Interested in Venice?
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Venice is the ultimate city built upon fantasies. Picture perfect, incredibly interesting, it is a photographer's or romantic's dream. Couples walking around who look like they have just stepped out of a Fellini movie. Stodgy older men wearing cashmere trenchcoats with receding hairlines and sunglasses sporting cigarette holders, while being accompanied by beautiful fashion plated sirens who appear to be on a break waiting for their next movie shoot to start, encompassed in stone studed sunglasses. Restaurateurs owning brightly lit bistros at the back of some dark dead end alley who look like Pauly from the Sopranos, (not behaving too differently either), while cooking the finest pasta you have ever encountered. Locals who look like characters from the screen, but actually know where they are going in this incredible, impossible to navigate, who cares if one gets lost, city on stilts. Lotsa tourists. What's not to love? From the Doge's Palace, to San Marcos Square, to the Bridge of Sighs, to the Rialto Bridge, it's landmark after landmark while being surrounded by the Grand Canal.
What's the easiest way to navigate this impossible little island, by water naturally. The vaporettos run constantly around the island and to the outer islands as well going in both directions, ferrying travelers and locals in quite an efficient manner. It's a great way to avoid the clogs of the mazelike streets of Venice, and also a good way to get your bearings and sightsee.
One of the larger challenges I faced when arriving at Venice, was the second phase of the Venice trip. Getting to Venice.
If you are coming from the airport: You can take a private water taxi from the dock by Marco Polo Airport which will take you directly to the vaporetto stop you wish to go to, or in many cases straight to the water-side door of your hotel. These can be booked at the Consorzio Motoscafi Venezia desk in the Arrivals Hall at Marco Polo.This works very well if you are in a hurry, but the cost may be in excess of 100 euros. This fare can be split by a number of people should you meet someone on the plane who also wishes to get there quickly, or have traveling buddies. Transport takes 25 to 30 minutes.
The most inexpensive way is to take the public transport, which is at the bus stop directly outside the arrivals hall, to Piazzale Roma. The trip cost 3 euros and takes 20 to 25 minutes. Once in Piazzale Roma, just cross the and go to the stop pf vaporetto # 1 to start your stay with a journey down the Grand Canal to the vaporetto stop closest your hotel. Vaporetto # 1 goes all the way down the Grand Canal and over to the LIdo, stopping at every landingstage on the way. The alternative vaporetto # 2 does not go over to the Lido but instead circles back down the Giudecca Canal to Piazzale Roma. Note it does not stop at every landing stage along its route. The vaporetto costs 6.5 euros for 1 hour on the vaporetto per person for journesy in one direction. No return trips.. Transport takes 40 to 90 minutes from the airport total depending on where you are staying.
Arriving by train: Vaporetto # 1 stops directly outside the train station on the Grand Canal.
Fresh out of Euros?
Need some cash?: Don't worry, ATM's are everywhere, and most establishments take credit cards. Credit or debit cards are actually the preferred way to pay, as you get the daily rate of exchange at your US bank, whereas currency exchange establishments may not always give you the best rates and sometimes charge you a commission fee to boot.
Interacting with the populace?
Everyone speaks English: Not really. Even in a town as touristy as Venice, for some restaurants, shops, and/or hotels, English speaking help is a lot less common than you would think. It's always good to brush up on your Italian or bring an Italian phrasebook with you. Trying earnestly to speak another's language is also a sign of respect and is well received. Some restaurateurs actually pride themselves in not having a tourist menu and flaunt as much on the menu board of their restaurants. That doesn't mean the food's not good or they're not particularly friendly, it just means they cater to the locals, which usually means good food at better prices. Tourist menus may often seem cheap but are not always good value for money. The menus are always postyed utside so do read them carefully before entering any cafe, trattoria or restaurant to be sure what is on offer is what you would like to eat.
Lost after just arriving?
Follow the signs to the monuments, not the street signs: Street signs are of no consequence in Venice. If you knew what street something was on, you'd never find it anyway. The best way to navigate the cobblestoned streets of Venice is by the landmark signs. Affixed on buildings above eye level at street sign height, you'll find the names of the sights and an arrow pointing towards it. Keep following the signs until you arrive at your destination. If you know what landmark is next to what you want to find, navigation is a snap (or at least a lot less traumatic). In some instances, you'll find landmark signs with arrows going both directions. That just means you can get there by either route you choose. It's all very Italian. Do not worry if you find your self lost, just take a rest in any campo at a bar or cafe, regroup, look at your street map (essential for new visitors) and once you have found where you are continue on your way.
Gondolas have two categories: Expensive and more expensive, but how do you pass up a chubby little gondolier singing "Bese me mucho", while floating between buildings that have stood for centuries, while other gondoliers stop talking on their cell phones or dragging on their cigarettes to sing the chorus along with him. Priceless!
Note: Most gondoliers take cash rather than cards.
Can you get a reasonably priced hotel in Venice?
Beds and Breakfasts: There are many B & B's available in Venice, some even converted palace. Most of these establishments serve breakfast along with a clean, usually no frills room, that is right in the center of everything.
Expensive hotels with all the perks: Yeah, there's lots of em'. Just hit the net. Prices can range from 200.00 euros (on a deal) to 2000.00 euros easily. And higher. Find out what the dates of High Season in Venice are. Winter is generally low season, but around the holiday periods of Carnival, Easter and Christmas, when hotels fill to capacity, the difference of a week can mean double or more the cost for the exact same hotel room. If you want a quality Hotel, do not restrict your choice to 5* establishments, the Italian grading system is strange and many Hotels downgrade themselves to avoid the higher tax rates which have to be paid by 5* places. A 4* or even 3* may have almost as much as a 5* - possibly not an elevator which are often impossible to fit into the old, sometimes medieval, buildings, often former Palazzi, which have in recent times become Hotels.
Masks and pricing: All over town. Look for the best prices, and make sure not to buy off of a street vendor with a cheap price if your looking for the real thing. You'll find they range from almost reasonable, to very, very, very expensive.
Crowds: Yes, best to go off season if you don't wan't to feel like you've been playing Rugby all day from challenging the street traffic, and enjoy standing in never ending lines for attractions. The worst crowds are confined to areas immediately around Piazza San Marco and the Rialto whilst many areas further away such as parts of Castello or Cannaregio and almost all parts of the sestiere on the other side of the Grand Canal - Dorsoduro, Santa Croce & San Polo - escape the worst of the tourist throng and yet still have many places of great interest for the tourist to enjoy.
Art, history, culinary wonderment, and grand spectacle. I have never met anyone who wasn't totally enamored with Venice after visiting. It's a challenge and a mess, but I love it.