“Nothing ever seems straightforward in Venice, least of all its romances.”
Roger Ebert probably intended these words for tourists like me who walk starry-eyed into this ‘City of Canals’, expecting to float about without the bustle of crowds clouding their view. All that I knew about Venice came from an old English chapter I had read in school, and a couple of movies that panned across pristine blue waters with a gondola gliding under ornate bridges.
While Venezia may not be everything you’ve seen on TV, it is worth a visit! This article does not aim to tell you what you can see and do here. Instead, to make sure you don’t fall into tourist traps or return unimpressed by this Gothic beauty, it tells you WHAT NOT TO DO IN VENICE:-
1. Don’t let the gondoliers take you for a ride
Riding on a gondola will no doubt be numero uno on your list of things to do in Venice. But if you’re not careful, you might just end up spending 5 times the normal charge! I was in Venice a few years back, and every highly accented Italian gondolier quoted anywhere between 200 and 500 Euros for a ride that would last only a few minutes. A reasonable rate does not cross 150 Euros. If you’re a tourist on a budget, take the group rides on large gondolas and avoid the solo or couple rides.
Once you get in, make sure you sing along with the gondolier (yes, they all sing for you! ) and wave at all the jealous tourists who take your picture!
2. Venetian masks are not diamonds. Don’t buy those for your girlfriend!
In Venice, if anything sells more than a gondola-ride, it is the famous Venetian mask! The masks are all exquisite and you won’t mind paying a premium for bringing one back home. But remember that these are fragile. If you don’t know HOW you will pack and carry them across a thousand miles, do not spend your Euros on them. I know quite a few people who’ve returned with broken masks and dented wallets.
Even if you manage to transport a mask safely, think of WHAT you will do with it. It is unlikely you’ll have a masquerade party anytime soon. And if you do, you surely won’t risk losing your precious eye-mask in the dark! Most Venetian masks that make their way across the world, end up in glass-shelves or are forgotten in dusty attics.
3. Don’t reach Venice at nightfall!
Unless you’re a local with your own vaporetto, don’t play ‘risk-taking traveler’ and enter this city at night. Here’s why:
The water-taxi or vaporetti service stops at 7PM and there’s no other public transport in this ‘City of Water’ to take you anywhere. This is one place where you can’t just flag a cab/catch a bus or hitchhike. If you arrive at night, you might just have to sleep at Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia. And with so many people crowding up the train-station, I don’t think you’ll find much space to stretch your feet. Venice also gets very dark in the evening and doesn’t have too many street-lights (wherever you find streets, that is).
4. Don’t eat by the famous canals
…unless you’re rich to begin with. The al fresco restaurants and cafes that dot the streets by the canals offer beautiful views of the deep green water (yes, green. All this water is unfortunately dirty), but they charge a bomb for largely ordinary food. If you must eat well, walk further inland and satiate your hunger at small restaurants there.
Also, Venice is no place for pizzas. The classic margherita here is just chewy bread with lots of tomato sauce slathered on top. You must, however, not forget to try some gelato. I’ve tasted the world’s best gelato in Venice!
5. Don’t dress like a backpacker
The ‘City of Bridges’ receives a lot of rainfall (of course, you must know that, what with all the water flowing about ). But this is no excuse to forget you’re in the world’s most fashion-conscious country! Venice is no place to wear ugly windcheaters and romp about in clunky sneakers. This is where you must show off your exotic derby hats and flowy sundresses.
6. Don’t pose on the Rialto Bridge
When I asked her for directions to the Rialto Bridge, the Venetian mask-seller looked at me aghast. “You don’t know Rialto! It is the world’s most famous bridge!” she exclaimed in broken English. (Does that put London Bridge on the 2nd position? )
I knew Rialto when I saw it. It was choc a bloc with tourists jostling for space. I wondered what this bridge had that its poor country-cousins didn’t. I got clicked on the Rialto but I’d suggest you give it a miss and look for smaller bridges that are less crowded and therefore, much better for photographs.
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I hope the list doesn’t scare you away from Venice. It is a city like no other. It is the land of water! It needs to be explored slowly and mostly on foot as you walk in small alleyways and discover Renaissance facades interspersed with Baroque palazzos. The fragile interconnected structure of the 118 islands has necessitated a ban on new construction, but this does not deter the constant flow of people into this perpetually flooded city. Venice can be discovered only when you lose the crowd and lose yourself in old buildings that still stand tall.