According to the Italian I had met on the bus, Venice is one of the worst cities it Italy to be a local, and I think I can understand why. It would be like living in New York, if the entirety of the city was Time Square on New Years Eve. Sure you can find a quiet alley, but the second you step out of your peep show you’re accosted by throngs of tourists wielding selfie sticks and stopping in the middle of the street to stare at, and take pictures of nothing.
And speaking of being lost in an alley, before heading out of my hostel I asked the desk person to circle the hostel on a map so I would be able to find my way back later. He circled the wrong location, so maybe it’s not me, maybe it’s just you, Venice.
Despite hating all things touristy I figured the best way to spend my first and only full day in Venice would be to go to Piazza San Marco, the biggest and most crowded square in Venice, and then knock off as much of the touristy stuff as possible in one day. For my second day I would do what I do best and try to get lost in the city and pray I found my way back in time to claim my bags and make it to my ride to Ljubljana.
A Touristy Day in Venice
My first stop was walking along the promenade of the Bacino di San Marco and check out the views. Which was as beautiful as expected – except the part where I felt like I was playing promenade pinball as I was bounced between tourist groups stopping to take pictures of everything. Not to mention having to avoid being hit in the face by all the Asians waving around selfie sticks.
The next stop was Piazza San Marco, the biggest and most crowded square in the city. Which was beautiful though it would have been more so if it had less people and wasn’t filled with tourist trap restaurants. Regardless, Palazzo Ducale, the Clocktower and the Basilica di San Marco were all beautiful.
Uncharacteristically, I decided to spend the 16€ to go into the Palazzo since I had nothing better to do for the day, and figured I might as well spend some money on something that isn’t food. And while I’m no expert on history, museums or culture, I definitely felt that I got my money’s worth at the Doge’s Palace. While my inner monologue usually goes something like this during castle tours:
Omg! This is so beautiful! Look at all the old architecture! Let me take a picture!
How about this this steeple/statue/corridor/view from another angle, it will look great on instagram!
Look more statues!
(scrolls through pictures)
Wow, this is one big sheet of grey facades…nothing an Instagram filter can’t fix right up!
There sure are a lot of old walls in this place…
Eh, I don’t need to take a picture of this actually relevant historic plaque…
Yay. Another statue by a master.
Is this done yet?
…in this case I actually found myself entirely enjoying the experience. The way the tour is laid out gives you a sense of the spirit in which the palace was created, and a peek into the over the top lifestyles it represented. I can’t remember being anywhere else that I found so startlingly impressive. The entirety of the complex is muraled, carved and gold plated in an extreme display of intimidating luxury. The structure of the rooms themselves basically force you to view the architecture in humble awe with the ornately designed ceilings directing your eyes upward in reverence.
And once you’re done walking through the opulence of the palace, the tour takes you to the prison across the Bridge of Sighs, so named for the sighs of the prisoners that crossed it to serve their sentences. The entire wing is dark and damp and you can feel the chill of the canals permeating the rooms and corridors.
Following the palace, I debated going up the clocktower to take some pictures, but being the cheap ass that I am, opted not to spend the additional 8€ on the ticket. Instead I headed into the free Basilica di San Marco.
After that, I was ready for my favorite time of day…Lunch! Strolling around the overcrowded streets, I held my bag close like I was going to be robbed at any moment – which is just the naturally cautious New Yorker in me. Eventually I came across a cute little osteria that specialized in wine and a variety of bruschettas along with daily specialties. I opted for the local tripe because, well, thanks to years of dim sum, I’m sort of obsessed.
Following lunch it was time to explore since the extent of my tourist research stopped at Piazza San Marco. I took a slow wander through the small winding alleys and canals, which were quite quaint and adorable compared to my exploration the night before.
Despite aiming to get semi lost, when I’m trying to lose track of where I’m going I actually ended up walking in circles, which I guess is still a form of being lost. I wound up back in Piazza San Marco and decided to leave and head in the opposite direction from which I had originally departed. Strolling along the alley, I realized I had ended up in “Merceria,” the high-end shopping district – a place where I had no business being with my $1200 for 9 weeks of traveling budget. However, it was fun to window shop while rich Asians pushed past me carrying armfuls of expensive bags with luxury goods.
Eventually I found my way to the next island east, where the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute was located. For all the shit I’ve been talking about the touristic-ness of Venice, you really can’t beat its beauty.
After a long day of walking around, it was time for a quick siesta then dinner. I think the day of tourism really got to my head and I got suckered in by one of the many restaurants offering a prix fixe “tourist menu” for dinner. For “18€” I got three courses of octopus salad, spaghetti vongole, and some kind of fried fish, but by the time they charged me 7€ for a beer and the “coperto” (unavoidable charge at many italian restaurants for their “free bread”) it came to 30€. Boo.
A Less Touristy Day in Venice
The next day I was ready to avoid the crowds as much as possible – which is still a near impossibility in Venice. I did a little more research and the only other main tourist attraction I found that wasn’t a museum was “the Jewish ghetto,” over the Rialto Bridge.
Though, I’m pretty sure I ended up in the wrong place, I did learn one thing about Venice on this day. Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge and Piazzale Roma are the three points to which you can almost always find directional signs throughout the city. That and the “WC” which I overheard American tourists referencing.
“What are these signs for WC? We should, like check it out.”
After crossing the packed bridge onto a street lined with vendors, I decided to take a sharp left turn where I saw a single, local looking person go. It was peaceful and calming to be on a street with almost no one else, being able to hear the echoes of footsteps as I proceeded along. As I walked down the alley I came across another small osteria with no more than a simple bar and maybe two tables. I decided to pop in and grab a quick bite. Before even tasting my food I was already regretting my previous nights decision of a prix fixe menu. My first round consisted of cured tuna with red wine caramelized onions and mortadella mini sandwich. Heaven. Still hungry, and confident in the establishment I ordered a prosciutto and cheese bruschetta, and at the suggestion of an old dude sitting at the bar, an Italian meatball. What the hell was I thinking with the touristic prix fixe menu!? As I was ready to settle up the 5€ bill and do some more walking the local military police wielding guns and a man the barista addressed as “doctore” walked in and ordered two rounds of wine each. This is the aspect of Venetian culture that I could come to love.
With a perfectly content stomach, it was time to head out for some more wandering. I crossed the main street which was so packed with tourists it almost made me visibly cringe like an “I am Legend” zombie upon seeing sunlight. I quickly crossed and ended up in the seafood and produce market, which quickly made me nostaligic for my Yacht Week cooking days on the Aeolian islands.
As I rounded the corner at the end of the market I saw something that I had been seeking my entire time in Italy – zuppe. Writing this after having spent the last few weeks behind the iron curtain during the winter, I can confidently say it wasn’t cold in Italy, but it being the first chilly weather I’d experienced in a while, I considered it freezing at the time. I immediately walked in and ordered a bowl of soup, and while I was at it, one of the delicious looking soft shell crabs in the display. As soon as I was served the soup I sat down in the corner with my journal and took in my surroundings. Lou Reed was playing on the radio. All around me were Italian men over the age of retirement throwing back glasses of prosecco like it wasn’t 11 in the morning. And it stayed packed like that for the entire two hours I spent in the bar watching the bartender greet everyone like old friends. As for the soup, the Castradina burned the hell out of my mouth with a thick layer of oil on top of a hearty soup comprised of leafy greens, rosemary, and some kind of cured meat that I suspect to be ham.
After that it was time to make it back to hostel and get my bags. I had allowed myself three hours to walk across the town because…Venice. As I head back a guy chased me down the road from this store.
Guy: Can I take a picture of you in my store?
Me: Sure … (I was wearing my map leggings and had actually taken the time to do my makeup in the morning so I figured I was a prime candidate for someone that wanted to attract Asian tourists into their shop)
Guy: (back in store) I am an artist and I would like to draw a picture of you…
Me: (“Jack I want you to draw me like one of your French girls”) umm…..I have to go. It’s my last day and I don’t have time, I want to sightsee
Guy: I only live twenty minutes from here. The drawing will only take thirty minutes. I will give you free journal from my store
Me: (ooooh free journal – true story: I am a sucker for journals) Ummm, sorry, I just don’t have the time
Guy: It will be quick. We do it now before my wife and son come home because they are jealous
Me: (buddy you are not helping your case) Yeahhhh, um nope gotta go! Thanks bye!
Crisis avoided. I darted down a street and headed into the nearest pub which I believe was founded in 1991. Ordered a glass of wine and started talking to the bartenders who both turned out to be awesome. The girl and I started discussing Venice and I told her about some of my impressions thus far: my fear of the alleys and the tourists. To this she responded that it was an incredibly expensive town, even for locals and “The alleys are safe. If it’s quiet you can hear footsteps from people from three alleys away. There is petty crime here, but no rape.” Sounds good. I also tried to buy them a shot of vodka and Extra Joss (my favorite only available in certain SEA country shot) but they ended up buying it for me. And they gave me directions and cheaper instructions to get to my train station. Love you guys!
After that I sort of had to rush home since I only had two hours left before I needed to get to the train station and I was counting on getting lost along the way. I was slightly tipsy, which is usually a better thing, and fortunately I quickly found my hostel and grabbed my bags to head over to Piazzale Roma. Along the way I made a quick stop to attempt to turn some of the travelers checks my mom had given me as a gift into useable cash. For the record, don’t bother with travelers checks – basically nowhere takes them and out of $100 changed into Euros I only got 50€. Making the exchange rate .5. The actual rate is currently .76 according to google. FML.
About an hour later I arrived at Piazzale Roma and found my bus that the bartenders had told me about. I purchased the ticket with my newly acquired exchange rape cash, and caught the bus from Venezia S. Lucia to Venezia Mestre. Once on the bus I took it upon myself to make sure I had everything with me just in case. FUCK. Where the fuck did my wallet go?!