We stayed for just two nights, but had we had longer we would have ventured out of the city into the countryside and visited a vineyard for a Chianti tasting, called in to the beautiful hill town of Siena, and made the trip to Pisa for the bucket-list photo with the Leaning Tower!
Instead, we moved on to Venice, for the final stop on our journey. The high-speed train arrives into Santa Lucia station in the most north-westerly part of the historic centre in a little over two hours. The station brings you right to the edge of the Grand Canal and is conveniently close to Piazzale Roma, where you can catch buses back onto the mainland towards both airports. It’s also close to the main ferry/cruise port, and being so close to the canal enables access to the ‘waterbus’ service, which taxis up and down the length of the Grand Canal, as well as out to the other islands including Lido, Murano & Burano and Giudecca.
We put walking directions into Google Maps (as we usually do with most new places we explore) to be informed it was just a twenty-minute walk to our hotel in San Marco; off we embarked with backpacks in the thirty-five-degree midday heat.
Around two hours later we flopped into our hotel lobby, exhausted and dehydrated, vowing never to trust Google Maps again! We hadn’t realised that the walking directions had included a ‘ferry’ crossing to get us from one side of the Grand Canal to the other, and when we reached the crossing point there was no ‘ferry’ to be found, just a rickety old wooden pier that looked like it hadn’t been used in about a century. We decided to ask a local Venetian shop worker how was the best way to cross the river, and recoiled at his suggestion to pay fourteen euros to get the waterbus just one stop to make the crossing. We decided we would backtrack a little and cross at Rialto bridge. It was a slightly longer walking route, but was going to save fourteen euros. Except we got lost in the tangle of tiny pathways and canals and ended up walking in circles for the first hour. Eventually we did find Rialto bridge and then followed signposted directions to Saint Marks Square, knowing our hotel was only five minutes from there. The cold stone floor at our hotel reception could not have looked more inviting by the time we had checked in.
We have since learned from our mistakes – there's an option on Google Maps to ‘avoid ferries’, and we actually managed to make the walk back to Piazzale Roma successfully on our last day in about 25 minutes, leaving us with a generous hour to spare to catch our bus to the airport.
Once you find your bearings it’s actually fairly practical to navigate Venice by foot. You just have to keep in mind that there are only four footbridges to cross the snaking Grand Canal – in the north, Constitution Bridge linking the station and Piazzale Roma, and Ponte Degli Scalzi, linking the station with Santa Croce. Then San Polo is linked to San Marco by the Rialto Bridge, and San Marco back to Dorsodouro by the Ponte dell’Accademia - easy!
We stayed in a lovely little three-star boutique style hotel called dell’Opera. They had a small but quiet roof terrace with an honesty bar and served the best breakfast we had in Italy. Our room had a little terrace attached to it, accessed by climbing out of the window! From the edge we could watch the gondolas gliding past and hear the musicians and singers serenading the couples as they sailed along. We opted one evening to have dinner here to save some money – we bought fresh bread from a local baker and an array of meats and cheese from a delicatessen. Venice is as expensive as the rumours all purport, and it’s also really hard to find nice food – it is true that some of the restaurants on the waterfront actually have signs admitting to serving average food for high prices, justified by the promise of a great view.