Venice, the city of canals. Probably one of the most famous cities in the world, and by far the most crowded with tourists. With “streets” less than a meter wide in some cases, it can take hours to travel around the island.
I arrived in Venice on Thursday night from Florence. On the way, I made a great friend on the train and got a lot of new data about my destination. Didn’t go into the city that night, as my “hostel” was not on the island itself.
Looking for a good hostel in Venice, I booked Camp Serenissima for my lodging through Hostelworld.com. It was not actually a hostel but rather a campground. I didn’t have a tent (yet) but they had bungalows for only about €10 a night. The bungalow had two beds and no heating, which was fine with me. I would have been fine with a tent. The fun part was the outdoor bathrooms and facilities. Made for a brisk shower. But at least the water was hot which is more than I can say about my host in France. It also turns out the campground opened that week for the new season, so I got to be one of their firsts guests. It was actually very nice, clean, lots of facilities (kitchen, restaurant in the summer, store, etc) and fairly close to the island of Venice itself. Only about 30 minutes on the bus (which the local population never seems to pay for, just like in Rome and Florence).
I spent Friday walking all around the city, seeing the main landmarks such as Ponte di Rialto (the famous Rialto Bridge), Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, etc. I tried to take the walking tour that day as well, but I didn’t book in time, and they were full. I did however talk to the tour guide who recommended a good place for me to eat: Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso. This is a bàcaro (similar to a tavern) which serves cicchetti (Venetian tapas). They were delicious. Several of them, enough to fill me up, were only €5. Plus €1 for ombra (house wine). Definitely a good recommendation, and also where the locals eat.
To save some money after my binges in Rome and Florence, I went to the local market and purchased enough food for a few meals for only €14. It was also in preparation for Saturday, which had a forecast of rain all day. I went back to the campground planning to catch up on my blog, but ended up meeting several new friends at the hostel and spending the night talking with them.
On Saturday I planned to spend the day at the campground working on my blog and waiting out the rain. I did so for the first few hours, but by that time it still hadn’t rained more than a light sprinkle so I ended up going with my new friends back to the island for a great Venetian dinner and some fantastic night photography. Of course, that’s when it finally decided to rain. Hard. Good thing I love the rain! We all enjoyed it. I must say that Venice takes on an even more beautiful atmosphere when it rains.
On Sunday I got to the island early to take the free walking tour. The tour was great, especially since it avoided the crowded “tourist” sections of Venice and concentrated on the other landmarks in Venice such as the bookstore with all the books in tubs for when it floods…but I won’t spoil the tour. I did manage to get a photo of the foremost Carnival mask maker before I saw the “no photos” sign. Oops. It was nice that the tour also included stops for cheap Venetian food dishes and ended at the bàcaro I had been to on Friday.
I will mention that the tour started with great information not just about Verona, but all of Italy. Primary of importance was how to find a good, local restaurant, which I will pass on. There are some rules to follow which are generally true. Pick restaurants that don’t have any translations of their menu, or only a translation into English. The menu should not have any photos of food. The restaurant should be located off the tourist streets in a back alley or out-of-the-way location, and probably will not have a very visible sign outside. If there is anyone outside ready to usher you in, skip it. And if they only speak Italian inside and are full of Italians, especially older ones, you’ve struck gold. Follow these tips and you should have found a true local restaurant with much better food than the tourist-oriented locations. And this information also applies to restaurants throughout Italy, and probably the rest of the world as well!
Once again, I met several new friends on the tour, including the wild redhead and her friend “birdie.” After the tour we all went in search for a good local restaurant (with our new data on how to pick one). And found one called Bar Nostro. There were a lot of tourists there too, but the local cuisine was fantastic. Especially the squid ink pasta. Our waiter, an elderly Italian, made the meal extra special with his humor and service. The best part was when he got “mad” at my friend for putting Parmesan on his spaghetti. Can’t say I didn’t warn him. As I mentioned in my post on Cinque Terre, which I told my friend, Italian food arrives to the table perfect and you don’t need to add anything more to it.
On Monday I went back to the island once more, this time to walk to the far end of the island. That part of Venice is covered in parks and possibly is even more beautiful than the “tourist” portion of the island. I was glad that it wasn’t known by many tourists. It was almost empty, which was a relief after shoving my way through crammed streets the previous days. Spent an hour just sitting on the grass in a park watching the boats and ferries go by. Finally I went back to the train station and took my train to Verona.
Venice was a good city to visit. You possibly don’t need to spend many days in Venice, except that I will need to go back sometime to take a tour of the other surrounding islands which comprise the city. For now, I’m happy with my visit there. But however long you plan to spend in Venice, make sure it is on your itinerary for at least a day, just so you can say you’ve been there. It’s worth it.