Subject: Venice at Easter (long)
We left for Venice early Easter Sunday morning. Originally planning to drive up and leave the car at Gatwick, we realised on Saturday that the clocks would be going forward and we would have even less sleep than anticipated! A frantic hour on the net secured a room at Europa Gatwick Hotel ñ mentioned on several sites but I phoned them to check. Originally £65 for the room B&B, 8 nights parking and transfers, they knocked off £10 as we didnít want breakfast (as we would be leaving at 6.30am) However Ziners thinking of staying near an airport before flying need to remember that other travellers will have even earlier flights ñ be prepared for those who think its fine to talk in normal/loud voices and bang doors at 4am!

Landing at Marco Polo airport we went to the booth in Arrivals (on the left by the exit doors) and bought Alilaguna tickets at just over 9 Euros each. This is the waterbus that stops at Murano, Lido and San Marco. There are 2 Alilaguna routes that are each synchronised hourly, both go the San Marco so you would never wait more than half and hour if thatís where you want to go. The map is very clear which bus goes where and the ticket collectors will also check. Watching the waterfront at San Marco come into view was fabulous and we felt that we were sailing into part of a filmset. You think you know what to expect with Venice having seen it so many times in films, travel programmes, works of art etc ñ but nothing prepares you for how unique it really is.

It was now 2pm Easter Sunday and San Marco was very busy. We had a vague idea where our ëhotelí was having seen it marked on a map in the back of Rough Guide to Venice so off we went. We later realised that the San Marco-Rialto trail is well trodden by droves of tourists and wheeling a large suitcase did present a few problems! We also realised as we wandered through the narrow alleys that to understand the address system is that you make sure youíre in the right ësestiereí (parishes really), then follow the numbers on the buildings. So we were in Canareggio and looking for 5700. It was no problem wandering around the area until we happened on a tiny alleyway that led us to the Lion Morosini.

On emailing us the confirmation they had said ëring us on arrival and we will give you directionsí, but it was fun finding our own way! From Campo S Bartolomio follow Salizada Fontego Tedeschi, over the bridge into Salizada SG Grisostomo and on your left, inbetween Ristorante Fiaschetteria Toscana and a Tabacchi is a tiny alley ëCalle del Remer alle Scaleterí. Go down there and in 30 seconds you are in a Campiello (very small square) with a wooden jetty and a fabulous view of Canal Grande. Walking out onto the jetty was like walking into a Canaletto. Wow! If you are going to Venice I think it really would be worth finding this view ñ youíll almost always be the only ones there and it is stunning. On your left the Rialto bridge and the broad sweep of the Canal Grande disappearing away to your right.

An external staircase took us up to the place we were staying - Palazzo Lion Morosini which I found through

Now this really was a gamble. We were doing Venice as a budget trip ñ we flew courtesy of Airmiles, which we collect via supermarket shopping! Although I looked at loads of hotels via the net and checked out some great Ziner suggestions we decided to try Lion Morosini as it was a really good price and the position seemed ideal. We had a few panicky moments thinking it was going to be very noisy but was reassured by Paulo Maietta looking at its website photos and deciding it was on the quiet side of the Rialto! And you were right Paolo! Here in Somerset we live in quiet countryside but we found our room at the Lion even quieter! Just the occasional swish of water as a gondola glided by along the narrow canal under our windows. Lion Morosini is really a guest house rather than a hotel (right again Paolo!). A couple of tables in a tiny hall was the ëbreakfast roomí but they were quite happy to bring it to your room or you could sit ñ as we did every morning ñ on the little balcony at the top of the steps and watch the canal traffic go about its business. The jetty was used in the mornings to unload crates of beer, building materials, fruit, fish and even a coffin! Across the Canal we watched handcuffed prisoners arriving by motor launch at what must have been the courthouse!

Our room was huge by Venetian standards. High ceilings and space for at least another 2 double beds. The bathroom was almost as big as the last hotel room we had in Montmartre! The shower was a handheld affair and was hopeless but the bath had jacuzzi jets! If anyone wants more info on this place just ask. We paid 551 Euros for 5 nights including breakfast (decent coffee, little cakes and a bread roll). Good value and we really liked the area. It was fairly basic but as a place to rest your head in a great position it was just right.

For the next 6 days we walked and walked. Venice really is quite small and itís really easy to get about. We decided to get a waterbus pass for just one day and spent that day hopping on and off ñ great value at just over Eur 9 for 24 hours (a single trip on a waterbus is Eur 3.10). We used the ticket to visit Murano and Lido where we took a bus to the other side (buses are included in the ticket) where the beaches are. So ñ where did we go and what did we do?

We had taken the Rough Guide to Venice and the Eyewitness guide ñ they complemented eachother perfectly. I love Rough Guides for their slightly irreverent manner and fascinating snippets of history. The Eyewitness guides are so beautiful to read and make identifying everything so easy. It came into its own when on the waterbus #1 we were able to identify lots of the waterside palazzos (palazzi?) and other buildings

Basilica San Marco during a service ñ wonderful! OK there were hordes of other tourists but it was worth it. All that gold! Dogeís Palace ñ fascinating for its ornate rooms and lovely inner courtyard. Go to the dark, cool cafÈ for a welcome cold beer at the end of your visit and watch the gondolas scoot past the open ëback doorí! The Frari, Scuola Grande di San Rocco and San Rocco church. Rather than go to the Accademia we thought we would like to see the paintings in the churches and buildings for which they were commissioned. Scuole Grande was awe inspiring. Make sure you get the free taped guide ñ it really made the visit to listen to its fascinating history. Almost all the paintings are by Tintoretto who sort of got the contract to do them! Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art ñ formerly her house, it is a small but top quality collection of 20C modern art. Lovely small garden scattered with sculptures and terrific view of the Canal Grande. It also gave us the chance to wander through the Dorsoduro district. Most of the time we were the only people walking along the canals. A tranquil, pretty area.

We decided to eat within our area ñ I donít think my feet would have taken me much more than 10 mins walk away each evening. We stuck to inexpensive/moderate restaurants and were keen to try the local specialities of course.

Venice is what Prague is becoming ñ an all year round tourist destination. The numbers of day visitors swell the crowds but we never felt it was overcrowded unless we were on the signposted San Marco - Rialto route. If you want to get away from the crowds you just nip down the nearest narrow alley and it will open into a small or large square and the crowds will have disappeared. All prices were in Euros (often with the lire equivalent underneath) but everyone was familiar with this currency. We took euros with us (tip: in the UK you can get foreign currency over the counter and commission free at main post offices) and then used our bankcard in cash points ñ absolutely no problems.

We ate at Ai Promessi Sposi and Casa Mia both in Calle dellíOca in Canareggio and a little restaurant opposite the Lionís alleyway. We also ate at a place named after its owner Paolo at the far end of Nove Strada. Casa Mia is often very busy and filled with locals eating pizza. We had monkfish and seppie. Seppie is cuttlefish cooked in its own ink. It looks pretty awful on the plate ñ rather like whole squid covered in a black veil! It was delicious! At Ai Promessi Sposi we ate fegato (calves liver) and beef in marsala ñ Dave voted the fegato as his best meal in Venice. We also had mixed seafood, sea bass and various pasta dishes ñ I can honestly say we didnít have a poor meal and felt the prices were excellent. We always had a first course and main course followed by coffee and with a couple of bottles of wine and a bottle of water. On average we paid about £25 for both of us I guess. The seafood was fantastic value compared to what we pay in the UK.

We realised that Fondamenta Nove was nearer than San Marco and was an Alilaguna stop. An easy 10 min stroll through almost empty streets took us there for the waterbus back to the airport ñ with the added bonus of it only being Eur 5.10 each!

Bang on time the Alilaguna turned up (you can pay on board) and we looked back at a terrific 6 days in this unique city. You have heard all the hype and I did wonder if it would be horrendously overcrowded and really tacky but it was surprisingly easy to get away from crowds and if you didn't want a mask or plastic gondola you didn't have to buy one! On the subject of masks I tried to persuade Dave to buy the doctors' mask that has a long beak. This used to be stuffed with disinfected cloth to protect them from the plague. I thought Dave could use one the next time a patient starts coughing and spluttering over him but he wasn't tempted!

I was delighted that my Italian learned over 33 years ago came back to me and proved quite useful. We bought a frame and small box in Venetian paper made by the chap who served us, I bought some clothes for the girls from Blusand and I bought just one handbag although I could have bought a dozen!

Thanks to all Ziners particularly Paolo and Richard for their help and information. I think in the end anywhere we would have stayed would have been good and each area of Venice has its benefits whilst never being far away from what you want to see.

We will certainly return. Arriverderchi Venezia.

Sally Somerset UK