Last weekend I finally went to Venice in the off season, realizing a dream I’ve had since the first time I visited the city six years ago. I saw the city in the rain, fog and glorious sun in the span of two days. It was an unforgettable experience.
People either love Venice and it’s romantic history/tiny streets or they hate the city and think it’s a tourist trap. Clearly, I fall into the former category. I simply adore the island and each unique alley way and bridge it offers. True, if you stay in San Marco and eat at places that proudly show off their so-called fine dishes through dodgy fake food photos (or, worse yet, have plastic food on display), you might leave the city with a few bitter memories. After all, paying thirty euro for a frozen pizza the quality of which you’d find at Asda or Walmart would leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. If you try to veer from the beaten path, however, you’ll find an enchanting city and seafood so fresh you eat it facing the fish market.
My plan for Venice was to go there and walk. I wanted to wander around the city and see absolutely as much of it as possible. Although there are still parts I haven’t visited — Torcello, Giudecca, the outer reaches of Castello and Dorsoduro — I have a much better understanding of the city and places and plans for the next time I make it there.
Friends and family asked me how Venice is different in the off season and high season (pretty much any part of the year from Carnevale to September). There isn’t a perfect answer. The city is still crowded, there are still tourists a plenty and you will find that there are more foreign languages than Italian or veneziano, but there’s less of a crush. Things feel calmer and more natural. When walking around you don’t assume that every single person you see is a tourist. You wonder if that old woman is going home and see kids leaving school. The city feels more natural, people are sharing their city with the tourists instead of simply being pushed out.
It would be boring to give a play by play of how many times I got lost around Santa Maria Formosa or couldn’t find something that looked so obvious on a map. There were so many highlights, there were so many points when I was surprised at how cold I was. Getting lost was beautiful and seeing a late-Friday evening lecture at Ca’ Foscari did make me a little bit jealous.
If you are going to Venice, let me recommend, without reservation a meal at Vecio Fritolin, Pronto Pesce and a coffee at Caffe del Doge. Please get out of San Marco, but do go to see the Basilica. Take the vaporetto and always remember to have your ticket with you and validated. Buy Murano glass if you like, but please go to Murano to do so. Get a mask, but make sure it’s one from a proper artisan. Have fun in Venice and let the city woo you.
Walk around and know that yes, people do come onto the vaporetto to check that you have a proper, validated ticket. Stay outside of San Marco and enjoy a few nice meals. If you see prosecco for only two euro fifty, know that it’s good. The little plastic glass it’s served in might make it even better. Let yourself get lost and become more who you want to be. Venice is magical. That is, Venice is magical as long as you get away from the bright white lights of tourist shops.
My eyes still hurt from walking past them.
Have you ever been to Venice? If so, did you like the city? If not, do you want to visit?