We took two day trips to Venice and Verona, which were organised through Thomson Lakes & Mountains. For both excursions, coach transfers and a guide were the only things included, so we lots of hours at leisure and many other things to pay for – but both days out are thoroughly recommended, especially if it’s your first time.
With the city spread across 118 small islands, separated by canals, a water taxi is your only option to get to San Marco’s piazza and we got ours from the coach park. It’s a great way to get a feel for the Venetian way of life – everyone moves by foot or boat – as well as spotting Cruise Ships and getting your first glimpse of this beautiful city. Upon arrival, we saw these two women dressed in traditional Venetian attire, with parasols and hand fans... only in Italy!
Of course in Venice, you have to ride a gondola and while it’s expensive (I’m talking 80€ per boat), it’s a must-do experience. We got our tickets in advance and as we were part of an excursion, shared our gondola with four others. Because of this, it wasn’t as romantic as I was expecting, our gondolier didn’t sing (but did chain smoke!), but it was a really relaxing ride and lovely to see all the buildings, other boats and experience water life. And I could cross if off my ’30 before I’m 30’ list. Grand Canal was also beautiful – there was so much architecture and it had more of a romantic feel.
The Rialto Bridge was absolutely packed and I have to say, I was slightly disappointed by it. I didn’t walk across it, largely because people were just standing on it, taking photos – but I did get a glimpse and obligatory snap. Unfortunately, it was spoilt by scaffolding on one side; but sailing under it was a memorable experience – I wonder how many people’s holiday photos I’m in! I hate to say it, but it’s overrated!
In stark contrast, I loved San Marco’s Piazza – even though it was full of people and pigeons! There was such a buzz about the place, lots of restaurants and cafes with al fresco seating and live music, beautiful boutiques and gelaterias, incredible architecture and people watching on the stone steps – what more could you want? We sat and relaxed with ice cream before heading to the Basilica and although we didn’t pay to see any further, the interior was incredible! The frescos on the outside were also beautiful and I’m glad to say I visited.
And I have to mention the Bridge of Sighs, not least for the stories that surround it. Tradition states that it got its name due to prisoners sighing as they crossed it, leaving the city behind for prison. You can’t blame them when the views and architecture are as amazing as they are. Although rumour also has it, it was a popular meeting point for couples and got its name as lovers sighed.
Verona is a truly gorgeous city, with medieval architecture, winding cobbled streets to get lost in and lively piazzas. On arrival, we were met by the wonderful Scaliger Bridge with its castle. Walking over the bridge made me feel as if I was going back on time and I was half expecting to see the lords and ladies of Verona on horseback!
The arena or roman amphitheatre dominated the main square (Piazza Bra) and the sheer size of it just blew me away. You could see its former size, as it hadn’t been completely rebuilt after destruction and it was lovely to see the roman numerals etched in stone, denoting the various entrance points. We couldn’t go inside as they were preparing for an opera (there were many large models on the outside, waiting to be made up as part of the set) – but you really don’t need to.
Juliet’s Balcony is an odd one because Shakespeare never actually visited Verona and it was of course him, who wrote about the balcony scene. The house was actually home to the Capellas rather than the Capulets. It’s a place worth seeing, but not worth spending much time there; nor is it worth queuing to stand on the balcony, or have your photo taken with the bronze statue of Juliet. If you do hang around, be sure to cup Juliet right boob as supposedly, you’ll be lucky in love forever!
The Piazza delle Erbe is also beautiful – the square was the town's forum during the time of the Roman Empire. The square is decorated with monuments, including the Madonna statue and fountain, while the buildings’ frescos are amazing; if only we could have seen them up close. There was also a little market, selling souvenirs alongside local produce, including olive oil and limoncello. This was a lovely little spot as it wasn’t as busy as the Piazza Bra.