Cover: Sestiere of Castello, Venice, Italy Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
We shouldn’t love Venice. It’s touristy. It can be very crowded. It can take forever to go a short distance as packed water buses slowly navigate canals. Yet, as our train pulled out of station toward Milan as our month in Venice ended, we were leaving somewhat reluctantly as we departed the charming city that had stolen a place in our hearts.
We’d chosen February for Venice for one reason – Carnival. The world-famous pre-Lent celebration is said to date back to 1162 and has always been a source of fascination.
In the end, Carnevale di Venezia was magical, but it was the quiet time before Carnival and chance to live amongst the Venetians that had us yearning to stay a bit longer.
Leaving one City of Love for another
We arrived in Venice after spending January in Paris and were ready to get out of the bustle of a big city. While stunningly beautiful and always overflowing with activities, the City of Love is still a major city with noise, pollution, a high cost of living.
Arriving to an exceptionally empty Venice, the first 10 days of our stay were filled with quiet strolls under an umbrella on rainy days, un-crowded vaporetto rides, and stops in tiny cafés for a spritz or cappuccino where the only other patrons were locals.
Our previous Venice visit was a year and a half ago during the summer, so the contrast was quite amazing. The quieter side of Venice was a delight and a reminder of why Venice gives Paris a run for the money for the title of the City of Love.
Living as Venetian
Slow travel is very different from the experience of visiting a place for a few days or a week. For a vacation, more expensive options may suffice for convenience sake, but when one is a “resident,” finding the less expensive transportation, communication and dining options becomes a series of tasks to be completed soon after arrival.
Venice pocket WiFi
Our customary day one schedule in a new location includes acquiring a pocket WiFi and evaluating long-term local transportation options. In Venice, there are several pocket WiFi providers available and the one we selected provided the ability to pick up the device at a hotel near the train station. Our plan included unlimited connectivity for a month for about 100 euro – a much cheaper option than the $10/day plan + standard plan pricing and data usage available through our US carrier.
Our next stop in Venice was at the Unica Venezia office at Piazzale Roma, which is the transportation hub near the train station.
Whether getting around central Venice on the Grand Canal or venturing out to one of the numerous outer islands in the Venetian lagoon, transportation options hiring a private or shared water taxi or taking a water bus, called a vaporetto, operated by the ACTV. Water taxis are very expensive, so vaporetti (plural of vaporetto) are heavily used in Venice.
While single ride vaporetto tickets (biglietto) are available, a pass can also be purchased at a much better rate for multiple days, such as 2, 3 or 7 days. The tickets are available at most of the ACTV stations at counters or from the vending machines.
For longer stays, the Venezia Unica card is a bargain. We obtained our cards at the Hellovenezia ticket office at Piazzale Roma. Purchasing the Venezia Unica card itself requires a passport, completing a form and paying 50 euro. The card is good for 5 years and can have fares loaded as needed (stored value). At the time of our visit, the rate for Unica card fares was 1.5 euro per fare or 37 euro per calendar month for unlimited use, which we opted for.
While most visitors things of the vaporetto as the #1 or #2 on the Grand Canal, however, there is an extensive network of boats covering the Venetian lagoon, including lines to the outer islands such as Murano, Burano, Lido, and Giudecca. The card can be used on any of the vaporetti, as well as on the buses and the train that run between Roma and Mestre. So, for 87 euro you have unlimited transportation for a full month.
When living somewhere for a month, one quickly discovers the market/grocery store situation. Our Airbnb apartment was on Giudecca, with a couple of small markets on the island. As we speak some French, but little Italian, the WiFi, and Google translate frequently came in handy when shopping. Compared to the US, food and beverages at the market are much less expensive, but the selection is also more limited.
In addition to the grocery stores like Coop and Prix, there are many small neighborhood specialty shops, such as pasticcerie (pastry shops), salumerie (delicatessens) and produce stores. There are also outdoor markets, with the Rialto Mercado being the largest.
Shopping at Rialto Market is an experience not to be missed and definitely worth the vaperetto ride. With a huge fish market, countless produce stands, and vendors offering everything from lentils to nuts to dried peppers, Rialto is the place foodies head to in Venice.
The prices are very reasonable as well. We picked up items for a couple of days’ meals, including nice cuts of salmon and tuna, for about 20 euro.
TV and streaming
When vacationing for a few days or a week, television is generally not a consideration – it can be a pleasant escape from day to day events. However, when on the road for extended periods, it is nice to catch the news or a movie or show in English now and then. While many hotels have extensive cable offerings, many Airbnbs have limited options or just local channels.
AppleTV to the rescue. A vaporetto ride to Piazzale Roma, a train to Mestre, and a bus ride to the Nave de Vero, home of the Venice Apple store, and we were in possession of an Apple TV.
Couldn’t we have just brought ours from the states? Yes, but ours was an older version and we didn’t. So, we are now owners of an Apple 2 with an Italian power cord. Streaming from the US doesn’t work in Europe, so you can use a service to make it look like your IP is in the US or simply sign up for Euro Netflix. We also used one of our iPads to access news sites. And – kudos to CBSN for streaming news around the world.
Where we stayed
We chose an Airbnb on Giudecca (pronounced joo-dek-ka) and it was one of the nicest apartments we’ve rented through the service. The décor was beautiful, the apartment was bright and cheerful, and the views from both the couch in the living room and the bedroom were amazing. On clear days, you could see all the way to the Dolomites and Alpes and every day we fell asleep watching the vaporettos and ferries going back and forth on the canal below.
The apartment was in a building attached to the Hilton Molino Stucky on the island of Giudecca. With the exception of the hotel and a few small businesses, the island is primarily a residential community and very quiet. Access to central Venice is via the Hilton shuttle that runs to and from San Marco or by using the #2, 4.1, 4.2, or N Vaporetto lines from La Palanca.
The pros of staying on Giudecca – it is a quiet escape from touristy central Venice and you get more for your money. The cons of staying on Giudecca? The constant boat/vaporetto rides. Would we recommend it? In high season or during carnival – if you want to escape the tourists and chaos of central Venice – yes. However, if you are only visiting for a few days, you will spend a good deal of time waiting for and riding boats back and forth. Additionally, far more hotel, restaurant, and shopping options are in the Dorsoduro, San Polo or San Marco districts, or sestieri as they are called in Venice.
The Castello district
After a few days of rain, we awoke to a brilliant day, gathered our camera gear and headed to the vaporetto. First stop, the Castello district.
The largest Venetian sestriere, the Castello district reaches from San Marco to the eastern tip of Venice. As many times Venice is described as shaped like a fish, the Castello district is located in the tail.
The Castello district has a bit of everything – residential building, the Giardini Pubblici (public gardens), the Arsenale, neighborhood cathedrals, the impressive Santi Giovanni e Paolo, restaurants, bars, shopping and the hospital. It can be reached by walking east from San Marco square or by Vaporetto 4.2 and take the Fondamente Nove stop.
While in the Castello district we stopped in a mask making shop, L’artista della Barbaria, which is operated by a couple that make handmade paper mache masks. They took the time to explain the mask making process and the difference from the cheap masks found throughout Venice and those made by true artisans.
Upon selecting my mask, they sign it and dated it. Very cool!
Murano & Burano
We’d been to Murano and Burano before but didn’t have as much time as we would have liked and wanted to return.
After visiting Costello, we continued on to Murano and spent the afternoon exploring the magnificent glass shops on the island. All glassmakers were moved to the community in 1291 and, since that time, Murano has become synonymous with fine glass making. is a charming collection of islands connected by bridges and home to some of the world’s finest glassmakers.
Murano is actually a collection of islands connected by bridges and a wonderful place to visit while in Venice.
On another sunny day a few days later, we headed to the Burano, where the homes are brightly colored and highly skilled ladies create exquisite lace products. One of the most photographed spots on the planet, Burano’s colors are said to be a result of the fisherman painting their homes in a specific color so they could easily make their way home after a day’s hard work at sea.
Whether the legend is true or it is simply a charming fable of Venetian lore, Burano is a must visit spot, especially those with an interest in photography.
Venice Carnival – Carnevale di Venezia
By the second week of February, the quiet pathways where we strolled began to fill as tourists arrived for Carnival, or as it is called in Italian, Carnevale.
Amidst the revelers, mysterious masked characters appeared in the crowds. Elaborately costumed Venetians strolled the winding pathways of the floating city, usually with a trail of selfie-seeking tourists following nearby.
Numerous events are held throughout the Venetian islands during the celebration, but the main events such as the Flight of the Angel, the Eagle Flight, and the mask contests occur in St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), the center of Carnevale di Venezia activity.
While official Carnevale events are held throughout the 10 day period, the majority occur on the weekends, when the crowds are the largest as well. Many visitors from Italy and France arrive on Fridays and depart on Mondays to experience the major events held on the weekend.
Know before you go to Venice in February
Temperature: The average temperature in Venice in February is 5°C / 40°F, with an average high of 8°C / 46°F and an average low of 1°C / 34°F.
Rainfall. February is typically one of Venice’s least rainy month, with a historic average of 50mm of rainfall over 6 days of the month. By comparison, April generally sees the most rain, with 90mm and 11 days.
Hotels and Airbnbs. If you plan to visit Venice during Carnival, book early. The best hotels and Airbnbs sell out months in advance.
Cost of Venice during Carnival. Carnevale official events are free. Lodging prices are at some of the highest prices of the year. Balls and parties can be very expensive.
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