For my money, you can’t beat arriving by train because Santa Lucia station is right on the Grand Canal. Two steps and you’re looking at a world wonder! My pal Tessa and I had Eurail passes (raileurope.co.nz) and had travelled from Austria. It’s such a lovely, low-key way to arrive – no customs queues or security checks – just pop on the train in Salzburg, have lunch, admire the scenery and hey presto, there you are. Happily, we had an extra surprise waiting in the form of Cristina, our Airbnb host.
From Santa Lucia, Cristina led us out on to the Grand Canal, where she and her son loaded us into her family runabout and delivered us via the water to our home for three nights. I can’t imagine a better welcome anywhere in the world. Our apartment was just off a smaller canal, actually only a five-minute walk to the train, but in a
quiet local neighbourhood complete with a café serving Aperol spritz (my favourite Italian drink) right on our doorstep. Another pal came to stay and the three of us loved our two-bedroom, two-bathroom, perfectly located apartment. Look for “The Conservatory” in Venice on Airbnb and give Cristina my love.
Last year was the Art Biennale, where different countries exhibit in remarkable places around the city. Visitors can wander the back streets (which are totally empty of tourists) and find all manner of wonderful things. We stumbled into an old palazzo full of Indian visual art and checked out the New Zealand exhibition right on St Mark’s Square, Venice’s busiest tourist spot.
It’s easy to eat bad food in Venice, especially in the tourist spots. I’d recommend Urban Adventures’ Cicchetti and Wine Tour, cicchetti being the yummy Venetian bar snacks. They’re often served in hidden spots, so having someone show you where to find them and fill you in on local history as you go is perfect. Sadly, I can’t be specific about the locations as I drank every last drop I was offered and don’t appear to have taken notes. But it was all delicious.
Every second year, architecture replaces art in different Biennale exhibitions. If you go this year, it might be worth checking out the NZ offering at Palazzo Bollani. You don’t have to be an aficionado, just curious – often it’s the palazzos themselves that leave you awestruck. Last visit, Tessa was keen to go to Murano, the island once famous for its hand-blown glass, but this was very disappointing as most of the glass now comes from China. Much better to just enjoy getting lost in the back streets, go to the beach at the Lido or catch a vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore and climb the church bell tower to see Venice in all its glory – without the crowds.