Deaf Travel31st May 2014
Jetting away for a few days in Venice
Warm and welcoming, Venice offers a unique break.
Having visited many parts of Europe, one famous place has eluded me – Venice. I had seen it on programmes over the years, at the end of 007 favourite Casino Royale, but had never found the right moment to book a visit. When a friend sent me a text in September asking if I was interested in staying in Venice in April and then catching a rugby match at nearby Treviso, I jumped at the chance.
Travelling with three other couples, flights were booked with Easyjet and at £110 for a return ticket, Venice was one of the cheapest European destinations to go to. Flying from Gatwick, the great thing about booking wth Easyjet is that you can then get half price parking at the airport. I’m not a great lover of early morning flights when you have to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to get to the airport. I was pleased that our flights were early afternoon making for a relaxed journey.
As Venice is a little distance from Marco Polo airport, we did a bit of research before leaving to find out how we would get eight of us from the airport to the hotel. We had reserved rooms at the Carlton on the Grand Canal, the hotel situated directly opposite the main train station. There is a road option but that would not be a direct route, with either a long walk to the hotel when the taxi could go no further or transferring to a water bus. There was also a water bus direct from the airport which would take us to the opposite bank of the Carlton Hotel and then a short walk, or we could jump on a water taxi.
The road and water bus options both cost about €130 for the eight of us. The water taxi was €150 but would take us to the door and would take half the time. So, having landed and picked up our luggage we made the short walk to purpose built water taxi/bus docking area. Taking eight people and their luggage comfortably, we all boarded the water taxi, a beautiful wooden craft with a covered area and also an outside viewing area at the back.
Being gentlemen, we allowed the ladies to have the open viewing area at the back and then laughed mercilessly when they got soaked every time we hit the waves of one of the many boats going in the opposite direction. Within minutes of leaving the airport, you see what seems like a fortress wall rising from the sea, but these are just the outside perimeter buildings of Venice. Through an emerging opening we entered Venice and the taxi slowed to the speed limit allowed on the city’s canals.
The water in the canals was dirtier than I had expected and the buildings on the water’s side looked dated. They were though purpose built with a lot of boat bays or gated hatches for delivery by boat. Occasionally we past a building that looked more grandiose and opulent with a good exterior, chandeliers and heavy drapes.
Emerging from this first canal we turned onto a much bigger waterway which seemed full of other craft and we got out first sight of a gondola being powered by a uniformed gondolier. Suddenly, and despite this being out of season, Venice became vibrant and energetic, a sea of colour and movement. Immediately, you see its uniqueness and its appeal, boats shuddering past packed with sofas and chairs, Fed Ex deliveries, fire crews, an ambulance and the city’s bright yellow buses.
Arriving at 6pm local time, we pulled in directly in front of our hotel so we had to walk a full 8 metres to enter the building. Despite this being out of season, tables and chairs were outside with people sitting under the warm Spring sunshine. Handled quickly by accomplished reception staff, we dropped bags into our rooms and enjoyed an early evening refreshing drink on the bank of the canal.
Whilst water buses and taxis provide an obvious solution to getting around Venice, there is also an extensive system of walkways making it easy to get around on foot. Hotels provide guests with a street map but I decided to buy a city guide which provided much more information. Some of the alleyways are small, but they are all sign posted, but you still need to be able to understand a map otherwise you do risk getting lost.
The vast majority of the walkways are wheelchair accessible, but some of the smaller bridges can only be crossed using steps and the three main bridges over the Grand Canal steep and would be present difficulty. Striding out to find somewhere to eat, our location on the Grand Canal and close to the Railway Station meant that there were many cafes, bars and restaurants within minutes of us leaving the hotel.
This choice also provided a suitable option for most budgets, ranging from Burger King and take away pizza for a couple of Euros each, to an extensive range of menus up to €50 and €60 a head. We also experienced a significant range in price for drinks, with a beer (600 cls) in a back street bar costing €4 and a bottle of beer (300 cls) €8 in the hotel. Equivalent differences applied to water and other soft drinks.
Bedding down for the night, we planned a sight seeing tour the following day, heading out for St Mark’s Square first and then slowly taking in the sights as we wound our way back towards the hotel. After our typically continental breakfast, we were able to buy water-bus tickets at the hotel reception. Reasonably priced, we chose a one-way ticket, but a 24 hour ticket is available if you intend to hop an and off throughout the day. Making our way to the other side of the Grand Canal to the bus stop, it was good to see extensive signing, including English, giving information as well as instruction about what to do with your ticket.
Sitting outside on the water bus, we enjoyed a great opportunity to take in the sights, the tiny canals where the gondolas were in their element, and the use of the canals to support Venetian life. Taking about 40 minutes, the bus ride felt more like a mini cruise and it is a must for visitors to Venice. For the price of that one ticket you can actually enjoy a full round trip and that is worth doing.
Getting off at the St Mark’s stop, crowd levels went through the roof, the area thronging with sightseers and organised tours. It was quite funny to see groups of 20 to 30 people following in the footsteps of their guides who were holding a coloured flag in the air, the groups crisscrossing as they went from attraction to attraction. I had thought a coffee in the square was a must, but the price was exploitative, so we decided to go one street back for refreshments where a coffee cost a third of what it did in the Square itself. The back streets, still thronging with people, is where the shopping is, and the offer was extensive with the world’s biggest brands on offer.
Spending several hours around the back-streets we found a fantastic restaurant just one street back from the main square where we had the most delicious Italian food all at a reasonable price. The boot shaped beer glasses were also a bit of fun, providing the same sort of challenge as a yard of ale. Slowly heading back in the direction of the hotel, we crossed some quaint little bridges over tiny canals as well as some of the famous points like the Rialto Bridge.
Every now and again we came across busy gondola points where long queues had developed, waiting for their opportunity to enjoy this unique experience. It looked more like a gondola jam to be honest, but I’m sure someone knew what they were doing! At €120 per hour in the day and €150 during the evening, I certainly hope so. Occasionally it felt like we had taken a wrong turn as the alleyway narrowed and high stone walls closed in around us, but this is just Venice. Turn a corner and you are back at a canal, outside an ice-cream parlour or faced with a restaurant menu.
During the evening, stalls spring up on some of the walkways along with a lot of ‘looky looky’ men, who are trying to sell you anything from sunglasses and bags to fluorescent toys. However, they are respectful when told you are not interested. Walking along the streets, restaurants have people placed outside trying to entice you into their establishment, but you are best advised to look calmly at menus and make your own decision. The range of food available is extensive.
On match day, we made our way to the train station, needing to travel to Treviso, about 20 miles outside Venice. Once again, visual displays greet you and it was easy to buy tickets and find the information we needed about train times and platforms. At €3 it was far cheaper to use trains in Italy than it is in the UK and all the vast majority of signs were in Italian and English. The train itself was a double decker, and the inside was immaculate. Signs at each station were great and even inexperienced travellers would easily know when they had arrived at their station. Treviso was picturesque and had a giant market on the day we visited making the journey there all the more worthwhile.
Enjoying another full day in Venice, we did some further sightseeing but by no means took in all that the city has to offer. Returning home after a thoroughly enjoyable extended weekend, a return visit was placed in my bucket list as something I would like to do again in the future. Venice was vibrant, unique, with warm and welcoming local people who survive on tourism, and therefore value them. The hotel and the staff had been excellent and with visitors from all over the world staff in hotels, cafes, restaurants and public buildings are all good communicators, prepared to take time and make the effort to ensure understanding.
Article by Simon Deacy OBE
posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Deaf Travel
31st May 2014