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Venezia Mestre, Italy

Arrivederci Italy!

We left Pisa via train and transferred in Florence, arriving mid-afternoon at the Venice-Mestre station.  We opted to stay in Mestre which is on the mainland just outside of Venice proper.  It was more affordable and easier to walk to our apartment with our luggage.  We were only a 15-minute walk from the train station or the tram to head into Venice each day.  The train was €2.90 for the 2 of us and the tram was €3.00.  We usually took the tram to Venice and the train back home since we had to walk past two grocery stores between the train station and the apartment.  It worked out great! 

Venice is not luggage friendly, or stroller friendly although we saw plenty of people with both.  Vehicles and bicycles are not permitted in Venice, so everyone must walk from the transit station or take water transportation.  There are porters that will take your luggage to your hotel and water busses/water taxis to get around if you’re willing to pay.  We mostly walked, but we took the water bus to one of the nearby islands near the end of our stay and regretted not using the water busses sooner.  They are a fairly quick way to get around and although they can be crowded at least you don’t have to navigate walking trough the crowds if you take the water bus.

On our first day it was incredibly foggy, so we chose not to head out to Venice.  Instead, we walked to a nearby park called Parco di San Giuliano.  It was eerie to walk around in the fog, but magical at the same time.  We also stopped to check out Forte Marghera; a 19th century fortress used mainly for events and exhibitions.  It is also home to a cat sanctuary.  When we walked in there were signs saying not to feed the cats.  We decided to have a snack and proceeded to open granola bars and a cat appeared out of nowhere and ran towards us.  He stopped about 3 feet away and once he realized we didn’t have treats proceeded to walk away.  Luckily, we found another cat later that was up for some pets.

Venice was busier than we expected for this time of year, but it turns out we managed to book in for the week before Carnivale.  It would have been an amazing experience to see Carnivale in action, but I’m also happy we left before it got any busier.  The streets are very narrow in places and when you have that many people walking around it can get congested quickly.  If you want to visit the Doge’s Palace, you need to book a time slot in advance.  They also charge a “donation” fee to enter the basilicas in Venice.  We opted to spend our time walking around instead.  We did visit Piazza San Marco and the Ponte di Rialto, but mostly we just wandered around.  We chose not to take a gondola ride due to the cost.  It is €90.00 for a half-hour ride and €110.00 if you wanted to go after dark.  We just couldn’t see the value and chose to explore on foot instead.  This also allowed us to get out of the busy areas and wander down quieter canals in more residential areas.

We did check out the narrowest street in Venice; the Calle Varisco.  Not only is it insanely narrow, but it also dead ends at a canal.  It was neat to see though and there was only one other couple there.  We also walked to the far side of the island to see the Arsenal di Venezia; a byzantine shipyard founded in 1104.  They use it today for events and they were setting up for Carnivale shows when we stopped by.  There we saw the Building Bridges sculpture which was very impressive.  It represents Friendship, Faith, Help, Love, Hope, and Wisdom.

We visited the island of Burano which is known for its brightly painted houses.  You actually have to petition to change the colour of your house there and you must repaint every 2 years to maintain the effect. It was very quaint and beautiful.  We also found a few friendly cats.

Overall, Venice is stunning.  It’s incredible that they managed to build so much on just a mud flat.  They sunk imported alder wood into the mud which over time petrified in the muddy zero-oxygen environment.  On these piles they built wooden platforms and then constructed the stone buildings on top.  They put a layer of limestone between the wood and brick because it doesn’t allow water through.  The construction alone is phenomenal, but more so is the fact that so much of it is still standing.

I was a little worried that Venice would be disappointing as I had heard that it is overcrowded and dirty, but we found it to be quite tidy.  I could see the crowds being an issue during peak season, but I think we were pretty lucky there.  It is a charming city, but there are very few residents these days and you can tell.  It just isn’t pulsing with life as you would expect from a community.  It could have been partially due to the time of year though.  May Venetians take holidays in January and a lot of shops and restaurants close until February.  It was still an amazing adventure and a treat to see. Oh, I almost forgot, we got to see an original Banksy street art; must have painted it from a boat!


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