Because you most certainly will get lost. In most of the situations, it’s not even a matter of time – there’s too much challenge even for a great map to save from this. Yet what you should wonder if whether or not you want to be saved. You see, I’m all for planned travels, I believe they reflect our interest for the locations. But Venice is the exception that I’d always advice people to make when it comes to roaming around purposelessly.
Just think of it: a gondola ride? – €80; a coffee in Piazza San Marco? – the most expensive coffee you could possibly have in Italy; a free boat ride to Murano? – you’ll discover that unless you’re buying some of the exceptionally expensive glass, you’re trip is not free at all, nor is it a round trip.
But instead of that (or along with, if you insist) there’s a more authentic way to let the atmosphere sink in. It’s not even a value judgment to say that Venice’s most inner layer of beauty lies in its labyrinthine way of revealing itself to the travelers.
Wandering at its best
- Basilica di San Pietro – behind the Arsenale you’ll find the oldest basilica in Venice. It’s such an impressive monument that there’s a good chance for you to know it from the Assassin’s Creed.
- The Jewish Ghetto – explore the less popular history of the city. Special tip, once you’re here: go to Gam Gam Kosher restaurant and have one of the best meals in Venice, then stop at the local bakery for the divine almond cookies.
- The beach – The Murrazi is a typically narrow walkway, parallel to the beach beyond the hotel zone.
- Go to the Opera at La Fenice – the now perfectly restored place was ruined in a fire back in 1996; the locals are popular throughout Italy for their talented artists in Venice.
- Cross Grand Canal in a traghetto, which is the cheaper and less opulent way of naming a gondola, the word means ferry in Italian.
- Walk along the Zattere, maybe get an ice cream from the street vendors with the fancy stalls and all kinds of magic flavors.
There’s a reason why it’s said that the fastest way to get from A to B in Venice is by riding the wake of a local; one of the first things that you’ll notice is that the Venetians walk very long distances on a daily basis. That, and the vaporetto (local ferry) is very expensive, so it’s also effective budget-wise to take long walks. A maze of cobblestoned sidewalks, old buildings, fancy gondolas and another view every other twist or turn, this is what Venice is all about.
Of course you should visit the highlights, such as Piazza San Marco and its beautiful church with gold mosaics, or Rialto Brigde. Unless there’s direct transport, if you need to get somewhere in particular, this is going to be wretchedly difficult. But you won’t be surprised by all the old monuments, because generally the expectations kill any thrill of traveling. But otherwise, Venice is going to tell you its story – one with a special rhythm that you’ll have to follow and respect, full of syncopes and authenticity.
If you’re willing to give this place a chance, it’s going to share some amazing stories with you: the inns where Hemingway would visit reguarly, the painters and all the decaying artists who lived a day to few to tell their complete story, the very narrow streets giving you the constant sensation that nothing but a friendly, curious cat could follow you, and a sense of confinement that’s going to stop bothering you after a few days. All you have to do is give Venice time – explore it gradually, and this maze of bridges and buildings is going to give you a romantic sense of a place to be, and maybe, just for a few days, it won’t even matter where exactly on the map you are.
There is no chance to escape this penetrating dreamy, maudlin feeling from when you find yourself in a perfect place. The problem, as I see it, with perfection (and happiness, for that matter) is that we very often look for it. This utopian place is about immersing in this idyllic reality, a little too beautiful to be true: the fancy, colorful flower vases from under the shutters of the small windows of every old building there is, the fact that you’ll actually live the city without knowing there are six different sestietti (districts), the various little wine shops, a beautiful squero where gondolas are made and restored.
The lovely local neighborhoods are just ideal to have a sip of the local wines and (even if you’re not) be a gourmet. There’s a secret about the best accommodation – Venice is about the small business – the beds and breakfast, the family business, the nice lady from the corner of the street who happens to rents a room or two. Same goes for food – the best bacari you’ll eat will probably be from a little unnamed shop, where you’ll have delicious cicchetti, or tuna carpaccio on a brioche with mustard. Or what else pops to your mind while holding a glass of Garganega in your hand.