After 11 years of vacationing in Paris and now living here, we finally decided it was time to venture out to a new country and city. Since August is traditionally the vacation month for most of France, we thought we would follow suit and dip our toes into another country. Venice has always been on our list so we made our plans. We would spend a little more than a week in Venice and do it without much planning to have it be as much of an adventure as possible.
A bit of history: Venice dates back over 1500 years and is actually comprised of 118 small islands. However the city is not built directly on these islands but rather on millions and millions of piles that were driven deep into the sand. These piles, made mostly of alder trees, petrified in the oxygen starved water making them as strong as stone. On these piles were placed limestone and then brick or stone to create the foundations on which the buildings were constructed. For the Santa Maria della Salute church alone, over 1.1 millions piles were driven into the sand over a two year period to create its foundation. Venice also has 416 bridges connecting 177 canals and 170 bell towers many of which still are in use today – but not at the same time thankfully.
The short flight from CDG to Marco Polo was pleasant and provided us a breathtaking view of the Swiss Alps peaking through the clouds. Once we landed, we made our way to baggage claim and then out of the airport to find transportation into Venice. I had read up on getting from the airport into the city and we were set on a water taxi. We just couldn’t find our way to dealing with crowds of people on a public transport water or land bus and then making the necessary transfers to our AirBNB flat (Yes, for those of you paying attention, I said AirBNB. Our friends Jean-Matthieu and his wife Marie who live down the street, recommended that we try it so we did – more on that shortly).
I have to say that the water taxi was one of the most exciting parts of the entire trip. Exhilarating, breathtaking, spectacular, I could go on and on but suffice it to say that we loved it. We boarded the small boat and off we went. It was a perfectly clear day and with the wind in our hair we stood at the back of the boat which was open and just watched as the airport faded away and Venice came into view. There were boats everywhere of all sizes and shapes transporting everything from people to cars. It was amazing. There were as many boats as cars in Paris and going in all directions. Our driver entered Venice proper by entering one of the smaller canals to make his way to the grand canal where we were staying. The colors and architecture were beyond words as we ducked under low bridges and passed gondolas packed with tourists and selfie sticks. He pulled up to the dock in front of the 800 year old building where we were staying and off we went. The €110 that we spent on the water taxi was totally worth it and then some.
Our apartment was large and nicely decorated. The only concern we had was with the bathrooms which needed upgrading. But when you consider that the building is 800 years old and that Mitch and I are both spoilt, I think it was a great deal. Thanks JM and Marie. We unpacked and made out way out into the city. Being relatively small, Venice is a great place to walk and get lost. Maps can be confusing but by remembering where you are relative to the water is a great help. The only way to get around is by water taxi which is really expensive, by Vaporetto, by gondola which is also expensive and slow or by walking. The Vaporetto is a water bus system that runs through the grand canal, around the entire island and outlying islands. It seems to be a good system but it was always packed with tourists and understanding the routes can be difficult – even for the people who work there. Also, they are known for their promptness so don’t be slow when getting on or off. On more than once occasion we saw people left on the dock because it was time to leave.
Ok, so here is the thing, and by thing I mean the thing that is at the source of this blog post’s title. Venice is jammed with tourists – jammed. While they are the life blood of the city flowing through the narrow streets and alleys, they also leave behind a trail of wear and tear which is causing a tremendous amount of stress on the city and its infrastructure. They have as many, or more, tourists come into the city each day as they do people actually living in the city. In fact, every year the number of people who live in Venice is declining while the number of people visiting each day is increasing. Many of the locals we spoke to have started calling it Venezia Land implying that, like Disney Land, it is full of life during the day, but at night when the tourist all go home it is empty. After our first day and a half, we were ready to leave. Seriously. We talked about changing our flights and going home. But something interesting happened after a day and a half to two days. We started to venture away from the tourist areas and explored the parts of the city where only the locals frequent. And that’s when we fell in love. We didn’t know it was going to happen, it just did. After wandering the streets and canals for a day, we got back to our flat and both said how amazing the city was. From that moment on we stayed to the non-tourist areas only venturing to the tourist areas early in the morning or late at night to avoid the crowds. We also made our way to the Lido for lunch on two separate days and enjoyed this beautiful and less crowed island. The 56th Biennale, which is one of the world’s largest International Art Exhibitions was also in full swing so we were able to see some amazing and some questionable art.
After all was said and done, would I recommend going to Venice – absolutely! Just be ready for crowds of tourists snaking their way through the narrow streets seeing nothing but their viewfinders. Do the big ticket items like Piazza San Marco, the Doge Palace and the Rialto Bridge (We purchased a private tour of the Doge Palace on-line before leaving Paris. It was incredible and very reasonably priced at €26 each. We were with an English speaking guide with a small group of 10 people). But do them in one day and then get away from those areas and explore the rest of the city. Allow yourself to get lost in the labyrinth of streets, canals and bridges that have been transporting the city’s inhabitants for centuries. You will discover architecture that will take your breath away. From simple homes to ornate churches that just come upon you out of nowhere. For us it was an adventure well rewarded and one we hope that everyone has an opportunity to enjoy.