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Cruise Diva Goes Ashore in Europe:
The Mediterranean
Sights to see & things to do

Venice, Italy

Historians contend that it was Attila the Hun’s rampage through the Italian mainland that forced Venetians to found their city among the islands and mud flats of the lagoon. Owing much of its charm to the famed waterways that were born of necessity, modern-day Venice is an improbable city of canals, bridges, and fascinating sights. Slowly sinking under the weight of its treasures, it’s one of the most magical cities on earth.


Fortunately for cruise passengers, ships often overnight in Venice, allowing two days to explore the city. Most ships dock at a pier about a half-mile or a 15 to 20 minute boat ride from St. Mark’s Square. Getting around the city is accomplished by boat or on foot and crossing canals means using bridges that often have from 10 to 200 steps. Water taxis are relatively expensive, but vaporetti (water buses) are cheap and not difficult to master. Purchase tickets at kiosks or tobacconists displaying an ACTV sign before you get on, as they are more expensive on board. A money-saver is a 24-hour ticket that entitles the bearer to unlimited rides on most lines. The No. 1 line operates from one end of the Grand Canal to the other and moves slowly enough that you can get a good look at the palaces lining the waterway and take pictures. Gondolas, with their slim hull and flat bottom are the symbol of luxurious transportation in Venice. Almost exclusively used by tourists, plan to pay through the teeth to ride in one. 

The cultural center of the city, and starting point for most tours, is Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square. Anchoring the square, St. Mark’s Basilica is a hodge-podge of Eastern and Western styles although Byzantine dominates. The dome of the church is likely the first thing you’ll see as your ship moves toward the Grand Canal. Inside are splendid mosaics, rare marbles, jewel encrusted golden altarpieces, icons, and many more religious treasures. Upstairs, the Marciano Museum contains the Triumphal Quadriga (the four famous bronze horses brought from Constantinople in 1204), more mosaics, and tapestries.

Surrounding the Piazza are elegant cafes, smart shops, and the gleaming Palazzo Ducale or Doge’s Palace. Many of Venice’s most important painters assisted with the rebuilding of the Palace after a fire in the 16th century and the interior is highlighted with the works of Vernonese and Tintoretto, including Paradise, said to be the world’s largest oil painting. After a tour of the Doge’s downstairs apartments, ascend the stairway of gold to see more artistic masterpieces. Follow the signs to the Bridge of Sighs, so named for the laments of prisoners crossing it, to the prison cellblocks of the Palazzo delle Prigioni. For an incomparable view, take the elevator to the top of the bell tower of St. Mark’s.

Ships’ excursions often offer a walk through the Jewish Ghetto, a tour of the Murano glass factory, tours through the Scuola Grande Di San Rocco and Santa Marie Gloriosa dei Frari and their collections of Italian master works, or scenic bus tours outside the city to Padua and the Brenta Riviera with stops at important artistic and religious sites. A must-see for modern art aficionados is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the great modern art collection displayed in the American millionaire’s oddly truncated single-story palazzo on the Grand Canal.


Venice is a shopper’s paradise. Although some prices are steep, they become more reasonable as you wander farther from St. Mark’s Square.  Locally made items to look for include lace, linens, leather goods, masks, knitwear, and, of course, Venetian glass. Some shops close for lunch but remain open late in tourist areas. Café Florian offers weary tourists a spot to enjoy a cappuccino in a historic setting on St. Mark's Square.


For a day of sunbathing and swimming, take a 10-minute boat ride to the resort beaches on the Lido island in the lagoon. Some areas are for the exclusive use of hotel guests, so take care before settling in for the day.

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