To go or not to go? That is the question
We missed Venice on our first time through Italy, back in March, when this little adventure began. But, my travel planner extraordinaire, Carrie, had a plan, and it worked perfectly. “We’ll need to go almost directly through Venice on our way to France from Slovenia, the last stop of our Eastern European travels.” She states confidently and with authority. So six months after our initial invasion of Italy, we find ourselves on a Flixbus heading for Venice.
To be honest, we debated vigorously on whether or not we really wanted to see Venice. It’s an expensive place and, no surprise, very touristy. Those that follow us know that we prefer the more out of the way places where we can absorb its actual workings in a leisurely fashion. But, from all the hype that we read, as well as testimonials from people we know that have been there won out in the end. We did compromise, however, by making it a short, 2 night visit.
Things began rather well; our Airbnb is in an upscale suburban community and it is a deliciously cool (A term coined by our Plovdiv Airbnb host) pad. Recently remodeled with all the amenities one could ask for, this place was right out of a Better Homes and Garden spread. The other bonus was that it was a 2 minute walk to the light rail which had us in central Venice within 20 minutes. There were two downsides, however: One, we planned to spend most of our time sightseeing, so all those amenities and the beautiful balconies would go unused. Basically, we slept there. Two, the place cost us over $90US per night. After months of paying between $30US and $50US, that was quite the shock to the budget. I did mention that Venice was expensive, right?
And that included public transportation. We paid 20 euro/person for a 24 hour pass. To be fair, that included, buses, the light rail, and the water ‘buses’ that had routes to the various islands surrounding central – and touristy – Venice. That was the clincher for us, as our plan included a visit to a specific island that had been recommended to us by a Canadian that we met on the bus from Slovenia.
Venice – The Attractions
But first we needed to do the mandatory Central Venice sights. The Grande Canal was controlled chaos with its tour boats, beautiful wooden power boats, supply boats, and fishing boats all zipping around like chickens with their heads cut off. We saw boats come within inches of each other, but never a collision. I wonder what, if any, kind of insurance they are able to buy? The gondolas were smart enough to stay away from the Grande Canal and its main arteries. They were happy to pole their way around the more romantic, wake free, narrow canals cradled by ancient pastel colored buildings.
I won’t attempt to inform and educate you on the main attractions of Venice. That has been done by many, in far better form than I could deliver, for centuries now. If you do want some detail a good place to start is: Venice details. With that said, the main highlights are Piazza San Marco and Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Grande Canal, and The Bridge of Sighs (I still prefer Robin Trower’s version).[amazon_link asins=’B000URDE2Y’ template=’ProductGrid’ store=’vinohikcom-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’0fdac94d-d168-11e7-9501-ed9a77296c0e’] A few interesting side notes: What wars have been unable to do, tourism may; namely the destruction of Venice. An estimated 60,000 people trample through Venice each day, arriving by every means possible, including huge cruise ships. UNESCO is even considering adding Venice to its ‘in danger’ list (not exactly sure how that will help). Venice was ranked the most beautiful city in the world in 2016 by some ranking organization, so if you go, please tread lightly.
The less traveled path
There were places, however, that one could ‘hide’, away from the hoards – at least mostly – providing an enjoyable backdrop for a vinohike picnic. We sat on a park bench surrounded by apartments – the homes of permanent local people – enjoyed a nice wine and some overpriced pre-made sandwiches.
The area wasn’t completely devoid of tourists, however, as walking tours, selfie-sticks in hand, passed us by. Fortunately, it wasn’t overbearing with only a few small groups passing us by over the few hours we sat there contemplating whether or not evolution had occurred in our species. This quaint little neighborhood in the heart of Venice we’ll keep secret (but it’s not difficult to find). During the quiet moments we wondered what it must be like to live in such an ancient and unique environment. At one point, we watched 2 women having a conversation, one standing on the path returning home from her daily morning errands, the other looking out from her second story apartment window. We could only imagine what they were talking about; perhaps the annoyance of all the tourists, local politics, or perhaps debating the philosophies of Plato versus Aristotle (see book link below for an excellent read on these great philosophers). I imagine that this scene – this interaction – to be not much different than one that might have occurred during medieval times.[amazon_link asins=’B01FMVRUQS’ template=’ProductGrid’ store=’vinohikcom-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’55901540-d189-11e7-94fb-7fca4b938b8a’]
Time marches on, but much remains the same. Traditions die hard here, in this environment, where the past still seems to have importance and relevance. At least that was the feeling I got just sitting and watching. The hustle and bustle of the main tourist area, with its hoards of foreign visitors and local hawkers searching for any way possible to part you from your money, seemed a million miles away.
Seeing the major Venice landmarks; check. Enjoying a vinohike away from the craziness; check. It was a full day, darkness was descending upon the narrow streets winding between all the canals and we were quite a walk from the light rail which would return us to our palatial estate. But no worries, we have the Google Bitch to safely and efficiently guide us back. Ah, but the Google Bitch doesn’t care for narrow streets surrounded by tall buildings, so she simply repeated “GPS signal lost!”. That left us to rediscover our own navigational skills and let me simply say that they were a bit rusty. Reliance on technology can have its drawbacks. I wonder what other skills we’ve allowed to wither away? So, after an hour and a half of dead ends, much cursing, and asking fellow humans for guidance, we found our metro stop. Tired and sore we dove into bed immediately upon or return ‘home’. Tomorrow was another big day after all, the island of Burano, that we had heard so much about was our main destination.
The Island Getaway
So, the next morning we’re off again to Central Venice. We had a few more ‘boxes’ to check off the list in Central Venice before jumping onto a water bus early in the afternoon; destination Burano. Our plan? We had none. Thirty minutes later we jump ship and find our visual senses immediately in overload. The weather was dark and gloomy, with a fall chill in the air. But rather than diminish the experience, it seemed to enhance it. The bold colors dominated and one could not help to be humbled standing in a place where humanity had sprung from the dark ages into the Renaissance.
The village buildings bathed in vivid colors, provided a sharp contrast against the gray gloomy skies. Canals wound their way through the small island, cats were doing cat business and women – dressed in local fashion – echoed the color of their homes.
There were the traditional fishing boats yearning to head out to sea. There were exotic sculptures and handcrafted lace. Too many inputs, the result of which was complete sensual overload. Although this is not an undiscovered tourist attraction – tourists were in abundance- the island seemed to be able to strike a balance between the influx of foreigners and normal, traditional daily life. I only wonder how long that balance can be maintained? We managed not to get lost this time on our return ‘home’, but instead were a bit saddened that our stay in Venice was over. Tomorrow we’re back on a Flixbus headed for France.
Its Soul Discovered? Maybe a Glimmer
Venice was a true surprise, due mainly to our discovery of the living side of the city, as opposed to the tourist sites. I’m certainly glad that we decided not to pass it by. It still has much to offer, including an insight into the traditional Italian way of life. Its life, still dependent as much on the grace of the sea and to the arts as it is to the tourist trade. One only has to look beyond the facade. Additional photos below.
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Hike Drink Live Laugh (Apero Time!)