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Client blog: A cultural guide to Venice, Italy

As you know, we always enjoy reading the Abbotts Travel newsletters. So far we haven’t heard any of your clients talking about Venice, so we thought some people may find it interesting to read about our experience in this wonderful city.

We have been enjoying our visits to Venice, almost every year, since 1978.

For the first fifteen years we stayed at various hotels, including Hotel Londra Palace and Hotel Ala, both of which we found extremely satisfactory.

Since 1994, we have always returned to the same place, Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal, which is perfect for our requirements. Situated just a couple of minutes' walk from St. Mark's Square, the hotel has a private landing for taxis and magnificent views from its Grand Canal Restaurant.

In Spanish we have a saying, "Sobre gustos no hay nada escrito", which means that there are no rules when it comes to taste. For us, the fact that there are no cars in Venice is a great joy, but a friend of ours from Sevilla found this to be a drawback.

A few days ago, we were speaking to a young man from Madrid who was visiting Venice for the first time and was as enthusiastic as ourselves about the wonderful artistic masterpieces. He told us that he had been flabbergasted a little while earlier when talking to a young Spanish lady who was apparently only impressed by the large quantity of water.

Speaking of water, we have a curious anecdote which a taxi-driver once told us. When he was driving a North-American lady, she asked him where tickets could be obtained to see the "Acqua alta" spectacle. She thought the flooding of the city, which occasionally takes place when there is heavy rain, was a spectacle prepared for tourists.

Venice has two ‘must-sees’, namely St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace.

When visiting the Cathedral, we ask Abbotts Travel to book us a ticket, usually around midday. In our humble opinion, the Cathedral is one of the great masterpieces of Byzantine art. To be able to enjoy it to the fullest you must see the wonderful mosaics and we recommend booking a time when the interior is illuminated. The ticket costs three euros, which we consider to be money well spent, and it also means we are able to walk straight in without having to stand in an enormous queue.

There is no charge to enter the Cathedral, but there are several parts of the building which can not be visited without buying a ticket. We usually pay to see the Pala d'Oro and to climb the stairs to the balcony and the museum, where the original bronze horses brought from Constantinople may be seen.

The Venice Museum Pass may be used to enter the Doge’s Palace, as well as several other museums and some of the most interesting churches. This card is quite expensive and we only purchase it when we intend to visit the Doge's Palace and a number of other museums. Whenever we visit the Palace, we spend several hours as it is full of magnificent works of art by many of the great masters of the Venetian School. The Council Chamber is particularly spectacular and one of the largest canvases in the world, Tintoretto's "Paradise", is to be seen there.

There are numerous high quality museums in Venice. The Accademia houses a superb collection, mainly of works by artists of the Venetian School such as Giorgione, Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. It differs from the great eclectic art galleries such as the Louvre or the National Gallery in London in the sense that it specialises almost exclusively in Venetian art.

Other interesting art galleries are Ca' Rezzonico, which is dedicated to Venetian art of the Eighteenth Century and houses notable works by Tiepolo, Canaletto and Guardi; Ca' Pesaro, where there is an attractive presentation of works by distinguished twentieth century artists such as Boccioni, Kandinsky and Sorolla; and Ca' d'Oro, where there is a distinguished eclectic collection of works by great artists from various parts of Europe, including Mantegna, Titian and Van Dyck.

This year we visited the Natural History Museum for the first time and found it most attractive and beautifully presented. Like most of the museums we have mentioned, it occupies a beautiful building on the banks of the Grand Canal.

The Museo Correr and the Archeological Museum, situated on St. Mark's Square, is also of considerable interest.

Another place not to be missed, especially if you like Tintoretto's painting, is the Scuola di San Rocco, situated beside the great Frari Church near San Tomá vaporetto stop.

There are more than fifty churches in Venice, most of them of considerable interest. Among our favourites are four superb Gothic ones: the "Madonna dell' Orto"; "Frari"; "San Giovanni e Paolo" and "Santo Stefano".

We also particularly enjoy revisiting the beautiful Renaissance Church of "Santa Maria dei Miracoli" and the awe-inspiring "San Zaccaria", with its majestic façade and splendid paintings in the interior, especially a beautiful Madonna by Bellini.

Visitors to Venice who wish to see several churches, but do not intend to visit the Doge's Palace may find it worthwhile to pay twelve euros for the Chorus Pass, which allows entrance to sixteen Venetian churches during the period of a year.

Venice is a great centre for music and Opera. The Fenice theatre is, in our opinion, one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. For those who do not wish to attend a performance, the theatre may be visited during the day. We try to attend at least one concert or opera every year and are usually not disappointed by the quality of the performances.

There are several venues in Venice where chamber orchestras perform mainly Venetian Baroque music, especially Vivaldi. We have attended many concerts at such places as San Vidal or the Pietà and have enjoyed the performances very much.

As well as Venice itself, there are several interesting islands in the Lagoon, notably Murano, Burano and Torcello. Murano is the centre of glass production and also has the magnificent medieval church of San Donato. Burano is the centre of the lacework industry and is characterised by its multicoloured houses. On Torcello you will find a magnificent Cathedral and the beautiful Romanesque Church of Santa Fosca.

Venice may be reached by air, sea, road or rail. The airport is located on the mainland about ten kilometres from the city centre. From there you can take the Alilaguna vaporetto or a water-taxi, which is considerably more expensive (about 120 euros), but has the advantage of speed and arrival at the door of your hotel.

The Railway Station is at the beginning of the Grand Canal and there are frequent trains to and from many parts of Italy and Europe. Those who arrive in Venice by road may park their vehicle either in Piazzale Roma or Tronchetto. There are vaporetto stops nearby.

Once in Venice itself, transport is by "vaporetto" or taxi. There is an efficient system of vaporettos which connects almost all the places on the lagoon. The price of a single journey is around six euros, but, if you are going to catch the vaporettos frequently it is worth purchasing a ticket for a week or three days.

We have not mentioned the "gondola" as a means of transport because, as far as we know, it is not nowadays used to get from place to place, but rather as a pleasant way of seeing parts of the city from a canal, rather like the "bateau mouche" in Paris.

Of course, the other means of transport is on foot. We find strolling around the streets extremely pleasant, stopping occasionally to wonder at the beautiful lacework, jewellery or glass to be seen in many of the shop windows.

We also like to visit the market near the beautiful Rialto Bridge. It is a delight for us to see so much fresh fish. We also return every year to the nearby "Parmigiano" delicatessen, where we find our favourite cold meats and cheeses.

One last word. We would never advise staying at a mainland hotel as any monetary savings would in no way compensate  for the time wasted travelling to and from the city. We like to stay near St. Mark's Square, but there are numerous places on Canareggio, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce and Castello that offer the perfect conditions for a successful visit to this charming city.

Bernard and Mercedes

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