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08 April 2010

venice beyond the obvious

i've been thinking about what to write to take to venice those of you who haven't been there before and/or make it revive to those of you who have visited it instead. nobody needs the usual travelogue with photos and small descriptions, the web is full of that. so how to give this beautiful city its deserved justice? how to achieve this goal with honesty? let me try ...

when someone says venice, you think of gondolas and canals, but there's so much more. the antique fusion of oriental and occidental styles, little squares suddenly appearing through byzantine archways, splashing fountains, ancient doorways, little shops like no others in the backstreets, small arched bridges with parapets of clumbing stone and steps, architectural elements like peaked window frames. all this makes of venice a truly unique city with boats moored in canals that also add a picturesque touch.

there're a few neagative aspects, though. it's heavily touristed, with more tourists than residents. venice is said to host an average of about 50000 tourists a day, and this causes stellar prices everywhere. sadly, the restaurants scene is suffering from it. all places are tourist traps like this near the famous academy bridge.

so finding a decent meal for a reasonable price is nearly impossible. this doesn't mean venetian cuisine is bad. you only have to find a casual, noisy, jolly osteria in the backlanes to enjoy a typical dish. risottos (made with scampi or cuttlefish) are the most representetive dishes, the strangest one being rice with a bright black color, result of the cuttleifhs being cooked in its own ink.

the wine bars are better and typical, but wines are not so great. it' just the fun of sipping a 'ciuccottin' (little glass of wine) in there that is great. 

the other negative thing is water. it's a standard feature of life but it's not clean and the level in the lagoon often rises and floods the streets. it's a phenomenon called acqua alta (high water), which is predictable and announced in advance, but still annoying. they have raised walkways especially built to allow people go around their business when it happens. water is also slowly corroding the foundations of the city and the building themselves are sinking. so unless some major (and exceptionally successful) steps are not initiated, venice will eventually end up as atlantis in a few thousands years.

here's a map of the lagoon where venice was built, between the mainland and the adriatic sea.

the older part of the city is divided into six areas called sestieri. these are castello, cannaregio, san polo, dorsoduro, santa croce and san marco. castello is my favorite, because being away from the crowds preserves its romantic charm. it's very easy to get lost in there, but very easy to find your way at the same time too, because of the signals painted on many walls.

the best way to explore the city is chose your course with no idea where to go other than a vaguely towards saint mark basilica and give uo on maps. every time i succumbed to cartography, i always found myself much farther south than expected.

i've been there 4 times already, in winter/spring seasons. i had time to explore a lot during each visit and still i found something new each time i went. because that's what venice is: a place you can visit many times and not discover all its secrets. there's a surprise waiting for you around every corner, inside every church. the laced system of canals offers a path narrowed less than a meter running between adjacent buildings in some places, in others what looks to be a dead end opens up beyond a hidden corner to a grand square or a surprise vista across the grand canal.

the new surprises i found this time around were a shipyard for making gondolas

curious vegetation in a landscape dominated by stone, brick and stuccoed walls

and the old arsenal, whose gates are spectacular, with lions guarding the area that once was the lifeblood of the city.

the thing i never did was taking a gondola ride, something every tourist dreams of, me included, i must admit it LOL it's so ridiculously expensive! it's possible to knock off 20/30 euros off the price (around 100 euros) with a persuasive bargain, but then the gondolieri also reduce the time and cut the most interesting and little-known parts from the journey path for "discount" customers. so it's really not worth to pay that much with hundreds of other tourists gawking at you from the bridges while you enjoy your ride.

since whole venice is a whole pedestrians area, getting around when your feet hurt can be possible by vaporetti, water buses, which are a real buzz. route 1 stops at every stop over the grand canal and offers spectacular views on the major facades of the ancient buildings and churches.

and then, awww, all those century-old tradition masks everywhere! they're typically worn during the carnival but have been used on many other occasions in the past, not only as a device for hiding identity and social statust also for a variety of purposes, some of them illicit or criminal, others just personal, such as romantic encounters. i tried to capture the most sensational ones.

next time i go to venice i want to climb on the tower bell in san marco square. the view must be stunning from the top. i also want to try and visit the islands of the lagoon, like murano and burano. i hope that by the time i step feet on that land again, they will have removed all the commercial panels that hide renovation works in saint mark square and over the bridge of sighs. the monuments need a good clean and the cityhall needs a hand from the sponsors.

i'm off to eat something now, i'm starving. i'll leave you with this great video about venetian food. it's really appropriate for this time of the day! enjoy!


  1. I wondered how you'd go about this post and you did a good job. Maybe scared a few tourists off :) but Venice is worth the trouble. I've been to Venice a lot of times and it's true you discover something new every time. You just have to let go and walk around "blindly".

  2. I feel lonely in your comments part.... ladies who read this, don't be afraid to say HI:)))

  3. you're mre than right sandra. may read but nobody leaves comments. WHY? readers, don't be shy, come on!


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