Venice: First impressions

It seems hard to believe now, but at the end of January 2020 I was in Venice, little knowing it was the last time I’d go abroad for a very long time.

I’d been umming and ahhing about visiting Venice for years – on the one hand keen to see the famous lagoon city, on the other, put off by the many media reports about how busy it was and tales of tourists being ripped off.

But having spoken to a number of people who knew Venice well, I finally decided to take the plunge and booked a long weekend at the end of January, having been assured Venice was at its quietest then.

And in hindsight, I’m so glad we went as I had a fabulous time and feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to visit such a renowned city before the world turned on its head.

Venice is superb, well worthy of the praise that’s lavished upon it – it turned out to be the perfect pre-pandemic trip (not that we really had an inkling of what was to come at the time).

We arrived in Venice after dark, catching a direct water taxi from Venice Marco Polo Airport to Madonna dell’Orto in the Cannaregio district, making our way through the deserted, twisty-turny streets and crossing a small bridge over a canal until we reached our hotel.

It wasn’t until the next day that I was able to get a good look at the fabled city.

Up bright and early, we eagerly set off to explore the canals around the Cannaregio district (above), amazed at how few people we passed.

The streets and canals were very pretty, but there was also an eerieness to the city and I could see why many of the more famous novels set in Venice are horror stories.

It was incredibly still as we walked along the narrow alleyways, past the tall, rundown buildings in need of a lick of paint or missing bits of plaster, with nary a soul to be seen.

But I enjoyed strolling around the almost-deserted Cannaregio (above and below).

It felt as though we had the city to ourselves and it was great being able to form our first impressions and get to know the canals and alleyways without fighting our way through hoards of people. It was the perfect introduction to Venice.

One of the first things I was asked upon my return to the UK, was does the city smell?

Truth be told, yes, a little – there’s a faint whiff of stagnant water, but it wasn’t that noticeable (although the fact we explored the city during crisp, cold January may have helped).

The Basilica di San Marco (below) did have an unmistakable aroma of sewage as we walked around, but it was hardly surprising as the area around the Piazza San Marco had flooded badly just two months earlier.

The other thing to be aware of if you’re visiting Venice, especially if you go off the beaten tourist track (aka the areas around the Grand Canal and the Piazza di San Marco), is how easy it is to get lost.

I normally have an excellent sense of direction, but was totally bamboozled trying to find the Basilica dei San Giovanni e Paolo.

We spent around an hour and a half trying to find it as we kept going further and further off course, deep into the Arsenale district (in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go) and at one point, quite literally, going around in circles.

We stayed in the Cannaregio district (above) during our two-day trip and I’d highly recommend it to anyone unsure about where to stay. It was quiet and convenient.

There are direct water taxis to and from Cannaregio (via Madonna dell’Orto) to the airport and you can also catch water taxis to the various islands in the lagoon (Murano, Burano, Torcello) from the quayside at Fondamente Nuovo.

There are lots of restaurants in the area, too, and we found a fantastic one, Levante, on the lively Fondamenta della Misericordia.

There’s no way I can do this magnificent city justice in one blog post.

So over the next few posts, I’ll recount my adventures in the city, exploring some of Venice’s most famous sites (Basilica di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale, the Gallerie dell’Accademia), its not so famous sites (the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo), as well as the islands of Burano and Torcello.

7 thoughts on “Venice: First impressions

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  1. Like you, I hadn’t been that enthusiastic about visiting Venice but when I went I was absolutely taken by it. My Mum and I went for a long weekend and had the best time; we had glorious sunshine and barely any toursists!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Talk about great timing to visit Venice. We were there in August and it was insanely busy and hot. Your pictures look fabulous and it’s nice to see a quieter side of the city and canals. Looking forward to your upcoming posts about some of the main attractions in Venice. Take care. Linda

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for acknowledging. A few more words. Venice blew us away with its stately beauty. It feels as if the entire city is a movie set! Water everywhere. Gondolas floating lazily along the narrow canals. Outdoor cafe seating. Narrow charming streets full of beautiful stores. Sensational food. And endless picture-taking opportunities. Our four days went by quickly, and we never made it to the other islands–alas. Next time!


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