If you’ve got 1-2 days you’ll likely stick with exploring Venice. With one more day you can venture to the nearby islands of Murano, famous for it’s glass, and the lesser known Burano, known for coloured houses and lace making.
Ferry Travel to Murano and Burano
Our 2 day travel pass included travel to both of these islands on the regular ferry. From the port of Punta Sabbioni near our campsite, we could travel directly to Murano and Burano without having to go via Venice. That’s not to say we avoided the crowds completely. Trying to get on the Murano ferry at 9am was very difficult. It meant negotiating our way through the crowds of people waiting for the Venice ferry, all using the same pier, while apologising profusely and explaining we weren’t trying to queue jump. A bit pointless since only part of the crowd appeared to understand English. Once on the ferry, things were a little calmer and we were able to get a seat in the air-conditioned indoor section.
The ferry ride took around half an hour. It stopped at Burano on the way but we decided to head all the way to Murano first, before it got too busy, then stop at Burano on the way back. This was a decision that almost ended in disaster that afternoon. The cruise ship we could see in the distance should have been our first clue as to the crowds we would later encounter.
Guarnieri Glass Factory Murano
Murano is a pretty island with small canals. The main activity in Murano is to visit a glass maker. We were on a mission to visit not just a shop, but somewhere that allows viewing of the glass makers. Guarnieri Glass Factory has good reviews and a reputation for not pressuring people to buy. They charge 3 Euros per person (free for the kids), for a 15-30 minute tour. We wandered in after paying and were allowed to sit watching for as long as we liked. Afterwards we visited their gallery full of expensive and beautiful things and their small tourist shop with more reasonably priced souvenirs.
Purchasing Glass in Murano
There are lots of trinkets you can buy in Murano. Small souvenirs to remember your visit: photo frames, glasses, small animal figurines, beads and jewellery… L & S had some pocket money to spend. S was on a mission for a charm to add to her Pandora bracelet. There was lots of choice in the shops. It was difficult to browse the shop at Guarnieri due to the crowds of people. So many people in the shops were touching everything, carelessly knocking over fragile items and then leaving.
L asked me to look at the glass horses with him. The price of 10 Euros seemed very reasonable. Since the kids rode a pony in France L has developed a bit of a horse obsession. He chose his favourite and the shop assistant was very patient and sweet with him. Treating his small purchase as something significant – which to him it was. Realising we hadn’t seen the demonstration of the glass horses being made, the shop assistant requested a special one for us to watch. We were received with genuine kindness at Guarnieri. I highly recommend them for a visit.
Video Murano Glass Making
This video is from our 2nd factory tour. We were sitting a bit closer so it is a better quality than my video from Guarnieri. But it’s the same process, they can make one of these horses in one and a half minutes!
Travel from Murano to Burano
Back at Murano’s ferry terminal we awaited the next boat to Burano. A ferry was just coming in but there were long queues, so we didn’t make it on the first one. Never mind, another was due in 20 minutes. We were close to the front of the queue, waiting in a sort of garage like building opening on to the pier. Although it was hot inside we were lucky to be out of the direct sun. As the minutes passed the crowd got larger. A group behind us were pushing and shoving. Trying to make their way to the front. Around us were a number of parents with prams and small children.
Crowd Crush in Murano
The ferry arrived, the gate opened and the crowd surged forward. With so many people pushing from the back, at the front we couldn’t get through the gate fast enough. We were piling up at the entrance. Children were crying and parents panicking. In real danger of being crushed by the crowds behind us we tried to keep hold of the kids and get through the opening. I had taken S by the hand and Paul had L, but we both began to lose our grip on them. S ended up pressed against the wall.
Staff shouted at the crowd to stop. It didn’t stop the crush but I managed to grab a better hold on her and push her through the opening. Swept along the pier by the crowds, S & I became separated from the boys. I tried to wait to board the boat until they were with us. When I could finally turn around I saw L panicking but we had completely lost Paul. Now the kids are really losing it, yelling for their Dad. He caught up with us eventually and said he kept trying to get to us and people would elbow in front of him. S stayed very quiet the whole time but once we sat down she broke down:
Mum, I was about to scream my loudest because my hand was slipping from you and my face was pressed against the wall
I wish she had screamed her loudest. So many pushy, impatient tourists, they had no idea that day how close many small children came to being badly hurt. A stampede or crowd crush is a strange thing. If you’ve experienced it you know that there is a feeling in the air, a moment when the whole mood changes. You have no chance of reasoning with people and no chance to go against the flow, you are just carried along in a tide of people. To lose hold of your child in this moment is truly terrifying.
L added a little light humour once we’d calmed down:
I was behind a big man with my face pressed against his butt!
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The Colourful Island of Burano
Arriving at the pretty island of Burano, we felt calmer but still crowded with so many people around us. We needed some medicinal gelato, to console our shaky children.
A picturesque island distinctive with its brightly coloured houses and lacework. Burano legend says fishermen were the first to paint their houses in bright colours so they could see them while out fishing. Nowadays if residents wish to paint their house on Burano, they send a letter to the government and they will advise what colours are allowed at the address.
We had visited Burano many years earlier. Then you could still explore narrow lanes and find women sitting together hand stitching lace. Now most of the lace sold in Burano is machine-made. I suspect many of the tourists visit more for instagram opportunities than lace buying. I’m pleased we visited previously and have happier memories, because this day in Burano we couldn’t summon the enthusiasm. It was time to go ‘home’ and regroup.
At this time we’d been travelling in Europe for 76 days. A long time to be on the move, no surprise that the kids were feeling a bit fragile and we all wanted to get away from the heat and the crowds for a bit. We dedicated our last day in Venice to enjoying the beach. That might seem crazy to some people, but even full time travellers need a day off sometimes! Our experience with a crowd stampede provided a learning opportunity for the kids (one we could have done without) and opened our eyes again to the problems of over crowded destinations. Time to more forward, away from our grotty campsite and on our way to Switzerland! Via Lake Garda.