In November of last year, I had the chance to visit the wonderfully unique and magical city of Venice on an inspection visit. The floating city is known throughout the world for its miles upon miles of canals, maze-like streets and romantic settings, along with its historical importance throughout the years. We could not wait to set off on our adventures to this amazing city.
For those that don’t know, the city of Venice was built across hundreds of small islands in a lagoon off the north Italian mainland. The canals you see today are almost entirely man-made, created during the birth of the city and all of buildings sit atop thousands of wooden poles meaning the city is literally ‘on stilts’ in the surrounding water. On top of these foundations, one of the greatest cities in the world was built. However, the unusual origin of this city does come with one huge downside, it is sinking, very slowly, back into the waters which gave life to it. This brings with it an unusual phenomenon, Acqua Alta (High water) where tides from the Adriatic Sea rise above the cities ground level causing regular flooding throughout the year. Prior to our visit, Venice was hit with some of the worst flooding it has endured for over 50 years which nearly put an end to our visit before it even began. Luckily, things settled down before we were due to fly out and the Venetians were able to efficiently deal with it meaning there was very little impact by the time we arrived.
We landed at Venice Marco Polo airport around midday on Friday and caught a bus directly into the city. The bus crossed the Via Della Liberta which is a long bridge that connects the city of Venice to the mainland and is the only way into the city by land transport. This treated us to fantastic views of the city as we approached. The bus dropped us at the very top of the city which is as far as vehicles can go as the city is only accessible on foot or by boat. Despite the time of year, the sun was shining, and it was reasonably warm meaning we had a lovely walk to our accommodation and got our first taste of the floating city.
We were staying at the Villa Rosa Hotel which was also located in the northern part of Venice meaning it did not take long to reach. After checking in and dropping off our bags, we took to the streets again to really begin our adventure. We spent our first day just taking in the city, walking around and getting lost many times in the Venetian maze. This is one of the best things to do in Venice as there is so much to see and you are never quite sure where the narrow streets and alleys will lead you. While the city was rather busy, many times we found ourselves completely alone when veering off the main paths only to be greeted by wonderful buildings and interesting campis (small squares) we would never have otherwise thought to visit. Other times we would follow a long alley just to come to a complete dead-end, forcing us to retrace our steps to a place where the streets came back to life. During the day we stopped off several times at cafes to rest, drink coffee and enjoy cicchetti, the Venetian answer to Spanish tapas. Towards the end of our long day exploring we stumbled upon the famous Rialto Bridge. The popular tourist sight is a beautiful stone bridge which spans the Grand Canal, the largest of all canals in Venice and cuts the city in two. Finally, after a long day of walking, we began to make our way back to the accommodation, stopping off for food on the way.
Today we planned to visit see some more of the popular tourist sites the city has to offer. Following a hearty breakfast at the accommodation, we once again set off through the streets of Venice, aiming to find the wonderous St Marks Square. This large, open Piazza is considered the cities centre and is the meeting place for locals and tourists alike. It contains most of the cities must see sights and historically important buildings including the Doges Palace with its connected Bridge of Sighs, San Marco Bell tower and its centrepiece, the world-renowned St Marks Basilica. Several popular museums can also be found in the square as well as the beautiful columns of San Marco and San Teodoro which beautifully frame the lagoon that stretches out behind them. Upon arriving at the piazza, we were blown away by sheer scale of it and the surrounding buildings. The square is the complete opposite to the narrow passageways found across Venice, instead you are greeted with a vast, open space, filled with excited tourists.
We began with a visit to St Marks Basilica. Due to the time of year we were travelling and fewer tourists because of the recent flooding, it was a very small wait to get in. while waiting, we had some time to inspect the stunning mosaic filled exterior of the building. Upon entering, your attention is immediately drawn to the dazzling golden ceiling and domes filled with amazing artwork. We spent some time examining the interior before paying a small on the spot fee for access to the Basilicas treasury which contains hundreds of precious artefacts, collected throughout the years. Finally, we ascended a steep stone staircase which leads to the Basilicas museum. There is also a small fee for this though it is well worth it, not only to see the history of the church but also because the museum section allows access to the outside balcony of the Basilica which provides fantastic views of the square outside as well as the lagoon in the distance.
We spent a few hours exploring the Basilica before heading over to the bell tower in the square. Inside of this, you can pay a fee and take a speedy elevator to the top of tower. Being one of the highest points in Venice, the Bell tower provides breath-taking panoramic views over the whole of Venice, allowing you to see the city from a completely different point of view.
Following this, we decided to take a small break and headed out of the square in search of Gelato, a must whenever you visit any part of Italy. We settled on a small shop not far from the Rialto bridge which offered a myriad of amazing flavours of the ice cream, before taking this out to sit by the canal and enjoy the treat. While searching for Gelato, we came upon posters scattered across the city advertising the Real Bodies and Leonardo Da Vinci Human Art Exhibition. Located in an ancient Venetian palace, the exhibits make use of real bodies, preserved using plastination, to explore the human form and its make up while the Da Vinci exhibition looks at the anatomical findings of the great artist and their relation to real life. The unique nature of this exhibition caught our attention and we decided to pay it a visit. On arrival, we noticed a third exhibition was included in the Palazzo. Named Venice Secrets, this exhibition looks at the darker side of Venice’s history; covering crime, justice and punishments carried out in the city. We spent many hours inside the building viewing all of the fascinating exhibits inside.
For the evening, we had planned an evening of authentic venetian entertainment in the form of a concerto taking in place in Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pietà, also known as Vivaldi’s Church. The famous Venetian composer used to work here and was also concertmaster at the site, performing many of his famous pieces here in the 18th century. We headed back to the hotel to get dressed up for the occasion before setting back out. It was at this point we experienced Acqua Alta for the first time. While making our way to the venue, we spotted a number of people walking the opposite way wearing waterproof boot covers. Intrigued, we continued on before turning a corner to find the path was completely submerged under water as the high tides started to take over the city. We were very lucky as a small outdoor vendor was open and selling waterproof boots on the very corner we had just turned. We bought some boots before trudging on through the submerged streets. Eventually we made it to the church where we were treated to a wonderful night of live classical music from a number of composers, finishing with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Seeing this performed in the hall in which the man himself once performed was a very special moment. Following this we ate at a nearby seafood restaurant before heading to bed after a long day.
For our final day in Venice, we decided we would visit some of the surrounding islands. After eating breakfast at the hotel, we set out for another day of exploring. Upon leaving the hotel, we were once again met with acqua alta waters. Nevertheless, we continued on, waterproof boots on feet, ready for another day of exploring. We headed to the boat stop on the eastern side of the city, to catch a small ferry over to the island of Burano, known for its bright, colourful houses as well as the lace products created on the island.
The boat took us on the short journey over to the little rainbow island, which was also dealing with the effects of the acqua alta. The first thing we noticed here is that it was very peaceful. The little fishing island felt a million miles away from the comparatively bustling main city. The sun was also shining making our walk around the island even more enjoyable. On the edge of the island, we settled down on a spot by the water’s edge whilst watching the locals go about their day. During this time, the high waters had started to recede, so we headed towards the main part of the island in search of lunch. We came across a lovely little restaurant serving pizza and went in for a bite to eat. After eating, we were directed to small shop nearby which sold a treat, unique to the island, Bussola (also known as esse). This is a type of butter cookie said to be eaten by fishermen of the during long trips out on water due to the nutrients the little treats provide. We bought some of these to eat an also to take home before heading back to the ferry. We were originally planning to visit the island of Murano after this however, due to the lovely weather we were having, we instead decided to head to Venice Lido, a larger nearby island which had a beach, Somewhere we never expected to visit in late November!
Upon landing at the island, one thing surprised me. There were cars all over the island, something which now seemed very strange after our couple of days spent on the pedestrianised main island. We arrived and spotted a small bar on the beach so headed here to sit next to the sea while enjoying a refreshing drink. The beach, much like Burano was very peaceful and a lot less busy than the centre. We enjoyed watching the waves roll in, wishing this was not our last day in this beautiful place. After finishing our drinks, we decided to take a nice stroll along the beach, collecting shells as we went to remember our time here before leaving to catch a boat back to the main island. The return boat would drop us back to Piazza San Marco which provided the best views of the square we had seen yet. As the imposing buildings of the square came into view, it became clear to see why this wonderful place attracts so many tourists throughout the year.
Arriving on land, we had just enough time to check out the Doges Palace (or Palazzo Ducale), a visit we were planning to do the previous day before we were side-tracked by Gelato. The grand palace, which was previously the home of the Doge of Venice who ruled over the entire Venetian republic, whilst also serving as the main government building, now housed a museum covering the history of Venice.
Inside there were many wonderful sites including the grand staircase located in the inner courtyard of the palace, which features beautiful statues of the gods Neptune on Mars on either side. The Doges Apartments which were spread across several rooms, all wonderfully decorated and now also displayed the palaces art collection. The Scala d’Oro, a majestic golden gilded staircase which was created to make an impression on foreign dignitaries of times past. We also got to see the main government area in the palace which featured its amazing great hall, cabinet and senate rooms, the latter of which included the throne of the Doge. All these rooms were wonderfully decorated, and each had its own story to tell. Finally, we visited the Palaces prison, which you get to by crossing the famous Bridge of Sighs. It got its name from the fact it was the last view of Venice prisoners would get through its small windows, before heading down to their cells. Prisoners were said to sigh while taking in the beauty of the outside city, before heading into the darkness the prison below. After touring the prison, it was unfortunately time to leave for our flight home. We spent a lot more time than we expected in the palace which meant a rush back to the accommodation to pick up our bags before heading back to the square we were originally dropped off at to catch our coach to the airport.
It is easy to see why our school trips to Venice are so popular, with a unique setting, historical sites, arts, culture, religion and so much more on offer. If oyu are interesting in organising a school trip to Venice, then please contact the team who will be happy to help you organise a perfect school trip.
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