Tag Archives: Italy Venice

A whirlwind European Holiday

The last two weeks of August, I played the role of tourist guide to my sister, brother-in-law and 10-year old nephew for a 12-day European holiday.  Looking at the photographs I have taken (I was also their official photographer, mind you!), I am amazed that we actually covered a lot of places, experienced a lot of things in just less than two weeks!

Paris – Venice – Monaco – the mountainous Roya Valley – Cannes – winetasting in Provence, taking almost all modes of transport:  plane – boat – train – car – even a funicular!

This was their first time in Europe and coming from Dubai where the landscape is that of desert, sea, high rises and artificial resorts, what a big surprise for them to see so much natural beauty and staggering architecture Europe is famous for,  art and culture everywhere they went and the open society which is the opposite of conservative Middle East.

So how do I start?  I guess, if I share with you how we profited so much in those 12 days, then you might be able to get some idea how to enjoy  Europe in a whirlwind!

Day One – Arriving in Paris

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Paris rooftops: the zinc roofing and the orange chimneys Paris is famous for. 
Taken from our apartment window.

For a party of four adults and one child (my husband and I joined them), we needed a comfortable spacious place to stay where we can cook, do the laundry and gather around for some chat and aperitivos in the evening.  A simple hotel room  would not be appropriate so I booked a two-bedroom apartment at the 16th Arrondisement, walking distance to the train and metro stations.

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Our apartment building is just opposite the house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his mother stayed in 1778, and where he died the same year.

Day Two – Paris sightseeing

We walked, took the sightseeing bus..all these to explore the City of Romance, Love, Fashion, Art….

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The savory display at Stohrer, one of the oldest patisseries in Paris. Nicolas STOHRER was the personal patisserie of King Louis XV.
rue Montorgueil, 2nd Arrondissement

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Patisserie Stohrer which opened in 1730 is classed as a historic monument because of its facade and interior decors.

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The domes of Paris

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The Eiffel Tower seen from Pont Bir-Hakeim

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Hotel des Invalides
By order of King Louis XIV, this building was built in 1670 to house and treat the aged and injured soldiers. The tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte is on display here.

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The Baroque-style Opera de Paris, designed by Charles Garnier for Emperor Napoleon III.  It now houses the National Academy of Music.

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A boutique’s window display at the Champs-Elysees

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A window display in Avenue Montaigne, one of the most expensive streets of Paris

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A pooch, a slim lady and a cigarette – that’s a real Parisian cliche!

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Painted stairs at the Abbesses station, the deepest of all metro stations in Paris.

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Basilica du Sacre-Coeur at night

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Treated to a nice Edith Piaf musical evening at Chez La Mere Catherine in Place du Tertre, Montmarte. This restaurant is one of the oldest bistrot in Paris, founded in 1793.

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Getting one’s portrait done in Place du Tertre (50euros for half an hour sitting)

Day Three – Disneyland Paris

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Disneyland Paris has never been part of my Parisian travel itineraries.  I thought it is only for the under 10’s.  I was only forced into it when my brother-in-law insisted that I must join them, if only to deal with everything written and spoken in French.  Thank goodness of this opportunity.  I actually like it and I intend to go back – on my own – so I could do a lot more photography.  There’s a great deal of photographic opportunities out there!

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The 5-star Disneyland Hotel, Paris

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Disneyland is like a fairytale land full of little girls in Snow White and Cinderella costumes

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It’s the place where you earn the right to look like a child, wear funny things and it would still be okay.

Day Four – Opera de Paris, shopping

One must not leave Paris without seeing the ornate interiors of the Opera.
I originally planned a trip to Versailles for my guests but since they didn’t have the luxury of time, I decided to take them to the Opera Garnier or simply known as Opera de Paris. This historic monument of the neo-Baroque style is regarded as one of the architectural masterpieces of its time.

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This part of their itinerary was a winner!

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An ideal Parisian souvenir that can be found at the Opera Garnier bookstore

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Stumbled upon this huge IPad store next to the Opera. This was a chance for my sister to buy this revolutionary tablet computer from Apple. She couldn’t buy it in Dubai as it was always out of stock.

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This new Apple showroom has just opened recently and it’s interesting to note that the building used to be the Bank of Portugal.  We wanted to look at their IPhone/Ipad accessories and the bilingual French sales assistant took us downstairs to what used to be the vault of the Bank and has now been transformed into a boutique.

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Notice the thickness of the iron door and the grills securing the vault.  I had to ask permission if I could take photos as I could see through  my peripheral vision some bulky security men hiding in corners.    Indeed, I got my wish!   Even if I was a gazillionaire, I probably would have no chance to take these photos if Bank of Portugal, Paris Opera branch did not shut down!

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Shopping at the world-famous Galeries Lafayette

The Byzantine Dome is 33 meters high and constitutes 10 columns of stained glass reinforced by a richly carved metallic floral motif. It plays a great part in setting up a scene where the customer will feel so great stirring up a strong desire to buy.

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We were not able to get inside the Notre Dame Cathedral that afternoon because a stupid promotional balloon of some telephone company was about to be released – of all places – at the grounds of a historic and religious monument! 

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Paris by Night via the Bateaux Moche – the Pont de la Concorde (Concorde Bridge, 1790)). 
The stones used on this bridge came from the Bastille prison when the latter was demolished during the French Revolution.

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Paris by Night – the Eiffel Tower

Day Five – Louvre Museum

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The Glass Pyramid at the courtyard of the Louvre Museum.  This is the biggest, serving as entrance to the museum, and is surrounded by three smaller pyramids.  A Chinese architect, I.M. Pei, designed it by order of then President Francois Miterrand.  It caused wide controversy as many people felt that this futuristic structure is out of place infront of the country’s most historic museum.  Now, after 26 years since its construction, it has become one of Paris’ great icons.

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The most-visited artwork in the Louvre, and the most famous painting in the world, is Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, Monalisa.

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Another famous artwork – Venus de Milo

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Inside the Louvre

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The painted ceiling of the largest museum in the world

Day Six & Seven – Venice

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We flew to Venice from Paris and I was looking forward to photographing the archipelago from the sky, alas, it was a cloudy morning so this is all I got.  Seen is the 4km causeway which links Venice to the mainland.

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The city comprises of 117 islands formed by 177 canals …..

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…and connected by 455 bridges

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This is my first time to see flooding in St Mark’s Square.   It is caused by unusually high tide which happens only betwen September-April.  This scene happened on August 25, hence this winter-only occurrence came few days early.

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A must-do when in Venice is to hang around St Mark’s Square at night and listen to the “battle of the orchestras” playing classical (and sometimes latina) music. 

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The only way to see museums in the city is by foot or by water

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Venice being one of the most visited cities in the planet is always crowded with tourists.  I dreaded going there in August, the peak of the tourist season, but it was not at all bad since the residents where also away for their holidays.

Day Eight to Ten – Roya Valley (France) and Ventimiglia (Italy)

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Saorge, one of the most beautiful villages in France

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The old town of Ventimiglia, Italy

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The Piaggo truck, perfect for cruising the narrow streets of Italy

Day Eleven – Nice and Monaco

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Nice

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Fireworks along the Promenade des Anglais, to celebrate the end the summer season

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The Principality of Monaco

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Casino de Montecarlo, as reflected from a concave mirror in the garden fronting it.

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The Belle Epoque style Casino de Monte Carlo was created by Charles Garnier, the same architect who designed the Opera Garnier in Paris.

We were able to get inside the gaming rooms and observed the graceful movement of the casino staff.  For as low as 5euros, we could have tried the black jack or the roulette but we need to go to a casino school first to learn the game.

Day Twelve – Cannes and Wine-tasting in Provence

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Cannes is a favourite stop-off point by cruise ships from around the world

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The sandy beach is the place to be seen

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The art-deco style Hotel Martinez whose suite is dubbed as the most expensive suite in the world, houses film stars attending the annual Cannes Film Festival.

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A visit to Chateau Sainte Roseline in the Var in Provence….

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 ….for some wine-tasting experience!

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A vineyard in Provence

So that’s it, folks!  A whirlwind holiday which made me lose weight in a whirlwind, too! 

Venice – not again!

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When it rains, it pours! 

There was a time I have given up on the hope of seeing Venice in my lifetime. But one day, in 2007, it happened! Then in 2009, it happened again! And this year, next week to be exact, I am going to see it for the 3rd time! I will be playing the role of a tourist guide to my sister and her family for a 14-day visit to Paris, Venice and the Mediterranean coast of France and Italy and I would like to take this opportunity to say I am going to disappear again for 2 weeks. Don’t worry, I’m coming back with more photos so watch for it!

Meanwhile, here is a preview of what I am looking forward to doing in Venice:

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Get inside the Basilica and be awed by the splendour of the interior and the gold mosaics that decorate it

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Find the first ever female gondolier, a job exclusively reserved for males for the last 900 years

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Check how really “crowded” Venice is, in August, August being the peak of the high season. After all, this city is always crowded whatever time of the year.

And many more “tourist-cliches” photographs! Until then, bye-bye!

The Venice stopover

 

We arrived in Venice two days before our ferry departure to Corfu, a sensible enough time for my son to explore this beautiful city of canals.
But towing a caravan with a right-hand drive (British) car where everyone else takes the left-hand drive is not particularly easy in this eternally-chaotic road to Venice. And even with a TomTom (GPS car navigation system), one is bound to lose his way because road signs in Italy suddenly vanish just when you have been hopelessly depending on them like they are your lifeline to your destination. “Vanishing roadsigns”..this tops the many road nightmares that any foreign driver has to go through in this country. (Another is overtaking through a center double-line inside a tunnel)

We saw the sign “Campsite” and I instantly daydreamed of hot showers and clean restrooms, what with my last real shower taking place 1.5 days* ago, the day we left home.

* 1.5 days because we had to go to the caravan site 3 hours drive from home to do some repairs and maintenance works making it fit(ter) for the journey, then driving it towards Venezia the next day.

I was still in daydreaming mode when H blurted out, “that bloody sign, it disappeared!”
(….shower jet images vanishing like stardusts…)

So instead of endlessly driving around curving and narrow alleys in search of that elusive campsite, we gave up prematurely and drove straight for the causeway (connecting Venice to the mainland) before something more unpleasant happens like one wheel falling on a ditch or the whole caravan getting stuck in quicksand.

We followed the sign to Tronchetto Carpark, the same covered carpark that, two years ago, served as our “cheap hotel” for 3 consecutive nights. But this time, our target is the open-air carpark for caravans, buses and vans. We quickly found it, hurray!

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The caravan zone of the Tronchetto carpark

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Us with the caravan

To celebrate our safe arrival to Venice with our caravan still in one piece, we quickly set up our picnic tables and chairs and brought out some eatables constituting what they call an “Apero” (short for aperitif): wine, olives, cheese, bread, dried sausage…. all originated from France…. hmmm isn’t life soooo good!

Parking

At the Tronchetto car park – probably the biggest money-making carpark in Europe – there are zones for buses, for vans, for vehicles towing boats as well as for caravans. We parked at the bus zone because we thought we were too long to be in the caravan zone; quite a wrong move, i thought, because the caravan zone, we found, is fitted with water taps and is surrounded by laurier rose bushes creating a feeling of privacy and tranquility. The bus zone on the other hand is noisy and exposed. We found that out as soon as we woke up the next day.

Around 9 every morning, tourist buses in big numbers start arriving after dropping their passengers near the vaporetto terminal. Each bus driver would spend like 10 minutes manuevering their vehicles, finding the best angle and the best corner to park – all this creating so much engine noise and diesel fumes that would unpleasantly find their way inside our caravan-home because we are situated on that corner where they do most of their manuevering. And this process would be repeated 80+ times, which is the number of buses coming into Tronchetto carpark each day. Boy! we could just imagine that every non-European tourist who comes on a tour package would most likely include Venice in their itinerary hence the carpark operator is laughing and rolling his way to the bank!
Parking fee is 21euros per 12 hours, so multiply that by 80 buses, that amounts to 1,680euros! How about the other vehicles who don’t park at the bus zone? And we have not included the multilevel covered carpark. I’m telling you, this is the biggest money-making carpark in the whole of Europe and possibly the world!

And let me give you a naughty peek of what normally happens in the bus zone – obviously this happens only from May till September when the sun bakes like an oven.

Every morning, as soon as each bus is satisfactorily parked, the drivers (Germans, Dutch, Eastern Europeans among others) take off their clothes, change into their swimming trunks (others in their knickers), exposing their distended guts and sometimes embarassing body contours for all they care, then with long handled brushes, start cleaning their buses – windows, sides and all – and then spend the rest of their working day resting, some would sleep in lounge chairs, some would be joining other drivers and chat, still in their knickers or trunks, then, by 4pm, don back their driver’s uniform and one by one leave the carpark to pick up their passengers who would by then waiting at the same spot where they were dropped that morning.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. We did not hang out in the carpark the whole day just to observe them. Of course, we did go out and enjoyed Venice as well.

For the 2.5 days that we parked there, our parking bill amounted to 69euros. We used the facilities of the carpark such as the restrooms and the water taps in the caravan zone which served as al fresco showers. It was great: showering in the open! We did it in the dark though when no one was looking! And with our caravan providing the accommodation and kitchen facilities, 69euros for 3 people for 2.5 days is not bad.

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The Vaporetto…..the water commuter bus of Venice

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The controller whose only job is to open and close the gate for incoming and outgoing passengers.
Nine out of ten, he/she will not check if you have a ticket or not.

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Inside the vaporetto, taken on a calm night

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Map from Google Sightseeing

Pennypinching trick no. 1: Avoid the vaporetto, go walking.

The red arrow line is the route of the vaporetto to any stop in Venice, here shown is the San Zaccaria stop that will take you to Piazza San Marco.

The green arrow line is your walking route from Piazzale Roma to any point in Venice Island.
From the Tronchetto carpark where you arrive by car or tourist bus, you can walk to P. Roma.

From the Santa Lucia railway station where you will arrive by train, you can walk through and around Venice island. With a map, follow the walk towards the Rialto Bridge and onwards to San Marco. The sights are simply mindblowing….

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The crowds of Venice

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Photographing Venice

“The Bridge of Sighs”

Before:

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image from Wikipedia

The second most important bridge in Venice after the Rialto, this 16th century bridge connecting the Ducal Palace (Palazzo Ducale) to the dungeon-like New Prisons (Prigioni Nuove) was given its name due to the “sighs of pain” from the condemned prisoners as they crossed the “ponte”, took in their last views of Venice from the windows, before they were led to their execution.

 After:

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What the ……..*%  @!!!

You’ve just seen…..the commercialization of the bridge, May 2009

Window Shopping in Venice

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Scenes

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Traffic-less Venice

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Be on the lookout for noticeboards if you want to go to a proper concert

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One of the many hostels in Venice is Ostello Venezia. This building used to be a grain store

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Quanto costa? (How much is it?)

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A perfect place to picnic is right on this quay, next to the fish market near the Rialto bridge. A lot of picnicking tourists are scattered around here. It’s very accessible to the fruit market too if you later decide to have fruits for dessert.

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The Battle of the Bands, Venetian Style

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Orchestra #1

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Orchestra #2

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Orchestra #3

It was 11 in the morning when we reached Piazza San Marco. The sound of classical music coming from two orchestras attracted our attention: one, situated by the entrance to the piazza and the other, at Florian Caffe, is on the opposite side some 200 meters away.
Orchestra #1, lively as it was, had no audience except for a couple who was more occupied with their lovey-dovey pursuits than paying attention to the music.
Orchestra #2 seemed to magnetize most of the tourists in the piazza. What is their secret? Because at 11 in the morning, the sun’s direct rays was hitting the alfresco caffe where Orchestra #1 was playing. Florian was in the shade.
We saw another, Orchestra #3, from a third caffe but it was not playing.
Just as soon as orchestras 1 and 2 finished their music, #3 suddenly reverberated with a tango tune reminiscent of Scent of a Woman. In a dash, the standing audience at #2 scurried towards #3, leaving only those who were seated (the customers).
Couples started dancing and some passersby were swaying their bodies to the rhythm.

After few minutes of playing, #3 stopped for a break. Instantly, #2 re-started with a popular classic, the audience at #3 darted towards their direction. And then it was #1’s turn again.

This battle of the bands or sometimes referred to as “dueling orchestras” in Piazza San Marco, with the audience running here and there, make a comical scene – but the music nevertheless remains poignant and soul-reaching.

Then H announced that he would treat us to a cold beer – at Florian!
Is he out of his mind? Did I hear it right? The 18th century Caffe Florian in Venice is the oldest cafe bar in Italy and is frequented by the well-heeled, hence, expect a well-heeled “el conto” (the bill).

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The waiters at Florian

We got seated. I kept fidgeting, worrying at the final bill. No doubt, the moment our backsides touch the caned chairs of this caffe, our wallet meter would be ticking outrageously fast!

A waiter in his sartorial elegance came to hand us the menu. Opening the second page and without ordering anything yet, we were aghast to discover that our bill has already registered an amount of 18euros! Why was that?
For the privilege of listening to the orchestra in the comfort of Florian’s caned seats, there is an automatic charge of 6euros per person. And we were three.

We ordered three beers which came with miniature bowls of olives and chips. Guess how much each bottle costs? 10euros! And we were three.

So all in all, on our 2nd hour in Venice grounds, we already spent 96euros! (48 for the vaporetto and 48 for the beer)

Venice Tips:

For a stay of 3 days, buy a vaporetto ticket valid for 72 hours! Much much cheaper in the process as you can avail of unlimited boat rides in and around Venice including to and from the islands of Burano, Murano, Lido, Torcello.

I highly recommend Burano, the colorful fishing village. Buy your Murano glass necklace there for as low as 5euros! If you fancy a Venetian souvenir, a miniature mask is ideal.

Buy a map of Venice. Go sightseeing with it, but allow yourself to get lost into the maze of tiny alleys and dark corners. The more you probe, the more amazing discovery you will find..each promising a visual delight that will tickle your imagination about how glorious the architects in those days were and how generous the Italians are in sharing their historical monuments to the world!
When you get lost and hopelessly crying to get out, don’t worry. You are not alone. You will stumble upon couples groping their way as well, despite a map in one hand. The trick: search for a local peeking out of the window and utter the words “San Marco” or “Rialto” in a questioning intonation and s/he will be delighted to point you to the right direction.

Start your itinerary by taking a Vaporetto ride (Boat no. 1) from Piazzale Roma to San Zaccaria. With your camera in tow, grab the frontmost seat on the boat and enjoy an uninterrupted view of all the splendour and architectural marvels of Venice, as seen from the Grand Canal.

You should repeat this exercise once at daytime and once at night (via the night boat or N for Notturna). For at night, you will get to see a different perspective. The colorful lights along the canal takes you to dreamland and the chandelier lights inside buildings give you a glimpse of the splendour inside those houses and mansions. A real feast to the eyes!

Wear comfortable footwear. You will be walking and walking until your feet hurts but your curiosity still aching for more!

San Zaccaria is where you start your walk towards Piazza San Marco and beyond. The best times to be in the Piazza are (1) before the crowds arrive in the morning and (2) when it starts to get quiet in the evening. Dare to visit at mid-day, that is, if you are prepared to elbow your way around. But it’s great just to do people-watching!

You will notice people from all walks of life, of diverse nationalities, of all physical attributes e.g. the disabled, the seriously obese, the severely emaciated, people practically creeping to their last hour..all these telling you that they would want nothing else but to see Venice before they finally leave this world.

At night, it’s a Must that you are in Piazza San Marco for a feast of free concerts offered by the different cafés competing for clientele. If you are a photographer, take your tripod so you can get clear night shots of the orchestra, of the lit-up buildings. When you have enough of it all, walk in and around the back alleys again. Go back to the same campos and bridges that you have visited earlier. The evening air renders them a mysterious perspective, entirely different from daytime viewing.Go to the Rialto Bridge and its surrounding area. A visit to Venice is not complete without a photo of the Rialto in the background.

We did not attempt to get inside the Basilica di San Marco nor the Ducal Palace nor the Campanille Tower but if you are lucky enough to get entrance tickets, then make sure you go up the roof or the top level for a panoramic view of the city.

Restrooms. The cost of relieving yourself is 1euro. Train station restrooms are cheaper at 70 centimes.

Always have a bottle of water handy. it’s very expensive to keep sitting in cafés and ordering coke or beer.

If you are starving and you are with a friend, it’s acceptable to order a slice of pizza each (from food kiosks) or one small pizza to share together (from restaurants, cafés)

Beware of menus offered by restaurants. A 3-course meal at 25euros would seem to be a lucky find but beware! You will get ripped off over the price of that bottle of mineral water or beer or wine or dessert, giving a final bill double the amount of the original menu!

Have cash always handy. Most Italian establishments are notorious in not declaring their real income to avoid paying huge taxes so they will sneer at your visa cards and will only accept cash!.

Vietato fotografia – watch out for this sign. It means No Photography. Very commonly displayed in shops selling Venetian masks, Murano glassworks

Must-do

– Indulge in people-watching, it’s great!

– go church-hopping

– visit Campo Pescaria and Campo Esparia – Fish and Produce market near the Rialto bridge

– visit Campo Giovanni Paolo..marvel at the entrance door of the Ospededali hospital

– go to the Jewish Quarter –

– Relax in Giardino Papadopoli – if your hotel is far away and you’re aching for a break or a nap, this green park is the place to relax. Sleep in one of the benches, or in the grass, nobody will care!

And don’t forget to treat yourself to a nice bag (for ladies) with the name Venice on it. You can buy it cheap from the souvenir shops selling from 5euros up.