Venice never quite seems real, but rather an ornate film set suspended on the water.
I think I agree with Frida. Being in Venice is surreal. It is, out of all the cities we visited on this trip, without a doubt the most touristy. If ever you find yourself in Venice, watch dear friend that you are not brought to the very end of your life by tourists in strong throng gesticulating wildly with the modern tragedy that is the selfie stick. Yet at the very same time, Venice is magical.
Picking up from our little sit on the steps of the Grand Canal in Venice Italy, Part 1, we decided to take a vaporetta ride home. The vaporettas are Venice’s answer to public transportation, and much like everything else in Venice they are really expensive. To give you an idea, our ride home which took about 40 minutes on the vaporetta cost us €14 (R 188) for two one way tickets. They are also completely unnecessary if you are willing to walk. That being said, we did enjoy the little ride. Seeing a city from a different perspective is a bit like being able to draw it in 3D, it just adds a new element. It was my first up and close encounter with the canal water and I am happy to report that it looked remarkably clean. Apparently at the wrong time of year that particular Venetian magic can smell like a stagnant sewer, but the cool weather protected us from this unique experience.
Another thing about this vaporetta ride is that I was able to watch the gondoliers up close. I also got to watch the passengers in the gondolas up close. Friends, those gondolas toss and turn in the wake of bigger boats in a way that sea-sick tablets could not save you. The gondoliers also have to shout to get the passenger weight distribution right so that you don’t all end up at the bottom of the canal. So if motion sickness and being startled into severe weight consciousness sounds romantic, a gondola ride may be for you. But before you decide, do take a look at the cost. That is no photoshop folks, that is €80 for a daytime ride and €100 for a night ride, for about 30 minutes.
We settled for taking about fifty photos of gondoliers and gondolas. We have no regrets.
When you are in Venice, you must look up. The streets are narrow and between the canals and the tourists you may forget to do so, but you must look up. Buildings, old and tired and worn stand alongside Cathedrals impeccably maintained. From the windows hang everyday laundry and rugs and the occasional Venetian, their life lived in an upstairs apartment.
You can lose a day in Venice in the blink of an eye. Pop into the churches, many have free entry. Visit art museums, galleries, libraries and theaters. Window shop the most ornate and beautiful Venetian masks. Stop for espressos, try on Murano glass rings, and take hundreds of photos. Before you know it, dusk falls and you are looking for somewhere along the canals for another early dinner.
My top tips for Venice:
- Research where you are going to stay very carefully. Our hotel was within an easy walking distance from the Santa Lucia Train Station which meant we did not have to take a vaporetta ride to the hotel. The vaporetta charges quite heavily for excess baggage.
- If you do use the vaporetta, you must validate your ticket on your first board.
- Use luggage with wheels, there are many stairs and bridges in Venice and it will save you having to use and pay for a porter.
- Venice is very touristy . Watch out for buskers. Do not accept roses from anyone who offers them, they will not take them back and try to get you to pay for them. (This happened to us a few times, I was so glad I knew not to take the roses!)
- There are travel cards for the vaporetta, but work out your day’s itinary before you leave to know whether or not getting the ticket is worthwhile. Without children Venice is very walkable.
- We heeded advice not to eat pizza in Venice (there are no wood burning ovens in Venice) and waited until we got to Rome, great advice.
- You may not enter Saint Mark’s Basillica with any backpacks. Down a side street to the left of the main entrance is a baggage check. We left our bags there. Check your bags before you join the queue.
- Check at the restaurants before you sit if they charge extra for table service or outside seating – getting extra charged for both will take you by surprise. The same applies to coffee bars, check if there is an extra charge for table service. Any restaurant at any of the main sights will have these charges, we avoided them altogether.
- Venice rises late and closes early. Eat early; don’t expect a late restaurant sitting. We usually ate at around 6 and then took a night stroll. By the time we were weary after a full day and headed back to our hotel (between 8 and 9), many places were already shutting down.
- We had been warned about pick pockets and we used an s-clip to secure our wallets into our backpack. It was a huge help in not having to worry about the bag constantly.
- There are many water fountains around Venice to fill your water bottles. There will be signs that say non-potable if the fountain is not drinkable.
- We did not take breakfast in the hotel but were able to buy two great coffees and two croissants for less than €6 which served us perfectly well for breakfast from one of the many coffee bars.
- For the love of Venice do not buy a selfie stick. There are lots of people in Venice, one of them will take your picture.
Venice, Italy (part 2) follows Venice, Italy (part 1) and Munich, Germany (Part 1&2).
Next stop, Rome, the Eternal City.