Venice’s transportation, art, cuisine make it a wonder to explore

Katie Siebenaller

        All packed and ready to go — thanks to the many tips I described in my last article — Tyler, my fiancé, and I were ready to start exploring Italy.
        Our first stop, after a short layover in Paris, was Venice.
        Also known as the “Floating City,” Venice is an archipelago — comprised of 118 islands and about 150 canals — all connected with some 400 bridges.
        The city was built in the 5th century, beginning as a safe haven from invading barbarians and blossoming into a place of permanent residence. The islands were natural marshlands in the Venetian lagoon, surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, so the new settlers had to fortify the land from the elements and strengthen the earth to withhold sturdier buildings — structures that would last centuries. They accomplished this by digging canals, and creating fortifications and foundations out of wood. Millions of pieces of wood are even now still under the city, preserved by submersion in water. Thus the “Floating City” was born.
        Today, Venice is linked to mainland Italy in three ways – via car on the Ponte della Libertà (Liberty Bridge), by rail across the bridge built for the railroad tracks and the obvious — by boat. The two modes of transportation in and around the city are boats and your own two feet. So aside from avoiding extra fees due to an overweight suitcase (your checked bag must be under 50 lbs.), it is wiser to pack lighter so as to be able navigate bridges and stone sidewalks. Tyler and I were lucky in that our hotel was not far from where our airport transport had to drop us off, and the larger bridge we needed to cross had ramps fit for our “American-sized” suitcases.
        It’s hard to moan and groan about rolling a suitcase, one you could probably fit inside of, to your hotel too much though when you’re in Italy. I’d do it a hundred times more to go back to Venice.
        Though not one of the 7 Wonders of the World, ancient or modern, I will always consider Venice a wonder. Unique in transportation, art, cuisine and more, no matter what dosage of Venice you experience, you get an essence of this remarkable city. Below are some of the highlights of Venice.
Piazza San Marco
        There’s no avoiding the hustle and bustle of tour groups and waving selfie sticks, but the Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square) cannot be faulted for this. The constant weaving through throngs of tourists — and pigeons for that matter — is well worth it, just to behold the scenes around you. The square itself is lined on three sides with high-end shops and restaurants, shaded by columns. The center is left open with the exception of a bell tower, ­  Campanile di San Marco (St. Mark's Campanile). But the most magnificent site of all is the façade of the Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica). Adorned with gold, spires and sculptures — plenty of which are the symbol of St. Mark, the lion — it’s difficult to capture all of the basilica’s grandeur in a single photo.
        The inside of the basilica rivals, if not surpasses the magnificence of its exterior. Tyler and I didn’t go in since it was raining the day we were in the square and we decided not to wait in the long line snaking out of the basilica. I did, however, go inside while studying abroad and can attest it’s worth the wait. Just keep in mind if you plan on going inside, photography isn’t allowed and the basilica is very dedicated to its dress code — those with exposed knees and/or shoulders will be required to buy a light “tarp” for a Euro to cover up. I believe I still have mine actually…
Palazzo Ducale
        Right next to St. Mark’s Basilica, along the outer edge of Venice, is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), which now serves as a museum. The doge was the head of the Venetian Republic from as early as the seventh century to 1797, when Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies invaded Venice. From the Latin word dux, meaning “leader,” the doge was an elected official, a sort of Byzantine-inspired governor. This political position was served for life, and those who held it were usually part of the Venetian nobility. As a result, much of the doge’s life was spent within the expansive palace.
        Though not the original palace (the history of the Doge’s Palace is peppered with fires), the foundations of the current palace come from the 14th and 15th centuries, with restorations (due to more fires) and additions since.
        Within the palace you follow the Golden Staircase, named as such because its ceiling is covered in gold ornamentation, to the council and senate chambers, the Chamber of the Council of Ten and the Great Council chambers.
        The Council of Ten, in the same fashion of Venice itself, began as a temporary institution, charged with investigating a conspiracy in 1310 involving several noblemen attempting a coup d’état of sorts. Afterwards, the Council of Ten became permanent, taking on the role of a Venetian Big Brother, trying and sentencing those suspected of treason and eventually collecting more and more intelligence and policing powers over the following century.
        I was fascinated with this historical group on my first tour of the Doge’s Palace. "Sort of like the Venetian FBI,” our school chaperon had described the Council of Ten. There’s a wooden cabinet in the Chamber of the Council of Ten that secretly links to another chamber in the palace, as well as drop points for members of the Ten to leave and retrieve notes and leads for each other in secret. These palace points of interest are featured in the Secret Itineraries Tour, which must be booked in advance.
        Tyler and I missed our tour after underestimating the amount of time the water bus would take to get us there, but the museum allowed us general admission. So Tyler was stuck with me as a tour guide, which I feel was still worth the money. There were plenty of signs and plaques throughout the palace if he wanted the actual facts and descriptions.
        Travel Tip #1: Allow yourself extra time to get to sites if you have tours or reservations booked. Ask the front desk at your hotel how long it takes to get to your destination, and then add additional time to that, whether taking public transportation or navigating the streets on your own.
Ponte di Rialto
        While a bridge is the furthest from an unusual site in Venice, what is a unique site is a bridge with shops on it. The Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) spans across the Grand Canal, holding opportunities for purchasing a range of souvenirs and gifts, from kitschy mugs and magnets to fine jewelry and glass décor. Also nearby are plenty of stalls featuring beverages and treats to snack on while window shopping.
        Built toward the end of the 16th century, the Rialto Bridge had replaced a wooden bridge, which had collapsed a number of times. It served as the only permanent structure connecting the two sides of the Grand Canal for about 250 years. Until then, the only other way across was by ferry.
        While there are other points for crossing the Grand Canal today, the Rialto Bridge serves as one of Venice’s most popular tourist attractions (and a free one at that, as long as you just look). It also boasts some beautiful views along the Grand Canal on each side.
T Fondaco dei Tedeschi
        Having done my research before leaving home, I had discovered there was another picturesque view of the city, barely a block from the Rialto Bridge: the T Fondaco dei Tedechi.
        Now a four-story, duty-free department store, the building that houses the T Fondaco served as a headquarters and living space for German merchants for hundreds of years. The interior courtyard is now filled with various store displays, while the upper floors are designated departments (women’s clothing, men’s apparel, shoes, etc.). However, it’s the rooftop that Tyler and I went to see.
        The T Fondaco Rooftop Terrace provides arguably the best public view of the city — and it’s free. The store only asks that you make a reservation, booking a 15-minute block of viewing time, which can be done in advance online or at the T Fondaco.
        Travel Tip #2: Italy does not number their floors the same as in the United States, where we start with the main floor as “1.” In Italy, this floor is “0,” the second floor is the first, and so forth. It can be a bit confusing, especially at your hotel.
        Bonus Travel Tip: Watch out for acqua alta (high tide, literally “high water”)! Though the season for high tides is usually from fall to early spring, flooding has occurred out of season due to the fact that the city has been slowly sinking since its origination and rising water levels. Tyler and I were startled by the acqua alta siren that signals floods will be coming in two and a half hours. We got caught in about six inches of flood waters returning to our hotel from dinner. It was, if nothing else, a memorable part of our trip.


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