Is there anyone who has not heard of Venice a magical, romantic, unique town in northern Italy. Built on the water with canals instead of streets, full of bridges and narrow passes, this is The One Place you must visit at least once for a lifetime.
A bit of history of this town is amazing as the city itself. In the early centuries of the New Era, the Roman empire was near its end. Torn apart by constant conflicts of powerful families, subverted by wishes of corrupted individuals, the Roman Empire was facing the last days of its glory. Constant attacks by Germans hordes, Ottoman empire, and Huns left Romans to fight for their life or run from their land. Recognizing a lagoon in the Adriatic sea as the place which will be hard to conquer, was somewhere between ingenious idea and desperate move.
Whatever reason was, in the 5th century, Venice was founded, officially by the dedication of the church of San Giacomo on the islet of Rialto. The rest of its history is pure glory and power. But, the best place to hear that story is for sure Venice itself… and the best person to tell you that story is someone with much more historical knowledge than me.
I wrote this text a few years ago. It was written for an travel blog. In light of the recent floods and the state of emergency in Venice, I decided to publish the text here as well.
If you didn’t been to Venice, but you only have seen pictures of that amazing town, you may be unprepared. Even though you may think, by areal photos or by a map of Venice, that it is built on a couple of islands connected with land, true is a little bit different. Venice is built on more than a hundred islands, 118 of them to be exact. It’s not connected to the land, at least it wasn’t connected at distant times. Most of those islands are artificial and built on the base created by beating hundreds of wooden logs into the mud of the lagoon. To be as light as possible, Venetian buildings have big windows, columns, and arches. Venetian streets are canals and narrow passages. The main and only transportation vehicles are the boats. More than 400 bridges connect buildings and narrow streets of Venice, creating an architectural ensemble, different, unique, stunning and simply amazing at every step. It’s maze made of beauty. It’s labyrinth you do not want to leave. It’s Venice!
The first time when I was in Venice it was completely unplanned. I was only 15 years old and traveling, for the first time on my own, across Europe. I know, my parents were, obviously, very open-minded and quite confident in my ability to travel alone so young. I must admit, and thank them for that, since they raised a child who was never afraid to step into the unknown. But, that first step was an almost complete fiasco. At the French border, the customs officer was a little bit worried about kid traveling alone with only a few bucks, couple t-shirts and a tent in his possession. So he decided to send that kiddo back home. I can understand, he was probably thinking that either I or my parents are crazy and that France will live quite happily without me wandering through the streets of Paris.
Somehow desperate, and with my mind at another place, I took the train back to Belgrade. What else I could do? But the ride was shorter than I expected…
– Ultima Stazione, Venezia! – said nice Italian guy dressed better than Jams Bond, with a million-dollar smile on his face.
– Ultima Stazione?? – Last station?!?? Venice??? What the…?!?
– Dove vai Ragazzo?? Belgrado!!! … Porca miseria! …. Vieni, Vieni!
A few minutes later I had a ticket in my pocket, detailed instructions where the train will be, and some 15 hours until departure… Italian James Bond was very helpful, he even bought me a map of Venice, put couple marks on it, with couple last wisdom’s (‘If you think that you need one hour to come back to station – you need at least two!’) and another million-dollar smile he pointed exit from station and Venice beneath us. ‘For sure you are not staying in the station for 15 hours? You do not look like that kind of boy!’ Well he was completely right, and if he, by some crazy chance, reading this – Thank you so much Italian James Bond, thank you so much!
Venice is made up of 118 islands. It has 417 bridges, and 72 of those are private. There are 177 canals in Venice. The S-shaped Grand Canal is the biggest and it splits the city in two.
As you may know, only available transportation in Venice is boat or foot. There is no metro, bus, you cannot rent a bike, there is no place for cars. And Venice is, as I already pointed, maze, a labyrinth of narrow streets, bridges, canals and, be ready for that, dead ends. It took me more than five hours to get to one of the biggest marks on my map with three exclamation points and the word ‘visitare’ in bold… But, Plazza Sant Marco left a 15-year-old boy stunned and amazed. I was freeze by the pure beauty of that place. I could not believe that such a place exists in the world. I was in love! I was so much in love! In love for the rest of my life.
That love is still as strong as the first day. I cannot count how many times I was in Venice. Sometimes for days, and sometimes just for a few hours, just to enjoy the best espresso in the world in Caffe Del Doge. I was visiting Venice in summer, winter, during long hot days and on worst sea storms you can imagine. I was in Venice alone, with friends, girls… I simply cannot pass near that lovely town without spending some time on those canals.
So what to know if you are visiting Venice? Firstly – don’t come by car. Or, if you travel by car, leave it on the mainland. Parking in Venice is luxury and it is very expensive. You will spend the same amount of money for parking as for your ‘tree-star’ hotel. That expensive. Italians are charming and well dressed and most of them have a fabulous smile, but if they say that Venetian hotel has parking, it’s usually not so true. It’s the most likely public garage, quite expensive and if you are really unlucky – full to the last place. As far as I know, only a few hotels have private parking, very limited and not really accessible by anything larger than a small city car. If you are driving a large car, don’t even think about it. Instead, park your car on the mainland. Find garage which is under camera surveillance, just for any case. Also, book garage in advance via the internet – you will be discounted, depending on the time of the year, even up to 50%.
One of the narrowest streets in the world is located in Venice. It is only 53cm wide and called Calletta.
The fastest way of traveling around Venice is a boat taxi. It’s fast, affordable and comfortable. It even connects Venice with the mainland. If you are not ready to walk long miles, for sure plan to use boats. Consider a daily ticket during your stay, it is cheaper and very convenient when you discover a place you must visit, and it is located on the other side of Venice..
In my opinion, the best way to travel around Venice is on foot. That’s how you will see all the beauty of that magical town. That’s how I enjoy Venice every time. Be prepared to get lost, be prepared to circle around, be prepared to ask for direction, be prepared for heavy legs at the end of the day. Map or GPS is a must – don’t expect any logic or count on your instinct to lead you. There is no way, simply no way. I was in Venice so many times, and last time I was lost on my way from Tronchetto to Rialto, the path I took many times before, simply by being distracted talking with a friend.
Don’t eat or drink in Plazza Sant Marco restaurants, unless money is not an issue for you. It’s amazing with all those small restaurants and the live classical music performed on Plazza, but for the price of a drink, you can eat fresh seafood in other places. Find any small restaurant on some side street. The price will be much more acceptable and the service will be amazing as well. If you like really good Italian coffee, go to Caffe Del Doge! It is more expensive than other places, but that coffee is ‘wow amazing’. I cannot imagine going to Venice and not spending at least one morning there… well I am an Italian Coffee addict as you may know.
If you plan well, finding a place to stay in Venice is not that expensive. Especially if you miss the time of one of the numerous carnivals, and if you book well in advance. There is nothing more romantic than spending a night in the hotel while listening sea from an open window, eating breakfast on a terrace with a view on canals in an easy morning with somebody you love. But, usually, it will be more affordable to find stay on the mainland. There you can find options not so common for Venice, as hostels and couch surfing.
If you like camping like me, the mainland offers a couple places to camp, but they are not quite affordable. Also, do not try to crash and bivouac ‘just for the night’. Although it is allowed in most of Italy, near big tourist places it is strictly forbidden. And Italian Carabinieri (police) are well dressed and with amazing smiles, but they will make you miserable when they find you. Fines are so huge that you can spend a relaxed week in the best Venetian hotel for the same price. So please; don’t do it.
Gondolas are made from eight different wood species. The parts of the gondola represent parts of Venice itself. Venetian folklore says that if a couple in a gondola kiss as they pass underneath each bridge they will remain in love forever.
And off course, we cannot talk about Venice and not mention riding on a Gondola. Traditional Venetian boat, powered by casually, but still elegantly, dressed gondolier. Passing beneath Ponte del Sospiri followed by sounds of Puccini’s opera… what can be more romantic? Well, it is absolutely romantic and u should do it. Just keep in mind that the price is about $100 for an hour. An additional 20 minutes are $20 during a day. In the evening, being romantic is even more expensive: $100 will give you starting 30 or 40 minutes, and each additional 20 minutes is worth $50.
So, if money is an issue – don’t do it. If you cannot afford an additional $20 or $50 to prologue ride ‘just a little bit more’, then you are not going to enjoy it. If you are counting unused minutes, you are not going to enjoy it. You may even end up arguing with a gondolier, and it’s not wise to argue with Italian with a fabulous smile who is controlling unstable boat on restless water… you may experience sudden wet moments if you know what I mean.
On the streets, be ready for a huge number of tourists. I mean really huge! On the weekend, during the day, all the streets are full. You may wait in line even to cross some smaller bridges.
If you are planning a visit to churches or some museums, do take a reservation over the internet. It will be cheaper and you will spend less time in the line. And even though Venice Carnival is amazing, you may find that actually seeing it in life is not so pleasant experience, especially since selfie sticks are invented. It’s not fun to watch anything through the forest of sticks, and that’s the most likely scenario if you are short as I am.
Instead, consider some off-peak days and staying late in the evening. All the shops will be closed, most of the tourists will be out of the town and you may even found yourself at almost empty Venice. And believe me – Venice during the night is one of the most romantic and most passionate places to be.
Don’t worry, restaurants work up to late.
The Rialto Market is one of the best markets in Venice. It is best to walk around Rialto Market early in the morning when there are fewer tourists. Remember to never ever touch the produce! In the whole of Italy, this is considered very rude and unpolite.
Pictures on this blog entry were taken during one long night in Venice. Even though I have technically better pictures of that town, taken with better gear and in better conditions – these are by far most favorite pictures of Venice I ever took. Night in Venice is something you should experience to understand what I am talking about. After the first night on its streets, I came with an expression that Venice is the town of masks, but that during the night all masks are falling! Go and see by yourself.