I almost didn’t go to Venice. Everyone I asked seemed to have a very strong feeling about it. Someone would tell me how filthy and smelly and crowded it is and I’d decide in a huff that, fuck it, it’s not worth the effort because I hate crowds and also smells. And then someone else would tell me how romantic it is, how beautiful and special and magical, and so, in the end I went.
I figured I should meet this Floating City myself and fashion my own opinion. Plus, on the logistical side of things, it just made sense to fly into one city and out of another, so Rome was picked as the start and Venice as the finish.
I still worried I’d hate it and spent time convincing myself I’d made the right decision and made basically no plans for Venice. The city would show me what it wanted me to see, and also, it’s one of those cities, one of those, OMG, YOU JUST HAVE TO SEE IT, sort of cities.
We trained in after a day in Verona and the minute I was outside the train station I was charmed.
Yes. Venice is crowded. And yes, it smells. The narrowest streets are probably the worst, as they reek of piss, probably because there’s like one patch of grass in all of Venice and a shitload of dogs. I’m real bad at math and numbers and stuff, but lots of dogs plus basically no grass means lots of piss-covered streets.
But still. It’s sort of magical. It is different and it’s beautiful and, if you’re not visiting the major tourist attractions, it’s really not so crowded either.
Like I said, I didn’t have much of a plan for Venice. It was the final stop on a multi-city Italian adventure and after seeing ALL OF THE THINGS in ALL THE OTHER PLACES, I didn’t want Venice to feel jam-packed or hectic. I wanted to just sort of be in Venice. I’d flipped through a guidebook, snooped around on Pinterest and read a few blogs about what to see and do in Venice, but the depths of my research were pretty shallow.
I did not go and see all the major attractions of Venice. I just wasn’t up for it, and I think, just maybe, that’s what stopped me from hating Venice.
THREE WAYS FOR CROWD-HATERS TO LOVE VENICE
Basically, cicchetti are small plates or snacks, sort of like an Italian version of tapas, that you can pick up at various bars and restaurants scattered throughout Venice. They’re available most of the day, and some of the best cicchetti spots close down around dinner time, or 8 p.m. Depending on where you go, the bites will range from basic bits of cheese or meat or fried olives, to more creative bruschetta-type snacks, topped with sea creatures or cured meats. Best of all, each cicchetti ranges from €1-3, which means it makes for a delightful mid-afternoon pit stop when you’ve been walking all day and need a little boost.
For locals, cicchetti are usually enjoyed while standing at the bar with a glass of vino, a custom we adopted readily and enthusiastically. In fact, I think we probably made cicchetti most of our lunches a few of our dinners too. It was cheap and easy and also delicious and after a few weeks of heavy sit-down dinners, it was nice to do something different.
2. Get Lost.
Everything I read about Venice said to do this, to get lost. I’m a little bit of a control freak so this proved difficult, but our wanderings on the way back home or out to explore at the start of a new day were some of my favorites.
Sure, there’s a lot to see. You could fill a week with “must-see” tourist attractions, this just wasn’t what I wanted out of my time in Venice. Instead of some of those sites, I went instead to the Liberia Acqua Alta, one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and the Museo Leonardo da Vinci, which is an old church filled with stuff about da Vinci and his life and a few models of his inventions that you can play with. And we got lost. Because we had to. Really. The GPS on your phone will only work so well when you’re wedged in a shoulder-wide alleyway.
3. Skip the big shit.
So, real talk, we went to Piazza San Marco, home to some Big Deal attractions, like Saint Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace, and it was beautiful, sure, it was neat to see it, but the hoards of people were just too much and really, it probably wasn’t even that busy because it was early-ish on a weekday.
We walked from our hotel, a 20ish minute trek that took us through a myriad of side streets and past a handful of really neat shops and it was pleasant and mostly empty and then we hit this place and it was like, FUCK NO, SEND ME HOME.
Yes, it’s really cool to see these major sites. It’s amazing to be standing in places like these, but after our foray into Piazza San Marco, we just didn’t want to do that with our time in Venice anymore and so we mostly just stayed far away from it.
I’ve had a few conversations since I’ve come home about Venice, with other people who have loved it, and especially similarly minded people who hate the tourist hoards and they’ve all said the same thing, that getting off the beaten path and just scampering around Venice without a real plan is the reason they left the Floating City with a happy hearty.
Venice really is one of those cities that every wanderer should see. It’s different and beautiful, and with minimal effort it’s easy to get out of the tourist-packed areas and explore the lesser-seen parts of the city. Just make sure to stop and eat some cicchetti and drink some prosecco along the way.