UNESCO Cities Marathon 2016 is only on its fourth edition but the organizers spared no expense to make this a race to remember for all participants.
We flew Ryanair and landed at Treviso Airport after an hour and a half on Sunday, March 26th. The Treviso Airport Bus Express shuttles passengers for 12 € one way and 22 € return to two stops, Mestre Railway Station, and Piazzale Roma. Ryanair also has an arrangement with this transportation company. The flight attendants sell the bus tickets before the plane lands so it saves you the hassle of having to line up and pay for the tickets at the bus counter. You can also take the bus to the Treviso station and take the train to Venezie Mestre station via Line 6.
Being new to the area, we just bought our tickets at the bus counter. The shuttle departure times are timed with flight arrivals so fortunately, there was a bus leaving in a few minutes. The direct bus ride took about an hour to arrive at Piazzale Roma, the main transportation hub at the entrance of Venice.
From there, we crossed the bridge to the city’s main train station, Venezia Santa Lucia. The Trenitalia regional train to Cervignano-Aquileia-Grado starts at 6:41 AM and departs every hour thereafter. The fare for a first class ticket was 13,75 € each. On hind sight, we could have gotten off the airport bus at the Venezie Mestre train station to save us some wait and travel time.
I did not research on how we were going to get to our hotel from the train station. I worried a little bit when I saw that it was a tiny station in the middle of a residential area. There were no buses or taxis waiting for fares. I told Richard we can walk it to our hotel so we started walking. When we passed a pizzeria, I went in and asked how far away it was to our hotel. The waitress replied it was in the next town 10 kilometers away and it would be best if we call for a cab. Oops!
I called the number of the taxi service she gave me and asked to be picked up at the train station. We walked back and waited a bit. After 20 minutes and no sign of the taxi, a bus arrived. The driver confirmed that he could take us to the bus stop closest to Hotel Patriarchi and the fare was 1 € each. We climbed aboard and I cancelled the taxi service. Good decision indeed, because we paid 27 € by taxi from the hotel back to the train station after the race!
Hotel Patriarchi is a three-star hotel at the corner street of the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta. We arrived at around 10:00 PM and the attending staff were very helpful. Our room was simple and clean for 80 € per night complete with breakfast and wi-fi.
Aquileia itself is a tiny town of 3,400 off Italy’s tourist path, but an important archaeological site with UNESCO World Heritage status. Richard and I had breakfast at 8:00 AM and attended the 9:30 AM Easter Sunday mass at the basilica next door.
The basilica is grand with an eleventh-century white stone campanile (belltower). What is particularly impressive is the fourth-century mosaic floor.There are glass floors on both sides of the basilica so people can admire the mosaic without damaging them. The was a brown carpet walkway for the bishop to walk to and from the altar.
The bib pick-up was in Palmanova, the half way point in the marathon. The bus service to the Cervignano station and the train to Palmanova did not run every hour. After checking the race website, I decided to pick up my bib at the starting line in Cividale. We spent the rest of the day visiting the outdoor archaeological sites. The whole town itself is a UNESCO site with many excavations in progress.
The organizers had several buses waiting for us in front of the carabineiri (police) station 500 meters from the hotel to take us to Cividale on race day. Only runners were allowed in the buses so Richard gave me a quick kiss and saw me off at 6:30 AM.
We were in Cividale by 7:00 AM. I had plenty of time to pick up my bib and just chill out while waiting for the 9:30 AM gun start. Not sure exactly how many runners were in the marathon.There were four other races held on that day starting at different locations and ending at the Piazza Capitolo in Aquileia: the 16.595 KM Nordic Walking competition and the 16.595 KM Julia August Run at 11:15 AM, the Relay Race with Palmanova as the halfway point, and the Run for Life.
The course is fast and downhill. Aid stations were every five kilometers. They served water, energy drinks, oranges, bananas, apples, crackers, and dried fruits. The volunteers were extremely helpful. The carabinierie were out in full force and ensured traffic stopped at every intersection for the runners. The weather was cool and perfect for running. It did get a tad cold for me towards the end, but then that’s usually when I fade and run slower so my body was not as heated up as at the beginning part of the race.
Since I picked up my bib during the race morning, I claimed my loot bag only after the race. I got good value for money. For a 35 € registration fee, I received a finisher medal, race shirt, Gatorade, bottled water, three chocolate crackers, three wafers, three vanilla crackers, a brick of ground coffee, and a bottle of especially-labeled UNESCO Cities Marathon Chardonnay! They also gave me another bottle of water, three oranges, two apples, and two melon ice lollies. Even if only for the loot bag, this race is bound to become huge very soon!
The roads were blocked off for the race until 3:30 PM so buses were not running. We had no choice but to pay the 27 € for the taxi service to the Cervignano station and take the train for Venice.
We arrived at Carnival Palace Hotel by 8:00 PM. The four-star hotel was right by the Canale di Cannaregio, a boutique hotel with a modern Italian aesthetic. We were upgraded to a business suite and received a 20% discount on food and drinks from the hotel restaurant. I did not want to go out for dinner so we just bought some sandwiches at one of the restaurants along the way and called it a night.
The hotel passed Richard’s standards because they served prosecco, Italy’s version of the French champagne. The breakfast selection was also excellent. They had chicken wurtzel, a rare white meat breakfast offering in hotels.
The following day was spent walking around with Richard taking photos of the famous water canals. I haggled and bought a pink scarf from a scarf shop. When I went back later to buy one more, the guy I did business with was not there. The wife would not give me any discount so we just left.
We made our trek to the Piazza San Marco to have our photos taken at the main public square of the city and in front of St. Mark’s Basilica.
Richard also took lots of photos. Venice is picturesque at every angle but the street blocks are tiny and the side streets even tinier, intriguing the curious to where they lead.
We extended our hotel stay until 6:00 PM since our flight back to Brussels was at 9:15 PM.