Venice, the Floating City

Oh, Venice: you were my favorite part of the trip. As close as Cinque Terre came to winning that title, the City of Canals won its way to my heart.

venice-near-train-station

I was worried it was over-hyped. That years and years of people telling me how much they loved Venice, of seeing stunning pictures of it, of hearing its praises sung by every travel guide, of reading novels set in its watery streets — that somehow the prestige would lessen the grandeur. How wrong I was. I actually considered leaving Venice off our itinerary, afraid we would be exhausted by navigating tiny streets packed with tourists. I’m so glad I didn’t.

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It’s nice to know that at least some things are exactly as awesome as described. Sometimes more so.

So what did I love about Venice?

Enchanting and unique

The Floating City is an appropriate moniker for Venice. Its winding canals are its lifeblood, visible in even the most abandoned parts of the city.

And yet, as comforting as the ever-present water was for me, Venice wasn’t like any other waterside city I’ve visited. It has something more fascinating and enchanting, something deeper and more unique that I can’t quite identify. Maybe it’s the ancient history the city holds, or maybe it’s the fierce commitment to the Venetian way of life that locals have, despite their shrinking population. Our gondolier told us that he’d rather be poor in Venice than live anywhere else.

venice-towards-giudecca

And maybe its charm is its impossibility, a city floating at the mercy of a powerful sea.

That impossibility lends itself to novelties you won’t see elsewhere, like the iconic gondola or the more routine vaporetto, Venice’s ferry transportation system. The ubiquity of its bridges, the constant presence of water, the fading population, all are an omnipresent reminder that it may not last. But Venice thrives on the allure of its fleetingness, and I hope it will continue to for a long time.

Easy to escape the crowds

My original aversion to Venice was that its narrow streets and throngs of day-tripping tourists would be too much to handle.

But the truth is, the maze of Venice’s streets is to your advantage if you don’t want to feel crowded. It’s easy to duck into a side street away from the chaos.

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If you want a quieter tour of Venice, ignore the signs for the Rialto and San Marco, which are everywhere.Turn the opposite way of what is recommended, then use a map to get where you’re going in a more roundabout fashion. (Or don’t, and let yourself get lost for a bit.) We did this several times, and often it was like we were in our own private Venice with no one in sight.

venice-gondola

Lots of hidden gems

Every city has hidden gems, but they are so much more rewarding in Venice, once you’ve navigated the winding, illogically planned streets to find something wonderful.

Hidden gem #1: San Giorgio Maggiore

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And finally, all those hours I spend on TripAdvisor before trips finally paid off in a big way.

Thanks to a small comment on the San Marco Square belltower’s page, I noticed that a few people preferred the views from San Giorgio across the lagoon — it was taller, cheaper, and less crowded than San Marco’s tower. The catch was that you had to have a vaporetto pass to do it, since that’s the only way to get out to Giudecca and San Giorgio Maggiorre. We’d already gotten our pass, so we decided to check it out.

A quick vaporetto ride over to San Giorgio from San Marco gave us this stunning view — with, as described, no wait and no crowds. Plus, we were treated to something I was starting to think Europe didn’t have: an elevator up to the top!

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From San Giorgio, we enjoyed a full panoramic view of Venice, the Lido, and outlying islands for quite some time, nearly uninterrupted.

Hidden gem #2: Libreria Acqua Alta

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This canal-side book shop is a cozy find for book lovers. It’s right on a canal, and they keep books in bath tubs to prevent them from being flooded by the tides.

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And also in gondolas.

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Libreria Acqua Alta isn’t in any of the main parts of Venice, but after a lot of twisting and turning, we finally found this magical little place.

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If you have even the slightest love for books, don’t miss this place. It has books galore, a friendly shopkeeper, and two cats roaming the place. It’s also a testament to the way Venetians make the best of the sometimes unpredictable sea — Libreria Acqua Alta literally means “bookstore high water.” And, what’s a trip to Italy without buying at least one book in Italian? (Oh, that’s just me and my nerdy self? Fair enough.)

Goodbye, Venice!

After the bookshop and a lovely dinner, we made our way back to our lodging. We had a pretty interesting evening, but I’ll save that for another post.

The next morning, we departed Venice. While the weather was fantastic and sunny for most of our trip, the majority of our time in Venice was drizzly and overcast, but that didn’t take away from its charm in the slightest. When we left, though, it was perfect blue skies again.

I wish we’d had a few more days here, especially to explore additional islands, like Burano and the Lido, but I hope another trip here is in our future!

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Have you ever been to Venice? What did you love (or hate)? Tell me in the comments!

This post is part of a series on my trip to Italy, featuring city guides, tips, and more. 

14 thoughts on “Venice, the Floating City

  1. No word of a lie, I actually hated Venice when we first get there. The Grand Canal was a bit smelly and there were too many people. But on the afternoon we arrived we were taken on a guided tour of the city and I changed my mind completely. The streets away from the Grand Canal are so amazing. After the tour my mum and I went to a museum to see a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, and on the way back to our hotel we got lost. Which was actually awesome. The sun had just started going down and as the shops lit up along the streets, the city became something different entirely.

    My favourite photo from my entire time in Italy was actually taken in Venice (it’s here https://bitsnbooks.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/the-streets-and-canals-of-venice/img_3539/)

    There’s still so much we didn’t get to see as we were there for a really short time, but just like Florence I’ll definitely be going back there. Did you get yourself a mask while you were there? I couldn’t leave without one – they were all so beautiful.

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    1. We were lucky enough to not encounter the smell I’ve heard associated with Venice, and I think it must have been because it was chilly when we visited. I had read that the best thing to do in Venice is get lost, so I purposefully turned away from the main path on multiple occasions, and I totally agree, it’s the back streets where it’s so pretty and you find the coolest things!

      I didn’t get a mask. I thought about it, but was worried it’d be crushed in my luggage. (And with good reason, because despite only bringing a carry-on to Europe, on the last leg of the journey coming home, we were on a really small plane where the bags didn’t fit overhead, and the trolly they used to bring them back from under the plane collapsed, totally crushing mine and my mom’s bags! Somehow her glass-blown Venice ornament made it, who knows how!) I opted for Murano glass earrings. But the masks were gorgeous! I’d love to go during that festival some time!

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      1. It was a pretty warm day when we got there, so that definitely contributed to the smell. I loved the Murano factory – did you get to see the guy blowing glass? He made a cat ornament and a water jug when we were there; only took him about 10 minutes. It was pretty amazing.

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      2. Yes, we saw several glassblowers at work while we were in Murano — incredible what they can do, and so fast! I was really impressed with this one guy who was spelling names in glass, but they were no bigger than a finger’s length, but he did it quickly and so precisely!

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