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VENICE - CITY WITHOUT WHEELS

Spring or autumn are the best seasons for visiting Venice. By October the overcrowded conditions around St. Mark's Square have eased off. Even into November, the weather is reasonably good for comfortable sightseeing. But avoid the winter months, when Piazza San Marco is often flooded.

Quite apart from all the culture-vulture sightseeing - magnificent palaces, art galleries, churches, historic buildings - part of the delight is seeing first-hand how a city can function without wheels
.

There's magic about your arrival. From the airport or by train or road, you travel by causeway across the Venetian lagoon. Then say goodbye to wheeled transport for the duration. Instead, there's only a chaotic-sounding clamour of water transport to your hotel, by water-bus, taxi-launch or gondola. 

Travel Facts

 

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TRAVEL FACTS

By air you arrive at Marco Polo Airport on the mainland, east of Mestre.  or by one of Ryanair's numerous cheap flights at Treviso airport whre a bus will whisk you to Venice. Your target is either Piazzale Roma, or San Marco. Here are the choices: 

The blue A.T.V.O. coach runs from the Airport to Piazzale Roma. Tickets are sold at the desk by the main exit in the arrivals hall. Journey time is 25 minutes. You can do the same journey by taxi, but check the price first.

By public water launch to San Marco - 'Motoscafo in Servizio Pubblico'. Buy your ticket at the A.C.T.V. desk inside the airport building. Journey time is one hour. 

Within Venice, tickets can be bought for a  single journey by water-bus but the best strategy is to start by buying the 24 or 72 hour pass. It is valid on any water-bus including those to the Lido and islands around the Lagoon. 

Remember that water-buses and other crowded locations are favourite workplaces for professional pickpockets.

More information: Italian State Tourist Office (ENIT), 1
Princes Street, London W1B 2AY. Tel: 0207 399 3562.

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The logistics of transport into Venice seem wildly confusing to the first-time visitor. The simplest is to arrive by train, with a water-bus landing-stage outside the station on the Grand Canal.

Also quite simple is to arrive by bus or coach which bring you across the Lagoon to the terminal at Piazzale Roma, opposite the railway station.

By self-drive car, signs point to giant multi-storey garages or open-air parkings which charge high tariffs. Better strategy is to park on the mainland at Mestre, for instance and do the last sector by coach or train.

High Street is the Grand Canal - two miles long, 80 yards wide, and shaped like a backward 'S'. Every bend offers a view of palaces, churches and monuments that looks like a 17th-century oil painting, quite unchanged.

Clock Tower on St Mark's SquareThe four-star monuments stand side by side on St. Mark's Square, where you can do sightseeing sitting down at one of the famous but very expensive open-air cafes. 

Dominating the Square is St. Mark's Cathedral; next door, the Doges' Palace; towering above is the Campanile; facing it, the Clock Tower where two bronze Moors have hammered out the hours since 1497.

Having taken the standard guided tour, it's time to make your own discoveries. There's great pleasure in drifting through medieval archways, along narrow alleys into unexpected piazzas, and beside canals and over the hump-backed bridges.

Step carelessly off the pavement in any other Italian city, and you risk being mown down by passing traffic. It's quite different in Venice, where you can wander and gossip in the middle of the street, just like a thousand years ago when the original paving stones were laid.

Don't worry about getting lost. Distances are quite small, like in Hampton Court Maze. Sooner or later you'll come to a broader canal, where a water-bus can return you to somewhere near your hotel. You'll carry home a lifetime's memory of a stroll through the Middle Ages.

Read up some potted history - the fantastic story of how a group of mud-flats became the richest trading centre of medieval Europe - and the Venetian experience will come alive.

Rialto BridgeFrom St Mark's Square, duck through the Clock Tower archway and follow a narrow, winding shopping street through to Rialto Bridge.

As you cross the Bridge into a noisy market area, you enter the heart of Shylock territory - always a trading centre since before the days of Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice'.

After a full day of sightseeing, it's time to relax. Venetian nightlife consists of eating late, and then sitting at an outdoor cafe, watching the world stroll by. In light-hearted mood you can enjoy an evening of wine and music, with singers pouring out their hearts in love-songs and operatic favourites.

For the past hundred-odd years, international tourism has kept Venice alParking place for gondolas and water-taxis by Rialto Bridgeive, while international aid funds are hoping to save Venice from sinking permanently into the mud. 

Meanwhile, a festival tradition continues. Venice keeps its reputation as one of the great fun cities of Europe. It's a wonderful place to enjoy yourself, with all that culture as an excuse for going, if you need an excuse.

Venice offers dazzling shopping choice of all the Italian specialities, from lace and glass to high-fashion dress, leather and footwear. Prices can make you gulp, but haggling is possible - especially around October, when shopkeepers want to clear their shelves before shutting up for the winter.

Anyway, there's always another shop selling similar goods, just around the corner. Shopping streets near the railway station, or close to Rialto Bridge, offer better prices than around St Mark's Square.

Some glass stores set aside a small workshop where craftsmen display their traditional skills. To visit a real glassworks, take a water-bus to the island of Murano, where furnaces have been in full blast since 1291. The industry was moved there, to avoid the fire risk to Venice itself. On arrival at the Murano jetty, visitors can watch glass-blowing in one of the numerous establishments. There is ample opportunity to buy products that range from kitsch to high quality. 

There's no hard sell, as enough visitors buy to make the hospitality worth while. Don't be dazzled by claims that you're getting 'factory prices'. It's hard to compare like with like, but pOn the island of Buranorices are little different from the shops of central Venice. 

Murano's long history as a production centre for spectacles, mirrors and coloured crystal is displayed in the Glass Museum Museo Vetrario. The same entry ticket also is valid for the Modern and Contemporary Glass Museum, filled with highly imaginative international work.

For a delightful excursion requiring more time, the colourful island of Burano is a fishing community with the menfolk catching clams - vongole - while the women make exquisite lace. But cheaper lace on display is probably machine-made in Taiwan. 

For other viewpoints of Italy, read these articles: 

ITALY CUISINE - Finding your way around the menu

ROME - doing as the Romans do

TRENTINO - on sunny side of the Alps

TUSCANY - Tasting the flavour


"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

The "Time Out" Guide to Venice - Show you how to enjoy the riches of Venice without pain to your credit card. It even includes a map showing the location of public toilets.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: Venice and Veneto - A useful publication for travellers who also want to experience the sightseeing highlights of the Veneto region, comprising most of north-eastern Italy. Illustrated with 800 colour photos.

A Great Weekend In: Venice  - by Denis Montagnon - A handy pocket guide to the principal highlights for those staying only a few days. 

Venice Insight Fleximap - Features eight maps of the Venice and other islands of the Lagoon, with details of the top ten sightseeing highlights.

Venice for Pleasure  by J.G. Links - a delightful guide for deriving the maximum pleasure from the Venetian experience.


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