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Travel Log: Venice

September 20, 2009

blog_author_bar_darren

I would venture to say that one of the biggest fears/inconveniences people have about traveling is getting lost.  It can cause one to be late for a scheduled event, manifest anxiety or anger members of your travel party – all of which hold even more true for the obsessive compulsive traveler who likes to follow a strict itinerary… and there is nothing wrong with that!  It’s good to have someone in your group who takes the reigns; however, let that person know (or yourself if it’s you) that if Venice is a stop on your trip, you need to roam as free as the water flows through its canals.

The Campanile

The Campanile

Sure, grab a map and get an idea of the nearly 2,000 year old architectural wonder that is a city built on water – a feat that is remarkable even by today’s standards.  Unfortunately, a map doesn’t do enough justice to the layout of Venice so head to the most touristy sight in town – St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) – and climb the Campanile.  The highest vantage point in Venice, this bell tower will show you what a map doesn’t, that Venice is a cluttered mess of small canals and pedestrian roads with no sight of a horizon to get your bearings thanks to every building being about four stories tall.  But don’t worry, this is a good, exciting kind of mess.

The cluster that is Venice

The cluster that is Venice

While at Piazza San Marco, take in the nearby sights such as The Basilica and Doge’s Palace.  For a city that you will soon discover seems so crammed, you will be amazed at the vastness within the walls of these two buildings.  Next, go to Venice’s second tourist trap, the Rialto Bridge.  Situated in the middle of the city and along its main thoroughfare – the Grand Canal – this bridge is like the center of a compass and can point you in any direction that you desire to go.

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

Walk down this!!!

Walk down this!!!

Now that you’ve visited the top two attractions on any “Guide to Venice” travel book, take note of how you got there from your place of stay (it will come in handy later), then tuck your map in your pocket and get lost.  Seriously… just start roaming.  Venice has thousands of tucked away treasures that no map can guide you to so make your own discoveries.  Before you know it you will find yourself surrounded by actual Venetians going about their daily lives rather than merchants and restauranteurs looking to leech off of tourists.  At first it may seem against your instinct to go off the beaten path and walk down dingy enigmatic streets that are barely wide enough for your shoulders (because Mommy always said don’t go down dark alleys, but in Venice, almost every street is a dark alley), but by doing so you will do more than just see Venice, you will encounter all it has to offer.  For example, my first time in Venice I found myself playing soccer with some local children in one of the many piazza’s that randomly appear around tight corners – no map told me where I could find a pick up game.  Here are a few other discoveries I made during some of my wanders around Venice…

Venetian food market

Venetian food market

Playground in Venice

Playground in Venice

A restaurant that knows how to serve wine

A restaurant that knows how to serve wine

So you get lost – walking to the ends of Venice’s city limits (either the Adriatic Sea or the horns of cars on the single surrounding road will tip you off) – and now you want to get back to your evening’s accommodations.  Yes, you can pull that map back out but remember your first two stops, Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge?  Fortunately for you, signs like the one below can be found all over the city…

Your guiding light in Venice

Your guiding light in Venice

Almost anywhere you can find a sign directing you back to the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark’s Square, and since you familiarized yourself with those two landmarks at the beginning of your visit, they can act as reference points and create recognizable areas in a city where – even though each street and canal is unique – they can all start to look alike.

Can you apply this strategy of getting lost to any city you visit?  Of course, but Venice was made for it.  Unlike other cities, you don’t run the risk of accidentally strolling into a bad part of town and the fact that it’s an island will keep you from breaching the city boundaries.  Venice may not be lined with beaches and it’s often crowded in parts during the summer months; however, it remains one of the more relaxing urban destinations in Europe.  Why?  Because it’s one of the very few places where you can shed the responsibility of being accountable for where you are and it’s amazing how – in a city where people often appear like rats in a maze – you can feel so free to explore.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2009 12:21 PM

    I agree with you: the only way to really get to experience a new surrounding/city is to get lost. I prefer to call it exploring rather than getting lost. In Paris, for example, I was trying to find the catacombs and ended up in the middle of a Communist protest, next to a van that served as a podium to a short man in nothing but a thong, combat boots and some sort of hat.
    Plus, in a place like Venice, you really can’t help getting lost.

  2. jonmarcotte permalink
    September 21, 2009 12:33 PM

    I got lost in Retiro Park at night and ended up in the middle of a massive drum circle. Definitely an interesting experience, but not as interesting as a Communist protest lead by short man in a thong. The second coming of Napoleon?

  3. Vicky permalink
    September 29, 2009 11:10 AM

    Okay do you guys still recommend the “get lost” approach for the ladies? It does sound like the best way to truly immerse yourself in a country and I’m all for it. But, I’ve never been to Venice, so you tell me…As a chick would it still be a good idea for me to go roaming or am I going to get myself into trouble and end up on an episode of “48 Hours Mystery”

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an idiot. I would definitely go with at least one more person, but does that one more person have to be a guy?

    • darrenbrazil permalink*
      September 30, 2009 12:05 PM

      That’s a good point, Vicky.

      Getting lost doesn’t necessarily mean losing sense of your surroundings. You should always assess danger levels and risks; however, Venice specifically is a city that can give you a false sense of danger due to it’s many dark alleys and overall eeriness when it’s perfectly harmless.

      If with a travel partner(s) in Venice, even if it’s all girls, I would say you’re fine. I can’t speak for other destinations though… does anybody suggest any other places that fall under the same category as Venice?

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