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venice bridge

Venice Bridge

We just spent two and a half days in Venice.  It was a stopover location on our way to Croatia rather than a destination in itself. We treated it that way and weren’t as prepared as we would have liked to be.  Big mistake!

Here are some things we wished we knew before we visited Venice.

1. There are too many tourists in Venice

Even though we know Venice is a hotspot for tourism in the summer, we didn’t know the stream would continue at such a pace well into September. Venice hosts more visitors than any Mediterranean port. Over 1.7 million people visit each year! That’s between 60,000 and 80,000 people every day during the tourist season in a town small enough to walk end-to-end in 40 minutes.

Tourism brings the city €280 million a year and creates over 5,000 jobs in tourism, but I must say the sheer numbers of tourists makes wandering the streets in Venice seem like wandering down Main Street in Disneyland.  I know! We’re adding 2 more people into the mix, so it’s hard to complain.

Reports are that November and December are a beautiful time to visit…unless Acqua Alta arrives. If you plan to visit during those months, it might be a good idea to pack some waders.

acqua_alta

Creative Commons “Acqua Alta” by Davide Bresolin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

2. Getting lost is the best idea

Our best times were spent wandering down alleys barely big enough to fit through. We came upon Venetians living the Venetian life: Moms with kids in the park, laborers fixing cobblestones, ladies lunching at a restaurant under a canvas canopy in a small square, a man whose face matched his burgundy socks sitting outside a bar making his way through the first pack of the carton of cigarettes that sat on the table by his morning spritzer.

Don’t worry about getting lost. There are signs on almost every major corner that point the way to the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark’s Square. Or navigate by listening for the rumble of suitcases being wheeled over the cut stone streets.  That provides a sure sign that a main tourist route is nearby!

venice_signs

You can’t get lost!

The other thing we learned is to take the Vaporetto (water taxi) before 8:30 and the tourists start arriving from the cruise ships, or after 5:00 when they’ve gone back to the ships. If you sit at the front (which is covered) or back, or get on last so you can stand by the railing, you’ll have a fantastic view of the Grand Canal.

3. We should have brought our own map

Venice is a city of canals and short streets. We spent much of our time deliciously lost because the maps that are provided for tourists are too small to read. While that led us to witness many pleasant scenes of Venice life, it also led to many retraced steps after running into dead ends at canals with no bridges.

venice_map

And this is an enlarged view!

4. The mini bar costs

You can’t take things out of the hotel mini bar, then replace them. Once you remove an item, the charge goes on your bill. And no amount of discussion at the front desk will remove the charge. This seems to be a hangover from a few years ago. It seems that until 2003, the government wanted to be sure to get the appropriate amount of tax, so they regulated bills and receipts. Each place of business was required to give you a receipt which you had to produce if a Revenue Official asked to see it, or you could be fined.

5. Do not disturb means come on in

We didn’t need our room cleaned one day, so we left the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door and headed out for another adventure. When we returned, the sign was back in the room and the maid was busily changing our sheets. Next time we’ll tell the front desk we don’t need service.

do_not_disturb

Creative Commons “Rye” by Leonard Bentley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

6. Mephisto shoes are a good buy

If you need a good pair of walking shoes, Check out Mephisto. Their only drawback is that they can be pretty costly at around $200 or more in the US. In Venice, they’re more around $125 and I found one store that was having a 30% sale. Did I buy any? Nope.  There was no room in my one-bag travel kit. But now you know, and you can plan accordingly. Try them on at home, buy in Venice.

7. There’s more to do for someone interested in local culture than meets the eye

A number of people told us that we’d have plenty of time in Venice with our two-and-a-half day itinerary. We don’t think so! We didn’t get to Murano where they make glass, Burano which is known for the colorful buildings, or the cemetery island, Isola di San Michele.

We didn’t get to interview artisans and working people.  Gondoliers, for instance.  Wouldn’t you like to know how that job works? Do they own or lease their gondolas? What’s the training like? What’s their weirdest experience? We definitely wished we’d scheduled more time to get below the surface and interview mask makers, glass blowers, broom makers, produce delivery people and some of the other folks we saw going about their day-to-day lives.

The lesson?

There were a few lessons we learned on our first trip to Venice, but the main one was…be_prepared

 What did we do right?

All that being said, there are a couple of things we did do right.

  • We traveled with very little luggage…just one carry-on plus a small camera bag each.  And we were very glad we did so when we saw all the tourists rolling their big bags around, clunking up and down the stairs over the bridges.
  • We went out early in the morning to see what life was like for people going to work. And we went out for a stroll in the evening when most of the tourists had left.
  • We stayed at a comfortable hotel in Canareggio rather than possibly saving money by staying on the mainland. Since we walked all over Venice in the mornings and evenings, it was important to have a nice place to rest mid-day when the day-tripping tourists were out in full force.
  • We ate at out-of-the-way locations where the locals eat rather than near St. Mark’s Place ir the Rialto Bridge where the food is reported to be over-priced and under-tasty. And OK…yes, we did have a meal or two of gelato.
  • We planned how to get from the airport to the hotel before we left so that we didn’t have to figure it out when we got off our our flight all bleary-eyed and jet-lagged.

Resources

Here are some resources to help you plan so you be more prepared than we were.

  • Venice by Jan Morris. This is probably THE travel book about Venice. It’s only available in paperback or hard cover, though don’t plan to download it a few days before your trip!
  • Local Customs to provide some context for what you’ll see and hear
  • 11 Mistakes Tourists Make. We definitely suffered from #1 and would have saved money if we had known about #5.
  • Gondola by the internationally acclaimed “American with the Venetian heart,” Donna Leon, due out December, 2014.
  • The Venice Experiment by Barry Frangipane with Ben Robbins. This delightful book chronicles the year Barry and his wife moved to Venice. It contains lots of insider information.
  • Trip Advisor for crowd-sourced reviews of hotels, restaurants, and things to do, including some locations off-the-beaten-path.

What other resources do you recommend for someone planning  a visit to Venice?

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