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TRAVEL: VEN I FALL IN LOVE; LYNN JOLLY was smitten by charms of this jewel of the Renaissance..

Byline: LYNN JOLLY

VENICE is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and when you visit you will not want to leave.

From the minute you set foot in the place everything is captivating because nowhere else like it exists.

Everything - from the stunning buildings and the beautiful azure waterways to the endless cafes and mouth-watering food - is perfect.

The picture-postcard floating city is built on 117 small islands, and has 150 canals connected by 409 bridges.

It is an amazing place to get lost in and have a wander round its back streets, squares and shops.

One of the first things that strikes you is how quiet it is without the normal traffic.

Lorries, cars and motorbikes are replaced by the gondolas, Vaporetto water buses and water taxis. And there is not a single bicycle in sight.

You actually feel like you have been transported back hundreds of years, and memories of the City Of Water stay with you for a long time.

The buildings are on stilts and despite it not being a sprawling metropolis, you still don't feel crowded by the 63,000 people living there in the company of countless tourists.

No matter what time of year you visit (avoid the height of summer - the water gets whiffy) you will have a ball.

And do not be fooled by the city's "romantic" tag. You can have a great time there for three or four days in the company of family and friends too.

The best times for a city break are March to May and again in September, but in November and December there is a threat of flooding.

There are a whole host of unique things you can see and do in Venice.

Hopping on a Vaporetto, chilling out on a gondola, walking along the Grand Canal and seeing its stunning architecture are just a few.

The unusual types of transport are so much fun that it's a bit freaky when you see a normal bus.

After a hard day's sightseeing there are plenty of trendy bars and eateries to choose from, but avoid the "touristy" restaurants which slap on a cover charge just to get in the place.

These Venetians could show Ireland a thing or two about rip-off culture - but your eye is your market, so just be sensible.

Venetian cuisine ranges from the obviously traditional Italian - pizzas, pastas, sizzling seafood - to Chinese and burgers.

The city is so captivating that even someone like me - who won't eat anything from the sea which still has eyes - tried cuttlefish cooked in their black ink.

This dish comes with either pasta, polenta or boiled rice and is a feast for the tummy if not for the eyes.

Just about anything on offer is sure to be delicious.

The sights in and around Venice are perfect to keep you going for a three or four-day city break.

You can take as long as you like to investigate stunning San Marco Square, with its classical music, Basilica of St Mark and fairytale buildings - but watch out for the dive-bombing pigeons.

You can lose yourself in the legends of Casanova and Marco Polo and wander to the Rialto Bridge.

There are more churches here than you could shake a stick at.

Some of the best include the Basilica della Salute (Santa Maria della Salute) - which was built after the 1630 black plague as a thank you offering to God. Then there is the Ca' Rezzonico - one of the most opulent palaces on the Grand Canal.

Begun in 1649 and passed from one influential family to another throughout its history, today it is a museum of 1700's Venice.

You can get a peek into the life of Venice's rich by stepping out onto the balcony for a beautiful view down the Grand Canal.

There is also the Basilica dei Frari, which is a fine example of the Gothic style.

It is also well worth taking a Vaperetto trip to both Burano and Murano, which are like the little sisters of Venice and unbelievably cute spots for lunch and shopping.

Murano is famous for its glass blowing, and you can see a demonstration and buy everything from key rings to elaborate chandeliers.

Burano is the place for lace and is well-known for its brightly-painted pastel buildings.

I stayed in a stunning apartment where the cute little wooden-shuttered windows overlooked the central Campo Santa Maria del Giglio.

The spacious two-bedroom flat was not far from Piazzza San Marco, which was very central for all the sights and night-time social scene.

The little gem is just one of a list of properties available on www.dimoraveneziana.com.

Shopping is another delight of Venice, with leather bags and shoes of great quality at decent prices.

You cannot go wrong on a trip to this memorable, remarkable city. And the beauty of it is that it is only a short flight away and does not need to cost much.

GETTING THERE

FLIGHTS to Venice from Dublin with Ryanair cost anything from EUR80 to EUR300 depending on how far in advance you book them. Ryanair will take you to Trevesio Airport next month for around EUR110. The airport is about an hour outside Venice city, but the bus link is hassle-free and cheap at just EUR12 return. I paid EUR80 return for my flights, with two friends, and accommodation was also reasonable. Three of us shared a two-bedroom apartment, with dining room, sitting room and kitchen, for EUR70 each per night.

Check out the website www.dimoraveneziana.com for accommodation deals, and also log on to www.ryanair.ie for up-to-date flight costs.

CAPTION(S):

HANDS ON: Getting a handle on how to steer a gondola; STUNNING: San Marco Square; SPANNING CENTURIES: The Rialto Bridge; PICTURESQUE: 150 canals course through the heart of this splendid city
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 10, 2007
Words:973
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