The crazy thing about Venice is that while the heart of the city itself isn’t all that big, it is made up of 118 small islands. Before we made our way to Venice, we were told by Ed Lau that we should just accept the fact that we’re going to get lost. There aren’t really any “roads,” per se, because there aren’t really any cars in Venice proper. And none the pedestrian “streets” run on anything that would remotely resemble an organized grid. They meander, they twist, they turn, and they’re interconnected with a series of bridges.
While I did download some offline maps to my smartphone, getting a GPS signal among the tightly packed buildings was quite the challenge. And so, we really came to rely on three specific landmarks to find our way: the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), and the main Santa Lucia train station. It may look like graffiti, but the randomly spray-painted “signs” worked reasonably well for providing directions.
Venice has been given many nicknames over the years. It’s been called the City of Water, the City of Bridges and the City of Canals. And yes, these are all true. Because there are so many islands and so many canals, there are that many bridges. The problem is that the bridges don’t necessarily appear where you think they might and the “streets” can suddenly end or veer off in other directions. You may think that you can just follow the Grand Canal, but you simply can’t.
The good news, as mentioned, is that Venice is quite walkable. You just have to give yourself time (and have the energy to walk). We accidentally wandered our way into the far eastern part of Venice one day and we ended up doing a lot of doubling-back to end up back at Piazza San Marco. It’s a good way to see the “real” Venice, but that was well over a one-hour detour.
With so many artisan stores selling hand-crafted and hand-painted Venetian masks, another nickname that has been given to Venice is the City of Masks. The fancier they get, as you can imagine, the more expensive they get. We ended up buying a moderately-priced ceramic mask as a souvenir from a kindly older Italian lady who didn’t speak much English.
I’ve mentioned the tourist menus in Venice and how the food at Ristorante da Sabrina was only sub-par, but there are some affordable and good eats to be found too. Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta To Go is a short walk from St. Mark’s Square and it offers really fresh pasta and sauce for about 7-8 Euro.
A real treat was a place called Bacareto Da Lele. It had absolutely no seating — just some standing room outside — but what you get is some house wine by the glass for about 1 Euro and some small sandwiches (basically just good salami on a good roll) for about the same. The two of us had a light lunch for under 5 Euro total and it was delicious. It’s located a little closer to the bus terminal area by the train station.
Yes, you could pay the “tourist tax” and ride the expensive gondolas. You could take the cheaper route and ride the vaporetti water buses too. Or you could just wander around on foot, as we did. It can be very expensive to stay in even the most modest of accommodations in Venice, so I would recommend doing what we did and staying on the “mainland” in Marghera or Mestre. There’s a train that commutes frequently between the Mestre station and the Santa Lucia Station in Venice. The ride only takes about 10 minutes and you’ll save a bundle.
I can’t imagine spending more than a couple of days in a city like Venice, but it certainly is a unique place to visit… even if Las Vegas ruined the experience a little bit.