Of the hundreds of reasons to go, one stands out: time is fleeting. This once independent nation and maritime power is sinking slowly into the sea that fills it’s canals and lends so much to the charm and beauty of this magical city. Government engineers search for creative ways to stop it. Residents move upstairs. Doorways once open to the street now lay part submerged and entire floors are flooded. This is a world treasure that may not be around forever, so go and make those memories now. Take hundreds of pictures and breathe in the spirit of this city. It really is a special one and worth all the hype it receives from travel guides.
That being said, don’t go in the hot. If you love the smell of sweat and sewer stench and rubbing elbows and shoulders with masses of tourists, then please, head there in summer. But if you’re like me and you like to pretend that your travel destination is special and all your own and you’d like to see Venice full of Venitians and forget that you’re a tourist too, then find an off-season time. Cooler temperatures will clean the air and take away the hot summer smells. I went in November and it was absolutely perfect. Not many tourists. Just the smell of the salty sea breeze and lots of beautiful old ladies in fur coats walking around the Piazza San Marco with their well dressed elderly husbands.
Ryan Air flies from Dusseldorf/Weeze to Treviso. From Treviso, it’s easy to hop onto Ryan Air’s shuttle bus and be in Venice in about 30 minutes. The shuttle stops in a parking lot just outside the pedestrian area. So you just walk over the bridge there and you’re into the heart of Venice and a quick walk to most anywhere you’d like to go.
Located in the Campo San Geremia, the San Geremia Hotel sits directly across from a beautiful church of the same name in a large open square. The rooms are small with closet sized bathrooms and the included breakfast is flavorless, but the staff are friendly and helpful and the view is beautiful. It’s also a quieter area of the island, so the most you’ll hear is the click of heals on the cobblestones in the mornings and the song of boys as they walk home in the evenings. The Rialto bridge is only a 10 minute walk and there are great restaurants and some wonderful shopping along the way.
For Murano glass, the famous masks, and leather, you will find more shops than any woman can properly peruse. Look at a few before you buy. There are differences in quality, price, and style that you will notice as you shop. There are “Made in China” pieces out there. Ask questions. I prefer those shops where you can actually see the artist making the pieces in his studio. No matter what your preference, do shop around a little or you’ll spend all your play money before finding “the” piece that you have to have. Most all shops are credit card friendly.
Markets: You will find two markets on the south side of the Rialto bridge. One, running through the street at the end of the bridge is full of scarves, snacks, and other things. The Pashminas are usually sold at a great price here.
If you face the bridge from the south side and turn to your left following the canal back around for a couple blocks, you’ll find the old fish market full of all sorts of interesting creatures. Just outside the fish market is a city of tables covered in fruit and vegetables exquisitely displayed.
It’s here that you can find the traghetto if you’d like a quick trip to the other side of the canal.
The traghetto is a gondola that runs almost continuously from early morning until evening back and forth across the canal. You can catch it at several places that will be marked on your tourist map. This is what the locals use and is a fun, local experience that is far cheaper than an over-priced gondola ride. Board at the dock. Most locals stand, but you can sit if you’re more comfortable. Face backwards as the boat will turn when it leaves. These can get crowded and the trip goes fast. It costs 50 cents. Pay the oarsman as you leave. The traghetto is small. Do not get on with heavy luggage or you might be taking an unplanned swim.
For the best food, ask a local or your hotel staff. Don’t be afraid to leave if you encounter a rude waiter and if the chef snatches your menu from you when you try to write down what you ordered, say “hi” to him for me. The best food will most likely not be on the main road. I found the absolutely best Italian meal of my life on a tiny dark alleyway next to a thin canal.
I will not reinvent the wheel. Spend 30 seconds on google and you will find hundreds of lists of the most important places to see in Venice. My advice? Get lost, literally. If you’re limited on time and have always dreamed of seeing San Marco square, then go. If you’re not limited, still go as the Piazza San Marco is absolutely stunning, but if you have time, do lose yourself. Follow your senses and go where you want. You can always dig out a map and figure it out later or ask a local. They’ll all be able to help you get back to San Marco. Off the map is where you’ll find tiny local restaurants with delicious food and where you’ll see locals living, shopping, and existing beyond the hype of the tourist scene. I got lost and found an amazing artichoke risotto and a boat race through the canals that I would never have seen. Another turn and I found myself in the old Jewish ghetto where I met a talented water color artist and learned of the only Jewish singing gondolier.
But… those are my finds… go now and find yours. ;)