from the train station which included riding one of the public boats called vaporettos. These boats are to Venice like busses are to most cities. We got off the boat at a station facing a church.
The walk to the bnb included crossing 3 little bridges, passing by a museum which was only recognizable by a sign on the door of a building that otherwise blended in with the rest of the buildings, and walking through some “streets” that are really narrow alleyways to a door in one of those small alleys that was the entrance to the apartment building. Our apartment was on the first floor, which luckily was 15 steps up as a few days earlier in a storm and high tide our host said water had come up to the 4th step. The door to the building is at ground level so nobody could go in or out while the water was that high. There was no major flooding during the 3 days we stayed in Venice, but it flooded again soon after we left.
This apartment was a lot more liveable than the one where we stayed in Zurich. It had a separate bedroom, reasonable sized kitchen, and small area with a couch and TV. It also included a washer/dryer in the bathroom, that being one of the main reasons we booked that particular place as it would be the only chance we got to have everything clean before boarding the ship.
This was the only place we stayed that had one whole bed instead of two pushed together, and regular sheets and blankets rather than the funny sleeping bag pod quilt and sheet combo things that all the hotels and even the Zurich apartment had.
Venice is a very unique place. There are no land vehicles in the main part of Venice. Transportation is either over water or on your own two feet. Areas between the buildings run anywhere from alleyways so narrow you can touch the walls on both sides to wide open squares and everything in between.
You can walk down a narrow deserted alleyway, turn a corner and all the sudden find shops, restaurants, wider walkways, or an open square. The canals vary too from narrow strips of water between buildings to the busy grand canal.
You don’t get too far before coming to a bridge, many of them quite small with just a stairway up and a few feet of flat area to cross before coming to the stairway back down. Navigating through Venice would pose a major challenge to anyone with mobility issues.
We wandered around a bit our first night there and found a place to have dinner that turned out to be an Italian restaurant run by Chinese people. Since all of the other restaurants near there were also Italian – mostly pasta and pizza places – Chinese food would have stood out, but maybe nobody wants that in Venice. We didn’t come across a major grocery store, but did find little places that sold food so we got a few groceries to bring back to the apartment with us. There are a few small grocery stores and a lot of little stands and small stores that each sell one type of thing like produce or pasta.
There’s also a fish market that we wandered by a few times. You can smell it before you see it – even if it is closed and there are no fish there at the time.
Venice is built on stone foundations over wooden poles driven into the ground on what were originally marshy islands in a lagoon so there is no natural ground and greenery in most areas is pretty scarce. A few places have a bit of a yard with some plants.
Closer to the train station in the more touristy area there is a park and the walkways are often wider. We even saw one walkway there that had trees so it is not entirely devoid of plant life. Of course any plants in a flood zone would have difficulty surviving.
Because Venice sits on ancient poles in water it has been slowly sinking over the centuries, and the rising oceans certainly don’t help matters there any, which is why flooding is a fairly common occurrence in high tides or storms.
The lowest level of some buildings flood frequently enough on high tide to have been permanently abandoned. When we took a gondola ride we even saw a boat stored on the bottom floor of one building – which did have water in it.
Our first full day in Venice we intended to start out with a 3-hour free walking tour that would cover all the main attractions. We found our way to the starting point using google maps. Google maps or a similar mapping program is essential for finding your way around Venice.
Without some sort of directions anyone unfamiliar with the city will feel like a rat in a maze in Venice’s series of often winding pathways between tall buildings with sudden and random changes from very narrow to pretty wide, interspersed with bridges, canals, and open squares.
The lying phone weather app said it would not rain until after 1pm so we didn’t wear rain gear, but had umbrellas just in case. Nobody ever uses umbrellas at home regardless of how hard it rains, but I had one from a previous vacation in Florida bought in a downpour that I haven’t used since. It wasn’t raining when we first started out, but more people than not had umbrellas anyway. It started to get a bit drizzly, but until we got to the meeting location and had to stand around waiting after it started raining a bit harder I didn’t bother to open mine.
A small restaurant had a large umbrella over unoccupied outdoor seating so we decided to wait there and were joined by a couple girls from Romania, a French couple, and a couple from Australia. Time for the tour came and went and no guide showed up. After about 10 minutes the Romanian girls left. The rest of us waited another 10 minutes before giving up. One of the other ladies said someone from their hotel had booked a boat tour that they paid for and the guide never showed up so at least we weren’t out any money for this tour.
We used the GPS to find Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square). The closer we got to the square the more little stands we saw selling raincoat style boots and umbrellas. In and near the square pretty much every little shop or stand had the boots. Quite a few people had bought them and were slogging around in puddles in the square.
Down near Doge’s Palace the water was deep enough on an incoming tide that platform walkways had been set up so people could cross over the water without getting wet. We saw a lot more of those portable raised walkways – some still set up and some not – in other areas that had recently flooded.
Piazza San Marco had quite a lot of water in it that day, though it was not entirely flooded. If you picked the right pathway you could avoid the puddles in the main part of the square, and stay dry at the end by Doge’s palace using the raised walkways. Doge is not the name of a person, but rather a title used by ancient officials.
We came back to San Marco’s Piazza another day and things had dried up for the time being.
This is the biggest public square in Venice. Other buildings around the square besides Doge’s Palace include Saint Mark’s Basilica and a clock tower. Some of the other old buildings currently house shops and restaurants. The waterfront adjacent to the square has lots of docks. There are a couple vaporetto stops there as well as gondolas and tour boats.
From there we just wandered a bit and eventually came across a small grocery store so we got a few things and set the map app to find our way back to the bnb. The route it chose just happened to take us across the Rialto Bridge, so tic off another main site. Most of the bridges are just little walkways crossing small canals, but this one spans the grand canal. It’s big and even has shops on it.
If you’re going to have a shop in Venice, that’s the place to be. Besides the fact that the bridge attracts crowds of potential customers, those shops remained high and dry in the recent flood that so many of the ground level shops were busy cleaning up after. The current stone Rialto Bridge was started in 1588 and completed in 1591. It was preceded by two wooden bridges and the original pontoon bridge of the 12th century, which was the first dry crossing of the grand canal. There are 4 bridges over the grand canal now.
After stopping for lunch at the bnb we went back out and wandered aimlessly for the afternoon, during which time it did not rain proving the lying phone weather app wrong once again. There are canals, bridges, and old buildings wherever you go in Venice so anywhere has interesting things to see. We picked up a few groceries for dinner on the way back. Anyone planning to spend all day out and about in Venice might find it beneficial to carry some change because public toilets cost money.