Some places you go to and feel a bit disappointed, some you have a wonderful time but have no desire to return and some you downright hate. But just occasionally you go somewhere and feel as though you leave a little bit of your heart there. Venice was absolutely that for me.
It is such an iconic place it is hard not to take some expectations. Arriving on the Vaparetto at St Mark’s Square, I knew that all these expectations were going to be exceeded. There is a spell over this island, as you drag your suitcase across the famed square, you feel it take a hold.
I’d heard horror stories about tourist numbers but in mid-September, it wasn’t that bad. Yes it was busy but not cheek to jowl. We were staying in the Hotel Cavalletto which is just off St Mark’s Square. It is a brilliant location with balconies and restaurant overlooking a gondola park, perfect for people watching with a glass of wine. Sadly no-one fell in getting into a gondola on my watch but there were definitely a few close calls. Watching the apprentices getting the gondolas ready for the day is a memory I will remember forever, especially as they preferred a water fight and then had the cheek to look crestfallen when they were shouted at.
The room in the Cavalletto was one of those experiences that you just have to laugh it. It was so small that I could practically brush my teeth in bed and throwing open my window to the white wall six inches away was not the picture I had of my first morning in Venice.
However with all that Venice has to offer, you want to be out and getting amongst it so it was a small price to pay for such a wonderful location. My advice in Venice is to throw yourself into the tourist life with gusto. It’s true, some things are on the costly side, the price of a coffee in St Mark’s Square wasn’t that steep (around 5 Euros) and the cost of a gondola (around 100 Euros in the evening) is high but you can’t do this anywhere else. To go in the gondola at night when the waterways are quiet gives you a great insight into what it must have been like when these were standard methods of transport, plus you see Venice from a totally different angle.
If you are on a budget, you can make cuts elsewhere to ensure these luxuries are a possibility. Spend a day simply wandering around and getting lost in the impossibly narrow alleys, who knows what you will discover. We found an amazing book shop and a church holding some poor soul’s skeleton. As for free entertainment, if you are an accomplished people watcher, the Rialto Bridge is the place for you. Me and my parents spent a good half an hour watching the deliveries coming and going with one particularly bossy Italian waiter barking orders before setting off with a ridiculously overloaded bicycle.
The tourist traps are worth going to but one tip is to find out what days the cruise ships dock. It is on these days you will get territorial over your new found home when huge numbers of people descend on the place. The day this happened for us we bailed and got the Vaperetto to one of the neighbouring islands, Burano.
There are two islands on offer, Murano (famed for its glass work) and Burano (famed for the lace). We opted for the latter and discovered the most beautiful coloured cottages and is like a shrunken version of Venice. The legend has it that each cottage was painted a different primary colour so the drunken fishermen would know which one they lived in. We had a great day here and had the best pizza I think I’ve ever tasted and believe me, I’ve put the work in.
Back on Venice and the tourists have gone so you need to get out and reclaim your land. I would recommend the Doges Palace, it’s a great place to explore from walking inside the Bridge of Sighs, roaming around the cells that once held Casanova and visiting the biggest room in Europe. While you’re in the vicinity, it’s good to go up the Clock Tower, the views of this magical kingdom are breathtaking but don’t go up if you have vertigo or you will end up like my Dad who got up close and personal with the wall whilst swearing the tower was swaying.
Like anywhere Italian, the star of the show is always the food. The amount of eateries on offer is overwhelming so it can be problematic choosing just the right one. I would put some work in before you go and have a list of a few that you’d like to try if that evening walk doesn’t unearth a hidden gem.
A few days just isn’t enough here and as we left, I honestly felt like I could cry. I haven’t felt like that about anywhere else before but I guess the only way to get over the loss is to book another break there as soon as possible.