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City of churches

Venice is the principal city of the Veneta region in Northern Italy. If you ask any class V student in India, you will get an earful about the city of canals.

travel Updated: Sep 24, 2010 10:52 IST

Venice is the principal city of the Veneta region in Northern Italy. If you ask any class V student in India, you will get an earful about the city of canals. That's what I knew too besides the gorgeous shots from on her Majesty's Secret Service. 

A little more research before going there told me that it was a conglomerate of 117 island aspread in the lagoon of the Rivers Po and Piave as they empty into the Adriatic sea. What I thought was venice was actually the Centro Storico , the historic city. A far bigger part of Venice is on terra firma, the Mestre region.

I arrive by train from Milan at 10 in the morning in a pouring rain. The station for tourist Venice is Santa Lucia Ferrovia. You come out of the station on to a broad flight of steps which lead you right on to the canal and the vaporetto station.

My idea of Venice was gliding around in gondolas but Venetians use the water bus ( vaporetto) which has multiple routes to connect the different islands. You can buy a day pass for sixteen Euros that allows you unlimited travel on all routes. Gondola rides are between eighty to a hundred euros for 35 minutes, obviously they are more of a feature to be experienced rather than used like a work horse.

The main tourist action is at Piazza San Marco dominated by the Basilica San Marco. The present church is the third one to built on this site. The previous two churches had also been built to house the bones of St. Mark. My guide tells me that the bones were stolen, some were recovered and are now sacred relics in the church. St. Mark is the patron Saint of Venice and the winged golden lion I spot everywhere are his symbol. I wonder whether the long wait to enter the basilica is worth it but once I am inside , I forget it. The church houses some wonderful paintings by Tintoretto, Bellini and Veronese. AS you exit the church, a short walk to the left brings you to the Doges' palace. This building of pink and white marble has been lived in by 112 dukes, many of whom were collectors. The queue here is minor. You can spend a couple of hours wandering through the ducal palace admiring its paintings, sculptures, armours and wall hangings. The palace is connected to the prison by the famous Bridge of Sighs, so called because it was the way that prisoners traversed before being incarcerated or executed. It have them the last glimpse of their beautiful city.

While on the subject of bridges, Venice has many but the best known is the Rialto bridge. It is like a river of gold, the shops on either side are selling gold gold and more gold. The discerning will locate some antique shops among them as well as shops selling exquisite hand made lace.

Venice is also a city of churches and each has some special feature, maybe a breathtaking altarpiece or a chapel by a famous artist or sculpture. Paintings by Tintoretto, Titian and Veronese are numerous and one is lucky to see the masters' work at such close quarters. Churches like Santa Maria Della Salute are prominent because of their massive architecture and location.

A visit to Venice cannot be complete without a trip to Murano. This is where the famous Venetian glass is made. Do locate a furnace ( furnace) and avail of a guided tour. Every furnace has an attached shop where you can buy a little glass figurine or a whole chandelier or anything in between. The shop assistant advised me that they can ship the purchases to any corner of the world.

If you are looking for a spot of sun and sand, the Lido is the place for you. It is one of the outlying islands and face the Adriatic and has interesting shops, hotels and beaches.

A quick word about Venetian cuisine. Its location on the sea makes fish a very important item on the menu. Beccala Mantecato is creamed cod. Another local speciality is Bisato su L'ara...eel roasted with bay leaves. The sardine in onion marmalade is worth a try. Have them at the 300 year old café Florian on Piazza San Marco , the main meeting place of Venetians and tourists alike.

Dr.Ajjanta Chakravarty is a management consultant and an avid globe trotter. She can be reached at

ajjanta@ajjanta.com