Why Venice is a great stop on a cruise vacation
Cruising in and around Europe is becoming increasingly popular, and if the 2008-2009 itinerary previews are any indication, cruise passengers will have more choice. In fact, a new cruise line called Azamara even promises not just more Europe, but new European ports of call, which brings us to one of Europe’s oldest ports, the city of Venice.
Venice is like no other place in the world. It’s not the only city that’s full of canals (Amsterdam has canals, too, as does Stockholm), and it’s not the only city with an ancient past (Rome probably beats Venice in the history department, and Florence definitely beats it in art). . But there is something incredibly different and delicious about Venice.
You can’t drive in Venice. Getting in and out of the city is by boat (you take a water taxi from the airport), so arriving by cruise ship is close to the way the city was supposed to be reached.
When you arrive in Venice, you will have to get around on foot or by boat. By far the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to get from point A to point B is to hop on the boat-bus, called a vaporetto. You buy tickets for that like the bus. If you’re a cruise passenger in the city for the day, you may want to buy a good all-day pass. Not only could it save you some reading, but you don’t have to worry about buying tickets when you want to travel.
Water taxis are another option, but they are a bit more expensive. Even more expensive, but delightfully romantic and unique, are the gondolas. Expect to shell out a lot of money for the experience, but believe me, it will be an experience.
Most Venetians get around on foot, and you probably will too. The city has all the twists and turns that you would expect from an ancient city. Due to the network of channels, you will sometimes find yourself in the intriguing position of being able to see where you want to go but not knowing how to get there. Relax, Venice has something interesting practically around every corner, so even if you get lost, you can probably do plenty of sightseeing.
The biggest tourist spot in the city is Piazza San Marco, where the Cathedral of San Marco is located. You can tour the cathedral and even climb the towers (it’s not difficult) to get a panoramic view of the square. Legend has it that in the cathedral is the tomb of Saint Mark, author of the Gospel according to Saint Mark.
The square is full of pigeons (all the time) and tourists (mainly in the warmer months). Depending on when you travel, you may also see scaffolding or wooden walkways around the square. These are not lifts for a concert or show. They are walkways designed so that people can cross the square even when it is flooded, which happens so often that the city has built elevated walkways.
Nearby is the Doge’s Palace. Doge (dough-jay) is the name that the Venetians gave to their ruler at the time when Venice was an independent nation. It’s a lavish sort of place, fit for a monarch, but most tourists enjoy the lesser accommodations better. The Doge had so many enemies that he attached a prison to the palace which is reached by crossing the Bridge of Sighs. There is a self-guided tour of the prison, but it is very important to follow the marked paths. You are perfectly free to wander as you see fit, but the place is like a honeycomb and you can get lost.
Getting lost is a typical Venetian experience. The city is full of unmarked streets, crooked lanes and narrow passageways.
One of Venice’s favorite native sons was considered lost. Marco Polo lived in Venice and left for China, where he spent 20 years. When he returned, the Venetians vilified him and called him “The Liar” for making up stories. You can visit his house. He is located in a short cul de sac called “The Liar” The Liar”.
Venice was always better known for commerce than for art, but there are some artistic treasures. If you like to eat what the locals do, you are going to try seafood and a dry sparkling wine called Prosecco. Of course, most tourists end up enjoying more generic Italian favorites here too, like cappuccino or espresso and rich ice cream.
If you have time, take a vaporetto to Lido Island. It’s an island that’s just a short boat or bus ride from the main street (the Grand Canal) and there are more relaxed (and less expensive) shops and some beaches.
Another great thing to visit is Murano, an island famous for its colorful hand-blown glass. You can buy Murano glassware throughout Venice, including a special design known as a mille-fiori (thousand flowers). In Murano, you can watch the artisans at work and get a much larger sample of their wares. You will find Murano glass products in many shops.
Glass purchases from big box stores can be shipped to your home; most merchants will be able to make such arrangements, at least for larger purchases.
Venice is a city well known by tourists. It always has been, and cruise and package tours to Europe continue to feature it prominently. But Venice is also a very personal city. Two tourists visiting the city on a given day may leave with distinctly different impressions and experiences.