“Venice,” Truman Capote once observed, “is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” Most cruise passengers who go up on their ship’s outer decks to watch –mesmerized by the entrance to Venice’s Grand Canal, or Canalazzo as Venetians call this, one of the world’s greatest “avenues,” most likely would agree with him. The arrival alone, affording such sights as churches, bell towers, and palaces is enough to awe even veteran world travelers.
Exploring La Serenissima (Most Serene), as Venice is often called, is easy for cruise passengers: the cruise terminal is a 20-minute walk from St. Mark’s Square or if they prefer to take local transportation, there are vaporetti (water buses) with lines 1 and 2 offering service on the Grand Canal. St. Mark’s Square, which Napoleon called “the most beautiful drawing room in Europe” is a favorite starting point for starting a sightseeing tour of the city. Some cruise lines offer a regularly scheduled shuttle boat that takes passengers from the cruise terminal to St. Mark’s (generally for a fee).
“Must-sees” in the piazza include St. Mark’s Basilica in Byzantine and Romanesque styles with a symphony of five domes and gold mosaics, some dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. Built in 828 to house the body of St. Mark, the basilica’s main altar is over his tomb and adorned with a green marble canopy supported by alabaster columns. The Pala d’Oro, a gilded silver screen encrusted with precious gems, and the four original gilded bronze horses in the basilica’s museum are not-to-be-missed (the horses in the basilica’s façade are replicas).
Other highlights of St. Mark’s Square include the Campanile bell tower, originally built in the 9th century and rebuilt several times across the centuries (an elevator ride takes visitors 318 ft. up for panoramic views of the city. Few visitors leave the square without feeding the zillions of pigeons who make their homes there, enjoying a libation at one of its outdoor cafes, admiring art by Tintoretto, Veronese and other masters in the Gothic-Renaissance-style Doge’s Palace, and opting for a romantic evening gondola ride – a “must” no matter how many times one visits the Queen of the Adriatic. There is a gondoliers’ station steps from the square across from the Danieli Hotel. The gondolas made their appearance in Venice as early as the 11th century, and in their present form, since the 14th century so a ride on one of them past centuries’ old palazzos transports visitors to ages past.
In addition to the palazzos –Venice has some 200 of them— grand churches, the graceful arch of the Rialto Bridge, built in the late 16th century, and the Bridge of Sighs (so called because prisoners condemned by the doges sighed while crossing it at their last glimpse of Venice) are among the sights that can be enjoyed during a gondola or vaporetto ride.
Popular shore excursions sold onboard ships include walking tours of St. Mark’s Square visiting the basilica and Doge’s Palace, gondola ride and serenade, as well as visits to such museums as Galleria dell’Accademia, founded by Napoleon in 1807 and holding a collection of Venetian art from the 13th through the 18th centuries; and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, with modern paintings and sculptures, with emphasis on Cubist, Surrealist and Abstract works collected by American expatriate Peggy Guggenheim. Other shore excursions that can be arranged onboard ships include trips to the island of Murano, famous for its hand-blown glass, and to the island of Burano, known for its lace.
Il Ghetto (the Jewish Ghetto) is where Jews were forced by the doges to live from the 16th to the 18th centuries in the then remote northwestern corner of Venice, in the Canareggio Sestiere section. The word “ghetto” was derived from “geto” or foundry as the area had an old, abandoned foundry and later came to be applied to an area where ethnic minorities live. A Venetian Jew was, by the way, made universally famous by William Shakespeare in his play, “The Merchant of Venice.” A pleasant neighborhood where some Jewish families still live, Il Ghetto offers great views of the city and a museum, Museo Communita Ebraica.
Local flavors not to be missed include biscotti and deliciously creamy gelato (ice cream) as well as such culinary specialties as pasta e fagioli soup (soup made with pasta and beans), bussolai buranelli (yellow yolk cookies), and fegato alla veneziana (Venetian-style liver). The Bellini Cocktail (a mixture of Prosecco and peach juice or peach puree) originated in Venice and many cruise passengers like to enjoy it where it was invented in 1948 in Harry’s Bar, Calle Vallaresso 1323, west of the Piazza San Marco, or at the Cipriani Hotel, on Giudecca Island, across the Venetian Lagoon from St. Mark’s Square.
Popular souvenirs of Venice include hand-blown glass from Murano, carnival masks, lace, fashions and leather goods.
Cruise lines that visit Venice as a port of call, or sail itineraries (most frequently to the eastern Mediterranean) out of the city include Azamara, Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, SeaDream, Silversea, and Windstar.
IF YOU GO – For information on Venice, visit www.italia.it/en.