We escaped to the Mediterranean this summer to catch some sun and get our fill of naps on the beach. Before heading out on our tour around Greece with stops at Dubrovnik, Corfu, Crete, and Athens, we spent a few days in Venice. Neither of us had been to the lagoon city before, and we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. We’d both heard mixed reviews from family and friends who have visited, which left us asking questions. Would the canals smell? Would it be a sweltering swamp? Overcrowded with tourists? There was only one way to find out! And since we had such a great time in Italy a few years ago, we were both excited to return to one of our favourite countries.
Europe set heatwave records the week after we arrived in Venice, but luckily it was only warm, not unbearable, during our stay. I didn’t notice any strong smells while we were there. We did, however, get eaten alive by mosquitoes, and didn’t discover the bites until a few days later, so too late for bug spray. Mosquitoes aside, I was pleasantly surprised by Venice, and it was a great place to start off our summer holiday.
Venice is divided into six districts, and our hotel was in Santa Croce, just a short walk from the neighbouring district San Polo. We were across the Grand Canal from the main tourist area San Marco, and didn’t run into any crowds in the narrow streets or squares near where we stayed. Judging by how busy it was when we visited at peak tourist season in July, I would assume that this area is always relatively quiet compared to the other parts of Venice.
We spent the first afternoon wandering the maze of quiet streets and bridges in Santa Croce.
We went to dinner around 7:30pm, when the only other diners were American, but an hour or so later the locals showed up. We’d forgotten how late Italians eat dinner, lol. Andrew tried squid ink spaghetti, a Venetian classic, and I regret not taking a photo of his black-stained smile afterwards!
The next day we walked to one of the oldest parts of town, San Polo for a food tour – because that’s how we do. This was food tour number 6, and though it didn’t make it into our top 3 (Rome, Amsterdam, and Lisbon are still our faves), it was a great way to experience the city. Our guide had lived in Venice her whole life, and seen it go through many changes in the 60 or so years that she’d been there. It was interesting to hear her point of view on Venice’s tourist boom, and the positive and negative things that have come along with it. One of her complaints was that as Venetians have moved out, there are fewer market stalls bringing fresh produce into the city. With so many shops and restaurants catering to tourists, everyday things like cinemas are disappearing. “Tourists don’t come to Venice to see the Avengers,” our guide told us, pointing at an old cinema building that is now a pharmacy. Our tour took us through the famous Rialto Market in San Polo, and to a few shops in the area.
After our tour, we crossed the Grand Canal on a water taxi that carries passengers from one side to the other in just a few minutes. It only costs 2 euros, so much cheaper than hiring a gondola!
Once we crossed into Cannaregio and San Marco, it was impossible to escape the crowds. People poured down the narrow streets, and squeezed into every shop. The stories I’d heard about Venice all started to make sense now.
Most of the main attractions are located in these districts. Personally though, we didn’t see what all the fuss was about, and preferred the quieter neighbourhood where we were staying. So after a quick march to St Mark’s Square and back over the Rialto Bridge, we retreated back to Santa Croce.
Venice is the perfect place to sit outside a cafe in a square with a drink in one hand and a book in the other. We had the most fun meandering without being in a hurry, and enjoying the warm evenings eating outdoors. I would definitely go back to Venice and probably stay in Santa Croce again. I’d like to explore more of the parks and historic buildings next time, but would avoid going during tourist season.