Uniworld Cruise Diary day one: Venice

Support by Lorenzo Quinn. Gigantic hands rise from water to support the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel, a statement of the impact of climate change and rising sea levels.

Day 1: Of all the travelling maladies few are as unfortunate as jet lag.

Sure, it can be useful for staring at your hotel ceiling at 4 am or, equally, dozing off in your dinner at six that night.

But as luck would have it, a 26-hour flight from Sydney via Qatar has landed me in one of the better places to have your body clock seriously out of whack – Venice or, as the Italians call it, La Dominate; a city so mesmerising it defies engineering, human endeavour and any person’s capacity to fight rising damp.

It’s true, Venice remains as utterly compelling as it did when I first arrived 25 years ago as a whiffy student backpacker on $20-a-day.

Thankfully this, my fourth visit, is decidedly more extravagant courtesy of Uniworld’s Venice & The Gems of Northern Italy river cruise experience.

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But back to the jet lag. It’s 5 am in the morning and I find myself strolling Venice’s laneways, bridges and piazzas on my lonesome.

Just me, the odd pigeon, a couple of brides and grooms trying to catch a sunrise wedding photo and this brain-numbing menagerie of Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque architecture first realised 2000 years ago.

Venice gets a reported 28 million visitors a year (arguably 27 million more than the locals would like) and I’ve arrived at the beginning of high season.

Thankfully, for me and my fellow travellers I’m told Europe’s late July heat does tend to quell the numbers before things really escalate come September.

Uniworld moors its 110-metre cruise ship – the sensationally appointed River Countess – a 10 minute-stroll from Venice’s heart, the Piazza San Marco.

The first morning’s taken up with an expertly guided tour of the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), seat of Venice’s highly corruptible power over the past 600 years, and its adjoining prison. Linked by the famed Bridge of Sighs, this penitentiary in centuries gone by was the final home of the city’s miscreants before their ultimate beheading out in the nearby square.

This excursion is followed up by a walking tour of the strangely quiet and tourist-free Costello district of the city.

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The evening’s highlight is a private viewing, solely for Uniworld passengers, of Venice’s numero uno tourist attraction, the 1000-year-old Saint Mark’s Basilica – reportedly home to the bones of the city’s patron Saint, none other than the apostle Mark himself.

In two decades of coming to Venice, nothing’s changed and everything has. The prices remain VISA-destroyingly scary, the locals are as indifferent as ever (probably from tourist fatigue) and the joint’s packed cheek-by-jowl with well-meaning visitors over-loving the place.

However, it has to be said, the water quality (and subsequent stench) appears no more following a number of initiatives by the authorities that, among other things, stopped Venice’s plethora of hotels using the city’s canals as an outlet for their wastewater.

Venice is and should be on every traveller’s bucket list. And even the fourth time around, with the maddening crowds, the snaking queues and the tacky tourist shops, Venice still has no competition as the best tourist destination on the planet.

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