Italy Day 4 (29 Nov 22) – Venice by Boat: A Different Perspective of the City of Water & Night Stroll in Florence: The Birth Place of Renaissance Art

Venice by Water

Our plans for today took a 180° turn from what we originally planned. We wanted to visit Dorsoduro and the San Marco regions, followed by a lunch on Venice’s southern part of the shoreline. Our little escapade yesterday unintentionally covered these places and churches we wanted to visit. So we had to swap things around and visit the sights we were meant to visit yesterday. The flexibility of customising our plans is what I like about free and easy travel (amongst other things).

Waking up to a peaceful Venetian morning

We planned to take a Venetian water bus (Vaporetto) to Piazza San Marco, and the nearest Vaporetto stop is just one bridge away from our hotel. We did some simple maths when getting the tickets and concluded getting a 24-hour day pass made more economical sense as we planned to travel from sight to sight using Vaporetto. A single trip costs €9.50, which only allows us to travel up to 75 mins, while a day pass costs €25, allowing us to travel multiple times within 24 hours. Granted, we at most have 12 hours in Venice before our train to Florence in the afternoon, but we still thought it is more economical to get the day pass.

Route map of the Vaporetto plying throughout Venice

Taking a Vaporetto is like riding on a bus, there are fixed stops where the boat stops to drop off or pick up commuters. To get to Piazza San Marco, we took service #2, which plied the entire Grand Canal. I would say seeing Venice on land and from the canals feels different. I thought taking the Vaporetto gave us a more “Venetian” feel. Buildings that we saw on land look different from seeing them on the canals, as though these buildings are built to have their front facing the canal, showcasing the intricate architectural styles and grandeur for people to see from the canal. As the Vaporetto plies through the Grand Canal, some buildings look familiar and some not so. All the buildings have some docks on the ground floor for their owner or visitors to alight from their private boats. We saw Venetians going about their daily life as the Vaporetto moved us through the Grand Canal. We soon arrived at our stop San Marco – San Zaccaria.

Ponte degli Scaizi near the train station, one of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal

We spotted a market along the Grand Canal.

Riding on the Vaporetto offered us a full view of Ponte Rialto.

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute looks closed for restoration works.

San Marco Campanile and Doge’s Palace seen from the Grand Canal

Back to Piazza San Marco

No visit to Venice would be complete without visiting Piazza San Marco, the city’s main public square. The piazza is home to Venice’s three most famous landmarks – Basilica di San Marco, Doge’s Palace and San Marco Campanile. Our first stop of the day was to ascend to San Marco Campanile, which serves as the bell tower for Basilica di San Marco. Standing at 99m, the campanile is the tallest structure in Venice. Pre-booking tickets was unnecessary as we travelled to Venice during the low season. There was no queue for the campanile when we arrived at the bell tower. Entrance to the campanile costs €12, which includes elevator access to the top of the tower. At the top, we were treated to a bird’s eye view of Venice and the lagoon. We could see a sea of red-tiled roofs compactly built next to each other to maximise whatever little space on the floating city of Venice, and occasionally grey domes and bell towers sparsely prop up to the sky. The little canals we crossed yesterday were hardly visible from the campanile. On the south side of the tower, we could see small islands sprouting out in the lagoon. From here, we could also see the entire Piazza San Marco. The top of the campanile is home to a set of five bronze bells hanging on blocks of thick wood, reinforced by rusting metallic frames. The number of people allowed up to the top of the campanile was tightly controlled, so it did not feel crowded. Visiting the campanile for a 360° view of Venice is highly recommended.

San Marco Campanile here we come

We spent 30 mins at the top of the bell tower and headed down. As we had not had breakfast, we ventured into the alleys near the piazza in search of breakfast. Some croissants and sandwiches later, we headed back into the piazza, wanting to visit Basilica di San Marco. As we walked towards the basilica, a queue for the basilica formed. After about 2 mins of standing at the back of the line, which did not seem to move, my friends and I thought entering the basilica was a waste of time. We did not intend to visit Doge’s palace as we spotted scaffolding on one side of the palace, thinking they might be closed for restoration works. At this point, we headed across the lagoon to our next destination.

View of the islands south of Venice from San Marco Campanile

Across the Venetian Lagoon to San Giorgio Maggiore

San Giorgio Maggiore is our next stop today, an island opposite Piazza San Marco which houses Chiesa San Giorgio Maggiore. This church is one of the most pictured buildings in Venice as it is one of the domed buildings visitors would see across the lagoon from Piazza San Marco. We hopped onto Service #2 again to cross the lagoon. The ride to San Giorgio Maggiore gave us a great view of Piazza San Marco from afar. As we were walking out of the Vaporetto stop, one of my friends spotted a poster with some colourful buildings and asked if we would be going there. At this point, I had to make some last-minute changes to include Burano in the list of places we will visit today. I planned to visit Murano for their famous blow glass, and with this new input, we will include a visit to both Murano and Burano. However, we had to keep our check-out and train timing in mind as we were scheduled to leave Venice for Florence later in the afternoon.

Facade of Chiesa San Giorgio Maggiore

Chiesa San Giorgio Maggiore is mainly brick built with a facade cast in white marble. A statue of Christ stands on the top of the front entrance to the church. The church’s interior looks bright and airy, thanks to the high ceiling and windows near the dome that allow plentiful sunlight. The church is a perfect spot to get away from the crowd in Venice, as we did not see a lot of people visiting the church. There seems to be some art exhibition ongoing at the church. A high metallic sculpture hangs in the middle of the church. Perhaps it is my non-artistic nature, and I find the sculpture an eye-sore to the church’s otherwise simple yet elegant interior. We ventured into a small room by the side of the main church, where we found more art pieces on display. Following what was marked to be the path to guide visitors to the church, we spotted a sign to the bell tower. Entrance to the bell tower costs €8, which we did not even bother to consider going up the tower as we had just been to San Marco Campanile earlier. Instead, we headed back into the church and ended up in front of the main altar. The main altar consists of a copper globe supported by four bronze Evangelists with God the Father standing on top. Passing the altar, we wandered outside the church. This is where we spotted an opened gate and assumed this was the way out. As we walked towards the gate, a staff member called and told us this area was out of bounds to visitors. We explained we were exiting the church and heading towards the pier. The friendly staff then escorted us out of the church. As we were waiting for the next Vaporetto to take us back to Piazza San Marco, we saw the beautiful view of Piazza San Marco offered by San Giorgio Maggiore.

Wefie at San Giorgio Maggiore before we leave the island

Burano: Island of Colourful Buildings

Our next stop is Murano and Burano. To get to these islands from Piazza San Marco, we needed to take Service #4.1 or #4.2 and change to Service #12 at Fondamente Nove. We felt a little hungry when we arrived at Fondamente Nove and headed into the only cafe by the pier to take away some food for lunch. As we walked towards the pier that Service #12 stopped by, I noted the time and told my friends we had to change our plan again. It was already 1.30 pm, and we were supposed to return to our hotel by 4 pm. The boat ride to Burano took longer than we anticipated, and we decided to visit Burano first, and if time permitted, we would stop by Murano. The ride to Burano took 15 mins. When we arrived at Burano, we decided to give Murano a miss, given the little time we had left. At the same time, we noted the timing of the next Vaporetto leaving Burano. We had to catch the next boat leaving Burano. If not, we would miss our train to Florence. We only had 45 mins for Burano.

To get to the colour houses on Burano, we walked along the street from the pier that leads into the island (follow the crowd when in doubt as visitors mainly come for the colourful houses). There was a small crowd visiting Burano, but overall, it did not feel crowded. As we followed the crowd into the town, a short walk later, the colourful houses lining a canal immediately came into our sight. The presence of the canals on Burano, cutting the island into smaller islets, makes this place feels like a mini Venice minus the crowd. We walked along the canal, taking pictures along the way, and reached a bridge that seemed to be at the end of the island. We spotted a bell tower that seemed to lean slightly to one side. However, the lean was not apparent when we saw it in Burano but was more apparent in pictures. We did not venture further from the bridge as we had to catch the next Vaporetto. We crossed the wooden bridge and walked back towards the pier. Along the way, we saw more shops that were open for visitors to buy souvenirs. We made it to the pier with 5 mins to spare before the next Vaporetto arrived. To get back to our hotel near Venezia St. Lucia train station, we alighted at Murano and changed to Service #4.1. The ride back to Venice took about 30 mins. We made it just in time to check out and immediately rushed to the train station. Luckily, our hotel is just two bridges away from the train station. We managed to get to the train station with some time to pack some pizzas for our train ride to Florence, the third city of our trip.

My friends by the canal with the colour houses in Burano

Taking a quick wefie at the end of our Vaporetto ride in Venice

Night Stroll in Florence: The Birth Place of Renaissance Art

The high-speed train ride from Venice to Florence took around 2 hrs. It was already dark when we reached Florence (it was only 7.30 pm). Since the night was still young, we headed out to explore Florence after checking into our hotel and settling in our rooms. Florence is a very walkable city with everything being very close to each other. We made our way to the Piazza del Duomo, which the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore calls home. The Duomo looks plain at first glance compared to Duomo di Milano. There weren’t any carvings, nor was it decked out with intricate statues like the Duomo in Milan. The whole facade of the cathedral looks 2D, like some cardboard cut out. As we walked closer to the Duomo, we could see the whole facade of the Duomo decked out in white marble. 13 statues lined up on top of the main entrance to the Duomo. As the Duomo was closed when we visited, we only managed to snap some pictures of its exterior.

Taking our last wefie in Venice before we head to Florence

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore at night

Our next stop is Ponte Vecchio. As we were walking towards Ponte Vecchio, we made a detour to Piazza della Signoria, one of the places we wanted to visit in Florence. There are a bunch of sculptures under an open aired building and a replica of the statue of David in the Piazza in front of a castle-looking building with a tall tower sticking out from the centre of the building. This replica is standing in the exact location that the actual statue of David occupied for centuries before it was moved to its current location in Galleria dell’Accademia. This castle-looking building is the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence.

Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria

Taking a wefie in front of Loggia dei Lanzi

Quiet Florentine street

We continued our walk towards Ponte Vecchio after snapping some pictures in Piazza della Signoria, which was about another 7 mins walk. Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone arch bridge built over the Arno River. It is the only bridge in Florence spared from destruction during World War II. There are shops on either side of the bridge, occupied by jewellers, art dealers, and souvenir sellers today. Ponte Vecchio still exudes old-world charm with the two-piece wooden doors of the shops, which look like something from medieval times. Shops on Ponte Vecchio were closed when we arrived, and there wasn’t anyone else coming to this bridge, which made the walk across the bridge very tranquil. The best place to get shots of the entire Ponte Vecchio was from the next bridge further down. We headed to Ponte Santa Trinita to take night shots of the Ponte Vecchio. From this bridge, we managed to capture Ponte Vecchio and the tower of Palazzo Vecchio soaring into the Florentine skyline. After a few more shots of Ponte Vecchio, we returned to the hotel to rest for the night and recharge our energy for tomorrow’s shopping day.

Ponte Vecchio from Ponte Santa Trinita

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