9 tips for exploring the maze of Venice

23 May

 

Through tiny canals, picturesque bridges and charming sidestreets, Venice brims with secrets.

By Erik Torkells

I’m just back from my first trip to Venice, and I learned some things you might find helpful. It’s a ridiculously beautiful city — at one point I realized I wasn’t taking pictures because I couldn’t decide what wasn’t photo-worthy — but it’s not the easiest place on earth.

1. When I discovered the shop of ceramicist Alessandro Merlin late on a Tuesday evening — wonderfully risqué little bowls were displayed in the window — it was bad luck, because the shop is closed Wednesday and Thursday, and my partner and I were leaving Friday morning. But when I missed my chance to visit the Palazzo Grimani museum, it was a tactical error. You have to make a reservation, which I only realized on my last day in the city, and same-day reservations aren’t allowed. The takeaway: Even if you prefer to travel by the seat of your pants, like I do, Venice is one of those cities where some advance research might be in order.

2. We had figured we’d use the map apps on our phones to navigate, until I learned that my new carrier has no international data plan. (“We suggest you use Wi-Fi,” said the staffer I spoke with, which wouldn’t be much help while exploring the city.) So I bought a Streetwise laminated map, which was a godsend — because Venice’s streets are so narrow that the GPS signal was highly erratic. The blue dot that was supposed to indicate our position skittered around the screen of my partner’s phone even when we were standing still. When we requested directions to a specific destination, we were able to follow the text instructions, but the actual old-school map was best of all. Tip: Mark your hotel’s location by sticking a pin through the map, then hold the map up to the light whenever you need to locate it quickly.

3. Sometimes you want to go to a certain spot, of course, but in my opinion, the charm of Venice is more in the wandering and noticing — the old buildings, the canals, the bridges, the doorbells that look like faces. The not knowing where you’re going or where you’ll end up. The surprises that could be around any corner. In San Marco, to name one instance, we happened into a back-alley cul de sac, which would normally be frustrating except that a florist was there, working on a mammoth display. And in Dorsoduro we came upon a street like most others — except it had a basketball hoop attached to the old brick wall.

5. I get exhausted when surrounded by too many people, so after the crush in San Marco and near the Rialto and Accademia bridges, we found the less congested neighborhoods of Cannaregio and Castello to be a relief. There are fewer attractions, but the areas felt more real. Spend some time there even if you have no particular reason to.

6. Our best meal was at a restaurant whose name I can’t share. I’m sorry! I hate when writers do that, but I promised a friend. I mention it anyway to give you hope: There is good food in Venice, despite its reputation, but you have to work to find it. When in doubt, go to the fancier neighborhoods of Dorsoduro or San Polo. We did also have a very lovely lunch at Algiubagiò in Cannaregio, sitting outside on a deck over the water. The joy of dining in Venice is less about what you eat and more about being outside — and whenever possible, you should dine al fresco — in one of the world’s most gorgeous cities.

7. We also had a picnic of cheese, bread, fruit and wine one beautiful night, sitting on the steps of Il Redentore church in Giudecca. It was a welcome break from the rigmarole of restaurants, and looking for provisions made browsing the Rialto market a lot more fun. (Do what we did and search out the stalls where the old Italian women shop.)

8. If you have more than two days in Venice, all the walking — and navigating — can get a little exhausting. The solution: Take the vaporetto to Lido and rent a bike. The cycling is ridiculously easy — the terrain is flat and (at least when we went) there are few cars, and rentals were 4€ per hour (and one hour is enough). Lido is more modern than central Venice, and therefore less photogenic, but moving at a different pace is refreshing, and unlike on the other islands — where the narrow streets can feel claustrophobic — Lido is wide open and full of fresh air.

9. This was a serious splurge, but I loved it: Take a water taxi to and from the airport. It was insanely glamorous, and even though it was expensive, (a) it made sense for us because weren’t staying near an airport vaporetto stop, and (b) think of all the money I didn’t spend on risqué ceramics.

9 tips for exploring the maze of Venice

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