Over the years I have developed what I can only describe as a love hate relationship with Venice. On one hand, the city is amazingly beautiful, the narrow walkways and exquisite inner-city lagoons allow you to get lost in your own notions. At one point, I even stood for over half an hour watching on as a local diver fetched what appeared to be a very expensive piece of jewellery for an anxiously waiting bride, to which the crowd roared with adulation upon realizing his success. On the other hand, tourism overcrowding casts a dark shadow over Venice to which even I upon leaving, felt indignant towards my participation in the great tourist cycle. Venice is a transit hub, and acts as stop gap for many staying in the surrounding areas of Trieste, Lake Garda, Cortina, Rimini and Lido. The current population stands at around 55,000 people however, in comparison, 66,000 tourists visit daily with an additional 30,000 docking every day from cruise ships. The numbers are staggering and upon standing anywhere near Piazza San Marco, you see under clear skies how those numbers translate visually.
Based on those considerations i thought it would be sensible to therefore apply as many tips as possible towards how you can alleviate local pressures when talking about my own personal experiences. Starting with accommodation, I did something straight off the bat that everyone should consider which was to stay outside of Venice. I stayed in The Hotel Alla Giustizia in Mestre which was ideally located near Mestre railway-station and only a 10 minute bus journey from Venice. The local owners were always on hand to welcome guests, the rooms were clean and substantial, and the food was lovely. I would recommend staying in Mestre/Maghera and always do some research on local ownership. Venice is dominated by big branded hotels and most independents there are now under the bubble of AirBnB. Staying outside of Venice with local owners will guarantee benefits to the local community.
One great thing about Venice is that is has a very clock-wise directional pull and therefore easy to navigate without getting lost. After one day of walking I guarantee you will be ready to turn from the comforts of google and try your best Marco Polo impression (Marco). Venice has a main street that is lined with busy shops and souvenir carts that try their best to consume both your attention and your money. If you veer off the main road in Cannareggio you will be astounded by how quickly the crowds dissipate which lead me to my first gem; II ghetto. This area is the cities former Jewish ghetto, and is debated to be the world’s first. The area was once a foundry in the 14th century and foundry in Italian directly translates as gietto. The area was a residential prison for nearly 400 years and if you are not careful, you will miss subtle details such as the hinges that remain from where gates once stood to keep the local Jewish population contained at night. Situated nearby is Museo Communita Ebraica where you can see many of the historical artifacts of Jewish culture that were present at the time.
Two very important lessons I will take from my journey around Italy are; having an appreciation for the mastery required to bring art to life, and always remembering to look up. Italy has some of the best art and the best views in the world and often enough it’s right above your head. Heading along to Castello there is the Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a renaissance church built in 1489; SS Giovanni e Paolo, the church of saint John and Paul which was constructed in 1430 and is the burial site of 25 Venetian doges; Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni and finally Arsenale di Venezia which stands today as a naval base and research centre. Average prices range between 3 and 15 Euros and visiting many of these churches and museums on the outskirts of Venice go a long way as tourism is traditionally centralised. Do not be put off by the many donation boxes too as many churches need the help. Avoid giving money to beggars as a lot of them are scammers and most churches and charities have boxes set up that read offerte per I poveri (donations for the poor). Additionally, if you’re interested in getting involved, there are plenty of foundations like the Venice in Peril fund which aims to restore buildings, art work, and set measures for preventing localised flooding.
Moving into the main area of Venice we reach the tourist hotspot of San Marco. Near Ponte di Rialto is San Salvador, a small church constructed in 1177 that is so understated from the outside it can be easily missed. The church holds works by Sanovino, Titian, Vecellio and Vittoria and the three domes allow for natural light to reflect among its beautifully crafted floor. The next stop in San Marco is the Torre dell’Orologio or Saint Mark’s Clock Tower; inaugurated in 1499, the tower was originally used to guide merchants entering the city by sea. The tower contains many intricate details. Two figures, one old and one young meet on the hour to show the passing of time, the clock’s face has both Roman and Arabic numbers and displays the time, the zodiac, and the present phase of the moon. Other places to visit include the Museo Correr, Ponte dei Sospiri, San Zaccaria and Palazzo Ducale. Unfortunately, due to excessive queues and flooding issues I decided to give the Basilica di San Marco a miss on this visit but make sure to go as it is voted the number 1 tourist attraction in Venice.
Before leaving San Marco I decided to take in the best aerial view of the city. The Campanile di San Marco provides 360-degree views including Giudecca, Murano and San Giorgio Maggiore which offer an alternate state of tranquility in comparison to the hustle and bustle of Venice’s main promenade. Continuing our journey, we come to Dorsoduro, a quiet residential area by day, and a lively student area by night that offers breath-taking views to complement your evening meal. The area is home to Squero di San Trovaso, a 17th century boat house which is the oldest gondola repair factory in Venice. There are plenty of museums and Churches to visit in Dorsoduro including San Sebastiano, I Gesuati, Dogana da Mar, and Galleria dell’Accademia which hold works by Guardi, Titian, Bellini, Carpaccio and de Vinci. Adjacent is the island of San Polo, which contains Campo San Polo, a 7th century market place and the second largest square in Venice that is famous for its entertainment and fruit and vegetable stores. Towards Ponte di Rialto are the fish markets which provide fresh produce to many of the pop up stalls set out along the water.
Finishing off, I must recommend one of my favourite moments and I hate to say, it’s the gondola ride. The reason I say this with such regret is that it can cost anywhere between 100 and 150 Euros for half an hour but boy it’s worth it. I embarked on my gondola journey on the grand canal and there’s just something extremely nostalgic and immersive in witnessing Venice from the water. My gondola passed by a host of major attractions including Teatro la Fenice, Peggy Guggenheim, Mozart’s home, and Rialto Bridge. Lastly, I do have to mention this because I have a slight addiction for ice cream and I have ventured all over Italy in search of the perfect Gelato and it is here in Venice that I found perfection. A brief walk from Ponte di Rialto is SUSO, A.K.A. ice cream heaven. They use fresh seasonal products, environmentally friendly material, and above all, offer astounding combinations and mouth-watering flavours; SUSO, I salute you.
Additional considerations; always try to take the bus or train instead of flying or taking a cruise to reduce your carbon footprint; Avoid day tripping and all-in-one offers which tend not to bring any contribution to the local community; skateboards, bicycles, roller blades and any vehicle you can think of are strictly forbidden in the city; Jumping and swimming in the canals is also forbidden; Immerse yourself and contribute as much as you can to the local economy by supporting local businesses, shopping from local artists and artisans and eating and drinking where the locals do; Smile, say hi, please and bye to the people you meet and remember most of all that your in someone’s home (Source: Lonely Planet).
And so my journey in Venice ends. A special thank you to all of the locals who took the time to make my visit warm and welcoming and thanks to anyone who takes the time to share in my experiences by reading my blog (Polo).