Thursday, 17 December 2015

Venice: Twelve Tips for First-Timers

This week, a guest post from Lynn Reynolds

So you’re off to Venice for your first ever visit, eh? Lucky you! Here are a few brief pointers to help you get the most from your time, whether that be a long weekend or a fortnight. Everybody’s experience of this extraordinary city is different, so I’m keeping my tips fairly practical. But on the basis that you’ll enjoy yourself all the more if you know something about the history of the place, I’ve also included links to relevant background sources.
  1. Before you leave, it’s worth taking some time to look at what the Grand Tourists of the 18th and 19th centuries saw when they visited Venice. Various galleries in different towns (such as London’s Wallace Collection) exhibit collections of so-called view paintings, the era’s equivalent of the postcard or location selfie.
  1. If you’re flying into Marco Polo airport, you could take a water bus from there to your destination. But if you have €110 to spare, I recommend opting for a motoscafo, or taxi. These wood-panelled speedboats whiz you and your luggage as near to your doorstep as they can, and you’ll have an amazing view along the way.
  1. Pack light, because you’ll probably need to carry your luggage at some point. No, lighter than that. Preferably in a backpack, or something you can easily hoist across expanses of cobbles and the numerous bridges you’ll almost certainly encounter on your way from the taxi stop to your hotel/hostel/apartment.
  1. Here’s one just for travellers from the UK. When selecting your seats on the plane, observe the SOPH (starboard out, port home) principle. Then you’ll be rewarded with memorable vistas of the city upon your approach and departure.
  1. Be warned that there’s a 10-minute walk from Marco Polo airport to the water bus or taxi rank. In fact there’s a lot of walking in general in Venice, few elevators anywhere, and many bridges to cross, which means plenty of steps. On the way back to the airport from my last visit, I walked in front of a young woman who spent the entire ten minutes lamenting that if she’d known visiting Venice was going to be so tiring, she’d have stayed at home and gone to the gym every day instead.
  1. My fellow women: Venice is one of the most genuinely glamorous and elegant places you’ll ever visit, but if you wear high heels to walk anything but a short distance you’ll end up in serious pain. Surfaces all tend to be uneven, slippery, hard and unforgiving. The city is full of shops selling soft, comfy (often quite ugly) shoes, and there’s a very good reason for that. Take a stylish pair of flats so you won’t need to make an unflattering emergency purchase.
  1. Eat on the hoof most of the time. My opinion of restaurant food in Venice is a resounding “meh”. In my opinion, it’s certainly not worth missing out on sightseeing time for. Fortunately, snack foods like tramezzini and mozzarella in carozza are pretty good, and they’ll keep you going as you power round those must-see destinations. But when you do want something more substantial, here’s what to look for.
  1. Even if you’re only visiting for a short time, you must go to Torcello. When you do, you’ll experience Venice’s origins. All the better to appreciate the city’s amazing transformation from a settlement of refugees in a malarial swamp to the head of one of the most enduring empires in history.
  1. If you really love classical music, you could go to the opera at the Gran Teatro la Fenice. But if you prefer a more intimate experience, check out Musica a Palazzo. This company perform a variety of programmes to small audiences in the splendid surroundings of a real Venetian palace.
  1. Do take a gondola ride. But instead of encouraging your gondolier to sing cliched folk songs originating hundreds of miles south of Venice, ask him—for it will be a him—to tell you more about this truly unique form of water transportation. Sounds nerdy, but you won’t regret it.
  1. When you see an ice cream shop called Grom, drop in and have one. It’s probably the best ice cream you’ll find anywhere.
  1. Don’t miss cocktail hour. You’ll know it when it happens, because you’ll see lots of people sitting around in front of bright orange and deep red drinks. My bet is that you’ll be only too pleased to join in, because there aren’t a lot of places to sit down in Venice, and by now your feet will be killing you.

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