Truths and myths about Venice, discover hidden corners of the very place
Laugh in the face of anyone who claims that Venice is overrated and that it is worth going there, but only for a while – so that you could say that you’ve been there and you’ve seen it – just to run away from the gigantic crowds of tourists. You definitely have to go off the beaten track, but you not necessarily have to leave it far behind. That part of Venice that is not in the direct vicinity of the Canal Grande mainstream is fascinating and absolutely unique.
Venice is overrated.
It is difficult to gasp for breath in Venice, because you’re either surrounded by the crowd or by the bad smell of the canals. In general – a dubious pleasure.
It’s nice to see Venice, because it is a famous city, but the idea of staying there for a longer while doesn’t make too much sense.
It’s worth seeing Venice, because it’s sinking, and, in addition, the city authorities may soon limit the daily number of tourists that are admitted into Venice, or at least in the case of the most crowded areas.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I heard the above statement from my friends and with my own ears, I would interpret it somewhat abstractly. I’m even ashamed, because sometimes I had such thoughts myself. Before we reached Venice together with children, I was there twice: visiting it on my way to southern Italy, or while travelling to other regions. The Tronchetto car park, a waterbus to St Mark’s Square, photos of the Canal Grande, a glance at and photos of the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile (former lighthouse and currently a belfry, it is easy to miss it while admiring everything in a hurry at Piazza San Marco), the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs, a bit of knocking about the narrow streets, hopping into the car, and going back on the road, continuing your vacation – quite a common plan for Venice, isn’t it? Or rather: not a plan at all, which can be easily justified by the lack of time. Such a visit to this gem-city on water is, however, like taking the easy way out, you miss a chance to see something even more remarkable. Although – to be clear – even the plan we’ve just indulgently described is worth implementing if for various reasons you’re not able to extend it. We could have, but we still want to see more of the city, and we’ll definitely come back there many a time. For example, to take a longer walk between the colourful houses on the Burano island, or to visit a factory on the Murano island and see the whole manufacturing process of one of the most famous European glass products. While with our children, we gave up on the idea of the latter attraction, mostly due to the concern about our kids chasing each other in a factory shop and potential costs of broken glassware, but we’ve heard that it’s worth visiting a Murano glass manufacturing factory. It’s also worth taking
a waterbus to reach the charming island of San Giorgio Maggiore and see the little church built there as if it was floating on water – it is really a different world for tourists.
Waterbuses itself are an attraction – an attraction on every route. A
75-minute ticket costs EUR 7.5, so it’s better to buy a 24-hour ticket for all lines for EUR 20 and stop worrying even if you miss your stop or board an express boat that doesn’t stop at each of them. A water taxi costs at least EUR 50; you can also use the services of a gondolier for the same price, although in this case, of course, the trip itself is more important than its purpose. However, as for the vaporetto, the waterbus, this is a favourite means of transport not only when it comes to the tourists, enjoying the city views from the water and admiring the beautiful buildings along the Canal Grande, but also when it comes to the city inhabitants. Of course, we recommend to take a seat outside, where you can more easily soak up the atmosphere of Venice and look at the other passengers. The sight of elegantly dressed couples coming home from numerous theatres or from a casino late in the evening doesn’t surprise anyone there, and the scent of their perfumes often intertwines with the smell of vegetables or fish carried in a bag by an old lady returning home. These all are the smells and the charms of Venice, a city that is great to look at while having a cup of coffee. Especially the boat traffic on the Canal Grande is a real phenomenon and an amazing labyrinth of intersecting boat and little ship routes. Also the speed of mooring and unmooring of a vaporetto at each platform inspires respect and admiration, and sometimes even angers the tourists for a little while, when during the rush hours they’re not even able to get off the waterbus and it is already leaving some not very popular stop. Carriers do it all efficiently and naturally, quickly, but not hastily. They’ll always help you to carry the pram on board, and will never rush you. When it comes to the pram, there are more problems with it during walks, because the Venice bridges, the number of which amounts to more than 300, may be divided into those more difficult and those easier to cross for parents. Here, the help of the children proved to be invaluable, as they, although tired, kept playing getting off and getting back into the pram and helping their parents to carry the vehicle up a couple of stairs. It is our basic principle to let the children see each challenge or a slightly more difficult situation as an attraction. In such moments, creativity helps you a lot.
For us, Venice was the most beautiful as we were strolling along the narrow streets, without even looking at the map, but instead following the numerous stone arrows located on many street corners: with the inscription “Piazza” (everyone knows this square) or “Rialto”. It’s worth getting lost there, even for a couple of minutes, reach the edge of the canal while walking down a narrow street and simply turn around, with no fuss at all – because this is a real city, living off tourists, and not off the tourist traffic itself. When those who visit Venice just for one day go back to Tronchetto or the vicinity of Garage San Marco (an 8-storey building, we recommend it, EUR 32 per night, a 100-metre distance to
a vaporetto) in the evening to continue their further journey, the rhythm of life in Venice changes. We stayed at the Dei Dogi Hotel, which boasts about having the biggest private garden in the entire city (it actually is impressive), and it was in its vicinity that we discovered the real Venice, lazy during the evenings, with dozens of Italians having
a supper in small local eateries or simply enjoying themselves at a picnic at the edge of the canal, on a tablecloth spread on the pavement, with lots of olives, bread, prosciutto and a mandatory bottle of wine. You’ll only get to know this kind of Venice, the real and unobvious one, if you stay there for a night.
However, there is a grain of truth in the misconceived assessments of the city mentioned in the beginning of this column. Venice is sinking. Fortunately, not as fast as many people pessimistically forecasted at the end of the previous century, when thousands of wooden pillars the city was built on collapsed by over 10 centimetres; however, the global warming makes the water level rise by a millimetre every year. Besides, Italians are doing more and more so that acqua alta, that is the high water, was not a common thing, and St Mark’s Square – less often flooded. Also, efforts are made to prevent the need of using special platforms lying at the doors of a repeatedly flooded basilica permanently.
The city authorities are reportedly giving consideration to the idea of limiting the number of tourists in Venice, if only during school vacations (as is the case with Santorini or Machu Picchu), but such plans will not be approved quickly. This doesn’t mean, however, that it is not worth rushing to Venice – each day there is a beautiful, romantic adventure, an experience of an unforgettable genre. So if you can go there – do not delay your trip. And if you can stay there for a longer while – do not hesitate.