A city whose name is synonymous with romance and ancient wealth. A city with history that spans back more than a millennium. A place with this much mystique has it’s appeal. An appeal that was not lost on me.
And so, for the past 30 years, I have been pining, on and off, to visit Venice. I came close once or twice, being in the vicinity, passing by, but never managed to arrange time in the sinking city.
London, February 2017: “Hey, Tristan has Easter Break coming up! Wanna go somewhere? How about Venice?!…It’s close….a two hour plane trip. Let’s check out the price of tickets and see if we can get some reasonable place to rent on AirBnB…”
In the end we booked a cheap-ish EasyJet flight and a 2 bedroom place that sleeps 6 through VRBO (a site similar to AirBnB).
We arrived at Venice Marco Polo airport mid-afternoon. Making our way to the water transportation docks. We could have taken the bus, which uses the car/rail bridge that connects Venice to the mainland. But hey, you are in Venice, you travel by water. Looking out the window walls of the airport walkway, I was immediately impressed with the unmistakably Italian vegetation. Guess we made it….
We had a choice between the water taxi or water bus (Alilaguna). The water taxi would have been around 130 Euros (one-way). We opted for the slower but also half the price water bus. The trip to Venice “Arsenale” stop from the airport took about 1.5 hours. During the trip we sat next to an older couple who clearly had never been to Venice. Her with a top end camera, him with a handy video recorder. Every time we passed any view or anything that could be considered an attraction, both jumped up, leaned out of the open window and started to digitize their experience. Snap, snap, click, click. And there is nothing wrong with that! I’m not hating here. Hell, I brought a camera myself. It just occurred to me that they were experiencing Venice just through their viewfinder, and only moments spent on looking at the real thing through their own eyes. Hmmmmm….
Once we got off, we met Hannah’s boyfriend from Spain, who was waiting for us, stretched out on the pavement next to the lagoon, seemingly enjoying a much deserved siesta. That young man knows how to live… Boyfriend was going to spend the vacation with us, which really gave the whole trip more of a “family” feel.
First off, NO CARS! What a relief! Kathleen especially was revelling in this newly found tranquility. Anything that is transported is either moved by hand-cart or boat. No honking, no sirens, no revving engines. A wonderful change from London. Trash is collected every day, except Sundays, which makes pickup by hand-cart possible.
Cleanliness: For a city with this many tourists running through every day, the place was remarkably clean. Also, we had been warned that Venice would be smelly because of the salt water and the canals etc. We did not notice any smell. Perhaps because we went in April, rather than in the middle of summer.
Tourists: I watched both the Anthony Bourdain and the Rick Steves shows on Venice. Both mentioned that most tourists get “stuck” in the main paths that connect attractions. This was absolutely true. A step to the left or right, often paralleling paths, the road less taken, and you can enjoy Venice’s architecture in solitude. So, whenever possible, we took the path that ran parallel to the main drag.
We walked and walked. Sometime with only a loose destination in mind: “Lets head towards the train station”, purposefully veering off, away from the crowds, getting lost, just letting a general sense of direction guide us. Yes, sometimes we walked down a path only to find that it dead-ended in a canal.
“Anyone up for a swim in the drink?!”
“Aaaahhh, you so funny!”
Everyone was a comedian. So what…go back, try the next path over. Non è un problema.
Some of the walkways were, shall we say, on the narrow side. Single file a necessity. Some paths were converging, getting narrower as we went along. We always were able to squeeze out at the end though. Some walls were converging both in a horizontal and a vertical manner, which makes Venice a questionable choice for those afflicted with claustrophobia.
Food: Generally overpriced, no doubt. We went the traditional route, ordering Primo and Secondo courses, drinks. This, for the five of us , set us back about 200 Euros. OK, we don’t do this every day, so enjoy it while you can. After a mediocre meal the first evening (because we couldn’t get into the Pizzeria that was recommended to us), I used online resources to book tables at Ristorantes that had good customer reviews. Our best meal was at Ristorante Al Corner. I had the fish of the day, which I got to pick myself and was filleted table side by the waiter who clearly knew what he was doing. Kathleen took the culinary adventuresome road and ordered the cuttlefish cooked with pasta in its own ink, which turns the consumer’s teeth black. Meanwhile Tristan and Boyfriend were busy sucking brains out of some Langoustine-like crustacean creature. Sounds like a horror show but really was a feast.
And yes, there are cheaper options for eating: You can get a sizeable slice of economy pizza for 2-4 Euros. It will fill you up and won’t break the bank. After a while, we realised that this was the way to feed 5 hungry mouths at lunchtime. Alternatively, you can find a co-op or supermarket and get something out of their fridge. All these are fine options. Eating in an Italian restaurant was part of our Italy experience, so we did that for dinners.
Attractions: We typically don’t do all the tourist attractions. “Oh, you HAVE to run up this tower”, “You just MUST see “X” when you are in Insert-city-name-here”. Nope, we don’t. We picked ONE place that would be most representative of Venice’s history and paid to get into that. In our case this was the Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace, which had been the seat of power for so many centuries. We spent about 3 hours walking from room to room, admiring gold plated ceilings and tennis court sized paintings of battles and depictions of “heaven”. Needless to say, “Venice” or the “Doge” were frequently shown as heavenly ordained and endorsed by God. No surprise there.
One day we got ourselves tickets for the water bus that connects some of Venice’s many islands. We visited the island of Murano (famous for glass blowing), Burano (famous for lace making and colourful houses) and Torcello (famous for Venice’s oldest church).
The rest of the time we walked the less traveled paths of Venice. When our feet started hurting, we stopped in some Piazza, sat down at a Café. I took a liking to “Negronis”, made of one part gin, one part vermouth rosso, and one part Campari, garnished with orange peel. Sounds like the combination shouldn’t work, but it does in a slightly bitter, a little less sweet and absolutely refreshing way.
We skipped the 100-150 Euro gondola ride, by the way. We felt we were seeing plenty of the canals from the many bridges we crossed.
Hannah then made her way back to Spain with Boyfriend, where she will be for another week before returning to London.
We returned to London on another 2 hour EasyJet flight. An uneventful trip…the way I like them. Back to our flat on the litter strewn arterial road and the non-stop reggae beat from the pub across the street. (We are going to change that soon though. Our lease is UP in 2 months….time to find ourselves a BETTER pad!)
Venice: Was it worth going? Did it live up to the hype? Absolutely. The city oozes old world charm. Stay off the beaten path, walk, explore, rest, take 3 hours for dinner, linger, take it all in. You can’t go very wrong.
Kathleen protested that there were no pictures of me. So here we are. This happened on our last day in Venice. I saw so many pretty people taking selfies with their selfie sticks doing pouty faces, that I asked K and T to do a pouty face pic with me. Well, here is what came out: