Vivendo a Venezia: ten weeks in the Serenissima.

Prior to my ten-weeks jaunt to Venice, I had hidden all things travel-feature related from my sight, so that the delights of la serenissima would be a complete surprise to me. What I hadn’t vouched for was the fact that this was a foreign city, with a foreign language, and I had to arrive there by myself with only vague directions to my new lodgings in hand. ‘Good plan’ I thought begrudgingly, as I haphazardly tried to navigate my 23kg suitcase onto an over-crowded Vaporetto. ‘San Marco… That’s the one with the huge tower, right?’ I felt so naively stupid, Venice being one of the most famous cities on earth, and here I was rocking up late at night with no phone signal, and a bunch of dismayed flatmates looking for me in St. Mark’s square. Squeals of, “Oh my gosh, you’re alive!” greeted me as I finally dragged my now one-wheeled suitcase across Piazza San Marco, and stumbled into my housemates by pure chance.

The nightmare navigation of my journey into the city had somewhat marred the instant impression of its beauty. It was only when I had found my flatmates and confirmeded that no, I wasn’t going to be sleeping on the street, that the sheer beauty of the place hit me. And hit me full force, it did. Standing in Piazza San Marco, I couldn’t believe my luck. The atmosphere was buzzing; three quartets were staged in the periphery, with crowds of people huddled around them; some sitting, some dancing, some being harassed by the rose sellers, and some just appreciating the beauty of this renaissance piazza’s delight. Did I really live here? Was this really university life?

I think I can speak for all the Art Historians when I say that the first three weeks were spent ignoring all work, as we ran around exploring the city, visiting each other’s apartments, and getting lost as many times as we found some of Venice’s hidden gems. I’m reluctant to give them all up; I guess that’s one of the beneficiaries of living in a tourist haunt for ten weeks… you feel like you become local. I loved the fact that by the end of the term, I knew the names of the waitresses in my favourite bar, and the local supermarket staff knew the backstory of why I was around for so long (all conveyed in Italian; apparently learning the language for two years did pay off. Result!) But for every hidden gem known to the locals and those with time on their hands, there is an equally overpriced tourist trap, waiting to suck your euros off of you faster than you can say “un momento, per favore”. So I do feel somewhat duty bound to pass on some helpful advice to those wishing to pay a visit to this watery cityscape.

Tips for staying in Venice.

If you visit Venice during winter, take Wellington boots if you have them. There will be flooding, sometimes twice a day. You definitely don’t want to end up walking around barefooted in the acqua alta. Sure, they’ll put up walk boards, but if you’re hit with over a metre of water then even they won’t be forgiving to your best ballet pumps/loafers! (Oh, and watch your back on these things, there can be nasty pileups as people stop to photograph the rising water. I’d hate for you to be impaled by an umbrella).

Vaporetto passes are expensive, so this depends on the length of time you have to spend in Venice. You can buy one journey for 6Euros, or buy 36/48/72 hour passes. But for almost the same price you can buy an Imob card (think of it as Venice’s oyster card equivalent) for 40Euros, and then either buy a monthly pass, or a ten-journey ticket. Alternatively, if you just need to cross the Grand Canal, then you could catch a traghetto; a sort of giant gondola that ferries people between stops for 50 cents a go.

Walking is the best way to explore and get off the beaten track, so if you don’t have a schedule, then I’d definitely recommend exploring the back streets. Word of warning though, if you find a shop/bar you want to go into, do it immediately. These back streets seem to have an amazing ability to change in a very Narnia-esque fashion, and chances are if you pass by that beautiful mask/book/paper shop, you will never find it again! (I’m speaking from experience here).

Eating out can be expensive. Avoid anywhere within a five minute walk from St Mark’s Square. Definitely avoid anywhere with photographs of the food stuck to the windows, usually with a very neon “Tourist Menu” sign plastered above it in five different languages. It’s not that these places will give you food poisoning or something equally heinous. It’s just that for walking a little further afield, you will get much better value for money and better service too. Try areas near to the Strada Nova in the north of the city; Osteria Obbligatoria is a great lunch bar, and Vini da Gigio boasts some of the best Venetian fish around.

Venice isn’t known for it’s nightlife, and has only a handful of questionable “clubs”, including the absolutely infamous Picolo Mondo, and Billa Bar on the Strada Nova. Campo Santa Margherita in Dorsoduro is the well-known student hang out, but even this can get a bit dull. I’d recommend Campo San Giacometto, which has lively bars, cheap prices, and is located just off the Rialto Bridge. This is home to Naranzaria, my all-time favourite bar in Venice. It has amazing wine and seating on the Grand Canal, but luckily it doesn’t have tourist prices. I know I recommended getting off the beaten track, but this is probably the one exception to the rule! For live music and a rowdy atmosphere, make for Paradiso Peraduto near Fondamenta della Misericordia, which serves cicchetti (Venetian bar tapas) along with its drinks.

Other than that, just explore. Venice has hundreds of churches, most are free to enter and contain incredible artworks. You never know when you’ll stumble into another Titian painting. Or, just take a leisurely stroll down the back waterways, and stop off for a Spritz (a potent orange drink that you will become addicted to). But my biggest tip? Relax. Don’t rush around the place trying to cram in every last nook and cranny. When you live somewhere as beautiful as this, you often end up storm trooping down the tiny alleyways, cursing the tourists as you go about your daily business, forgetting to take in the serene beauty of this miraculous city. So take some time, don’t feel too bad about walking at the tourist pace. But while you’re doing so, please, please walk to the right. And look out for my damned suitcase wheel!


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