With its unique atmosphere, Venice (Venezia in Italian) – also known as the “Queen of the Adriatic” – is one of the world’s most romantic cities. Attracting around 20 million visitors each year, Venice is a flourishing historic city mostly renowned for its canals. Indeed, the “City of Water” is located in the Venetian Lagoon, which consists of 114 islands. Both the lagoon and the city in itself are considered UNESCO World Heritage sites.

With its architecture and one-of-a-kind topography, this Italian jewel is one of Europe’s must-see destinations. However, if you are planning a trip to Venice, try to avoid going during the summer season, probably the worst time to visit this fascinating city. During that period, the weather in Venice is usually pretty hot and humid, therefore attracting a lot of mosquitoes and flies. Fall and spring (with temperatures between 5-15°C) are great times to enjoy Venice and avoid tourist crowds.

Venice Main Attractions

  • St Mark’s Square: St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) is Venice’s main public square. The Piazza houses two of Venice’s most renowned monuments: St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco) and St Mark’s Campanile (Campanile di San Marco). The Basilica is one of Venice’s most important sights and its byzantine architecture is particularly breath-taking. As for St Mark’s Campanile, it is one of Venice’s symbols. This 98.6-meter bell tower offers spectacular views over both Venice and the lagoon. Before leaving the Piazza, also make sure to have a look at St Mark’s Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio), a 15th century building from the Renaissance period.
  • The Doge’s Palace: The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) is a gothic palace famous for its arcades overlooking the Venetian Lagoon. The Doge’s Palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the leader of the Venetian Republic.

  • The Rialto Bridge: Built in 1591, the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) is the oldest bridge that crosses the Grand Canal (Canal Grande). The Rialto district where the Rialto Bridge is located, is also worth a visit, as it is Venice’s financial and commercial centre. The district is mostly renowned for its whole sale and detail markets.
  • The Bridge of Sighs: Built in 1602, the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) is an enclosed limestone bridge which spans the Rio di Palazzo. It connected old prisons to the Doge’s Palace, where the interrogation rooms were located. The view from the Ponte dei Sospiri was the last thing prisoners were able to see before going to jail, hence the name of the bridge.

Things to Do in Venice

  • Enjoy a traghetto ride on the Canale Grande: Although Venice is mainly renowned for its traditional gondolas, you should be aware that a 40-minute gondola ride costs €80 (CAD$111) and gondoliers are usually known for trying to scam tourists by inflating the official price. Moreover, you will have to pay extra if you want to hear the gondoliere sing. If you are interested in sailing Venice canals at a reasonable price, you can take a traghetto. Traghetti are gondolas that were designed for poor people. The ride is quick (traghetti just cross the canal from one side to another) but cheap (€0.50-CAD$0.69). Another alternative consists in taking a vaporetto, a Venetian water bus.
  • Wander in the city: Wandering in Venice is probably the best way to get to know the city. Forget about your map of Venice for a while and get lost. You will discover unknown parts of the city and get an overview of how locals live. Get as far away from the tourist attractions as possible: you will see a new, different facet of the city.

  • Visit Burano and Murano: There are plenty of islands surrounding Venice that are worth a visit. Among them, Burano and Murano are probably the most interesting. Murano is renowned for its glassworks and organizes glass-blowing demonstrations that are really fascinating. With its colorful houses, Burano is another charming island, although less famous than Burano. You will need to take a vaporetto from Venice to get to these islands.
  • Discover Venice Carnival: The Carnival period is probably one of the best times to travel to Venice. Taking place two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ending on Fat Tuesday, the Carnival of Venice (Carnivale di Venezia) is one of the most famous carnivals in the world. This annual festival is mostly renowned for featuring breath-taking costumes, including Venetian masks, which were aimed at hiding people’s social class.

With its one-of-a-kind atmosphere, stunning sights and nice weather, Venice has a lot to offer and will seduce even the most demanding travelers. The nice restaurants as well as the charm and calm of the city (no cars!) will make your holiday in Venice unforgettable.

Posted by ralfowen

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Andalusia – the name alone evokes images of warm days along the Mediterranean coastline, of passionate Flamenco dancers and of equally passionate bullfights. For many people, Andalusia represents Spanish culture in itself. I had visited this iconic region of Spain several times, in 2002 and 2004, but it was now time to return and see some of the places I had missed the last couple of times.

The Cathedral of Granada

On April 11, 2011 I landed in an Air Canada flight in Malaga and ended up taking three buses to get to my first destination:  Granada. Although I had visited Granada and the Alhambra in 2002, I wanted to see this jewel of Moorish architecture again and get to know the city a bit better.

The Alhambra glows at dusk

In my initial explorations of the city I checked out the area around the Cathedral and the lively Plaza Bib-Rambla before taking a local bus up to the Albaycin Hill to the famous Mirador de San Nicholas from where I had an absolutely awesome view of the Alhambra. This ancient Moorish castle was glowing in the golden hues of the setting sun. After exploring the narrow cobblestoned streets of the Moorish area of the Albaycin, incidentally a UNESCO World Heritage Site – just like the Alhambra, I descended back to the city to visit the busy Plaza Nueva and returned back to my hotel via the Gran Via.

Marcell Doerrier, my expert guide in Granada

My second day in Granada, April 12, 2011, was awesome. It started with a morning walk a through the old city centre and a visit to the municipal market. Then I met local expert Marcell Doerrier who is a Granada native and a tourism expert. Marcell organizes tours and rents out vacation homes in a small country town outside Granada.

One of the many atmospheric squares of Granada

Our city tour started with breakfast on the Plaza Nueva, and continued with a bus ride to the Gypsy Quarter of Sacromonte and a long hike through the narrow streets of the Albaycin, the city’s Moorish quarter. Then we continued our expedition downtown to cover the Cathedral, the Alcaiceria (Jewish Quarter), the lively Plaza Bib Rambla and various shopping areas of Granada. Along the way I learned a lot about Andalucia and life in this amazing city. And we got to sample some of the tasty tapas that Granada is so famous for.

The Alhambra at night

In the evening I decided to check out one of the highlights of Granada – live Flamenco music! The live Flamenco shows are held in the Sacromonte area which is the gypsy district of town. The area is said to be a bit dangerous so I booked a guided tour which picked me up directly from my hotel at 10 pm. The tour guide first took us up to the Albaycin Hill, the Moorish quarter with its atmospheric narrow walkways and white-washed houses. From the Mirador de San Nicholas we had an absolutely fabulous view of the Alhambra at night – the Moorish castle never stops to enchant.

Then our minivan ride continued on to the Sacromonte area which has long been home of the “gitanos”, gypsies who have been living for centuries in homes built into mountainside caves. Flamenco is their unique art form and we got to see two separate groups of Flamenco dancers (in each case 3 women, 1 male dancer, 1 cantaor(a) – a Flamenco singer, and a guitar player). The passion in their soulful singing and dancing is unmistakable and an experience not to be missed when travelling to Andalucia.

A great view from the Alhambra

My last day in Granada had arrived on April 13, 2011. I embarked on a visit to the Alhambra, the enchanting Moorish castle and Spain’s most visited tourist destination. I visited the Generalife, the 14th century summer palace of the Nasrid rulers which is surrounded by magnificent gardens. I then continued my stroll to the Palace of Charles V and the Alcazaba. The Alhambra has gorgeous gardens and offers a phenomenal view over the surrounding countryside. The backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is absolutely breathtaking.

Beautiful flowers in the Alhambra Gardens

Two days in Granada had certainly not been enough, but I had to move on. I picked up my rental car and drove across Andalucia to the Atlantic coastline – the Costa de La Luz where I was going to spend an entire week.

Posted by ralfowen

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