Being one of oldest cities in Italy, travelers should place this at or close to the top of the list. If you have been to Venice before, then you already know how spectacular it is. The whole city is similar to an island drifting on the coast of the country. Having only a few roads within it, most of the exploring requires walking or taking a boat through the canals.
Having such a unique landscape, the city has the ability to take you back in time, too. Remnants of ancient Venice exist today while merging with the modern architecture. A few churches and city buildings exist today that have been well taken care of, or restored.
The best way to arrive to the city is by train. Not only is it a great way to enjoy the scenery of Italy, it is also long enough to make new friends along the journey.
Upon arrival, you walk from the train terminal to the main gates of the station. Along the way, you will pass through numerous small shopping stores, that carry all of your needs and wants for quick and long travel. These stores include gift stores containing Venice orientated gifts, beauty products for men and woman, and luggage accessories. There are also fashion related stores, some sell watches and jewelry, while others will sell high-end clothing apparel.
Santa Lucia, is a small station and similar in size to Florence’s Santa Maria train station. Once you have reached the exit, your journey through the city begins. Pro Tip – Get a map, any format: phone, tablet, paper, plastic. Get a map. Trust me, you will definitely need it. Some will think, “we’ll be fine, I have a good sense of direction and can find my way around”. Nope, you most likely won’t be doing that. If you’re there on holiday, you don’t want to be solely focusing on directions. What makes directions so tough, especially coming from an American origin, are the road styles. In America we have roads for cars, and they are all generally easy to distinguish from sidewalks or other walking paths. Here in Venice, it’s not so much the same. Due to cars not having a strong priority in the city, the “roads” are primarily walking roads. This means that they change their style slightly to accommodate the building architecture and/or the landscape. More specifically, the width of these “roads” can be wide enough for a group of people walking each direction, or narrow for maybe only one or two people to pass through at a time.
The kicker here is, on a map they are depicted roughly the same size, but really two very different size roads. It’s very easy to confuse alleys and roads. Plus, (Pro-Tip #2) to make it easy for you, “Via” is an indicator of a street. Some signs for the streets will appear on the buildings, others will have actual posts. So it’s important to differentiate between a store sign and street sign, for those who are new to Italy.
Now, back to the train station. Once outside the station, you are welcomed with a large area that has many directions to start off in. If you aim towards the left and follow the crowds, you will find many restaurants and food shops, as well as lots of handmade gift stores. If you were to cross the bridge directly straight from the station, you would begin your journey towards the middle of the city, encountering both residential and tourist locations. These two directions are primarily the tourist directions, but you most certainly can take a right and follow the water that way. Following the crowds of people is a good way to stay on course to picture spots, museums, and churches.
Rain and I started off the trip with an early departure from Florence at around 9:30 in the morning. The train ride is just under two hours taking a standard regional train. Once we arrived we made our way through the crowds and heading straight towards a place to get food. Being pretty hungry from the train ride we chose somewhere that was visually appealing. The restaurant was called Ai Slalzi, and our experience was pretty good there. We spent roughly 35 euros total, for a shared water, a soft drink, and two entrées. I had a pasta dish, fettuccini with an alfredo sauce and topped with ham, and Rain had the seafood risotto. My dish was delightful and was quickly presented, same with Rain’s dish. We also had a great experience with the staff. Our waiter was very kind and patient, and made sure not to push us like a salesmen. He left us while we ate and checked up on us once after we started with our food. Once we were done we got his attention to bring us a check. Food quality was what you would expect for the cost; my dish was similar to other Italian cuisine restaurants. However, Rain expressed that her seafood risotto was marvelous, and worth every penny.
As we made our way through the city, we continued to see the same trend within the stores. Masks. Not just your regular Halloween masks, but traditional masquerade masks. Some were machine made for quantity and others were hand made for quality. Every corner we took offered a new store that had their own style in masks.
One shop in particular that we entered had an owner that was passionate about his work. He offered to let Rain try on any mask she wanted, without pushing us to buy them. You could tell he was proud of his work. It was a small shop, maybe only big enough for about 10 people at a time, but not a single inch of wall space was open. Masks covered every wall, there were rotating displays, along with shelves and tables, too. In the back of the shop was a work area, where you could see some of the process. His masks started out from a mold where he could make the standard face shape and size, and then add on any features afterwards. Once the material had a basic structure down and was dry, painting began. Some masks were painted with wonderful detail, while others provided a general appearance for those celebrating in groups.
Venice is proudly and famously known for its masquerade festivals. The Carnival of Venice, that it is known as, is an annual festival that has been around for centuries. Its origin is quite interesting, as it signifies the victory against the Patriarch of Aquileia. For the past decade the festival has had many events to celebrate its rich history. One event in particular, has a panel of judges made up of international costume and fashion designers who chose a winner for la maschera pui belle (the most beautiful mask). This competition has been pretty popular for the past years and has high anticipation for the following year.
Having hundreds of mask makers all throughout the city provides you with wonderful options to show your festive side during carnival.
If you get a chance, visit Venice and make sure you spend a whole day there! One day is usually enough for a small group to visit and enjoy the city. I have never personally stayed for more than a day within the city, so I would not have any recommendations. I’d love to hear feedback if you have spent nights in Venice and what your experience was like!