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Venice, Italy

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Did you know … ?

  • The Piazza San Marco is the only Venetian piazza; all other squares have names meaning field or yard.
  • The average gondola lasts about 20 years.
  • The word ghetto comes from the name of Venice’s 16th century Jewish section.
  • Marco Polo left Venice for China in 1271; he was gone 24 years.
  • In 1960, a gondola ride cost $3 an hour; Arthur Frommer warned readers off that “expense.”

Canals + gondolas = romance

Venice is known worldwide as the city of canals. It is a stunningly beautiful place, reflecting its past as a trading powerhouse. It is a city of architecture and of art. And, it is a city of and for romance.

Venice counts 118 islands, many of them connected to the historic city center by the nearly 400 bridges that cross its storied canals. The canals are the streets, and boats provide most transportation.

Riding the city’s vaporettos is an integral part of the touristic experience although rather costly if buying tickets one at a time. On the other hand, riding a black gondola, poled by a young man in a straw hat with a bright hatband, is optional. It’s considerably more expensive, but part of the romance.

The star sightseeing attractions are St. Mark’s Square, the Basilica of St. Mark and the Doge’s Palace in the heart of the historic town. Even the most jaded also include the iconic Rialto Bridge on their itineraries. Visitors don’t have to be devotees of art, or architecture or history to love this incredible concentration of historic structures and to tour a few museums or palaces to see the richness of Venetian interiors, as well.

Beyond the city center, the most popular islands are Murano, noted for its glassworks, and Burano, noted for lace makers. In addition, the Lido is a sandbar that is sizeable enough to accommodate ordinary roads with a public bus service. It is a resort area with beaches, the casino and several hotels.

Venice also includes the mainland industrial centers of Marghera and Mestre. They support the economy but contribute to air pollution that threatens historic Venice. Mother Nature poses her own challenges: The city is sinking while, separately, its waters are rising. Water weakens the foundations of buildings, and winter floods damage buildings at or above street level. Most times, tourists aren’t aware of these serious issues.

For those who want a broader perspective on the region, Venice’s environs encompass lakes, coastal beaches, mountains and a roster of cities rich with the relics of their own histories. The closest of these cities is Padua.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Overnight with the Franciscan friars on the island of San Francesco del Deserto. This island, about 20 minutes by boat from Venice proper, was occupied in 1200 by Franciscan friars whose successors still reside there, in an austere convent.  To round out this theme, you might want to visit San Lazzaro degli Armeni, an island inhabited by a religious community, as well, the Mechitarist Armenians.
  • Eat plenty of seafood in this city where water is everywhere. Try the unusual risotto alle seppie, which is a deep black color because the cuttlefish has been cooked in its own ink.
  • Get married in Venice. Or, propose marriage there.
  • Choose a nighttime ghost walking tour, a program that promises hair-raising tales about ghosts, legends and documented bloody tales. Walk the narrow ally called the street of the assassins for reasons you can guess. Explore one of the secret passageways used by the denizens of Venetian palaces to escape the authorities. Then, there is the staircase built by one Venetian that allowed him to ride his horse up to his private apartments inside his palace.
  • There are some options to take to the water, such as by sailing, waterskiing or windsurfing although your opportunities may be determined by the hotel you choose.
  • Beg, borrow or rent a costume and join the fun during Carnival in Venice. Spring for a ticket to at least one of the big balls. See the gondola and boat parades along the Grand Canal; watch mask parades in Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square).

Things to do for Centrics

  • Look for Venetian masters — Paolo Veronese, Tintoretto and Titian — when you tour the Academy of Fine Arts.
  • Go island-hopping, in this case by vaporetto, not merely by crossing a canal. See Burano, which is really four islands with canals, too, and noted for needlework; Murano, really five tiny islands and home to glassblowers who are artists, and Torcello, the most important of these islands from an artistic point of view.
  • Attend opera at La Fenice Theatre, which is a totally reconstructed version of the 19th century opera house that was completely destroyed by arson in 1996.
  • Time your visit to coincide with the Feast of the Redeemer. This all-night event, in July, commemorates the end of plague that afflicted Venice in 1575. Musicians perform from lighted boats lining the canals.
  • See the collection of 20th century avant-garde art gathered by American heiress Peggy Guggenheim and left for display in the museum that was her home, the Palazzo Venier del Leoni. But there are many other small art collections; choose the ones that address your interests.
  • If you love spectacles, attend the September regatta (Regata Storica), a race by gondolini, fast gondola-like boats. The event kicks off with a procession of historical boats with crew and passengers in Renaissance costumes.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Have dinner at one of the outdoor restaurants on St. Mark’s Square.
  • If you have what it takes (money), stay at one of the palaces that was converted into a hotel. Look at the Gritti Palace or the Danieli.
  • Hire a gondola for an hour, with serenade. In fact, you can do your city tour on the water. Choices include a daytime Grand Canal boat tour or the evening Grand Canal tour by water taxi.
  • Plan some beach time on the Lido. Also, while there, your options include gambling at the island’s famous casino and tee times at the Venice Golf Club.
  • Take a guided tour of the Doge’s Palace, visit the Basilica of St. Mark — then feed pigeons in St. Mark’s Square just because it is a quintessentially touristy thing to do in Venice.
  • Shop for Venetian specialties: crystal, embroidery work, glassware and lace. Buy a Venetian Carnival mask.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Tourism Venice at http://en.turismovenezia.it