Venice - Away From The Numbers
Venice, no matter how you look at it, is a must for anyone even remotely interested in Italy - Beauty, atmosphere, romance, light, food, wine and history. Of course, its problems are as well documented as the delights to be found in this most extraordinary of places. It's sinking, for one - A very good reason to go on its own. I'd hate for you to be too late, so go tomorrow ... now. The crowds can be worse here than almost anywhere else on the planet. If you've been to Florence and tried to walk the Ponte Vecchio in June, then you might have some idea what to expect. So, what do you do? Winter is the obvious choice. Apart from the Christmas and New Year period, and even then it's still a lot less crowded than in the summer high season, Venice can be explored and cherished and a much more humane and personal level. As mentioned in my travel notes, I truly believe that almost everywhere on the planet has a right time and best time to visit. I cannot bear the thought of queueing for a museum or church, Gondola, Vaporetti or open sandwich (Cicchetti) when holiday time is so precious. The heat can be oppressive at any point during the summer months, with or without the added body heat of shuffling tourists, angry locals and overcrowded ferries, so again, winter makes sense. It's a long held belief that people largely dress better during the winter months. Gone are the crappy baseball caps, football shirts, baggy denim shorts and florescent flip-flops that blight any good holiday snap, only to be replaced by proper hats, woollen overcoats, scarves, and stout, warm shoes. In fact, Venice is one of the best dressed cities I've ever visited, for both locals and travellers alike. It makes a difference. In a place of beauty, why spoil the picture with terrible attire. A word of warning however, Venetians are becoming increasingly annoyed with tourists and their wheelie suitcases and they are in fact banned within the city itself, and I can fully understand why. The noise and damage they cause is helping to ruin the city's atmosphere even further.
It is often said that it's a pretty expensive place to eat, sleep and drink, and there is no denying that it can be, but bargains are to be had. 50 cent glasses of wine can be found, and eating as the locals do, on the hoof, can help save the pennies for the more expensive must do's that Venice affords itself. I urge you to find the cheapest flights possible and shop around for the best hotel deal you can find and use the savings to either arrive or leave in style via a water taxi - They are a standard rate and at the time or writing, they are a hefty 110 Euros. This lavish expense can be justified as it is a memory of a lifetime. A wondrous wind in your hair moment that will last forever. If you can time your flight so you arrive at the airport an hour before sunrise or sunset then all the better. Crossing the lagoon in the fading orange light adds even more to experience. You feel like a cross between a film star of the golden era of Hollywood and James Bond. Arrival times and departures aren't always about the earliest and latest available, and picking the right moment to make your move can add greatly to ones whole holiday experience. A word of warning however, the docks are a good 15 minute walk from the terminal, and in bad weather or peak hours, loaded up with luggage, it can be a sweaty way of starting or finishing your trip. This is due to change in later 2016/17 however, with a redevelopment of the connection between air and water being undertaken and is obviously well overdue.
Anyone who knows the way I like to spend my money, when it comes to accommodation, knows that I like independent or family run establishments. Preferably quirky or befitting the environment. Obviously budget must, for most of us, be a big consideration, so I implore you to do some donkey work when choosing your spot. Obviously, a hotel, B&B or apartment overlooking the Grand Canal would be ideal and bargains, or money well spent, in this area can be found. I favour a small 9 room hotel called Al Ponte Antico right next to and overlooking the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge. The lower few floors of a traditional Venetian palace have been restored and turned into one of the loveliest small hotels in the world. The level of service, kindness and location cannot be bettered. It is important to note that when you stay somewhere as authentic as this, that not every modern luxury may be available due to the buildings size or structure. Staircases will need to be climbed, corridors navigated and terraces shared. The Al Ponte Altico is a personal favourite and one I will return to whenever I revisit.
Venice is also known for its food - Seafood especially. You will find pizza and some will be good but the fresh produce harvested locally should be the way to go. Although, as in a lot of places, the tourist restaurants will be offering substandard fare at an overblown price and in smaller portions. That choice is again yours but a little bit of homework here wouldn't go amiss. I have met up with some locals here and rather annoyingly, they bragged at knowing a place where the locals go, with the food being of a better quality, price and proportion - I see no reason to boast that you live in a place that has one rule for one diner and one for another. There are many places in the world where this doesn't happen but yet, in some, this seems the norm, and the reputation of the food and hospitality in those places should be blighted accordingly. Good (and cheap) local wine can be found and I urge you to bar hop and eat as the locals do. My favourite spot, day or night for this is the Bacareto de Lele. Located in a beautiful square and adjacent to one of Venice's picturesque canals, at 50 cents a glass, its hard to go past, The Venice Jazz Club also makes a change from the usual search for a decent restaurant. Although the food isn't great, and to be fair, they don't pretend that is, a trip here will make a very pleasant evening indeed. Bookings are essential, however.
Recommended Reading: Joseph Brodsky - Watermark