Ever since I fell in love with Italy, Venice has been my top dream destination. Why wouldn’t you want to visit the land known for aquatic vessels manned by crooners, quiet restaurants serving fresh seafood and carnivals with a distinctly cultural charm? I have heard many a tale of a visitor that returns disliking the city of amore. I think they missed the point.
If you visit Venice, the key is to not visit as a tourist. While some of you may think this is an obvious statement, I am here to tell you that it is not as easy as it sounds. To put it in more accurate terms you have to learn to when to be a tourist and when not to be. Once again, I am here to help.
Rule number one. Do not stay in Venice. Choose a hotel on the outskirts in the nearby cities of Mestre or Dolo. You will have to pay for an extra bus and spend an additional 15 minutes or so to get to Venice, but you will thank me when you spend your accommodation savings on 3 extra meals and numerous keepsakes. You should by all means purchase a day pass. The cost is 20 euros and you can ride the bus, vaporetto, visit nearby islands and even the transport to the nearby towns (where you should be staying) if you are lucky. It is completely worth the money. Be sure to make a plan on what sights you want to see.
With that taken care of you need to be painfully aware that Venice is not luggage friendly. Stroll like a local. Leave your bags at the hotel, check them at the local train station for a few hours or just travel light. After bridge number 46, you will pat yourself on the back for remembering this little tip.
There are so many famous options; St. Mark’s Square, Doge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge… be realistic and keep in mind that Venice was not built in a day, therefore you cannot visit it in one day. If St. Mark’s Basilica is a must-see on your list, then make a reservation. The online booking will set you back 1 euro, but you get to jump the huge line to get in. Just pick a time slot for your arrival, charge your credit card and remember to print out the voucher.
Be Italian when it comes to food. Stay away from any establishment that has ‘Ristorante’ in the name. Osterias and Trattorias are where the locals eat. If you see the menu translated into one or more languages, this is usually a sign it will be expensive or not very authentic.
Add ‘Aperitivo’ to your vocabulary. Many people are unaware that most bars, osterias and trattorias everywhere in Italy observe the aperitivo tradition, which is basically Italian for happy hour…just much better. In Venice the aperitivo takes place from 18:30 – 20:30 (this may vary slightly in other cities). Generally you pay between 5 to 8 euros for a beverage or cocktail and the establishment has an all you can eat buffet of different dishes that range from bruschettas to pasta. If you eat wisely you may be able to skip dinner all together.
If you do not want to forego dinner, then stuff up on the aperitivo and then find a hole in the wall establishment for an antipasti or prima. Always order the house wine. Italians make wine. Even the cheap stuff is bound to be better than the cheap stuff you drink back home. If wine is not your style, then you should make a note that Venice is famous for its Spritz. This concoction is either a white wine or an Italian amaro mixed with soda water. I met a rogue spritz maker who mixed white wine, amaro and soda…it was heavenly.
There are many day trips that can be made from Venice; probably the most famous is Murano Island, known for its beautiful glass art. Allow yourself to be ushered into one of the numerous glass work demonstrations and then be firm about not buying from the factory. If you must have a Murano Island souvenir, shop around. I had my heart set on buying glass pieces, a gift for my mother who has taken up jewelry making. Everyone told me I could not find it, but I did. There is a wonderful shop that sells pieces of all shapes, sizes and designs for mosaics and artwork. A wonderful perk is that they sell the pieces by weight, so you can focus on how much you need rather than the cost.
My companion and I wandered into a mask shop called La Bottega dei Mascareri. It was small and cramped but wildly authentic. The owner and mask maker can tell you something about each mask. The prices were great and if you make a purchase you can brag that you got your mask from the same shop that made masks for the cast of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’.
Personally I found more value and pleasure just roaming the streets rather than spending hours waiting in long lines to see historic architecture. But that is just me. If you roam long enough you may even chance along a secretive old print shop I found. Oh and if you happen to visit Venice and you chance by the corner of the Rialto bridge in my pictures, please observe a moment of silence for my cool sunglasses that could not bear the thought of leaving the city of bridges and subsequently committed suicide in the canal.