The Two Faces of Venice

You must have already read hundreds of articles, seen thousands of beautiful pictures, heard millions of words on this amazing city.

It is not my intention to repeat any of them or teach you things others, for sure, know much better than me. My only desire is to share something I wish I’d known when arranging my visit to the Most Serene Republic. And I do hope that my humble notes and thoughts on the subject might be helpful to make the best out even of a short trip to the glorious city of Venice.

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And as far as for me Venice is all about the land and the water of its Lagoon, the two faces, or, to be more precise, the two surfaces of this city, I will try to arrange my reflections in accordance.

This short guide is dedicated especially to those, who are planning their first visit of Venice, but cannot afford a long stay in the Lagoon to explore the city and its surroundings in the most convenient and thorough way. Thus, the following list will try to give you some suggestions on how to arrange this very special trip without having to take a loan or sell a kidney. Just kidding 😉.

Two faces – two days.

If you have a chance to stay in Venice for one or two nights, that is, for at least two days, it gives you a possibility to explore both faces of the city, the land and the water, on two separate occasions. And that’s great news!

DAY 1

  • Dedicate your first day in Venice to strolling along its streets called calli (singular calle). Don’t be afraid to get lost. I mean it! That’s the perfect way to see some really authentic places where there’s no trace of any fellow tourists, but only the everyday routine of the residents of the city. It’s the only way to discover the other side of Venice.

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  • Accept it: Venice is full of tourists throughout the whole year. Just take a deep breath and try to ignore the fact that the narrow streets of the city will be overcrowded and from time to time you’ll get stuck in the human traffic. It is especially frustrating in the suffocating heat of the summer. So, as an alternative, you might choose one of the winter months for your visit (excluding the days of the Carnival, of course, for the obvious reasons listed above and, in this case, worsened by the crowds resolute to attend the famous celebrations). It might help a little. But do not forget the probability of some bad weather rises drastically: Venice suffers humidity that makes its winters apparently colder than they really are. Moreover, many visitors means many queues. Be patient or give up the idea of visiting such important sites as, fro example, San Mark’s Basilica right from the start. Fix your priorities and be ready to make a choice.

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DAY 2

  • Dedicate the second day of your Venetian stay to the boat trips in the Lagoon.

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  • If you wish to take an unforgettable gondola trip, I understand you very well and won’t try to persuade you not to. Mind, though, that the cost of this pleasure starts from €80,00.

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  • If you prefer to move around as the locals do, use vaporettos, or water trams. Nevertheless, it is not the cheapest public means of transport in the world, either.

The most economic option would be to purchase a day ticket (24 hours) at the cost of around €21,00 per person. It will save you some money if you plan to take a vaporetto three times or more. Consider that a ticket with the duration of 75 consecutive minutes (which, roughly speaking, means only one trip, for the average duration of a ride long the Grand Canal or till the island of Murano, for example, is about 45 minutes) costs €7,50.

It is possible to purchase any ticket at the biggest part of the water tram stations in Venice both at a ticket office and numerous self-service machines.

There are also various tram stops around the city and on the islands. It is always possible to find the one that is less busy than those in the proximity of the most important touristic attractions and the train station of Venezia Santa Lucia.

Taking a vaporetto for the very first time might be a bit confusing (many different lines, roots, directions and people etc.) If you have any doubt, ask the assistant of the driver always present on board of every vaporetto to make sure you are going the right way. And keep calm.

  • If you have a day to spend in the Lagoon, take into consideration a ride along the Grand Canal and to the islands of Murano and Burano. There are also other numerous islands to visit in the Lagoon, so you will always have something to choose from.

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When less has to be more.

If you have only one day to spend in Venice, visit its most renowned sites such as St. Mark’s Square, the Rialto Bridge and further long the list, and then, after lunch, escape from the city to one of the surrounding islands, such as Murano, famous of its glass blowing, or Burano, a tiny and picturesque fishermen’s village. This will allow you to have an overlook of the life in the Lagoon and enrich the impressions left by Venice.

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Mind, thought, that if you go to one of the lagoon islands from Venice, purchase two tickets for each of you before you embark, so that you do not have to look for a return ticket on the island itself. Finding it might be next to impossible. It happened to us. On the island of Murano on Sunday we came across some difficulties finding a ticket office. Nor was there any Tabacchi store open at that moment where it is also possible to purchase a return ticket. We were worried because an eventual fine for travelling on board a vaporetto without a ticket is really high. Luckily, it was possible to purchase a ticket on board from the tram attendant at the same price we paid ashore. We were lucky but I’m pretty sure it would have been better to avoid such a stressful situation.

Some other tips for curious travellers:

1. Plan your trip to Venice carefully, some useful information on many aspects of the coming trip might be found at the official site of the tourist information of Venice. Find some time to have a look and make your research carefully.

2. Avoid touristic restaurants. They are everywhere, I know. And it is easier to avoid water in Venice than these traps. But we found a solution. For those who’d love to have an authentic local meal accompanied by a glass of the excellent Spritz, there is a place called Osteria Al Portego in Calle De La Malvasia 6015. It is a very casual place frequented by the locals (we met a very nice elderly lady there who gave us some good advice on what local dishes to try) that offers traditional dishes with the ingredients typical of the Lagoon, the  half salty water of which is so different from that of the sea. It is tasty, authentic and even cheap, I dare say. The place is really tiny and crowded at the lunch time, but if you find no vacant table inside, eat your lunch on foot: as they say, when in Venice do as Venetians do 😉.

3. Vizio e Virtù chocolate store is one more reason to have your lunch at the Al Portego for it is right in front of the osteria offering a perfect desert to follow your perfect local lunch. Here you can taste some of the most outstanding chocolate works of art one of which boasts the name of Juliette Binoche, the godmother of the store who even attended its inauguration.

4. If you choose to travel to Venice by train from Vicenza, one of the fist things you’ll notice will be strange constructions made of huge wooden sticks emerging from the waters of the Lagoon. They are called bricolas and serve to mark the water routes for the nautical traffic, just as if they were proper roads on the firm land.

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5. It is very windy on board a vaporetto in motion if you find the only vacant places on its deck and not in the cabin. In this case you might need a scarf even in summer.

6. Are you in love with art? Don’t forget to visit the famous Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the rest of the places in Venice carrying the imprint of the memory of this great patron and collector.

7. Cà means ‘casa’, or a house, while its more antique meaning is ‘famiglia’, ‘casata’, or a family. In Venice you will often come across the word cà in the names of buildings, palaces and other places.

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Many will try to convince you that Venice is very overestimated and is all about tourists and, in the end, just much ado about nothing. Trust them not!

Venice is magic and romanticism made city. It smells history, not stale water, it is full of glory, not noise. It is unique and never old-fashioned. It is the experience you’ll never forget if you know to appreciate it.

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My friend Veronica once defined Venice a retro film set. I can’t but agree. When you decide to visit this amazing city, you have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make your own special movie here and keep its record forever among the most precious ones.

Photo credit: Machs Gut ©.

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