How to Not See Venice
Venice was never in my top 5 places to visit. It wasn't even in my top 5 places to visit in Italy (I'm still dying to go to Rome, Florence & Cinque Terre). I'm incredibly cynical of those places that are overly populated with tourists; yet in January 2016 I found myself on a plane headed for Venice. My trip, booked towards the end of Carnival, was on a whim. A need to book a flight, a cheap flight, to anywhere. Venice was recommended by a friend who'd said if nothing else, I would love Carnival and anyway there was no need to worry because everyone loves Venice...
Venice is famed for its canals, and lack of cars, instead using vaporetto's to get around the city, or simply walking from A to B. The sites to see include the famed Peggy Guggenheim collection and other museums and various basilicas and palaces. Not really your average backpacker fare, still, off I went to Venice.
It was a dull January day when I arrived in Venice, the fog clung to the water all the way from the airport to the city. The bus pulled into the station just outside the main fare and I was met with the most gorgeous bridge. Even in January, the bridge was packed to the rafters, even in the early evening that I arrived. I had a map on me, but I decided not to open it and to just walk. The view across the river was immediately enchanting and I wanted to get lost in this city. I followed the trail people made, and watched the hazy street lights fade into the water. I came across squares that were empty and squares that were packed. I immediately saw why everyone felt the need to visit this gorgeous, sinking city.
Hours later I walked into Piazza San Marco, the squares sheer size is enough to make you immediately speechless but the architecture is other worldly. Even a tiny human such as myself can feel even smaller in such a place. The Piazza includes St. Mark's Basilica, the clock tower, the campanile, Doge's Palace and adjoining it is "La Piazetta di San Marco", the smaller square connecting the larger one with the main water way. All these places I passed daily, never once did I go in any of them. My time spent in Piazza San Marco was usually to get the vaporetto home, or watch some glorious event for Carnival. My friend had been entirely right, Carnival was something everyone should experience, I was lucky enough to see Flight of the Angel, and the Celebration of the Maria's chosen for the Carnival, both such beautiful events.
I spent my time exploring the side streets of Venice, whilst wearing a red Venetian mask- acceptable during Carnival. As I said before, I am incredibly cynical of places that are packed with tourists, I can only imagine how crammed it gets in the summer time around the main square if that's what it's like in the winter. Instead, I ventured away, I headed out towards the Rialto bridge in the evenings, where I hung out with other backpackers I met walking around. We drank 3€ Aperol Spritz's and sat by the river listening to everyone's quick, over exaggerated hand gestures, loud conversations whilst watching the city lights twinkle in the river.
During the day I wandered around various little piazzas, eating 2€ slices of pizza, and drinking coffee at the bar in any place I could find that would allow me to do so. I wandered to Libreria Acqua Alta, the famed Venetian bookstore. Gorgeous tho' it was, it was busy as it has become less of a secret. Nonetheless I thumbed through books in the gondola inside the store.
I walked to Canareggio, the area where the Jewish Ghetto in Venice was. In fact, Cannaregio ended up being my favourite place to hang out. Not only was it beautiful but my favourite place to eat, Quanto Basta, was there- super reasonably priced massive pizza's (starting at 5€). I sat by the peaceful canals and enjoyed the colourful building on the gated island of Getto Nuovo. If you look carefully at the buildings you can spot 3 synagogues. Scan the tops of the buildings and you can see the small domes that indicate the position of the pulpit. My last morning was spent exploring the empty squares of Dorsoduro. Walking across the bridge & seeing Venice from another, quieter perspective was beautiful.
Did I do anything really touristy? Well, I rode a gondola! Yes, thought I'd leave that til last, but how can you go to Venice and not ride one? It was actually pretty terrifying. The boats are so low, like a canoe, and the Grand Canal so open that I spent a lot of time wondering if I was going to go over the side. I paid a minimal 29€ to do it, and whilst I can't find the company I booked with, I can find this company who might be of some use. The gondola ride didn't include any music, or explanation about where you went, but frankly you don't need it. Even in January there were so many gondola's around that you can listen to what other guides are saying, or to the music playing.
I arrived in Venice with no expectations, and left loving the city. It's unlike anywhere else you'll visit. Don't believe this rubbish about Amsterdam being the Venice of the North, or anywhere else being compared to it. Nowhere is like it. It was a beautiful city to visit, and whilst I'd say I spent more than normal, you can do it slightly more cheaply. I stayed at Generator Hostel on Giudecca island and got vaporetto's every day. I had planned on going to Murano, but the weather put the kibosh on that. I got a pass that allowed me to travel on the vaporetto's for the whole time I was there, & I found a decent deal to ride on a Gondola. Venice surprised me with its beauty, and I was so glad to have visited.