Today I am at Manchester Airport awaiting my flight on Lufthansa to Venice via Munich. I have never been to Italy before and until recently would have considered Venice to be a difficult place to visit for a wheelchair user, but research on the internet seemed to suggest otherwise. In the map on the right those areas marked in green are supposed to be fairly easily accessible, those in khaki less accessible, and those in red not accessible. During the next two days I will find out.
My flights with Lufthansa and Air Dolomiti went to plan and the transfer at Munich airport was as smooth as could be. On arrival at Venice Marco Polo airport I headed to the taxi rank and on to the Novotel Venezia Mestre Castellana, the cost was€40. It was a regular taxi but the driver told me wheelchair accessible vehicles were available at the same cost.
On Saturday morning I got up quite early and went downstairs for a breakfast of salad, cold meats, scrambled eggs, cheese and a cup of tea. Then on to reception to enquire how to get in to the centre of Venice, they told me that I could get two buses, that the fare was €1.50, and gave me a photocopied map showing were to get the buses and what bus numbers to take. What they didn’t tell me was that I needed to buy my ticket there… At home in Wales I have a bus pass and don’t pay and if I get a bus in England I pay the driver, I wasn’t aware that in foreign parts you have to buy your tickets before getting on the bus. An Italian family at the bus stop told me this and said I could have one of their tickets, they also helped me on and off the two buses.
Arriving at Piazzale Roma it was very busy with coaches, cars and taxis. There were people everywhere going in every direction and many ticket offices. I walked down to the waterfront where there were even more people, ticket offices, ticket machines and boats going in all directions. I just wandered around for some time watching it all before deciding to visit the Tourist Office. To get to the Tourist Office you have to go back past the bus station and you can see it just beyond at the top of a flight of stairs, if you walk past it a short distance and then double back on yourself you arrive at the level of the office. Here I was given some maps of wheelchair accessible routes of various locations in Venice and bought a handful of tickets for the waterbuses at a discounted rate of €1.50 for wheelchair users (and a companion), I had read that you have to purchase these at the tourist office but have also heard reports you can get them at the regular ticket offices.
Back to the waterfront and I headed to the pier to get on a no. 1 waterbus and decided to get off at Rialto Market. Getting off the waterbus and heading down an alleyway to the market square I could smell the fish that were being sold on the first stall I came to. The market was very colourful and apart from the fruit, veg, and fish stall there were stalls selling hats, masks, sunglasses and all manner of souvenirs of Venice.
After looking around the market square there were further streets to explore. Soon I found a shop that sold freshly pressed fruit drinks that were displayed on a counter of ice. Every now and again one of the shop owners would throw more ice over the prepared drinks. I chose a mixed berry drink which went down well in the heat of the afternoon. Further along the street I stopped again, this time at a gelato (ice cream) kiosk where I chose a mint cone.
Back to the pier and I caught a waterbus to the island of Lido where the beaches of Venice can be found. Lido island is where the name for an outdoor swimming pool in Britain comes from. Lido is long and narrow and has cars and buses on it. From the waterbus pier you head inland and after not too long you come to the other side of the island where there is a beach with wheelchair accessible paths on it. I spent about and hour here sitting on the beach.
Before leaving Lido I went to a beach café where I had a glass of Coca-Cola with ice and lemon, this cost €4… Arriving back at the pier there was a small, limited stop, waterbus about to leave on which I travelled back to Piazzale Roma. It was evening when we arrived back and the day trippers had begun to leave making it a more peaceful place than I had left several hours earlier. The light was now good for photography so I took photographs before finding somewhere to eat.
All day I had only found places that sold pizza or pasta, two things I am not keen on, it was not until about 7:00pm that I found a Turkish kebab and burger place by the taxi rank at Piazzale Roma. I was very hungry and had a large kebab with a mug of black tea. After a long day it was now time to head back to my hotel, as I was tired and wasn’t sure if I could find the stop where I would need to change buses I took a wheelchair accessible (only because it was at the front of the rank) taxi back to my hotel, the cost was €30. Before going to bed I spent some time writing postcards.
Before I knew it Sunday morning arrived and it was down stairs again for breakfast. As I had only found pizza and pasta yesterday I prepared for today with a big breakfast, one plate of cold meats, cheeses and tomatoes and another plate of scrambled eggs and bacon. Then I got the buses back in to Piazzale Roma for another day of exploration. Deciding to visit the island of Murano, famous for its glass, I headed for the pier to find a big queue. Nearby was a coop supermarket where I spent about 15 minutes and bought some mozzarella cheese and a bottle of cola before returning to the pier in time for the next boat.
Reaching Murano I got off at the first stop and began walking around the island to the left. I passed by a glass factory and could see in at the gates, I continued around as far as I could go and then crossed over the island through some alleyways where you could smell cooking as it was now Sunday lunchtime. Eventually I came to a canal that had shops along both sides but I was unable to cross to the other side. I think I may have been able to see more of Murano if I had not got off the waterbus at the first stop here; I will know for next time.
Another waterbus ride later I arrived at San Marco, I didn’t get to St Marks Square but spent my time along the waterfront and in the alleyways. The bridges I saw in this area had ramps placed over them to enable wheelchairs to cross, they were a bit steep but if you are quite fit they are doable and more often than not strangers would often help me over them. In the alleyways here I found a number of seafood restaurants but it was too late in the day to try them out as shortly I had to head off to the airport.
Finding the pier for the Alilaguna airport boat I purchased my ticket for €15. This was a different kind of waterbus and the crew had to get a ramp to assist me to board. There is no specific place for wheelchairs and the seating areas are downstairs so the crew directed me to one of the luggage areas in the middle of the boat. We made a few stops on the way and at the first one a crowd more people boarded.
Shortly after leaving this pier one of the passengers came back up the steps and asked, in Italian, if I spoke English and asked if I would like her to stand next to me. I said I didn’t mind and so Zena, as she later told me, joined me and we chatted for the rest of the hour or so journey and during the walk from the boat pier to the departure hall. Check in and my two flights with Lufthansa back to Manchester went smoothly with an on time arrival.
Venice turned out to be quite accessible for a wheelchair user, especially if you use the waterbuses to make short journeys if you can’t cross over the bridges. I certainly can recommend it as a weekend destination, though you will probably want to stay longer, and it is somewhere I will be returning to in the not too distant future. I would also like to find somewhere accessible to stay on the islands for any future visit.