First Impressions of Venice

by Gray Cargill on February 28, 2016

Post image for First Impressions of Venice

I can’t believe it’s been nine months since I was in Venice, and I haven’t written about it yet. That is almost criminal. Let me fix that right now.

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I had two solo days in Venice–one before my cruise, and one after. I figured it would be plenty of time to explore Venice thoroughly and maybe even have time to take a boat out to the islands of Burano, Murano and Torcello. What I didn’t count on was arriving in Venice sick to my stomach, without my usual energy.

When I first arrived at my hotel on the mainland in Mestre, I was overjoyed to find that my room was ready so I could lie down for awhile. I didn’t actually feel well enough to head into Venice until mid-afternoon, so a good portion of my first day was wasted. But eventually, I felt a little better, so I headed across the street to the Mestre train station and bought my round-trip ticket into Venice.

Here are my first impressions:

Gondola

Gondola

Venice Day 1, Pre-Cruise

I arrived in the city by train. The trip over the water was surreal. Visiting Venice has been a lifelong dream for me, and I felt as though I were still dreaming. When we arrived at the train station, I took advantage of the public restroom, since I had no idea when I would find another. It only cost 1 Euro and was clean, so I definitely recommend using it before setting out to explore Venice if you’re arriving by train.

I really lucked out in regards to the weather on this trip. Both of the days I spent in Venice were sunny and warm and perfect for being outside. It rained during the cruise sail-away on Saturday, but that didn’t affect me at all.

When I exited the train station, it was to a stunning view of the Grand Canal. That alone made this my favorite train station in the world.

Grand Canal View

View of the Grand Canal as I emerged from the train station.

Looking out on the Grand Canal, with the sun sparkling on the water, the gondolas and vaporettos everywhere, was a blissful experience.  Honestly, Venice is one of those cities where you don’t have to do anything specific except wander and take in the views and it’s still going to be a great day.

Venice Italy

The Grand Canal in Venice

But eventually, I realized I should try to find Piazza San Marco, so I set out in the general direction, using signs to guide me.

I could have taken a vaporetto directly to the Piazza, but the front desk agent at my hotel had encouraged me to walk in Venice, so I did. It was a long and winding walk. Along the way, I passed over so many bridges I lost count. It was also a very hot day, I’d been awake for over 24 hours and still wasn’t feeling 100%. Despite all this, I was completely charmed by the city.

Canal

There are canals everywhere, and most of them offer interesting views.

The other thing I needed to do immediately was find an ATM for Visa cards so I could withdraw some cash. I kept coming across ATMs, but I couldn’t tell if they would accept my card or not (and all of them were in Italian, with no English option I could see). When I finally found a Visa machine, there was no English option right away. But I studied the buttons for a few seconds, and one of them looked like it might be the Italian version of “international withdrawal”, so I took a chance and pushed it. Whew–it worked. At that point, it offered an option to finish the transaction in English so after that, it was a piece of cake. I don’t know what I would have done if the damn machine ate my card.

Sidewalk Chalk Art

I never would have seen this amazing chalk art being created if I had taken the vaporetto to St. Mark’s Square.

There’s practically a gelato stand on every narrow street here, along with sellers of murano glass and carnival masks everywhere. I was a little surprised at one point to look up and see a Disney store in the middle of Venice. I found the Hard Rock Cafe, and a little beyond that, the Rialto Bridge. The Bridge was under construction, so one half of it was covered in a faux Rialto Bridge wrap:

The Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge

When famous tourist destinations are as old as the Rialto, they do need renovations and restoration once in awhile, so I understood that. The wrap didn’t bother me at all; I actually thought it was pretty clever. What ruins the view is the advertisement for the art exhibit right in the middle of it. There are a million bridges in Venice, and they had to hang a big honking billboard on this one??? Sigh.

From there, I kept trying to find Piazza San Marco, but I kept walking in circles before I finally saw the clock tower, and I knew that I was close.

Clock Tower

As soon as I saw this, I knew I was close to Piazza San Marco.

 

Clock Tower

View of the Clock Tower from the other side, in Piazza San Marco

I passed through an archway and voila! There it was: St. Mark’s Square, or Piazza San Marco. It was crowded with pigeons and tourists and cloth-covered tables of the restaurants ringing the square. Once I found the Piazza, I knew I’d be able to find it again, so I backtracked to the Hard Rock Cafe for a bite to eat. (I didn’t want to eat in the Square because I’d heard it was very expensive.) It was about 3pm, but I was exhausted and needed to sit and drink something cold and get a little more food in my stomach.

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco

I tripped walking in the store entrance and one of the sales girls laughed at me. (Nice, Italian sales girl. Real nice.) I was shown to a seat upstairs along the balcony where I could watch people getting on and off the gondolas down below. It was a pleasant view.

View from the Hard Rock

Gondola loading dock in front of the Hard Rock Cafe.

My waitress more than made up for the tactless sales girl downstairs by being a real rock star–so friendly, so helpful; she couldn’t do enough for me. I definitely did not want anything alcoholic, so she suggested a drink that I can’t remember, but it had juices in it and was exactly what I needed to rehydrate.

Because I know you’re thinking it: Yes, I know it’s lame to eat at an American chain restaurant when you’re in a city like Venice, but my stomach was still a little iffy, and I thought I’d be able to find something mild and “safe” and light to eat there. I was wrong. Everything on the menu sounded too heavy, too greasy, or too spicy, but I knew I had to eat something, so I ordered a classic burger and fries and barely made a dent in it.

St. Mark's Basilica

Construction at the Basilica di San Marco

After that respite, I returned to Piazza San Marco for photos and more exploring. There were renovations going on at St. Mark’s Basilica as well (what are the odds that two major tourist attractions would be under renovation simultaneously?). Needless to say, my photos of it won’t be going on my wall at home. Still, once you get close up to it and can really take in all the architectural details, you realize why it’s so famous. The details are so intricate.

Horses on the Basilica

Close-up of some architectural elements of the Basilica

I wandered back out to the Grand Canal via the Piazzetta–a little square just off San Marco that opens to the Grand Canal–then along the Canal toward the Giardini ex Reali (the Royal Garden). I walked through the garden, which is just a plain little park area, but it is lush and green and has many benches for resting.

Royal Garden

The Royal Garden provides some free green landscape to enjoy in Venice, and benches to rest your weary legs.

Outside the park are various kiosks selling art and more of those carnival masks and other souvenirs and trinkets for tourists. By this time, I was exhausted and decided to head back to the train station to return to the hotel. But I knew I couldn’t possibly walk all the way back through the winding streets of Venice again (especially without getting lost), so I bought a ticket for the vaporetto.

Venetian masks

You can buy Venetian masks all over the city.

The vaporettos can be very crowded, but it’s an experience everyone should have in Venice. The view from the water along the Grand Canal is so romantic (yes, even alone!) and gorgeous. If you were going to use the vaporetto a lot and get on and off, then the 24-hour tourist card would be your best bet, because each one-way ride is 7 Euros and that adds up after awhile. But since I only rode it the one time, 7 Euros was fine.

Mural building along Grand Canal

You can see some beautiful buildings along the Grand Canal

Back at the train station, until I was ready to return to Mestre, I sat on the edge of the Canal and just enjoyed the view of speedboats and vaporettos and gondolas going by as the sun grew lower in the sky. It was peaceful and lovely and probably one of the most perfect moments of my life.

Venice Day 2, Post-Cruise

I took a cab from the cruise terminal to Mestre to drop off my luggage at the Hotel Plaza, then headed back across the street to catch the train back into Venice. As I waited on the platform, I spoke with a nice couple from Australia who were on their way to the Norwegian Jade for the Greek Isles cruise. Small world. They asked me questions about the ship, and it was fun being able to give them my perspective. We rode in the same train car into Venice, and I wished them bon voyage as we parted ways.

When I arrived at the train station after the cruise, I bought the 24-hour vaporetto pass, which wound up being a waste of money, since I only rode the vaporetto twice. I had expected I would use it more, but because Venice is so walkable, I just didn’t. I should have just bought individual tickets. Oh well.

St. Mark's Campanile

St. Mark’s Campanile on our approach to the vaporetto stop.

The first thing I did was return to Piazza San Marco. Venice was much more crowded this day than it had been the previous Friday–probably because everyone from the cruise ship was there! There had apparently been some sort of major concert in the Piazza that morning, and there were still rows of chairs standing in the shade of the surrounding buildings. I finally found the Bridge of Sighs and got some photos, but then got the heck away from there, because it was shoulder-to-shoulder people, and it was making me feel rather claustrophobic. There were incredibly long lines waiting to get into the Basilica and Doge’s Palace. The crowd levels were insane.

Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice

When I started getting hungry, I walked away from Piazza San Marco in search of a real Italian restaurant without the high tourist prices–or the crowds. Not far away, I found a little pizza place that claimed to be the oldest pizzeria in Venice. There was plenty of outdoor seating and it looked busy, so I figured it was probably pretty good. It was.

Conca D'Oro Pizzeria

Conca D’Oro Pizzeria

The pizzas here, while very tasty, are really too big for one person with a light appetite (that would be me), but dammit, I really wanted to eat pizza in Italy, so I ordered one anyway. I also ordered a beer (Birra Venezia Bianca) and a water.

It was very nice to be able to relax in the shade there for awhile, people-watch, and enjoy the vibe of Venice. The water bottle they brought was more than I could drink and I hated to see it go to waste, so I shared it with the two ladies from Manchester, England sitting at the table next to mine. This broke the ice, and we started chatting. One of the women’s sons had given her this trip to Venice with her friend as a birthday present. What a generous son!

Later, as I wandered down narrow alley after narrow alley window-shopping (because I sure as hell couldn’t afford to buy any souvenirs), I stumbled across a gelato stand and bought myself a chocolate gelato for dessert. After I had my Venetian pizza, beer, and gelato, I was pretty content. It was the quintessential day of sightseeing–and eating–in Venice.

Pizza in Venice

A real Venetian pizza lunch.

Basically, everything I did on Saturday was what I had hoped to do the previous Friday but couldn’t because I was sick. Of course, this meant I didn’t have time after all to sail out to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello, which I had also wanted to do that day. But that’s okay. It was another warm, sunny day, and I was happy just wandering around in Venice.

architecture

Venice is a perfect city for wandering and taking in the little details.

When I was ready to head back to my hotel, I hopped on a very crowded vaporetto back to the train station. A couple of times, it bobbed sharply in the water, and everyone standing on deck let out a “WHOA!” and then laughed nervously when we didn’t fall into the water.

Colorful Buildings

You’d be surprised how hard it is to take pictures when your boat is bobbing violently on the water.

That was it for my first experience in the city of Venice. While I stayed outside of Venice on this trip by financial necessity, I think if you can afford it, it would be absolutely lovely to stay in Venice. I’m sure it’s a completely different experience first thing in the morning and late at night when the day-tripper tourists are gone. I’d certainly be willing to find out firsthand!

As an aside, I just want to thank those of you who have contacted me via email and Twitter to express concern about my long absence from blogging. It’s been five months since my last post here. Don’t worry; I’m fine. The quick story is that I had to take a break from blogging for awhile to focus on a number of other “real life” priorities that needed my time and energy. I may not blog as frequently as I once did, but I’ll try to post something more regularly in the future.

Ian June 29, 2016 at 7:52 pm

Venice is like a dream. I can’t wait until I get to sail down its canals!

Gray Cargill July 1, 2016 at 2:47 pm

It IS like a dream, Ian. Enjoy it!

CYRUS May 21, 2016 at 2:47 am

I’m so glad to come across your blog. It is comforting to know there are many solo travelers enjoying life to the fullest. Keep up the great work. I’m planning to go to Italy this year. Venice will be my next destination. After reading your blog, I’m excited to go.

Gray Cargill May 21, 2016 at 11:59 am

Venice is a fabulous travel destination, Cyrus–and so is all of Italy. I hope you have a wonderful time!

Shell April 8, 2016 at 1:56 pm

I am also glad you are back. I should probably comment more on your posts so that you will know I how much I enjoy your entries. Since becoming a follower, I have added a significant other, but I still feel part of the tribe of solo travelers. We visited Venice this past September after his nephew got married in Tuscany. As a result, I had to go back and read your posts about Florence as well. In short, you took all the photos I wish I had taken. You reminded me of just how amazing both of these cities are. Because we had his elderly mom with us, we ended up taking the vaporetto most of the time we were in Venice. Sure wish we could have walked more because the water taxi lines were very crowded and took forever. But, the views were certainly spectacular. So, I think you did it right. Sounds like a great trip to a magical city. And again, welcome back!

Gray Cargill April 16, 2016 at 6:33 pm

Thank you for the kind words, Shell! Sounds like you had a pretty great trip to Italy yourself. Agree about the water taxi lines–always crowded–and also the views. Definitely worth using them at least once in awhile, for the views alone!

Catherine March 4, 2016 at 8:02 am

Good to have you back! Loved reading this and seeing your photos, as I am just back from a 4 night solo trip to Venice. I absolutely loved it, and because it was low season was able to stay in a small hotel in a old palazzo building less than 5 minutes walk from the Piazza San Marco. I had the world’s smallest single room but I was hardly in it so it didn’t matter. I would certainly recommend staying in Venice itself when you go again – I almost had the Piazza to myself at 9am on Sunday morning, and it was pretty empty in the evenings too.

Gray Cargill March 4, 2016 at 7:30 pm

Hi, Catherine – Thank you! You were smart traveling in low season. I may have to do that so I can stay in Venice next time. May I ask which hotel you stayed at (for future reference)?

Catherine March 5, 2016 at 9:26 am

Looking at hotel prices I would certainly struggle to afford to go alone in high season. I was actually surprised to find low season was reasonably priced – Venice has been on my list of places I’d like to visit for a while, but I had never researched it much as I assumed I couldn’t afford to go alone, regardless of low or high season.

I stayed at the Casa Verardo, which is in a lovely very Venetian looking 16th century palazzo (which was partly why I chose it). I’ve just looked up the pizzeria you went to and it turns out the hotel is just round the corner from it! I passed the pizzeria every day either on my way out or heading back to the hotel.

Gray Cargill March 5, 2016 at 2:20 pm

Thanks, Catherine! That would definitely be a convenient location.

Renee March 3, 2016 at 2:50 am

I miss your blogs!

Gray Cargill March 3, 2016 at 7:23 pm

Thank you very much, Renee! I’m glad to be back.

Marlys February 29, 2016 at 7:13 am

Oh you poor creature! Falling ill on a dream holiday. But at least you got to experience the “charms” of tourist Venice.

Gray Cargill March 1, 2016 at 8:59 pm

Yeah being sick was a bummer, but it could have been worse. I might not have been able to make the trip at all. I was so happy to be there, Marlys. What a beautiful city.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post: