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Impressions of Venice

Sheila from MD

We just returned from a wonderful six-day stay in Venice (September 2000). I'm happy to provide some experiences, opinions, recommendations, and biases which I hope will be helpful to those planning trips to Venice.

Warning

Venice is an incredible, magical city, and I adore it. However, in September Venice was mobbed with tourists. It seems that the dire predictions of a flood of tourists during the jubilee year turned out to be true. And of course the strong dollar encourages foreign travel. My last trip to Venice was in November 99, and while there were plenty of people in the city, it was still quite pleasant. This time it felt as though crowds the size of the population of Manhattan were milling around Piazza San Marco, the nearby streets, and the Rialto Bridge. We were happy to be in those areas as little as possible. So to all you folks who say Hotel X or Y is a good choice because it's right next to Piazza San Marco, I say NO! IMO, it's not a nice place to be unless you enjoy being engulfed in swarms of people including the thousands who debarked from the behemoth Princess Line cruise ship anchored in the Lagoon and thousands of others of various nationalities with glazed eyes following tour leaders with flags or umbrellas. I strongly recommend that, if possible, you avoid visiting Venice from June through September, and I have a feeling that October may be pretty busy too. Fortunately, there are many parts of the city that are much quieter than "Tourist Central."

Arriving from the airport

  • Option 1: Fastest, most direct, and most expensive - Water taxi. Price will vary depending upon where you're staying, but cost is approximately L150,000. If you are a group of 5 or 6 or more, it probably pays to take a water taxi. Price is the same regardless of number of passengers.

  • Option 2: Alilaguna - Airport boat which stops at Zattere, San Marco, Arsenale, Murano and Lido. Takes about 70 minutes to San Marco and 90 minutes to Zattere and costs L17,000 per person. From your stop, walk or take a vaporetto to your hotel.

  • Option 3: Take bus from the airport to Piazzale Roma (end of the line for motor vehicles) then transfer to a vaporetto (water bus). Cost is a little less than the airport boat. By the way, at certain times of the day, there are "express" vaporettos which stop at Piazzale Roma & Train Station, and then go directly to San Marco & Salute stops-and vice versa.

We took option 3 from the airport. The bus was slow because of rush hour traffic. Vaporetto travel time depends on where you're staying. At the end of our stay we took the Alilaguna to the airport which leaves once an hour. It was more convenient because we were staying near the Zattere stop and did not have to transfer ourselves and luggage from vaporetto to bus. Also, it's pleasant and appropriate to arrive and depart Venice by water, I think. So I would recommend the Alilaguna over the bus/vaporetto if you're staying near San Marco or the Zattere (Dorsoduro).

Arriving/leaving by car

Try to arrange for Venice "downtown" drop-off/pick-up of your car rather than the airport. First of all, there's a surcharge for all airport car rentals in Italy. Also, the "downtown" drop-off or pick-up is at Piazzale Roma which is easy to reach by vaporetto.

Arriving by train

Walk out of the train station and take a vaporetto (or expensive water taxi) to your hotel.

Our Apartment Rental

We rented a 2-bedroom apartment in a private home - the Palazetto da Schio in Dorsoduro. This is a very appealing and extremely economical arrangement if you're traveling with another couple (as we were) or with a family. We paid approx. $60/night per couple! Also, you have more room to spread out and feel a bit like a local and a little less like a tourist. In my opinion, Dorsoduro is the most pleasant area of Venice and a great place to stay. The apartment, which overlooked a small, quiet canal, was near the Salute vaporetto stop and very close to the Zattere (the long, broad wharf or quay that runs along the southern side of Dorsoduro, facing the Giudecca).

Hotels

If I could not stay in the apartment, I would probably stay at a hotel in Dorsoduro. A water-view room at the Calcina would be my first choice -- a charming, small, reasonably-priced hotel ideally located on the Zattere. In the warmer months, they have a marvelous outdoor breakfast area right on the water. Unfortunately, it is very popular and always seems to be booked. The Pensione Accademia is also a good choice. The well-located 3-star Hotel American on the Canal San Vio near the Accademia might be a good choice if the previous two are booked. I was able to see only the public rooms but they were pleasant and attractive.

What to See ... or Maybe Not

Every guide book will give you plenty of information on "must-see's" in Venice. I'll briefly mention just a few things we liked, and a few things we didn't.

Accademia - Having missed the Accademia on our previous trip, it was at the top of our "must do" list this time. We were very glad we made it this time ... many impressive Venetian paintings. The audio tape tour was excellent. (We took the option of one tape player and two headsets ... cheaper than 2 units and works fine if you plan to stay close together.) They also have guided tours in English, which is probably a good way to go, but we missed the last one of the day.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection - Not a favorite of mine. Although many will disagree with me, I'm sure, I felt that many of the pieces in her collection were 20th century works which have not "aged" well.

San Marco Basilica - We enjoyed our visit there very much, but that occurred on our previous trip, and we had the advantage of a private evening tour for our group. Our companions on this trip, who had never been to Venice, bravely waded into the hordes because we told them it was not to be missed, but emerged less than enthusiastic about the experience because of the crowds. Too bad. (By the way, does anyone know why the church is not called the "duomo?")

Rialto Area - In November, it was pleasant to climb to the middle of the bridge and look over the theater that is the Grand Canal. On this trip, it was ... oh you already know what I'm going to say! Moreover, the few blocks before the bridge on the San Polo side are full of the incredible tourist schlock. However, I must admit that I did pick up something for my "tacky souvenir collection" (there were lots of candidates), as well as a cheap silk tie for my son, and a straw hat which I immediately proceeded to leave in a restaurant before we even got to know each other. But after that one encounter with Rialto, we were happy to experience it only from the vaporetto. (Please, no comments on how snooty I am about tourists, considering that I are one.)

Rialto Market - We had fun walking through the produce market and the fish market -- located a few blocks from the bridge on the San Polo side of the canal -- and were impressed by the incredible and appealing assortment of fruits, vegetables, and fresh seafood. It seemed to be off the typical tourist path and real Venetians were doing their shopping there. We followed the local housewives from the vaporetto stop as they wheeled their shopping carts behind them.

Shopping

Here I'll mention just the Leslie Genninger shop, which features a beautiful assortment of glass beads made from Murano glass, in earrings, necklaces, bracelets, brooches and stick pins, and just plain beads for you to do with what you will. Also, drinking glasses, lamps, vases, etc. Worth a visit.

Genninger Studio, 2793/A Dorsoduro, Calle del Traghetto (next to Ca'Rezzonico museum on the Grand Canal). Also, OK4ART di Leslie Ann Genninger and Co., 1845 Calle del Frutariol (near La Fenice).

I have to admit that one of my passions is for Furla handbags. They make lovely bags at fairly reasonable prices. BTW, if you spend more than L300,000 (around $140) in any shop in Italy, you can get a refund on the V.A.T. of around 12%. The store will give you the paperwork which you process at the airport in the last European Union country you visit on your trip.

Day trip to the Veneto

Since we had been to Venice before, we felt comfortable using one day for a side trip. We rented a car in advance through Auto Europe (a consolidator--Europcar was the actual rental company used in this case). Everything went fine with the car - no, much better than fine. A compact car had been reserved, and I asked if we could have the one with the most comfortable back seat in that class since we were two couples. To my astonishment and delight, they upgraded us 3 classes to a BMW at no extra charge! We actually kept the car for less than 24 hours since we didn't want to pay for parking in Venice, and it was easy returning it after hours to the Europcar part of the garage at Piazzale Roma.

We first drove to Asolo which is a pleasant small town in the foothills of the Dolomites. Found a nice spot for a picnic. Brought provisions from Venice and supplemented that with some items bought in a small shop in Asolo. Great bottle of cabernet franc red which we passed among the 4 of us like winos since we had forgotten to bring glasses. Fortunately, we're very good friends!

We then drove to Verona, which my husband and I had visited before. We went into the arena, a 1st century Roman coliseum which is the 3rd largest in the world. There is a fairly hefty admission charge but little information about the structure, so our walk through it was not too meaningful or interesting. Probably better to see it as part of the opera festival held there each summer. Verona itself is a handsome, lively city, lots of interesting old buildings, well worth a stop of a few hours to a few days.

A primary reason for our trip to Verona was to dine once again at Il Desco, a fabulous 2-star Michelin restaurant. We were not disappointed: The food was outstanding-from the initial complementary glass of prosecco and an amuse-bouche to the yummy desserts with THREE different complementary dessert wines (one a 30-year old sherry). Of course the bill is hefty and they don't lose any money on those "complementary" items. But nonetheless, the feeling is of a generous-spirited place and food that was worth every penny. Ana, the charming English-speaking wife of the chef, took good care of us. When we left, she gave us a book of risotto recipes, including one by her husband. Expect to pay about $100 per person with moderately priced wine-including a 15% service charge which is added automatically.

Miscellaneous tips

Closing Hours

If you haven't been to Europe before, you may not be aware that most shops and many tourists attractions close for lunch - a looong lunch. Thus, many places will close down between 12:30 or 1:00 and 3:00 or even 4:00, and the only thing to do is give in and have a long lunch and then take a nap or a long walk (or vaporetto ride). So plan your touring according and check the hours of various sights in your guidebook.

Tipping

We thought service was included on most checks. But not so, we were told. Or if it is, it doesn't go directly to the server. However, I have the impression that waiters in Europe are paid better than in the US and that they get benefits too (they have a strong social welfare system and higher minimum wage than here). However, they do appreciate tips, of course. Owner of our apt told us a local would tip 5 or 10% for good service, no more. So that's what we did.

Shoes

To avoid the agony of de-feet, wear comfortable shoes with good support and thick, cushioned soles. You'll be glad you did. (But try to wear something other than athletic shoes. There are lots of good walking shoes available now.) There's something about Venice that really does a number on my feet-I guess it's all that walking.

Shorts

I'm not going to get into a long discussion of how to dress in Italy, but I found it in poor taste to see tourists walking around the Salute church in grungy shorts and t-shirts. There was a sign that read, "This is a holy place; please dress respectfully." But there was no-one there to enforce it. Or perhaps "respectfully" is interpreted, "No bikinis." Considering how the passengers from the Princess Line Cruise whom I saw in San Marco Square were dressed, I imagine there were lots of shorts in the basilica too, unless they have a "bouncer" like they do at some churches in Italy. Remember that Cat, the AOL Italy travel boards resident American in Venice, is squarely against wearing shorts in Venice. Just something you might want to think about.

Italian language tapes

The Italian I had learned in advance of the trip came in very handy. I bought 2 cassette tapes, Learning Italian in Your Car, and listened to them for about a month before the trip when driving or taking a walk. Of course, it helped that I've studied Spanish and French, but anyone can pick up a fair amount of the language from such cassettes with a bit of effort. I think you'll be glad you did.

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