Arriving In Venice, No Plans, No Map, No Guidebook And No Place To Stay
We got our first views of Venice as we came in on the ferry from Corfu, Greece. We could see canals branching off from the sides of the main waterway. It looked surreal, like something you would see in Disneyland. Venetian buildings were lined up like doll houses right along the edge of the water. It was raining when we first arrived. We would have to change out of sandals and into proper shoes for the first time in months of traveling. We also had to put on some light coats.
We had not planned to come to Venice. So we were not prepared. We had no map or guide book and knew nothing about the city other than it was full of canals. After we got our bags and made our way off the ferry we discovered there is a free bus. It takes you into the main area of the canals.
The Smallest Room Ever, But It’s Cheap And Comes With A Great Breakfast
After the bus dropped us off we headed over to a building that had a huge sign on the front that read Hotel Reservations. When I went in to ask if they could find us a room they said they don’t do hotel reservations anymore. So I’m not sure what they do?
We made our way to a tourist information but they were of little help. They don’t do hotel reservations either. They handed us a list of hotels and their phone numbers. This was not of much use to us. A map with hotels marked on it and a rough idea of their prices would be of the best help. We started to wander around looking for accommodation. This is not an easy thing to do in Venice. You have to lug your bags over the canal bridges, which have a lot of stairs.
Down a small alley of of one of the main canals we managed to find a room for 90 euros. That equals $135 Canadian, pretty good price for Venice, especially in that location. We were lucky to find it since it was the weekend and it can get very busy. The rooms in this hotel are usually 150 euros, there was a reason we got our room so much cheaper. To call the room small would be an understatement. One side of the bed was right up against the wall and there was only two feet to navigate along the room on the other side. It wasn’t even a double bed, the gentleman at the front desk said it was a what is called a French bed, equivalent to a single and a half. The room was normally used only for a maid to stay in while working at the hotel. The front desk clerk said it was not in use at the moment and if we found it suitable enough we were welcome to it.
The bathroom was very small as well, but being Europe they managed to cram a bidet into it! The shower was so cramped that we would hit our elbows while we washed. It was almost impossible to bend over to wash your legs. Why don’t they skip the bidet and make the shower bigger? Despite all this the hotel staff were really nice. The price also included one of the best breakfasts we have had in a long time, a buffet with hard boiled eggs, toast, yogurt, fruit, cereal, tea and coffee.
Experiencing The Language, Food And Culture, Scuzzi!
We love hearing people talk here. The language is so musical sounding and they talk with so much expression and movement. We were able to pick up words very easily, we found it much easier to translate than Greek. You will be surprised by how many words you already know. Hello is bonjourno, welcome is prego, goodbye is ariva derche or they just say ciao, and thanks is gracie. Our favorite word was scuzzi. We laughed when we found out this was really the word for excuse me. At home we had seen a silly Subway sandwich commercial featuring Italian bread. They kept using the word scuzzi, but we thought they had made it up. We enjoyed going around the city saying scuzzi when necessary.
We discovered the evening meal as in many European countries is eaten late. You won’t see most restaurants even open until 7:30pm or later. There were lots of pizzerias, sandwich shops and bakeries. The food displayed in the windows was enough to make you drool, especially the baked goods and pastries. Some of the cafes were a reasonable price to eat at, especially if they are stand up only, or you do take away. Of course there are amazing pasta places and lots of wine and olive oil specialty shops.
There are lots of interesting shops to look at with a variety of different items. One thing that caught our eye was the beautiful carnival masks. Some are very elaborate, decorated with feathers and incredible detail. Others are in animal forms like cats or look like opera masks. They can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
There is a nearby island that is part of Venice called Murano. It is very famous for it’s hand blown glass. The same technique has been used for over a thousand years. It is really expensive, even the smallest piece will break your wallet. If you don’t make it to Murano itself you can find pieces of it for purchase in the shops around the canals.
Fashion is a major part of the culture here, the clothes are amazing. People are always dressed well, even during the rain the ladies have designer gum boots and matching scarves. There are shops full of Italian leather shoes and coats. Even the kids clothes are highly fashionable.
It’s A Unique Life Living Among The Canals
It is such an different lifestyle in Venice because of the canals. All daily activities revolve around the water. You hail private taxi cabs in the canal just like you would in a street, it’s really bizarre. There are also larger bus boats, which are much cheaper than the private cabs. We took a boat ride of the Grand Canal. It is a long ribbon of water that loops through the city like an inverted S, just over 3km’s in length. The most important thing to remember in Venice, don’t step off the curb!
On the Grand Canal we passed by beautiful buildings and churches. Everything has to be done by water. We saw the garbage boat, the fire boat, the police boats, and courier boats taking large stacks of people’s luggage to their hotels. You even come by boat from the airport! There are ambulance boats, a funeral boat, and company deliver boats such as Coca Cola. The most famous boats of the canals are of course the gondolas. If you are really lucky you can spot a flower filled one delivering a bride and groom from a church. Surprisingly we only heard a few gondiliers singing to their passengers. We wanted to take a ride in one, but our budget had to have cuts in it somewhere and we couldn’t justify the price.
Walking along side the canals and over the many bridges is a really unique experience. During the main hours of the day the boat traffic gets very busy. You have to know the rules of the canals well, and be able to handle your boat with great precision. The grand canal during the morning up until midday is chaotic with traffic. Small, medium and large boats are weaving around each other in all directions.
Is Venice Really Sinking?
Yes, Venice is really sinking! We were told not to worry, it’s not happening at such a fast pace that you’re going to drown overnight while sleeping in your hotel room. They have done things to try and minimize the amount, but it is still at an average of a half inch each year. In some places they have had to raise the sidewalks. We saw buildings with windows and doors that clearly used to be higher above the water line. Most people’s homes, if you walk out the front door it opens right into the water. Not a place you could live if you sleep walk!
Jewish Ghetto And Famous Bridges
We went to the area known as the Jewish Ghetto. Ghetto not meaning a bad neighborhood like how it has become known in North America. This area was instituted by the Venetian Republic in 1516 as a compulsory residence for the Jewish people. It has five old synagogues, some of them the oldest ones in existence. There is a square with memorials to the many Jewish people taken from the community and murdered during the holocaust. It was quiet and tranquil compared to the bustle of the main canal areas, which made it a nice area to stroll through.
We walked across the Rialto bridge, it is made of stone and was completed in the 16th century to replace a wooden pontoon bridge. It was once the only link between the two banks of the Grand Canal. There is supposed to be a house nearby the bridge where Marco Polo once resided, but we couldn’t find it and nothing seemed to mark where it was on our maps. We also went to view the Ponte dei Sospiri, or in English known as the Bridge of Sighs. It leads to the prison, the prisoners would sigh as they were made to cross and face their sentence on the other side.
We had a great time in Venice and wished we could keep traveling around Italy, especially since Rome was only 3 hours away. We would love to come back someday to do a separate trip to travel just through Italy. It was a good place to stop off at so we could continue heading west into Europe.