Italy is famed for its scenic beauty, glorious food, historical sites and the two iconic medieval wonders of the world. While there are so many cities and islands to visit, this winter, I and four friends had the opportunity to explore four places within Italy; Venice, Florence, Pisa and Rome.
We spent a total of 6d5n in Italy; two nights in Venice (16-18 Dec), an afternoon in Pisa (18 Dec), a night in Florence (18-19 Dec), and two nights in Rome (19-21 Dec). Daylight in winter are short, thus it is wise to plan ahead for the trip. We booked flight tickets two months in advance, but by then the prices had skyrocketed. The research on transportation, accommodations, and places of interest for each city were split between the five of us so that all of us will have an opportunity to lead, and be able to point out the monuments to the rest.
The girls arrived on the afternoon flight from Manchester while the guys on a morning flight from London. Our flight is delayed for almost an hour, most probably due to foggy weather in Venice. At an altitude of more than 10, 000 feet above sea level, the view approaching Venice is breathtaking. At one point, the cloud blanketed the view and looked like soft cotton.
16 Dec – We reached Venice Marco Polo airport on Venice mainland. At the airport, a Singaporean Malay couple gave us a paper bag full of chocolate goodies. It was so sweet of them and we couldn’t finish it at the end of the trip. As the airport is in the mainland while the hotel we booked is on the island, we used the Blue line of the Alilaguna public transport service took us from the airport to San Marco vaperatto stop. It was almost 5 pm when we reached the pier.
We walked to our hotel, Hotel Torino, which is in a midst of all the high-end shopping, from Gucci to Prada to Chanel to Balenciaga and is a few minutes walk from the St Mark’s square. This is of the most beautiful squares in the world. The entrance to our room is located in one of the tiny alley. It was at that point, I realized that not only Venice is smaller than my expectations, it is filled with many large alleys. There were no need for proper roads and I had not seen any land transport – bicycles included. It is not surprising though, as there were so many steps and bridges to cross that walking is simply faster than driving or cycling.
17 Dec – The itinerary included the Rialto bridge (Ponte Rialto) morning view, St Mark square morning view, visited the St Mark’s basilica, morning view from the St Mark’s campanile then a four-hours tour in Murano, Burano and Torcello islands, a gondola ride and lastly, sunset view from the Rialto bridge.
As early as 9am, we walked to Rialto bridge (Ponte Rialto), which is oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal in Venice. Dated back to 1591, the stone bridge is almost 400 years old. The doors on the bridge were scarred with paintings and graffiti. “So this is it?” I heard one of my friends say. It was indeed just a bridge, so to speak, but the view from the bridge was very breathtaking, especially during sunset.
Next, we head of to St Mark Square (Piazza San Marco),, known as one of the most beautiful squares in the world. Merely a five-minute walk from the hotel, the square campanile (Italian bell tower), basilica and the clock tower. There is free entry for the basilica so we arrived early in the morning to beat the queue – and we did. It took us less than 15 minutes to appreciate the basilica, but it took us almost an hour at the campanile. There is a charge of EUR8 to go up the bell tower; daylight robbery, I thought at first, but then the 360 degrees view of the entire island was amazing. We could even see some nearby islands.
From a pre-booked English guide tour at 11 am, we discovered the a series of islands near Venice lagoon; Murano, Burano and Torcello. The tour guide was very helpful in explaining the different monuments and buildings we see, including a naval school. The most enjoyable part about this is the panaroma of the islands from the boat. The silhouette of Venice island is one of the most beautiful pictures I have taken.
Murano, also known as the mini Venice, is famous for its reputation in glass-making. We stopped directly in front of the museum of glass. The sculpture are hand blown and stretched, creating a unique striations within each glass. We had a demo presentation on the making of a vase and a horse. The horse was really impressive (view video below). The fire in the furnace was burning so vigorously that we could feel the heat even though we are more than 10 feet away.
Burano has a reputation of lace making. The impressive part is that there is no actual lace-making school as the tradition is passed solely from mother to daughter. The houses in both Murano and Burano are painted with vibrant colours so that the fishermen could recognize their houses.
Torcello is part of the tour as it is the oldest island in the Venice. It was noted that the island was once very well populated by Venetian dated as far back to seventh century, who escaped from the mainland. However, a malaria breakout in 12th century killed thousands of the Venetian and is currently sparsely populated with about 16 (or 60) Venetian to date. The highlight of this island is the oldest cathedral, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Asunta, and the Devil’s Bridge (Ponte del Diavolo).
Lastly, there is gondola ride across the Grand Canal and the side canals. We paid EUR16 per person for a 40-minutes ride. We manage to enjoy the sunset at the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, by the Grand canal. Halfway during our journey we caught about a minute of a serenade from another gondola.
We retired at a seafood restaurant near the bridge. Best. squid. ever.
18 Dec – As we checked out early the next morning, Venice was foggy. The ride along the grand canal took about half hour from the San Marco Vallesero pier. Later, we learnt that it snowed two days after we left Venice.
“Goodbye, Venice.” I whispered as I rolled my luggage into the train station.