This is the eighth in an eleven-part series covering my June/July 2019 trip to Slovenia and Venice. You can read my last post, discussing my time on the Slovenian Coast in Piran and Portoroz, here.
I’ve never had a strong desire to visit Venice, and am wary of crowds, but decided to end by Slovenia trip there for practical reasons. Trieste is the closest airport with regularly-scheduled commercial service to Piran, followed by Pula in Croatia (where I flew into for Rovinj). Ljubljana is about 90 miles away. But I was using Iberia miles for this trip, from its wacky 9000 miles per booking promo last summer, and none of those airports make sense for that. (The only Oneworld/Avios carriers that even serve those airports are BA into Ljubljana and Pula, Aerlingus into Pula, and Finnair into Ljubljana.) But Iberia does serve Venice, which is only 124 miles from Piran by car – and even closer as the crow flies across the Adriatic. Staying in Venice for two nights also gave me a great use of two free night certificates I had from getting the Ritz Carlton Visa last year which were good at any Marriott property – I redeemed them for the super fancy Gritti Palace.
While it would’ve been an easy trip via private car, it was a bit trickier via public transportation. While there are ferries from Piran direct to Venice, and from Piran to Trieste, neither were running the day I was traveling. So I had a few options: the early morning once a day bus from Piran to Trieste, and then a regional train to Venice’s Santa Lucia station; an afternoon bus from Portoroz to Venice Airport, and then make my way to the city; or any time during the day on an hourly bus to Koper, then another bus to Trieste, then the train into Venice. I went with the simplest route, the early morning bus, figuring I wouldn’t be up that late in Piran the night before, and this would maximize my time in Venice, getting me there by lunchtime.
Since there was only one bus a day, I tried to buy my ticket in advance. I couldn’t figure it a way online, so when I was in Ljubljana, I asked the concierge at the Intercontinental if I’d be able to buy a ticket at the bus station there. She called and discovered I couldn’t, but said there shouldn’t be any problem just buying the morning of. That was the case. I left my Airbnb at 6:20am and was at the bus “station” by 6:28am. The coffee/gelato place wasn’t open yet, so I just waited in the parking lot where the buses pull up watching the early morning sun. A few minutes after the scheduled 6:40am departure, an empty bus pulled in, and the driver came out and put luggage in the hold for me and the only other waiting passengers – a family of three people. The ticket was 5,90 EUR, with no extra charge for luggage. (Given that it was an international route, I was surprised the driver didn’t speak English, but it wasn’t a problem.)
The bus was clean and comfortable, and similar to the suburban route I had taken from Seca back to Portoroz the day before. Piran is the first stop, before it hits all of the other Slovenian coast towns– Portoroz, Strunjan, Izola, and Koper—before crossing the Italian border, taking about 90 minutes total. No passengers got on until Izola, and it was interesting to get to see a bit of Izola from the bus. Izola was quite pretty, but also clearly a lot more of a functioning city and less touristy than Piran, with a population four times as large. Koper was even larger, with a population of 25,000 (and a direct rail line to Ljubljana). There, seven passengers, who looked like locals got on, and then we started picking up people fairly steadily outside of Koper, before getting onto the highway for the end of the trip.
I got to see a little bit of Trieste as the bus pulled into the city and it was quite pretty, and I think I probably would have enjoyed a night there exploring. The bus dropped off about a half-block from the train station, and I thought about spending some time exploring Trieste before boarding the train. But luggage storage was pricey and I figured it was better to just keep the momentum of my journey going, especially since that would have meant taking a slower, 3 hour or longer train, as opposed to a 2-hour five-minute one.(There was also a 30 min faster, non-regional train, but didn’t seem worth double the price—especially since it only goes to Mestre, not Santa Lucia.)
I arrived at 8:07am, and though I could’ve run and probably made the 8:15am train, took a leisurely approach, and bought a ticket for the 9:15am train from a machine in the station lobby for 14 EUR, followed by a 1 EUR visit to the nicest train station bathroom I’ve ever been in, complete with marble walls. (There’s no need to buy tickets in advance for this train.) There were a few shops in the station, including a Spar Express supermarket and a coffee shop/restaurant. I had a cappuccino and got a sandwich for the train.
The train pulled in about ten minutes before departure and cleaning crews boarded right after it unloaded. It was an older, basic Trenitalia regional train. All of the seats in second class were 2 by 2 facing each other, and there were no amenities to speak of—though the luggage racks above the seats were large enough to hold my large suitcase. Leaving Trieste, the train was filled up about half-way, including two other people in my four-set.
The train route started off along the water with a really scenic view, before turning a bit inland for most of the trip. Tickets were checked about 35 minutes into the trip. I laughed out loud when one American man asked where the “café car” was. The train started to get very full as we entered the Veneto region, and became standing room only as we started hitting the Venice suburbs.
At 11:08am, we hit Venice Mestre station, where basically everyone but the foreign tourists got off. Then we went over a bridge and into the islands of Venice, arriving at Santa Lucia station at 11:20am. After another 1 EUR bathroom stop, I headed to the Alilaguna ticket office. I had bought my ticket for the water bus back from my hotel to the airport online to save money, but you have to exchange the online voucher for an actual ticket, and there was no booth by my hotel, so I figured I’d just do it then and there, which was easy. I also bought my ticket for the vaporetto/water taxi that I’d take from the train station to the hotel there. You can also buy that on the pier, but the line was actually much shorter. It was 7,50 EUR for 75 minutes of riding – not cheap. A day pass is available for 20 EUR, but walking is honestly much faster so long as you don’t have luggage.
It was a short walk to the pier, where I got on vaporetto line 1, which would take me to the Gritti Palace. I had been a bit worried about taking the vaporetto with luggage, but it was fine. I sat for a bit, but the views were much better in the open standing area of the boat.
The boat moves very very very slowly, so if you’re in a group of 2 or more I’d suggest spending the 75 EUR for a private water taxi. I was able to get some stunning views of the city, though, as the boat moved through the Grand Canal. I put a little video together.
At 12:15pm, a little less than six hours after I left my Piran Airbnb, the boat pulled into the Santa Maria del Giglio stop, which was about a 2-minute walk from the Gritti Palace, which I’ll review next. The hotel was great, but Venice in July may have been one of the worst travel experiences of my life…