We returned from Venice approx 17 days, 9 hours and 14 minutes ago (sigh….) and I am still absolutely wowed and in awe of Venice’s pure photogenic beauty. Besides uploading a Video, I haven’t yet shared my photos on any of my social media (besides the obligatory check-in and show off). It almost seems like the photographs just don’t do the city justice, no matter how jaw-dropping you may find the 6×4’s in my photo album… to be there, to be surrounded by it all, is just something else.
The first question I heard from friends and colleagues upon my return was “Was it smelly?? I’ve heard it really stinks there…” or “I’ll bet a beer was expensive out there… what’d ya pay for a pizza in St Marks Square?” or other predictable questions… well, I’ll tell you what… Venice was everything you could wish it could be and yet still, so much more. It was incredible. Breathtaking. Mesmerizing. The only nay-sayers are the people who haven’t yet been!
Let’s share my experiences and I’ll try to bust some myths along the way…
€10 A Beer?!
Our first stop after the plane landed was the airport’s ferry terminal for our shared water-taxi service into the islands. There really is no other way to arrive into Venice than speeding across the open sea and navigating the smaller canals before bursting forth into the stunning scenery of the Grand Canal. As soon as we did so we encountered our first, terribly cliched Gondola- and it was beautiful. This method trumps the slow, crowded Vaparetto Water Bus and allows your camera’s shutter button to become acclimatised for what’s coming up in the next few days… click-click-click-click-click.
We checked into our beautiful 3 star hotel in the lovely district of Cannaregio (I highly recommend this area) and head straight to the nearest watering hole like a true Britain abroad. €10 for a large beer… 10.. frikkin… Euros. My face was red and I was seething. “Great, it looks like I’ll be having either a very dry or a very expensive holiday“. Balls. “All the rumours must have been right.. what have I let myself in for?” I thought. I sniffed the air trying to search out the rotting bins and garbage I’d heard so much about but with little luck. The waiter arrived with my glowing golden tankard. But what is this?? A large beer? Or a super large beer? Golly gosh… I’ve only gone and accidentally ordered A LITRE OF BEER. A LITRE. A LITRE FOR €10?! I am beaming and feel like the cat that got the biggest, wettest, warmest cream straight from the teet. A litre of beer for £8.66. That’s approx £4.50 a pint. That’s less than (albeit extortionate) London. And instead of sticky carpets and red faced locals I am surrounded by magnificent Venetian architecture, quaint canals that follow cute, windy towpaths and botox-lipsed pensioners who don sunglasses bigger than my fists, whilst dripping in the finest Italian garments, gold and jewelry; all the while being accompanied by whatever is the latest trend in yappy lapdogs. A-maze-zing.
Big Beer Does Not A Good Holiday Make.
I don’t know why that title ^above^ sounds so backwards? Perhaps the large beers were having their effect… I’m in a happy place here; both mentally and geographically. As I mentioned above, Cannaregio, our location for this vacation (beer makes me rhyme too?), is a dazzling part of Venice which is both quaint and efficient in equal measures. The roads are wider here than other parts of Venice meaning the streets are less crowded. The canals are tight and twisty providing ample photographic wonderment and the restaurants are family run, varied and plentiful.
One thing I learned about our time in Venice is that there is more to island life than St Marks Square. There is no doubt that this is the first thing tourists envision when they think of Venice but it is not the be all and end all… it’s not even the prettiest parts. We found the nicest parts of Venice were the endless lanes you would venture down between your hotel/end destination, the surprise bridges, squares and churches- it was beautiful. The outer island of Burano was our favourite with its colourful fishermen houses and silent, wishful lanes. When you reach St Marks expect to be swamped by tourists (particularly the one-day cruisers that blight this island) and expect that €10 beer to be in the form of a bottle rather than a stein. It is a tourist trap, but that does not count for the entire Island; venture along the sea front and you will pay the same prices as St Marks Square but in a quieter environment with views that rival anywhere else in the world. Go for the expensive lunch with the view, go for the cliched tourist spots OR explore the less crowded, equally exciting parts of Venice. We all know that if you find a spot full of locals then its bound to be better than the parts full of tourists… on that note…
They Don’t Care for Tourists
I’ve heard that Venetians can be rude, the food can be bad and the whole place is just designed to be a money-making tourist trap. The place is made (or more marketed…) to be a cash cow and as such they do not care for good service and they are not concerned with the quality of your food….. well, I have two words for that… the first one is BULL and the second rhymes with PIT. We were constantly blown away and wowed by the good humoured, kind natured Venetians, particularly in the more traditional, olde-worlde, family run Osterias and Trattorias.
On our first night we ventured to a restaurant on the north of the island, recommended by our hotel. It was a sea-front pizzeria with spectacular views, low prices and great tripadvisor reviews. Unfortunately the full restaurant was very slow and 50 minutes after ordering our pizza our bellies were still rumbling and our bottle of Prosecco had sat empty for quite some time. Instinctively, we kicked up a stink. We asked for the pizzas to be brought to us in a takeaway box as we could not stand to be at this venue any longer. Whilst this sounds like a horrible experience, the restaurant apologized profusely, refunded our bottle of prosecco and our water (which cost way more than the two pizzas!) and promised us a better experience if we visited the next day. We took the pizzas home and they were absolutely phenomenal- hands down the finest pizzas of our stay. The point is, they didn’t have to apologise, they didn’t have to refund us anything and they didn’t even have to be nice about it. But they were. If this was the sign of a city that didn’t care for tourists then they’ve got a funny way about showing it. Competition is high and the Restaurants know it.
We also enjoyed a stunning anniversary meal at Club del Doge at The Gritti Palace. This was perhaps the most incredible setting one could ever dream of and the food, ambience and service matched the stunning views in every way possible (even if the bill brought tears to my eyes). It really was one of the most incredible experiences in our lives and therefore comes thoroughly recommended.
Besides the food, our excursion experiences were also top notch. We enjoyed boat trips (both group and private), a walking tour, a (shared) gondola experience plus lots of other odds and ends. The people here care. Without you here, there would still be tourists, but I suppose the real Venetians have a lot of pride in what they do.
Like your bank balance, Venice is sinking
Spend what you like, save what you like. We ate pizzas, pastas and spaghettis for dinner for under £7 a plate and wine for £3 a pop; elsewhere, we drank a bottle of fizz that cost £90 and a sandwich that was a tenner. The Vaparetto to get you around town or from the airport can be cheap and reliable or a £70 private boat (£30 if shared!) does the same job if only more comfortably. You really do not have to spend beyond your limits, Venice (surprisingly to me…) caters for everyone. There are always options for money saving so you don’t have to worry about any nasty surprises.
Nor do you really have to worry about the nasty surprise of your bedroom being a foot deep in water. Venice is sinking, right… about 1mm a year. According to the locals the 10cm a century is laughable. Their kids will still be Venetians and their kids, kids, kids, kids will still be Venetians. There is no fear of Venice disappearing. Sure the place floods upto 4 times a year but the city seems prepared. There is a lot of government corruption in regards to building a barrier and ‘saving Venice’ and the Venetians seem to feel like this whole “we’re in danger of disappearing, come and visit us quickly!” charade is all a rather elaborate marketing tool. Without getting into issues of global warming or sea levels rising; Venice will find a way to adapt and survive. It simply has to.
Go before it disappears, no seriously…
On a slightly somber, sad note… Venice is disappearing. Not due to water, tides, sinking or another natural phenomenon but due to tourism. On our private boat tour we had a really nice local guide named Tommaso. We were talking about Venice and the islands when I posed the question “What does the future hold for Venice?”. We talked about the declining populations, rental increases and how locals were being both priced out and forced out by the ever increasing footfall on the streets making normal life so difficult. It was a choking moment when Tommaso said “Venice has no future”. “The government want to turn Venice into a Disneyland…” he went on… It seems the government are more than happy with the ridiculously large cruise ships that enter Venice at an ever increasing rate despite the cries from the locals. The chiefs rub their hands and see the euro signs and ignore the strains and struggle it puts on the ever-shrinking local population. Over 30 million people visit Venice every year (an Island which is walkable from end to end in 25 minutes; compare this to massive New York’s 50 million and you can see why Venice struggles. Venice is about as wide as Central Park). The largest ships carry over 2,500 people and make multiple drop offs daily. Imagine the equivalent of a small football stadium charging up and down your road on a daily basis.
Now not all tourism is bad. The people who stay, eat, drink and add to the economy are, of course, always welcome. However there are far to many day-trippers who stampede into Venice; charge straight for the same areas, clog the streets and do little to help the local businesses and the economy. This is the real problem that Venice faces.
So what do you know…. you better get booking that trip soon, after all!
Thanks for sticking through to the end. Come back soon where I’ll be writing up on our visit to Rome including the hotel from hell, our busy schedule and the shining light that saved our vacation.
What destination has surprised you the most? Ever heard rumours about a city that are just so untrue? Do you think there is a sustainable solution for Venice? Let me know, below…