Venice the venerable

This was our first time to the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. It is an art event that we have always had on our agenda so we were very pleased with ourselves that we finally arrived, and we were so keen that it was on the very first week it opened to the public. There is a Brisbane connection this year as the former Director of the Queensland Art Gallery Doug Hall who still lives in Queensland was appointed Commissioner for the Australian Pavilion.

Here are some of the practicalities of attending the Biennale in Venice. I want this to be helpful even if you are not attending the Biennale this year but planning on a future trip.

Travel to Venice is a challenge as it is not a matter of arriving at its airport or train station like other cities, where you flag down a cab to take you straight to your hotel. This is my third visit so I think I have nailed the simplest and most economical way to overcome ‘the inconvenience of Venice’.

A train into Venice

Try to get one that takes you directly into St Lucia’s (ferrovia) station, I once had a train that ended at Mestre’s ferrovia and along with other tourists, we were incredibly confused when told it was the end of the line and did not know that we had to get off with all our luggage in tow and change to another train for Venice’s railway station. I vividly recall what a hassle that was.

Tip – we left Venice by train, there is a side entrance where you can wheel your suitcases in rather than try to lift them up the front stairs. Facing the front, go to the right of the station and walk to the back until you find the platforms.  Also take a snack with you as the train food is rubbish and expensive even on the Eurostar 1st class which we took to Milan.


If you arrive by plane as we did this time, you can get a motor launch called the (Orange) ARANCIO – SAN MARCO AIRPORT-water launch – you can download the timetable and see which stops it serves. The next alternative is to take a bus, there are special buses – take the non stop one. Look for the green and yellow sign outside the airport arrival doors, in a sheltered underpass. Costs 3 euro per person and it takes you to the bus terminal at Piazzale Roma. Then you can take a the water borne public transport Vaporetto.

If you are staying in one of the very very expensive hotels then you don’t need this information, the hotel will meet and greet you! Another option is to walk over the new bridge from Piazzale Roma to St Lucia station where you find more Vaporetto lines.

John and luggage on the Vaporetto

John and luggage on the Vaporetto

I could not believe that the new bridge from Piazzale Roma to the station does not include a flat path area for pulling along luggage on wheels, so it is bumpity bump all over the bridge or carry it.

Vaporettos – the main form of water travel

The first thing you need to organise after you arrive in Venice is transport around the city. You can do this online before you go. But we did not so once we got off the bus at Piazzale Roma there was a ticket office, quite close to the vaporetto stop. We bought a one week ticket for 50 euros. No credit card taken here so we were forced to use cash. Later travelling around we never sighted specific ticket sellers near other vaporetto stops. Each time we took the vaporetto we had to swipe our pass on machines at the entrance and only once encountered an inspector on a vaporetto, using a hand held computer device, he swiped our cards to check they were valid.

You could almost survive without buying a Venice Pass, that is if you are prepared to walk everywhere and if necessary you can take a traghetto over the short distances to each island. A traghetto is similiar looking to a gondola but you need to know where they are based and that is not easy if you are not familiar with Venice. For info on tickets visit the websites below as you can buy online and sometimes if you buy them early they are cheaper. Our friends bought the same tickets as we did but only paid 37.50 euros pp for the same weekly ticket.

Here is the link.

Or visit this link for similiar information.

Biennale ticket office

Biennale ticket office

The Biennale

We weighed up the pros and cons of buying daily passes or a whole season pass at cost of 60 euros that gives you unlimited access until ithe Biennale ends in October 2009. We did not anticipate we would be using it all year but it meant that we could attend any day for just a couple of hours or for half a day. We could never manage an entire day, taking in so much art at once is just too mind boggling not to mention physically exhausting.  We had to show ID every time we used our pass to prove that it was ours and was not being circulated to our friends and relations.

Daily entry is 18.00 euro.

The two major exhibition sites are in the Giardini and Arsenale areas of Venice. There are many more exhibitions throughout the city and there is no charge to see them even though they are official inclusions in the programme.


There are two very large bookshops in both locations, selling international art books and the Venice Biennale catalogues.The catalogue is even available in a smaller condensed version. We went the whole hog and bought the full version which comes in two thick books that put a strain on our luggage allocation. The 2 book catalogue costs 55 euros. It is possible to avoid buying the catalogue as most countries publish small booklets on their exhibitors works, and all signage in the Pavilions was in English as well as Italian.

Food and Drink

The Biennale has inexpensive cafes in the two locations offering simple panini and salads.  There is a small variety of alcohol but they seemed to run out of supplies of these each day which I hope they sort out. The serving staff are bilingual which helps. We took our own lunch as we had access to a kitchen with fridge and storage so we could load up our panini with the ingredients of our choice.


Our Venetian apartment

Our Venetian apartment

For us an apartment was considered the best option for a week-long visit. We booked on the web and dealt with the owner of the apartment personally.

We got a nicely furnished 2 bedroom 1 bathroom 1st floor apartment. The entry is through a walled garden and it is in a quiet neighbourhood and only 3 mins from two vaporetto stops and 3 mins from the busy noisy streets of Venice. This site has 3 apartments for rent owned by Maya Koutouzova and you can email her direct, and there are no concerns about language communication as her English is fluent. Maya meets you at the station and even offers to walk you around on your first day to acquaint you with anything you need to find or know.


Venice in June this year was hot, humid and sunny so wearing a hat was absolutely mandatory even for non Japanese women, and by the time you walk for hours it is impossible to escape swollen feet. I tried to overcome this by taking a spare pair of shoes, not that lugging another pair of shoes was convenient! At high tide the water to lapped the ground floor of some palazzos as seen in this photo I took but we did not get our feet wet.


My next blog on Venice – the food and the art! Roz MacAllan

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