March 4, 2016

Venice!

For the first two days I was in Venice, it was rainy, cold and windy, which posed a bit of a challenge. It was like trying to enjoy a beach vacation with nasty weather. But then the sun came out for two GLORIOUS days, and Venice charmed me.

Even if you just stay for short while — or pop over on a day trip — Venice is worth the extra time and expense. You’ll never see another place quite like it.

Here are some things to know about Venice:

  • Going in, I expected Venice to be a bit cheesy and touristy and, to a certain extent, it was. But it was also beautiful and full of character. Many of the buildings are empty and literally rotting away, so there’s a kind of eerie quality about Venice that I found compelling. Like beautiful ruins … except these ruins are very crowded!
  • A friend jokingly texted me while I was there: Does Venice smell? I’d never heard that before, so I googled Venice stinks. Turns out, a lot of people think it does! I didn’t notice anything in particular, other than a slight barnyard animal scent (???) every time I was out on the water.
  • Venice is actually comprised of a mainland and a set of islands. Some visitors like to stay on the mainland and take a train/bus/boat to visit the islands as a day trip. Others (like me) prefer to stay on the islands. It costs a little more, but I think it’s advantageous being so close to all the good stuff — especially after the day trippers leave and things gets much less crowded.
  • There are no cars on the islands, so you get from one place to another by boat, water taxi, gondola, etc…  or by walking. While the terrain is completely flat, there are a lot of foot bridges spanning the waterways that divide each island into bite-sized pieces. That’s one thing to consider when you book your accommodation. How many bridges will you have to cross on foot (with luggage) to get to your hotel?
  • There is a constant stream of boats hauling goods to the islands. Once there, they have to be hand-carted to their final destination. No wonder things are more expensive in Venice! I can’t imagine what it would be like to move to an island as a resident, or fill up a hotel’s guest rooms with furniture. The “streets” and alleys are built on a pedestrian scale, and some are extremely narrow.
  • I have a terrible sense of direction, but even those with good homing instincts will probably get lost at least once in Venice. It’s like a maze! You can be walking on a path that suddenly dead ends at a waterway or into a courtyard with no other outlet. Some of the alleys can be dark (and kind of spooky) with unpredictable twists and turns. Luckily, since you’re on an island, you can only wander so far.
  • There are cool cisterns that you’ll encounter again and again as you walk. They’re no longer in use, but they do harken back to a time when Venice relied on rain for potable water.
  • The fleet of large Vaporetto boats are Venice’s answer to public transportation. There are several lines, but #1 has the route tourists use almost exclusively. A single ticket is €7.50, which is expensive. I got a 3-day pass (unlimited rides for 72 hours) which paid for itself quickly and gave me a great excuse to ride just for pleasure. IMO, Venice is most beautiful when viewed from the water.

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  • While Florence was the place to buy leather goods, with vendors on every block, Venice is the place for masks. There are masks for sale everywhere.
  • There are also stacks and stacks of wooden platforms lining the squares and tucked in corners throughout the city. Parts of Venice are always just a heavy rainfall away from getting flooded with knee-deep water. In fact, while on board my train leaving Venice, a seat neighbor told me I was getting out just in time … before it started raining dogs and cats. 🙂
  • I’m really glad that my first trip to Italy occurred during the low season. The weather was wonderful (crisp and sunny), and the crowds were a fraction of what they’d be during the summer stampede. But when it comes to Venice, it might be better to visit during the warmer months. On the days when it was sunny, being in Venice was fantastic. On the cold, rainy and windy days, there really wasn’t a lot to tempt me out of my hotel room.
  • Speaking of hotel rooms … since I’m visiting one city after another, I have to be a really quick study when it comes to picking the right neighborhood for each accommodation. I don’t always get it right. In some cities, being away from the action is a plus. When I was in Hong Kong, staying several subways stops from the city center gave me a more authentic cultural experience. But in Venice, I think I stayed a bit too far from the places that were bustling with activity. That said … I got a great deal on my hotel and had this wonderful view from my room:

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  • Venice doesn’t have the number of iconic, must-see sights that you’d find in Florence or Rome, so that gave me the freedom to simply wander around without a big to-do list of places to visit. I did make a point, though, to check out these biggies: Piazza San Marco, Saint Mark’s Basilica, and Doge’s Palace.

Having two sunny days to soak up the atmosphere in Venice was the perfect amount of time for me. Here are some of my photos. I hope you like looking at gondolas!