The train to Venice was about 3 or 3.5 hours so we took the time to relax, read, take a nap...whatever floated our boats. At one point we could look directly into the sun because it was sitting on the horizon, a red ball of fire. Very cool. We arrived in Venice after dark and decided to grab dinner first. Seeing a strip of restaurants on the other side of the river, we thought they looked good and headed over there. Little did we know that in Venice, crossing the canal is difficult. You can't just cross a canal and then take a left and follow along the bank or something. No, you get stuck at dead ends, end up walking over random bridges, taking turns you didn't want to take, all because there are canals everywhere! I knew Venice was a canal city but I didn't understand how heavily infused they are into it. We somehow, eventually, found what we were looking for and sat down to a quiet meal...no one else was in the restaurant. It's what happens when you eat at 5:30pm.
Venice is a city unlike any other. Completely dependent on boats for all transportation, it was a bit of an adjustment seeing how many there really are, and taking notice of how there are NO cars whatsoever. If there were, there would be no places for them to go. We bought a 2 day pass for the boat lines that traverse the city and outer islands and hopped on. Our stop was last, on the island of Lido, so we took in the city at night as we chugged along the Grand Canal.
Lido is a very skinny sliver of an island that is about a 10-15 minute boat ride from the last stop on the Canal, and from what I inferred, is a summer resort town. Besides the year round residents, the island is deserted in the winter. For those fellow New Englanders out there, I would compare Lido to Martha's Vineyard, or Nantucket. Or even Cape Cod. However, because it is so empty, I was able to secure us 2 nights in a hotel for the 3 of us for $45. We each had our own bed, Anne had a king-size one, and the private bathroom was amazing as well. Such a deal! So if you decide to travel to Venice in the winter, look out for deals like this on the outer islands. The city of Venice is more ritzy than other major tourist spots such as Rome and hostels in the city were $30-40 per person per night.
Much like Florence, Venice had a lot to do in the tourist books but it all cost moolah, which we were not inclined to spend. The Doge's Palace on San Marco square was the attraction we thought was going to be the most interesting, and since it included admission to the museum on the far side of San Marco Square, the ticket price was well worth it. San Marco Square isn't geographically in the center of the city, but it is tourist central.
We hopped off the boat from Lido and entered the Doge's Palace.
The building was quite large and its design seemed fairly simple. There was a central staircase and velvet ropes, and signs guided you in the right direction through the palace. It was really big and gave interesting insight into the format of the Venetian Government. The artwork was very different compared to the other Renaissance art I had been visiting in museums; different style, different color palette. The large hall toward the end of the tour was pretty magnificent; a great big open space with large murals covering the walls and ceiling. There was barely any free space. Some were of government officials in courtrooms, others were of sailors battling a storm on a great ship.
Once completed, we departed the Doge's Palace and wandered through Saint Mark's Square with the Campanile rising above. There is also a another bell tower that was really neat; small, but you can see the bell on top and the 2 metal statues of dudes with hammers that bang the bell on the hour. The museum's entrance was at the far end of the square.
The museum wasn't huge but it had an interesting collection of Venetian art, sculpture and war items like shields, armor and swords. The ancient coin collections were also pretty interesting. San Marco's was next, and nothing against the church itself, but I didn't like my experience there. It mainly was due to the fact that there were sooooo many people and you weren't allowed to roam about the church in your own fashion. It was like a guided visit where you were forced to move along unless you wanted to be trampled. Not my kind of thing... The ceiling, however, was gorgeous. A lot of yellow tiling and such.
San Marco's area is full of shops so after the church we visited some of them, got some lunch, and then made our way along the river to try and find some of the "highlighted in tourist book" churches. It was an interesting walk around the city because we learned very quickly that Venice is a city you are bound to get lost in. The small map we had from either Fodors or Frommers was a little bit of a help, but there are so many tiny streets to wander down. Yet, getting lost was fun because we discovered the intricacies of the city, and got some gorgeous views of the canals, boats sitting quietly at doorways, laundry hanging out over the water, tourists taking gondola rides and bridges leading to doors as the entrance into the house.
I don't remember all the names of the churches and we only went inside one of them, but they were each a little different on the outside. One was literally on the edge of a canal while another was on a small square that had more foot traffic around it. After lots of Venetian wandering, we finally made it back to San Marco's and took the boat across the way to San Giorgio Maggiore, an island across the canal that had a beautiful church with a tower.
After viewing the interior we took the elevator (thank god for no steps!) to the top of the tower and spent a while taking in the view. It was wonderful to see Venice from this perspective, even if it was a bit hazy.
The sun was beginning to set as we made our way down to the dock and back to the main part of Venice. We found a small restaurant to eat in and spent a bit of time browsing the shops. Many of them had Murano glass work, which is the local art fare, and all the colors, shapes and sizes of the glass were gorgeous. So vibrant and wonderful. The other souvenirs and merchandise found in many of the stores were Venetian masks. Think colorful versions of "Phantom of the Opera" meets Pinocchio.
After arriving back on Lido we passed by an enticing looking gelato shop and bought our 2nd cup of the day. Gelato is just too amazing to resist. Especially when it's so affordable! Our hotel beds awaited us and spending the evening hours relaxing was perfect considering that I would be traveling to Munich the following evening, and Anne and Lauren would be returning to Vienna.