If you read about our recent trip to Venice (HERE), then you’ll know that we finally unlocked the key to really enjoying Venice. In a nutshell, it involves beating the other tourists to the finish line. If the “finish line” is a guided tour in Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), then be the first person in line in the morning. If the finish line is grabbing a moment of solace in an empty Piazza San Marco, then you’d better be there as the sun rises (conversely, you can arrive well after the sun has set and listen to the beautiful music of the dueling bands). Or, more simply, you can do what we did; visit this magical city in the off-season and get to know the city of Venezia (Venice) without having to put up a fight.
If you’re blessed with a couple of days in Venice, I would suggest that you go a bit deeper than the surface level attractions. Skip the gondola ride (it’s overpriced anyhow) and instead tour the neighboring islands. With 117 to chose from, you’ll have your pick. You can visit the Jewish Ghetto on the island of Cannaregio. Many of the beautiful parks and gardens on the island of Lido are free of charge to you botany lovers. Or, for the real adventurers, you could opt to wade into the marshes and cast nets with local fishermen near the island of Chioggia.
We knew that we wanted to visit the island Murano and watch how the world-famous Venetian glass was blown. This would require a little preparation and so I enlisted the assistance of a guided tour. I discovered a wonderful website that offers local tours at very reasonable prices – Viator. Travel bugs, take note of that website! It is a great resource for sight-seeing tours in cities all over the world. We will definitely use them again; my only regret was not discovering the website sooner. When searching for a tour of Murano, we found a better option – a tour that also included the islands of Burano and Torcello. You can find the link to our specific tour HERE. I bought my tickets ($28 pp) and had the confirmation sent to my smart phone. I showed up at the designated area, presented the pass on my phone and received our tickets to the boat. Easy, breezy, lemon-squeezy.
Before our tour departed the main island, we had enough time in the early morning to drop by Venice’s famous fish market. The Mercato di Rialto (Rialto Fish Market) is in the area affectionately known as Cuore della Città (heart of the city) behind the Rialto bridge. This area by the famous bridge was settled in the 9th century and becoming a booming marketplace by 1097. Today, the fish market still stands as a wonderful place to visit and buy fresh seafood.
After viewing the market, we wound our way to the tour meeting-point next to San Marco Square. Our four-hour tour included a professional guide, a glass-blowing demonstration in Murano, a hand-crafted lace demonstration in Burano and round-trip transportation to all three islands via boat. I thought the price was very reasonable for all that was included, but truth be told – the price paid for little more than transportation. The guide was impossible to understand over the boat’s roaring engine. All in all, I’m still happy with the deal and it forced us to be back on our cruise ship in time for departure. Nothing like being stranded on a remote Venetian island and watching your cruise ship sail past to ruin your vacation!
Venetian glass, which is more commonly referred to as Murano glass today, is widely recognized as one of the most specialized and beautiful hand-crafted items the world over. Venice emerged as a prominent glass manufacturing center as early as the 8th century. The origins of glass making going back to the Roman Empire when molded glass was used to assist in the illumination of bathhouses. The island gained it’s notoriety when the Venetian glass blowers were all ordered to move their foundries to the island of Murano in 1291, for fear of fire on the main island. By the fourteenth century, the glassblowers were considered among the most elite of Venetian citizens. The closely guarded secrets developed on the island laid the foundation for a glassmaker monopoly on high quality glass that lasted for centuries. Our tour guide explained that even to this day the artisans of Murano are highly trained in this unique skill that is closely monitored by the Glassmakers Guild. Among other things, a Murano glassmaker must be the son of a tenured glassmaker and apprentice for twenty years before being allowed to make his own glass. A “young” glassmaker on the island would be someone who is in his mid forties.
Next, we set sail for Burano, which is known mainly for its painted houses and the church of San Martino’s leaning campanile (bell tower). They also have an established reputation for their creations of lace.
Lastly, we finished on the island of Torcello. We were surprised to learn that this was actually the first island to be settled by Venetians, and once held the largest population of the Republic of Venice. Today, you can hardly see evidence of this; the island is so sparsely inhabited that only a few structures remain and the inhabitants number fewer than a couple dozen. The main attraction nowadays is the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta) founded in 639 AD.
If you are planning a trip to Venice anytime soon, I would definitely recommend a tour of the peripheral islands. If you discover any other fun places to visit, please drop me a line and let me know!