VENICE THE MENACE; TAKING THE STING OUT OF LA SERENISSIMA

ImageThere’s no question that Venice ranks as one of the must see cities of the world. It is beautiful, intoxicating, crowded, smelly and, in parts, hideously expensive, The entire city is Renaissance overkill on a massive scale.

And the locals know their turf, too. Machiavelli himself would have beamed with pride at some of the tactics and double-speak used by modern Venetian pirates to separate the humble tourist from his or her hard earned dollars/pounds/euros. And, despite rumours to the contrary, not all of these modern day pirates are in command of gondolas, either.

With that in mind, here’s some tips aimed at making life just a bit easier for those staying, or even simply transiting through this beautiful, sumptuous sea city.

Landing at Marco Polo airport, and travelling into central Venice? A water taxi is an expensive gig, unless there are a few of you travelling together. For a lot less, you can take one of the water buses- also known as vaporetto- into the city centre.

The journey takes over an hour, but there is no more thrilling introduction to the epic, sweeping grandeur of the city as it opens out along both banks of the sinuous, winding waterway. It’s more expensive- and, frankly, often less convenient- than taking a direct airport bus to Piazzale Roma but, if you’re only ever going to be in Venice once, then this is the grand, spectacular entry that will always stay in your memory.

If you’re finishing a cruise in Venice, book an extra night’s post cruise hotel. Venice is the busiest turn around port in Europe and, on arrival day, thousands of passengers find themselves flung into the maelstrom of the city, often with hours to kill before their departure flights, which are usually mid to late afternoon, or early evening in some cases.

Be aware; Marco Polo airport does not allow check in until two or three hours prior to flight departure. The airport is hopelessly small for the thousands that will be left milling around there for several hours. There is nowhere to sit comfortably, and certainly nowhere to check your luggage. If at all possible, you will want to avoid this like the plague. Or indeed, the Black Death.

There are various ways of doing this; some cruise lines, notably Norwegian, arrange excursions in Venice that show you the highlights of the city after you disembark, and then transfer you and your bags safely to the airport at a much kinder hour. It’s cost over convenience here, but it has to be said that many people like this option.

After debarkation, there are left luggage lockers at the cruise terminal, but you will have to be mighty quick on your feet to get in here. The demand far outweighs the supply.

The luggage lockers at nearby Santa Lucia railway station, at Ferrovia, might be a better bet. But just remember that there are also hordes of passengers arriving and leaving by train from here; there’s no guarantee that you’ll find room to store your bags for the day. And, at either port or railway station, lining up to check luggage in really eats into whatever remaining downtime you have in Venice. It’s not a good way to spend your last day.

These are all reasons why I recommend pre-booking a hotel for your last day. It might not be cheap, but it certainly takes all the stress out of your departure. And- with the glut of cruise ships setting back out on their next seven day Meddy-Go-Rounds, your journey to the airport next day should be an easier, altogether more hassle free experience.

Airport buses arrive and depart from Piazzale Roma. It’s an easy, twenty five minute stroll from San Marco if you’re not encumbered with a mountain of luggage. Buses from here go to both Marco Polo airport, and the much smaller Treviso, about an hour away. This smaller airport is used by Ryanair for budget flights. Rival Easyjet uses Marco Polo, as do the bulk of the scheduled, so called ‘legacy carriers’.

Arriving into either airport, you buy your bus tickets at booths at the airport exit. It’s about a euro cheaper to buy a return ticket. In any event, the journey is pretty much hassle free in both directions.

If you’re embarking in Venice and travelling light, take the People Mover from Piazzale Roma to the cruise terminal. Cost is one euro either way and, though you’ll still have some walking to do at the end (around 5-10 minutes) it’s a lot cheaper than taking a cab. The same applies on disembarkation, but it will probably resemble much more of a rugby scrum.

Things to do on your last day? Here’s some personal recommendations:

1) Take a water bus to Venice Lido. The beach will amaze you. The feeling of disconnect from sultry, teeming Venice is total. And it’s beautiful, too.

2) Enjoy a glass of Prosecco outside the Carlton Hotel, on the Grand Canal. The roof top terrace offers stunning views, but street level is perfect for people watching at its finest.

3) Just wander between Piazza San Marco and Piazzale Roma on foot, and go with the flow. It’s the real way to discover Venice. Just jump in (though best not into the canals).

4) Minutes to kill before heading for the airport? There’s a fabulous ice cream place straight opposite the bus station at Piazzale Roma, with numerous flavours of flawless gelato- perfect for that last fix of Bella Italia.

Well folks- I hope this helps. Venice is, indeed, a teeming, tremendous place, totally thrilling, and a tiny bit scary for the uninitiated. Enjoy, and don’t try to do everything. You can’t.

The trick is to enjoy what you do. Happy travelling!

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