The first time I went to Venice I was, for lack of better terms, underwhelmed. I visited in the middle of July, in the height of summer and the height of tourist season. I will say I enjoyed the colors and the Asian tourists wielding their creative sunbrellas but it was all-in-all fairly mediocre.
I got a chance to visit again this past weekend and I am pleased to report a drastic difference in my opinion of Venice. After my July visit I started reading other posts about Venice and seeing so many people saying how great it was, and since it’s said to be the most romantic city in the world, I figured I was missing something. The wheels of my mind slowly started turning and I began secretly wishing for a chance to return. The chance came for me to be the tour guide on the day trip last Saturday and I was excited to see Venice under the light of a new season.
I attempted to prepare by reading some pages from the Lonely Planet but was much more interested in Under the Tuscan Sun which happened to be playing on the tour bus, so I only got through a couple of pages. I did however, stick with it long enough to read that today the percentage of the population at elementary school age is a measly 3%, which speaks volumes to the prediction that Venice is indeed an aging city.
For the most part, I just stopped and took in the views and I think it’s the best way to enjoy what Venice has to offer. Here’s my list of things to make Venice worthwhile (especially for only one day!):
Spritz: This famous Italian aperitif is made with a mix of Prosecco (or Spumante) and Aperol and garnished with a slice of orange and an olive. According to my all-knowing professor friend, the best spritz in all of Venice is made at this little bar along the canal behind the Ponte Rialto called Osteria al Pesador. It’s the perfect place to sample this drink and snack on the accompanying potato chips, while watching the Gondolas pass along the canal.
Rialto Markets: I’m a big fan of markets, no matter what they sell or where they are located. For me it’s a great way to see how the locals live and what things they find of interest and also how they interact with tourists. After so many months, I’m generally not interested in visiting the same vendors, hearing the same cat calls and browsing the same products in the San Lorenzo market of Florence, but I appreciate going to a different city and seeing the products they specialize in. And if I can get an ear in, hearing the tales from the vendors, whether or not they’re true it’s always great to hear people’s stories. Being that Venice specializes in glass, there are plenty of little colorful knick-knacks, along with the typical fruit and fish stalls throughout the day.
Piazza San Marco: My first impression of the famously beautiful San Marco Square was that it wasn’t very beautiful and a bit too crowded, however, in the low(er) tourist season, I was able to open my eyes to the uniqueness that the Basilica di San Marco shines over the entire square. Being the only square in all of Venice granted permission to be called a “piazza” the photographic opportunities stretch far past the intricately stunning basilica. The way the white pillars have gathered dirt and grime over the years makes them interesting subjects for photographs, even better against the grey November sky. Watching as the travelers kneel in hopes that a domesticated pigeon will hop on their head is also a great way to pass lunchtime with panino in hand. Just glad it’s not me!
Murano Glass: I didn’t get a chance to actually visit Murano, which I assume is the best way to enjoy the colorful creations, however, there are a number of glass shops and glass-blowing rooms in the city center where the process can be observed with wide-eyes. The demonstration we watched was hurried and short but it was amazing non-the-less and I’m sure in a smaller group, there would be more effort put into the project. I didn’t stay for the whole explanation but heard from the students that it was fabulous. The quickness of the work is amazing, and the final product is beautiful. Plus, there is something powerful behind working with 1,000F degree, red-hot glass. The demonstration went on to explain the process of mixing colors, but I missed out on that part and forgot to get the lowdown from my students.
Get Lost: I think anyone who has had a chance to visit Venice can give this advice. Get lost, and it’s pretty easy to do so don’t hold back! Pick what you want to see and know how to get there on the map and then do some wandering, I think you’ll be surprised what you find and you might even be lucky enough to stumble into some of the neighborhoods untouched by tourists.
Venice is one of the most expensive cities in Italy, so be prepared to increase your budget based on the length of your stay. If you really want to bust the budget and splurge on a romantic getaway then the suggested venue is Il Ponte Antico hotel located behind the Ponte Rialto and across the canal from Osteria al Pesador. It will run you about 200 euro per night but the adorable little hotel is said to be the most romantic in the world and apparently the staff delivers as well!
There’s still more of Venice to explore, and like always, you can never know a place until you have seen it from the locals eyes!