Located at the top of the Italian boot, Venice is built on a lagoon, a kind of shelf hovering just above the Adriatic sea. There are 117 small islands considered to be a part of Venice, although most tourists see only a few of those. The actual founding of Venice is rather murky, but there’s no question of BC inhabitants.
It’s placement is also the reason they have something called Aquae Alta–high water. High tide makes the lagoon waters rise, which of course effects the canals, and waters surge over the steps, onto the walkways and into the squares. Sirens, much like old air raid sirens, go off when the city is about to flood, allowing people to get to dry ground or at least put on waterproof boots.
If you came across Venice in any other place, it would seem dilapidated, dirty and claustrophobic. The majority of the walls along the many, many canals, are crumbling, missing paint, etc. there’s a large amount of graffiti down nearly every walkway. During the summer months, the lagoon and canals smell rather fiercely, due to the heat combining with the algae.
But in November, when the tourists have gone, and before the Christmas rush, the squares and tourist areas are empty and you see the beauty of a city with no cars or buses. With canals lapping at ancient doors and windows, with random areas of marble laid in sidewalks.
There are a million tiny cafes and trattorias, restaurants and bars. The best ones are the ones hidden down tiny side streets, with hand written menus and no pictures of the food, where the staff speak almost no English and you communicate what you want with gestures, pointing, and laughter.
Dont buy Venetian things to take home from the tourist traps. Take your time and wander the hidden paths, and you’ll find better quality, Venetian made items at wonderful prices. I got a gorgeous mask from the people who made the masks for the movie Eyes Wide Shut, from a wonderful, beautiful mask maker.
Paper is another ancient art in Venice. They have been making marbled paper for centuries, and again, if you take your time, you can find some really beautiful artisan paper for very little money. There’s a wonderful paper shop outside the Saint Mary’s Friari where I watched as she made some of the items she sold in the store.
Venice is deeply, deeply Catholic. Quite often you’ll see small alters to Mary set in stone walls, candles burning brightly within. In fact, they officially date the origin of Venice to 421, the date of the ascension of the Catholic doge. While there were clearly people there prior to that, and quite likely those of pagan beliefs, almost nothing survives of those beliefs today.
Along those lines, the many, many churches, basilicas, and cathedrals are in use–they are living, breathing community affairs, and when you go in, you don’t find just a tourist place to visit, you find people in prayer as they go about their daily lives.
The food in Venice is very much Italian–lots of pasta, lots of wonderful rice, and of course, lots of pizza. Beer is plentiful, and the local popular drink (other than espresso) is called a spritz. It’s some kind of wine mixed with juice, with a slice of orange. It’s quite strong, and quite beautiful.
Coffee is quite different from what you would have in America or England. It’s very strong, and if you order un cafe you’ll get an espresso. If you order an Americano, you’ll get what we think of as coffee, and if you order a cappuccino, you’ll get a shot of espresso with a whole lot of milk foam. Latte is the word for milk–just milk–so ask for it if you want coffee with milk. Un Americano con latte is a coffee with milk.
Venice is twenty minutes from Marco Polo airport and about an hour from Treviso airport. You take a bus from the airport (either one) and stop at the Piazelle de Roma. From there, you can either take the train into Venice city, or take the vaporetta. I recommend the water option (DONT take a water taxi–they’re extremely expensive). If you come in at night, the Grand Canale is so beautifully lit, you feel like you’ve landed in a fairytale.
You can get tickets for the vapporetta at nearly any major stop (Piazelle Roma or San Marco, especially). If you’re there for more than two days, get a thirty-six hour (or more) vaporetta ticket. It will save you hassle, time and money, and the vaporetta will take you all over the place. The number 1 stops at every stop, the number 2 stops only at specific stops. The 41 and 42 will take you to some of the other islands. (Remember: there are NO cars or buses in Venice. You’ll be doing lots of walking or boat rides).
You need at least four days to really see Venice, and longer would be better. it’s a special, surreal and romantic place, and life slows down as you make your way through the city.