Pre-planning for Venice is Essential
***If you like your ducks in a row, neat and clean, Venice may not be an appropriate destination. Seriously, you might prefer going to The Venetian in Las Vegas for a sanitized version.***
70,000 tourists visit daily and some believe it is squeezing the lifeblood out of Venice. The sheer amount of rubbish that must be removed daily is enormous. The walkways are narrow and with so many tourists, large trash bins are not an option. After spending 5 nights in Venice, we saw how the trash is collected early in the morning but by the afternoon, the bins are stuffed to the brim.
To experience the real Venice, spend at least 2 or 3 nights in the village and you will experience a magical place. Wake up early (7am, 6 is even better, especially if you are a shutter bug) and stroll along the canals and even the Rialto Bridge virtually alone! Other than the small army of local workers who quietly and quickly deliver goods and haul away trash, you can enjoy Venice waking up. During the afternoon return to your home base and take a break. After 7 or 8pm, with thousands of day trippers gone, float down the canals in a gondola, enjoy a meal and meander wherever you like without the crowds. Venice is a tiny place and on day 5 we bumped into 2 of the 3 locals we met on day 2. What fun it is to greet new friends in a new town!
While we traveled to Venice independently, we did sign up for 3 tours before arriving. All 3 were offered on Trip Advisor and were about 3 hours each. There are several advantages to short tours. 1. Buying a tour online allows you to review many different choices so you get a tour specific to your interest. 2. You "skip the line" to buy tickets. Sometimes buying tickets can suck up an hour of your valuable time. 3. A tour, whether group or private, often has a preferred entrance which is another time saver. Our tour guides were happy to answer questions including the most important one -- "After the tour, where do we go to eat?" Depending on the time of year you visit, you might need to sign up for tours as much as 10 days to 2 weeks in advance.
Don't wait until you are hungry and go to the closest place because with hordes of daily hungry visitors, meals range from cheap to expensive as well as poor to excellent. Best to get recommendations from locals, friends or Trip Advisor. Here are some eating tips we want to share. Also, photo tour guide, Marco Seechi has a few great suggestions on his trip advisor page.
Caffe Florian on San Marco Square began service in 1720. Men in white tuxedos serve you and a live 5 piece orchestra serenades softly as you enjoy white table service. This is a once in a life time experience and we highly recommend breakfast! Price $$-$$$
For more about Venice Food
We booked with Airbnb and stayed in a fabulous one bedroom apartment with kitchen. It was newly remodeled, large by European standards and in a quiet section of town. As with all Airbnbs, please filter your search, carefully read the reviews and ask your host lots of questions. If you are new to Airbnb, a host with a badge indicates Superhost status which means several guests have given the highest rating in all categories.
Free or Almost Free
For a visual feast, the Acqua Alta Bookstore is a great place to spend an hour or so. There are a few benches in the back room where you can sit and take a close look at a book or simply enjoy the atmosphere at this unique shop. Books are kept in old bathtubs and row boats because water sometimes enters the store during high tide or acqua alta. They also have a large collection of antique postcards and books in many languages. Outside the back of the shop is a stairway made from water damaged books.
You can also visit the Terrace at Il Fondaco dei Tedeschi Department Store (check their site for hours) which overlooks the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal. Get there before 10:30am because it closes around 11 and take the escalator to the top floor. From there, you must walk up the steps to the Terrace. The view is spectacular and many visitors do not know the view is available free of charge. There is no escalator that we could find to get to the ground floor. Perhaps that is the price you pay for such a terrific view! The building's interior is very beautiful and was originally built in 1228.
Look for the dark green signs for gondolas on the Grand Canal because they are almost free! They ferry small groups of people (8-10) directly across the canal for less than 2 Euros per person. It can be a wild ride since the Grand Canal is kind of like a gondola freeway. This can be a real time saver if you need to get to the other side.
The vaporettos are a public boat service that's quick and inexpensive. You can buy a ticket for single ride, a day or more. On your first day, take a ride on one to get an overview of Venice and relax while you get a water view which is completely different than a walking view. Some of the larger boats go to Burano, Murano and, even, the Marco Polo Airport.
A little history: The world power for centuries
In the 5th century AD, the Romans escaped the Huns and Barbarians bearing down from the North. Choosing Venice as a hideout was a clever move due to the natural protection of the lagoon. Venice is one of several marshy islands which are surrounded by very shallow water.. The water serves as a virtual moat by protecting the islands from invasion by land. And with the shallow water of the lagoon, navigating to Venice by boat was impossible. The Venetians created a set of secret canals dredged through the lagoon. The location of these canals was a state secret of the highest importance. The city was so well protected that it did not need walls or fortifications. The Venetians were expert seamen and ship builders. In time they built up the finest navy in the Western world. From this safe location the Venetians used their navy to build a world trade empire. Trade created vast wealth and immense power.
The Venetians firmly believed that human nature is easily corrupted with power. So their government system was designed to protect against corruption. There was no royal lineage. Venetian wealth was initially created through the work of ship building and maritime trade. The Venetians did not want a king, an emperor or a corrupt government official taking their hard earned wealth so they designed a complex system of checks and balances to prevent power from being concentrated. Power and oversight was shared among multiple government organizations (Major Consiligo, Pregadi, Council of Ten, Minor Consiligo, Collegio and The Doge). Many positions were held for only 6 months to 1 year. The Doge (symbolic figurehead) had no decision making power himself but was simply the representative of the government. It worked so well Venice was a world power for 11 centuries.
The apex of Venice's power was in the middle ages from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Venice was a trading partner with the Byzantine empire due to their strong and powerful navy and merchant fleet. Venice became wealthy through its control of trade between Europe and the Levant, and began to expand into the Adriatic Sea and beyond. During the First Crusade (1095AD), Venice sent 200 ships to assist in capturing the coastal cities in present day Syria, and in 1123 they were granted virtual autonomy by the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Venice's power grew the late 12th century even as there was tension with the Byzantines. The Byzantine government seized the goods of thousands of Venetians living in the Empire, and then imprisoned them. One of the powerful merchants, Enrico Dandelo, was sent to Constantinople to negotiate the release of the Venetians. Dandelo was also imprisoned by the Byzantines and blinded. Renewed negotiations begun twelve years later and finally led to a treaty in 1186, but the treatment of Enrico Dandolo led to a deep and abiding hatred for the Byzantines.
The 4th crusade began in 1202. The crusaders needed ships so they called on Venice. At this time Dandelo was the Doge and agreed to provide ships if he could lead the crusade. The crusaders agreed, set sail to Constantinople and sacked the ancient city. At last, Dandelo had his revenge.
Some say that the sacking of Constantinople was the largest theft in human history. It is estimated that 2/3 of the world's wealth was stolen from Constantinople and relocated to Venice. Venice became even more powerful and the Byzantine Empire was diminished and weakened. The Byzantine Empire was conquered completely by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The scholars fled Constantinople with the texts of ancient Greece and made their way to Venice. This was the intellectual spark to ignite the Renaissance of Europe.
When the new world was discovered the importance of Venice began to wane. The continental powers grew in relative strength. The republic of Venice came to an end when Napoleon conquered the empire in 1797. Napoleon set up his palace on San Marco square opposite the great cathedral. Museo Correr, hosts a small cafe at the Napoleon side of the square. The views of San Marco are fantastic! You can observe the crowds from above as you are on the first floor.
Photo Walk with Marco:
Marco Secchi leads small private tours for photographers. He is a skilled photographer with a keen eye for interesting beauty. Growing up in Venice he never gets lost, knows ideal photo locations and where to grab a coffee or cicheti. During our 3 hours with Marco we got an intimate look into the back alleys away from the crowds. Navigation of the canals and streets today is like navigating the lagoon centuries ago. Without a guide who knows the way, you may have difficulty. But with Marco’s help these 3 hours were a delight that helped us find our way for the rest of our week in Venice. I can not recommend Marco highly enough.
Marco Seechi http://www.venicephototour.com
Here is a sample of some of the scenes of Venice. If you want to see more, check out the gallery.