Frustrating Venice

By | Category: Travel destinations
St Mark's Sq

A visitor dream; an empty St Mark's Square

Venice – Italy’s medieval gem – enchants visitors all year round but the ‘City of Water’ can also be an unpleasant place to holiday as Adrian explains

I have written quite a bit about Venice for CD-Traveller, over the years. The city is so wonderfully different that it offers a lot to see in a relatively small area. But it has its drawbacks and some readers have asked for a more critical view of the place.

There is a perception that it is expensive and, in the main tourist areas like the Rialto and St Marks, it can be. Howevet a few streets away from the crowds, you’ll find more attractive restaurant and souvenir prices. Even in the Lista de Spagna which is the main tourist thoroughfare from the railway station, shops offer competitive prices for such souvenirs as masks, glassware and food.

But even here the visitor should be wary. At the top are a number of market stalls. Usually you would think that means they would be cheaper but no. Many charge more than the items sold in the shops.

Yet walking up this road or any of the tourist areas of Venice, can be a hassle. Not because of hawkers (lots) or beggars – although there are some – but because of the number of visitors. Walking from A to B can take longer than you think just because of the sheer numbers. Venetians, going about their daily business, know that to get anywhere, they must act like a rugby winger and duck and swerve to get around the people. Because many ‘lanes’ are narrow it only takes one visitor to stop and it is difficult to get around them. Some are so narrow that two people walking abreast will block the path of other more concentrated walkers.

Narrow lanes

Narrow streets!

Many’s the time I’ve had a wheelie case rolled over my foot or had to avoid a group of kids debating which gelato to have. That I may be slightly more impatient than some, I freely admit. But the number of tourists in Venice is making many consider only visiting it outside the peak periods. Here in the first full week of September, it seems busier than ever which leads me to another frustration.

Many visitors decide to get into the holiday spirit by travelling on the alilaguna from the airport. This is the water bus service linking the airport with Venice, Murano and the Lido. It has never been cheap, costing €27 return (the bus to the city, costs no more than a third of that.) But you don’t visit Venice to be tight with money: it’s pretty much an impossibility. No, the frustration is with the time it takes to get anywhere on the alilaguna. There are three lines, red, orange and blue to take people to different parts of the area. But they can take over an hour.

cramped Alilaguna

Alilaguna

And you spend half-an-hour just waiting for them to arrive whereas buses arrive every 10 minutes. In the evening the service is only hourly. If your hotel is in the Cannaregio area (where the bus station is) it will be faster to take the bus and walk. If you are in the Guidecca, then the bus and a walk (but have a good map or you’ll get lost.) will be faster than taking the alilaguna.

The other frustration with them is that they get very crowded and astonishingly hot and humid. You can’t really stand in the open as the area is given to stacking luggage so you bake inside with little ventilation unlike the water buses (vaporetto) that ply the canals. Given that this is often the first view of Venice that people have it is also frustrating that you can’t properly see out of the windows to see the passing sites without standing, perching in odd positions or twisting your neck until you have the ability of an owl to head-swivel!

How do you tell that a Venetian souvenir is genuine, is another frustration. If you don’t mind where your tat comes from then you can bet a lot of stuff is probably Chinese in origin. There are signs in some shops telling buyers that they don’t stock Chinese glass but that theirs is the genuine article from the world renowned island of Murano. At some of the prices charged, four wine bottle-stoppers for 10 Euros, you might question this claim. Some shops have signs saying ‘Venetian-style art’ which I take to mean coming from cheaply-sourced overseas countries. So watch out. If it seems cheap, then it probably isn’t Murano glass.

a full vaporetto

standing room only!

But as I mentioned earlier the biggest frustration for the visitor is other visitors. They are everywhere. Or so it seems. English, German, French, Russian, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese are heard as widely as Italian. Visitors clog your way into the sights, (you need to be early or have pre-booked to get into top places like the Doges Palace). They fill the restaurants and bars in the evening and jam-pack the vaporettos. I’m surprised the locals put up with it. But then, what jobs would there be but for pandering to visitors? So if crowds are off-putting try November or March. They may not be the warmest times, they may be rainy and there could be some localised flooding on the pathways but who visits Venice for sunshine? Skip February (carnival time) June, July and August as you will pay much higher accommodation prices and avoid the Lido in early September when the Venice Film Festival is on. And avoid the weekends if you can. Prices will be higher and that’s when the Italians come to see their treasure and lounge on the Lido.

Rialto

Rialto grafitti laden

And then there is the grafitti. It’s worse in Rome but the daubings on the Rialto must be upsetting for visitors and irritate the life out of me. I’m not even sure that they have been cleaned since I was last there about 10 months ago. You would have thought that on such an internationally recognised icon of Venice that the grafitti would be cleaned off and kept clean.

Yet despite these frustrations, I still go back almost every year just because there really is nowhere quite like Venice.

 

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