|We left about 10:15am for Venice. The drive is not bad, along the A4 to the end (east), passing by Vincenza and Bolla (as in Bolla Soave wine). Once the Autostrade ends (toll €5.20), the highway leads over the water to the bus station and parking lot at Piazza di Roma. No cars or scooters of any type in Venice, so everyone is parked in the 10-storey lot (€21 per day for the regular lot). We tried to find the economy lot, but couldn't seem to locate it, so just went for the regular one. Luckily, we were assigned a space (tight -- than goodness for our tiny car!) on Level 1, so not a long way to get out. Over to the vaporetto (water bus) that would take us down the Grand Canal to our stop at St. Mark's Square. The bus cost €6 for a 1-way trip, as compared to about €60 for a water taxi.
The vaporetto takes you down the entire Grand Canal, past all the sights like the Rialto Bridge, all the palazzos (palaces) and the best hotels, including ours! I am using up all my Starwood points for 1 night at the Westin Venice, right on the Grand Canal across from the Santa Maria Delle Salute (which, unfortunately, is under restoration, so is not looking as it would normally). From St. Mark's, it's only a 5-minute walk (plus window shopping) to our hotel, down a very lonely alley.
The hotel is beautiful. It is a combination of the former Hotel Europa and the Hotel Regina, now joined by hallways on each floor. Our room has 2 Heavenly Beds (Westin brand), bathrobes, slippers, a flat wide-screen TV, a small dressing room/walk-in closet and a small hallway between the bathroom and the bedroom. No view, but we don't plan on spending that much time in the room anyway.
Off to the Rialto Bridge for lunch, with various shopping stops along the way. Venice is a strange place to try and find your way around. Like Verona, just when you are looking for street signs you can't see any, and UNLIKE Verona, when you are walking down most of the extremely narrow streets in Venice, you can't see ANYTHING else -- just what's in front of you and behind you (and even then, sometimes the street/alley is curved, so you just feel like you're in a maze). But this is the magic of Venice, and every couple of streets there is an opening into a piazza, usually small, but normally with a gelato shop, a café or 2, a tabac kiosk and a centre well (all of which are now covered over). Luckily, there are signs leading out of the piazzas that say "Per Rialto" (or whatever is the nearest major "destination"), so as long as you're not in a hurry, you can just leave the map and wander down the streets, up and down the steps over the small canals, and enjoy the twisting routes of the city.
There is a market area that extends from both sides of the Rialto Bridge, which itself is lined with shops on either side. We did some shopping (gotta have some of that Murano glass!) and then had lunch at Ristorante Canal Grande. The fixed price menu was €14 and included a first and second course. I had lasagne and then calamari with salad, with beer instead of wine for a change. Then it was back to shopping the rest of the market and making our way "Per San Marco", to see St. Mark's Square and the Doges Palace.
The Doges Palace is at the edge of St. Mark's Square, and is from 1309. It was not only home to the doge (duke), but was the seat of government (they had 2 "houses" like our modern day parliament) as well as where the various levels of courts sat. The doge was voted in for life, but they normally appointed older men as they didn't want them to get too much of a following. Just as well, as the doge was not allowed to leave the palace. He also wasn't allowed to abdicate. Sounds pretty much like a prisoner to me! Thankfully, he didn't have to spend any time in the prisons attached by the Bridge of Sighs to the Doges Palace. Once you were convicted of an offence in the courts, you were taking right to the prison. The Bridge of Sighs got its name because there is a window where the prisoner would get his last view of beautiful Venice before being put into 1 of the cells.
If you were unlucky enough to have committed an offence punishable by death, the next time your friends and relatives may see you would be when you were strung up between the two red columns that faced St. Mark's Square. It is said that the pillars are red because they were dyed with the blood of Venice's enemies.
St. Mark's Square is normally a bit easier to view, but today it is being set for a concert by Ennio Morricone, the Italian composer of various soundtracks (including spaghetti westerns like "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" as well as "The Mission", "The Untouchables" and "Cinema Paradiso") and the 2007 Acadamy Award Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Tickets for the concert are €50 for the back, €120 for the centre and €170 for the front. We tried to see if we could book at one of the restaurant/cafes surrounding the square, but they were all booked out. Oh well, we'll just listen from behind the barriers before dinner.
You couldn't really get a sense of the size of the square because of the barriers, but we did walk around and see the cafes, including the Florian, which has been around since 1720 (and charges upwards of €10 just for an espresso). St. Mark's Square is also famous for its pigeons, and you can buy birdseed for €1 so that they will land all over you for that "special" picture (and maybe a "special" souvenir from Venice).
After a short rest on our Heavenly Beds, we dressed for the concert and dinner. Back to St. Mark's Square, where lots of people had the same idea as us. The concert didn't start until 9pm, so we left about 9:30 to go to dinner, again over past the Rialto Bridge. Alla Madonna is a popular restaurant, but the kitchen was nearing closing by the time we got there. We had a quick dinner (seafood antipasto and spaghetti, house wine) and wandered back through the streets, stopping along the way to try and suss out how much the knock-off purses were going for (price was €120 at night, but would drop 50% by the next morning).
Things seem to close up earlier in Venice than Verona -- even Harry's Bar (creator of the bellini) was shut tight. Instead, we went back to the bar at the Westin, which sits right on the Grand Canal (and bounces a little when a large craft goes by) and had a bellini, followed by a prosecco (Italian champagne). For those of you who think that a bellini is a frozen cocktail (a la Milestones restaurant), a real bellini is peach nectar with prosecco. The closest you can get to a real bellini in Vancouver is at the Bacchus Lounge at the Wedgewood Hotel. Try it, you'll like it -- we did!