The final stop of our grand SlovinIt tour was Venice, mainly for the good connections. Based on my presumptions and everyone complaining about how stinky and crowded the s(t)inking city of canals is, I honestly wasn’t too excited about going there. It just seemed like a destination everyone needs to suffer through once in a lifetime.
The journey between the bus station and our hotel only served to reinforce my prejudice: the profuse sweating from the heat and suffering, the cruise ship crowds steamrolling through the streets, the Google Maps walking instructions leading us to a cul-de-sac… Ugh. There were several bridges along the way without ramps, so we had to carry our heavy luggage up and down the stairs while trying to find another way to the hotel. I had already had enough by the time we finally made it to Locanda Silva, where we would be staying for the weekend. Fortunately, the hotel was very nice and clean, the staff were friendly and even the included breakfast was surprisingly good. The location also turned out to be great once we got the hang of the giant labyrinth formed by the narrow, criss-crossing streets. From there on, our general mood started to improve again.
After a nice shower, we were refreshed enough to go out and brave the street labyrinth again, this time with a better attitude. In the historical centre of Venice, the main modes of transport are by foot and boat, as there are no cars or streets where a car would even fit. The streets are narrow and crowded. Even the canals are crowded with all the gondoliers in their striped shirts touring tourists around, all the while happily aiding them in making their wallet lighter.
We had no plan for our first walking tour and were just wandering around aimlessly. All of a sudden, the shaded street opened up to St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), and in that moment I finally understood the draw of Venice. Seeing Saint Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) with my own eyes was so impressive that the cliché of going breathless was not far from the truth. It felt like time stopped and any words dried up in my mouth. The longer you stare at all the magnificent buildings at the square, the more dumbfounding details you find. Pictures really don’t do justice to this church or the square, they must be experienced live to really see the grandeur. And that’s how you get millions upon millions of tourists flocking in, for a very good reason. If they wanted to be left alone there, they should have built something uglier!
“Love and a cough are something you cannot hide” –Unknown graffiti artist
Surprisingly enough, we got used to to the crowds quite fast and the herds didn’t bother us after the initial shock anymore. Apart from patience, the most important thing is to pack good shoes and be prepared to wear them out. A budget traveller should also be aware that even the shortest gondola rides cost close to a hundred euros. The good news is that there is a much more affordable way to see many of the sights from water – just take a vaporetto water bus! Actv sells single tickets as well as unlimited use tickets for 1 to 7 days, of which it makes sense to pick the latter according to the length of your own holiday. The vaporettos not only take you from one station to another along the main canal, but they also run between the centre and the nearby islands. Some do a circle route, so they can also be used as a mini cruise, especially if you luck out and manage to get a seat outside on the deck.
The Saint Mark Bell Tower (Campanile di San Marco) at St Mark’s Square, seen in the background in the picture above, is almost 100 metres high and supposedly offers the best views over the entire city. Understandably, visiting the tower is an extremely popular tourist activity with queues and entrance fees to match. To spare your nerves and save some money, consider taking a vaporetto to the nearby island of San Giorgio Maggiore instead, and visit the church (Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore) bell tower there. Tickets are a lot cheaper and there was no queue when we dropped by in the afternoon.
Even though the San Giorgio Maggiore bell tower isn’t quite as high as St Mark’s, you can still spy lots of interesting stuff from the heights. My favourite find was the exquisite maze behind the church. Sadly, they didn’t let any tourists in to lose their way and their life in the scorching sun, but it was still cool! I’ll get me one of those for sure, as soon as I can turn my balcony into a backyard.
If the crowds of Venice start to stress you out, the vacation island of Lido is only a short vaporetto ride away. Crowded and narrow streets become but a faint memory as soon as you step foot on Lido – there are “normal” roads for cars and wide pavements there, and even regular buses and not only those of the water variety. Lido feels like a traditional resort with its lush flower plantings and shiny shopping streets. The atmosphere is sleepy and calm, even though you can still find a lot of people there.
Although our half-day beach visit was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the historical centre, I still think Lido is probably at its best as a playground for trust fund kids and their kind. There are some free beaches scattered around the island, but they’re also incredibly crowded, while the private beaches have more space than they know what to do with. An officious guard immediately drove us off from an open stretch of sand and back in with the rest of the riff-raff, but hardly bothered to hassle other similar rule-breakers. Redds and I probably didn’t manage to look difficult enough, so we became an easy target for bouncing around.
Venice by Night
The magic of Venice can be best seen late in the evening, when the cruise crowds have retreated back to their ships and the sun begins to set. One by one, lights are popping on at the restaurants lining the main canal and live orchestras begin to play at St Mark’s Square. The main sights are lighted in a way that brings out a whole new side to them.
Normally, I’m not one to shop for souvenirs, but I had to make an exception in Venice. I’ve been collecting masks ever since I did an internship in Tanzania. In Venice, every tourist shop bursts with cheap, fake masks for a couple of euros, but there are still some traditional stores like Ca ‘Macana, where each mask is carefully crafted by hand. The selection is mind-boggling and ranges from the handsomely-beaked il dottore masks to imaginative steampunk versions and charming animal characters. It was almost painful to make a choice, but I ended up getting a fox mask with crooked eyes. I could imagine wearing it to a secret society meeting – now I just need to find that society. Honestly, I’d be happy to travel back to Venice just for the chance to shop for more masks!
Prices (June-July 2019), Venice
- Accommodation, Locanda Silva, room for two with a private bathroom and canal view, breakfast included: 100€/night + tourist tax of a couple of euros
- Actv pass for 2 days: 30€
To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.