by: Emmy Hermes, Guest Contributor
Italy is a land of contrasts, offering visitors enough diverse land and cityscapes to fulfill all five senses. A trip to Italy isn’t truly complete without at least a couple of days set aside for the unique and enchanting Venice (Venezia). Venice, often referred to as La Serenissima (the most serene), is composed of a quaint group of islands that are nestled in the northeast corner of Italy’s boot. Charming in every sense of the word, roaming Venice’s streets is not unlike taking a stroll through a picture book, and it is perhaps one of the most comparable experiences that we will ever have to living inside an actual fairy tale.
Venice is made up of over 100 small islands that are connected by bridges and canals so it is almost impossible to get completely lost, with the exception of the potential to get lost amongst the small alleyways. But that is exactly what makes Venice the perfect place to throw your map away and allow yourself to slow down and soak up the atmosphere. This is the part of your journey where you can let your hair down and relax, feeling completely safe as you meander aimlessly through its picturesque alleys and cobblestoned streets. All the while knowing that you will eventually stumble upon your desired location (or if not your desired location, then something else that is equally remarkable).
When thinking Venice – think slow travel. Though popular with many tourists, its lack of conventional public transport and relatively small local population can provide the makings for a more relaxed way of traveling. To have a better chance of this, consider visiting Venice outside of high season. Because the city relies heavily on water transportation, Venice is less of an ideal destination for travelers who are irreversibly dependent on fast paced fixed schedules and timely events. The water taxi system is a novel experience for most, but “speedy” it is definitely not. For additional ease of travel, remember to pack light! Any veteran explorer would agree that while aesthetically pleasing, narrow sidewalks, uneven pavement, bridges and choppy waters leave little admittance for excessive luggage. Simply equip yourself with a sturdy pair of walking shoes, a camera and an open mind and breathe easy as the experience unfolds.
Once you’ve mastered the waterways and alleyways, take some time to see the sites, some of which are free to the public like, for example, visiting the famous St. Mark’s Basilica as you pass through Piazza San Marco, marveling at the unmatched architecture that is the Santa Maria della Salute, and crossing the Rialto Bridge, Venice’s main pedestrian crossing between the two banks of the world renowned Grand Canal. Also consider hiring a Tour Guide to truly unravel the mystery of Venice and it’s myriad of small streets for you.
However, the true Venetian experience isn’t complete without integrating oneself with the local colors and characters of the city at every possible opportunity. This includes diverting onto some of the pedestrian side streets where one can observe residents hanging out at neighborhood bars or purchasing produce from the local vendors. While here, don’t be afraid to dive right in to the conversation! Because Venice commerce depends mainly on its tourism revenue, most locals are good humored and helpful toward their visitors. Just like with any city, learn a few key phrases in the home language and be respectful of their customs and you are sure to receive equal consideration in return.
One of the most common activities in Venice that I am often asked about is the gondola ride and whether or not it is worth the cost (on average, about 80 Euro per person). Is it corny or is it unique? Is it boring or is it memorable? In short, my answer is that gondola rides are one hundred percent worth the price. Personally, I am a strong believer in combining both unique, local experiences with some of the touristy attractions when visiting a new place. However, I would not describe a ride on these iconic flat-bottomed boats as solely touristy by any stretch of the imagination. What was once relied on as the primary mode of transportation in this floating city, a ride on a traditional gondola is an unparalleled and unique experience – something that cannot be replicated despite the attempts made by some of the world’s kitschier locales.
Firstly, a true gondolier’s skill set is something to be admired, as it takes extraordinary balance, training and technique to facilitate a smooth excursion. From my own experience, the gondoliers also do very well in adapting to the mood of their audience. If looking for a romantic cruise with a significant other, for example, they will typically steer in silence to avoid disturbance or perhaps whistle a soothing tune if deemed appropriate. Because I was with another twenty-something solo traveler, our gondolier chatted with us, answered questions and even sang some western top 40 hits for our amusement (side note: Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass takes on an entirely different meaning when heard through a thick Italian accent).
When given the opportunity to sail through Venice on a gondola, you’re able to absorb the city’s true essence from a different perspective. The unique recessed perspective of the surrounding buildings along with the camaraderie among the gondoliers in action serve to provide all of the elements of pure immersion, and in turn, enchantment. To add to the magic, catch a gondola ride after dark to see the city dressed in lights and colorful night sky.
Venice is the type of place that needs to be experienced first-hand by all, but it is sometimes pushed to the far side of travelers’ minds because they are commonly convinced that its romantic disposition would only be appreciated by couples in relationships. However, this could not be farther from the truth. While it would certainly be fitting to travel with a partner, have solace in the fact that going with close friends or even solo does not in any way lessen the undeniable beauty that Venice has to offer. Set foot on these historic grounds in any fashion that you choose and instantly allow yourself to be absorbed in the extraordinarily charming City of Bridges.
If you have extra time, don’t forget to explore some of the other islands surrounding Venice like Murano, Burano, Torcello, the Giudecca and Lido all offering other contrasts of Italy. Stay tuned for part two to discover more contrasts of Italy.
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About Emmy: Emmy is a study abroad participant turned travel professional turned vagabond. She caught the travel bug after spending a summer in Spain in college and has since found herself on a continuous quest to experience as much of the world as possible. In 2014, after two years of working for one of the travel community’s most renown trade associations, she decided to take a leap of faith and departed for the experience of a lifetime – a solo trip across Europe with nothing but her life’s savings, a backpack and a pair of sturdy boots. Traveling on a budget is her niche. Follow along as she continues to document her adventures at www.emmyhermes.tumblr.com
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