Venice Stories and Tips

One of the best experiences in Europe: A journey down the Grande Canale...

Palazzo Contorini  Photo, Venice, Italy

As I wandered around Venice, I wondered if the inhabitants ever take the city for granted? Whether the view across the lagoon ever paled, whether the novelty of the colours of the buildings ever fades, and whether the Palazzo's that line the Grande Canale ever become boring? To mind the answer is no - however many times you traverse the Grande Canale you fall in love with the city all over again. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful thoroughfares in the world and each visitor to Venice traverses its 4 kilometre length with an open mouth. It is the main highway of Venice, splitting the city in two, and is a continuos stream of vaporetto's, water-taxis and gondolas. So whenever your feet cannot take any more pounding head for the nearest vaporetto stop, get a seat at the front, and do a circuit of the Grande Canale - it is one of the wonders of the world....

Of course the best way to see it if your bank balance cannot afford a gondola (and whose can?)is by vaporetto (water-bus). Single fares cost 6,000 lira and there are fourteen stops along its length which takes 45 minutes to an hour to traverse. So if you are planning a night out in Mestre (as we did) give yourself at least an hour to travel from the Piazza to the Stazione. One good thing is that vaporetto #N runs all night, and the place looks even more extraordinary in the moonlight. Tickets can be bought from bobbing stops. If you are there for more then two days, I think it is worth investing in a three day ticket for 35,000 lira. You may be tempted to just jump on a boat without paying but the conductor will hit you with a 36,000 lira on-the-spot fine if he catches you. In any case, try to bag a seat at the front or the rear of the boat - the views are superb.

Most visitors arrive at the Stazione at the start of the Grande Canale in western Venice. Across the Canale Grande is Piazza Roma - the bus station, also incorporating a huge multi-story car park. From here you can get tickets for the vaporetto, and please make sure you check which direction it is going. When we arrived we caught the #54 which traversed the whole of Doursodouro before hitting San Marco. But words cannot describe a sunny morning in Venice, and when you growl away from the stop and head eastwards along the Grande Canale it is such a thrill. The first bridge is the Ponte Scalzi which crosses near the station and is one of only three bridges which cross the Grande Canale. After that the white marble Palazzo's begin. There are over 150 in the city and fifty lining the Grande Canale alone. And you cannot help but have a pique of jealousy when viewing these - how grand it must be to wake up to this view every morning.

After the Riva di Basio stop you can really get a good view of these Palazzo's. Most are decrepit and ancient with paint peeling, but some were brightly coloured and covered in frescoes. Around the Palazzo Soranzo is a waterfront casino which was only reachable by speedboat (very Ian Fleming..) and crossing our paths are vessels laden with groceries and gondolas bobbing against red-and-white twizzle mooring posts. The best of these Palazzo's is probably the Ca D'Oro (Golden House) which is covered in a separate journal. But as the Canale curves the Rialto bridge comes into sight set against a forest of mooring posts. Around here the gondola trade reaches fever pitch with terrified Japanese tourists crammed into tiny gondoliers being serenaded by a Venetian with an accordion. It's a wonderful free show..

Past the Rialto Bridge the Grande Canale curves again and Palazzo's become even more magnificent. What you have to remember is that these amazing buildings are built on thousands and thousands of wooden piles driven deep into the lagoon mud. In fact, the Grande Canale itself is not deep at only 5m. The last bridge - the Accademmia - comes into sight and Palazzo Contarini is worth a picture with its gold embossed frescoes (see photo). And then finally its a small spurt past the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and past the magnificent church of San Salute and it widens out into the Bacino San Marco and the Piazza.

By this time the vaporetto will have gotten very full with locals and tourists. I've often wondered what the 50,000 locals make of the tourists. Not much I expect, after all, they have the advantage over us with Venice. Sooner or later we catch a plane and fly away - they see this city every day. Lucky things!

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip