The bf has something for Italy, despite being German. He can eat pasta three meals a day; he would even eat pizza three meals a day given the chance. Sometimes I wonder if he is actually Italian stuck in the body of a German. Shhh, don’t tell him I said that.
In April 2010, we went to Venice. We bought our tickets in December 2009 as Expedia had a really good deal and because I’m obsessed with planning vacations in advance :). We didn’t realize how lucky we were until we saw our hotel: Hilton Molino Stucky.
This hotel is situated on an island of its own, Giudecca. It’s two stops away on the ferry from St Marco. Of course if you are a guest of Hilton, you’re provided with free shuttle service to and from the hotel to St Marco. It’s actually a really nice service that makes it so much easier to go around Venice.
It’s difficult to describe Venice. I’d say it’s like Disneyland. No, there are no theme parks or roller coaster rides, but it’s just magical. I’m from a big city (Kuala Lumpur, not Oslo ;)) and just the idea of people living in a city that has no cars is amazing. Everything is done via the canals – the movers, the police, ambulance, delivering goods, etc – all through water. You could sit by the canal and spend a whole day just watching the different kinds of boats passing through. At some point we even saw a cruise ship pass through the main canal.
I always tell people “I don’t like old buildings. I prefer new, modern ones.” but when I was in Venice, I learned to appreciate the beauty in old buildings. Like these:
Decay is not necessarily ugly. Everything that is new must one day become old. And just because it is old, does not mean it is ugly. This is one fact I started to ponder the moment we bought our tickets because my landlord/friend had already told me ahead of time that Venice is a very different place and traveling there is not the same as going to a huge city and wandering around. It is very, very different. To me it was kind of like an education in history and time.
So, suppose you’d like to go to Venice, what are the few things you should consider?
- Find a nice hotel. This is purely my opinion but there are a lot of hotels that offer rooms with four post beds and velvet couches :) If that is not your style, you might want to find something that is a bit more modern. I’d recommend Hilton Molino Stucky. They had a beautiful rooftop bar with really nice bartenders. Service was wonderful and the rooms we had were really worth the price. I am a bit spoiled because I need a comfortable hotel to stay in when I travel – I’m willing to reduce the number of days I spend in a city in exchange for a clean, well maintained hotel; but that’s just me. I understand that different people have different preferences.
- Try to book your tickets early to ensure that you get a good deal. Try not to go during peak season as the city will be packed and it might not be possible to see everything you want to see. During off-peak season, there is less crowd (hotel prices will be cheaper too because it is in the best interest of the hotel to always have occupied rooms, especially during off-peak season) and it will be much easier to queue to see sights like St Mark’s Basilica and such. We only queued for an hour and a half, if I remember correctly – which was nothing because seeing the church was a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was worth it. Out of respect, I did not take any photographs inside but I can tell you that it is amazing how much of effort had gone into the details for the carving. To think they did it all by hand, with half the machinery available today. Mind blowing.
- Book your activities in advance online. We booked two activities: Secret Itineraries of the Doge’s Palace as well as a boat tour around the islands outside of Venice (Murano, Burano and Torcello). The Secret Itineraries tour is really fun because you get to walk inside the Doge’s Palace and its secret passages, while the tour guide tells you fun interesting anecdotes about some of the Doges as well as Casanova.
- Contrary to popular belief you do not have to spend 80-90 Euros a person for a ride on The Gondola. I once knew a couple who were in Venice on their wedding anniversary but did not ride on a Gondola because they heard it was very expensive (approximately 80 Euros a person). Honestly, being on a Gondola is a really nice experience so please don’t miss out on it. Unlike the regular ferries, the Gondola goes through the smaller canals between the buildings so you get to see Venice from a different perspective. Another interesting thing is that the Gondoliers use their foot to kick against the wall of a building to propel the Gondola forward. The tour office (right outside the ferry stop at St Marco) has these last minute Gondola trips that you can book a day before. On these trips, there are 4 people on the Gondola (instead of 2) so I guess you could say there is less romance ;) But, the best part is you only pay 30 Euros a person. That’s a steal (in bargain shopping terms).
- Try not to eat at restaurants by the canal. These are usually tourist traps where the food is quite bland and pricey. If you walk on the inner streets you will come across smaller, more cosy restaurants that are less expensive. That said, from what I have heard, Venice is not really famous for its food. I did eat some really nice fried Calamari there, so I cannot complain.
- If you are a shopaholic – like moi – it’s sad to say there’s not much you can buy in Venice :) Apart from some cool trinkets, and perhaps some good Grappa as gifts for friends, Venice is more for sightseeing.
- If you are like me and don’t really know much about Venetian history, Francesco’s Venice is a great documentary (by BBC) to watch. Francesco gives you a nice overview on the history and culture of Venice. Once you watch that documentary, it’s difficult to not go to Venice.
Here’s my favourite photograph I took in Venice: