Departure Day from the Vita Pugna and the official end of the bike trip. Our checkout time was 9:00 AM, essentially immediately after breakfast. I was taking the packing of my suitcase down to the wire that morning!
My first order of business was to take my traditional end-of-trip photo with my “Shut Up Legs” T-shirt. This is part of a famous quote by a past Tour de France rider named Jens Voigt. The shirt was also a gift from my sister and I’ve been trying to make a tradition of getting a picture of myself wearing it on the last day of any trip involving bicycling.
Even though I’d gotten up early to pack (Mike had done his packing the day before), I was barely zipping up the suitcase when we heard the Vita Pugna’s motors start up! That was their version of giving us the bum’s rush. Time to go!!! I don’t think we were the last ones scurrying down the gangplank, but pretty close. At least we didn’t have to jump ship and swim to shore!
A bit about the biking before we spend our second day in Venice. The bike and barge trips are generally geared to the casual bikers. They offer bike rentals for both regular and E-bicycles. Our bikes were quite nice and comfortable to ride. The entire trip only totaled 130 miles (thereabouts). The group averaged about 9 miles an hour while riding, which is not a fast pace. Mike and I are capable of riding faster and going longer miles, but we don’t mind slowing down and staying with the group on these trips.
Our weather was very nice the entire week -although much warmer than we’d expected. We had days in the mid-80’s where we expected highs in the mid-70’s. Only one of our days was overcast for part of the day- the rest of the trip was beautifully sunny.
On to our second day in Venice:
We dragged our luggage several blocks to the vaporetto stop and miraculously got on the right “water bus” headed for the train station. I’d booked a hotel directly across the canal from the train station because we’d be taking the train to Verona the next afternoon and we wanted an easy, no vaporetto necessary, walk to the station.
As we got off the vaporetto at the train station, I knew we had to cross a nearby bridge to get to the hotel -but didn’t realize that this one would be one of the larger ones and full of tourists! Venice has more than 400 bridges -and as you’ll see from my pictures, they come in all sizes. Just our luck that we needed to drag our luggage across one with lots of steps. Strangely, I never took a picture of the bridge. I did take pictures while standing on it!
Our hotel was over there (below the arrow).Our hotel faced the Grand Canal (at the “less important” end), but our room ended up being a ways down a side alley in a satellite building. It was still a bit too early for check-in, so we had to leave our luggage with the front desk until later. We whiled away the time wandering, but trying to stay in the general area of the hotel.
This is the Church of St. Mary of Nazareth across the Grand Canal more or less from our hotel. It is next to the train station.
We came across a few houses that had managed to create a bit of private space out front, but it seemed somewhat rare.
We stumbled upon a shady little park called Parco Papadopoli, just down the canal from our hotel. There were a few people in there sitting with their suitcases -either waiting for check-in, or waiting in a pleasant spot before heading to the train station.
It was finally time to go back and check into the hotel. We walked up to the entrance to our hotel and saw a couple who’d been traveling on the barge with us, sitting at one of the tables out front. “Hey -you look familiar!” Turns out their hotel was nearby and they were waiting out the check-in time by having a drink at our hotel.
Once we got ourselves settled in the room, we headed back out to explore again. The plan was to work our way back toward St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. I’d booked tickets for the Doge’s Palace weeks in advance, but got the day mixed up and we missed our appointed day/time. We decided to check to see if we could get in anyway – a day late and a dollar short.
There’s so much history in Venice, it’s hard to know where to even start. Legend has it that Venice was founded in the year 421 by mainlanders who were escaping from the Huns. But it wasn’t until the year 811 that the Venetian Republic came fully into existence under the guidance of Agnello Particiaco, the newly elected Doge (from the latin word “dux” that translates to “leader”). Between the 1200’s and the early 1600’s Venice expanded their influence around the Adriatic Sea and beyond, but fell into a slow decline between around 1650 to the mid 1700’s. After this time, Venice was controlled by France and then Austria -depending on who won the war that week. In 1866 Venice joined the new Kingdom of Italy.
We crossed back over to the train station side to catch a vaporetto. We decided to have lunch first and then find out what route we’d need to take to get to St. Mark’s Square. This is a view from next to the restaurant (which is behind the lovely flowers to the left in this picture).
While we were eating, we heard a big commotion -sirens- and the ambulance went by. Another reminder of how nearly everything needs to be done by boat in Venice.
Lunch was pizza (again). We ate a lot of pizza on this trip! Mostly because it was so easy to order -even though most of the restaurants had English version menus.
We managed to get onto the right vaporetto and I was excited about my first experience of seeing the Grand Canal from the water. Me and about 150 other people!
Here’s what pictures I could grab along the way….
The picture below is the Rialto Bridge, which is the oldest bridge in Venice still in use.
The Rialto is probably the most famous bridge in Venice, and its size was another surprise for me. It was built in the late 1500’s. It is 24 feet high at the arch and it is 104.3 feet crossing the Grand Canal. What I didn’t expect was for it to be 75 feet wide! There are actually stores located on the bridge, which are in the arched spaces you can see.
We’d stood on it the day before. I’m shocked that it hasn’t collapsed under the weight of all the Instagrammers, you-tubers, TikTokers, influencers and oblivious (mostly) tourists jostling each other for posing space! And of course they want to get the perfect picture! It is Venice!
At the next vaporetto stop after the Rialto bridge, they made all passengers get off and pulled away empty. We had no idea what was going on -and neither did a lot of fellow passengers. We waited a bit to see what happened next and the next vaporetto did the same thing.
On land, there seems to be very little rhyme or reason for the layout of the alleys and passages through the city. It is very easy to get lost or arrive in a place you’re looking for (or not looking for) rather unexpectedly.
Luckily -and probably because people kept emerging from the alleys and passages of Venice looking like Rip Van Winkle after having wandered around lost back there for 20 years- they do have signs up on the buildings that give hints as to the general direction to turn for the major tourist points of interest and the train/bus stations.
It didn’t take long to get to St. Mark’s Square and join the “madding crowd”.
The guys checking the tickets at the “skip the line” entrance to the Doge’s Palace were kind enough to let us use our tickets -which was greatly appreciated.
The Doge’s Palace was both the residence of the Doge and where the government of Venice operated. It would be like having the United States’ White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court all in one building. Although there were earlier versions of the Doge’s Palace, this building had its beginning in 1340. Over the years, additions and repairs and modifications have been made.
The path through the Palace started in the courtyard and went mainly through a lot of the public rooms where the government had their meetings and sessions to oversee the Republic.
The Basilica of St. Mark is attached to the Doge’s Palace. Originally it was to be a private chapel for the Doge, but as Venice extended its influence, they began to build a more elaborate church.
There are two interesting stories about this church. The first is that in 828, two Venetian merchants were in Alexandria, Egypt. After conducting their business they went to worship at the church that held the body of St. Mark. They were told that the muslims (now in control) were going to plunder the churches in Alexandria and desecrate them. The merchants decided that Venice would be a safer place for the remains of St. Mark. They smuggled the remains out of the church, placed it in a box, and covered it with vegetables and pork. They were waved through at the port without inspection when they told the muslim inspectors that the chest was full of pork.
The other story is that there are four bronze horse statues in the church. They are dated back as far as 400 BC and were brought to Venice around 1204 after the Venetian forces sacked Constantinople during the 4th Crusade. Napoleon grabbed them in 1797 and took them to Paris. They were returned in 1815 by the Emperor of Austria after Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo.
Inside the palace, we basically just walked where the ropes led us and admired the elaborate decor as we went.
Originally, prisoners were held in cells within the Doge’s Palace, but around 1500 they began to build the “new prison” which was later connected to the Palace by the Bridge of Sighs in 1600. That way prisoners could be judged in the Palace and taken straight to prison if found guilty.
The highlight for us was when we saw the sign saying “this way to the prison” and realized we were going to get to walk across the Bridge of Sighs.
This picture is through the very small holes in the cement window, looking in the other direction from the lagoon.
Mike stood next to a cell door to show how small they were. Google says that the “new prison” was intended to improve conditions for the prisoners. I can’t imagine what the old conditions were like!
We walked on the lagoon side of the Bridge of Sighs on the way back over to the Palace. The bridge you see nearly collapsing from the weight of tourists is the same bridge I took my picture of the Bridge of Sighs from the day before.
Back on the palace side, a nearby open window gave me another view of the bridge.
Mike wants me to let everyone know that he sighed while on the Bridge of Sighs just to keep its reputation up.
Back outside, we saw the Staircase of Giants. It was built between 1484-1491. The original stairs here were basically functional, but plain. It was decided that since a newly elected Doge stood at the top of the stairs to be officially “sworn in” (so to speak), that the stairs should be much more impressive. There were 120 Doge’s in Venetian history. There was an elaborate system to elect a Doge that while not exactly the same, sort of had the same concept as our Electoral College system.
By the time we finished walking through the palace, it was getting late in the day and we wanted to make our way back to our hotel. We needed to find a grocery store for snacks and drinks along the way too.
We headed to the vaporetto docks closest to St. Mark’s Square to catch a ride back to the train station.
I only accidentally got a picture of what a vaporetto stop looks like from an open window in the palace. Usually, we were focusing on making sure we were getting on the right one and getting on in time for the next departure.
There are several different vaporetto docks around St. Mark’s Square because there are so many different lines serving that location. The vaporetto stops are essentially floating docks where the vaporetto pulls up to drop off and pick up passengers. In the picture you can see the docks arranged along shore. The closest ones in the picture –are toward the bottom right corner, where you see two white roofed boxes next to a dock -those are the “waiting rooms” where you stand once you’ve validated your ticket to travel. You can see a vaporetto on the water heading toward one of these “waiting rooms”.
To me it seemed like the vaporettos more often arrived by banging into the dock rather than gently gliding up to it. A deck hand would quickly tie the vaporetto to the floating dock and then allow passengers to get off on the exit side. Once the departing passengers were gone, they opened up the gate for those getting on. Then the rope is just as quickly released and off the vaporetto goes. All of this happens in less than a minute. With several docks for different lines, it was a bit confusing at about which floating dock to wait on. The system does make sense -one just has to learn the system.
This is the route map. It includes the Grand Canal and neighboring islands. As you can see, it takes a bit of deciphering!
The canals are the main streets of Venice and boy are they busy! There are vaporettos constantly coming and going -at one stop at least four came and went in less than 5 minutes and those were only the ones stopping at our station. There are beautiful classic wooden taxi boats zipping along -those are the ones you probably have seen in movies. There are private boats of all kinds flying by. Garbage is collected and loaded onto boats. Deliveries are made by boat. I saw many boats that had a miniature crane to lift items in and out of the boats. The ambulances are power boats -obviously- but not something I’d given any thought to before. All the boats are throwing wakes and they all weave in and out with each other in a frenzied dance that could have been choreographed by the mayhem guy on the Allstate commercials. The Grand Canal and Venetian Lagoon are a heaving, sloshing bathtub of churned up water with the citizens and tourists resignedly riding it like a bucking bronco. The smaller side canals are a bit less crazy.
Here is a live web cam of the Rialto Bridge that might give you an idea of the hubbub going on on any given day:https://www.skylinewebcams.com/en/webcam/italia/veneto/venezia/canal-grande-rialto.html (Keep in mind that Venice is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the USA-so the best time to look is earlier in the morning our time.)
While waiting for our vaporetto to arrive, we got a closer look at some gondolas going by. When our vaporetto was approaching it had to slow down and wait for them to get out of the way!
I’d hoped to get more (better) photos on our way back through the Grand Canal, but our vaporetto kept getting more and more crowded -frustratingly so- though not exactly unsurprising. I did what I could.
Below is my last picture of the Rialto Bridge. I was sitting in an open area at the back of the vaporetto where there were maybe about 6-7 seats and small floor area between them. Even though the seats were all taken, people kept coming out the door and just standing in the small floor area. When I stood up (basically right in front of my own seat) and turned around to get ready to get my shot, a man who had been standing up the whole time actually reached out from behind and put his camera in front of me to get his picture first! I’d like to say he ended up swimming in the Grand Canal…. but I restrained myself.
I had expected a certain level of elegance in the old palazzos that line the Grand Canal, but most of them, while lovely in their own way, are in need of an intervention from HGTV’s Curb Appeal show. Don’t get me wrong -there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the faded beauty of it all. The ones that are in good shape are all very expensive hotels now. Back in the alleys and passages, there seems to be mostly a sense of “I’m too old to care anymore.”
I am being a bit tongue in cheek here -because there IS beauty to be found amid the decay. Venice is a one of a kind city and one with a rich history -and worth exploring. These days there are only about 50,000 permanent residents living there because property prices are unaffordable for most people starting out. Also, day to day life is a bit easier living on the mainland. A high percentage of the residents remaining in Venice are senior citizens.
We decided to walk around our neighborhood a bit more before heading to our hotel. It seemed like we took the same turns that we’d taken before and were seeing the same things, until we turned a new corner and found the courtyard for an old church – San Simeon Profeta, that had a giant crown of thorns artwork on display.
Below: These two gondolas were parked pretty much in front of our hotel. (Train station in the background).
We were still full from lunch, so we decided dinner wasn’t necessary. We sat at the tables in front of our hotel for drinks and enjoyed just sitting there and people-watching. There wasn’t much else to do nearby, so we made an early night of it.
The next morning, we took our time getting ready to check out. We had a reservation at 8:15 for the hotel breakfast.
Venice is getting ready to implement a tax for daily visitors in an effort to deal with (or profit from) the sheer numbers of people visiting this city. I took the picture below when we were on our way to the vaporetto after seeing the Doge’s Palace.
I don’t like people in my pictures if I can help it -and will wait patiently for people to move along…etc… but I took this one to show how busy it was. And to be fair, this picture wasn’t the worst crowd picture I could have taken.
When I Googled to see how many people visit Venice on any given day, I got more than one number depending on how they counted visitors. Basically the average number seemed to be around 50,000 people a day! However, a recent article on line from Smithsonian Magazine mentions that since Covid regulations have been relaxed and more people are traveling, Venice is seeing up to 80,000 people a day!!!
Our train was booked for later in the day so that we could arrive at our next destination, Verona, well after check-in time at the hotel. Once again, we dragged our suitcases over the bridge to the train station.
There is a causeway, built in the 1930’s that brings traffic to the outskirts of Venice. It is about 2 1/2 miles between the mainland and Venice. Cars, buses and trains all arrive in the same general area at the edge of the islands. From that point on, getting around Venice happens by foot or boat.
We sat in the station for about an hour or so waiting for the track to be announced for our train. Once we knew the track, we got on, settled down, and before long we were choo-chooing away from Venice.
Mike said – “Aren’t you going to take one last picture?” “Oh yeah”, I said.
But here is the one I like to think of as the last picture in Venice. It was the last one we took before we checked out:
I am glad we finally got to see Venice. If I ever go back, I will have a very different approach to touring the city -mainly figuring out a strategy to avoid the worst of the crowds. Everywhere we looked there was something interesting to see and a potential picture to take. There are nearby islands (part of Venice still) to explore. It would be worth going back and taking the time to dig a bit deeper.
Next stop -Verona- made famous by Shakespeare!
Categories: Italy 2022: Planes, Trains, Bicycles & Barges!