Ciao Venezia, Ciao, Ciao, Ciao

Venetians may be dwindling in number. But those who remain seem to be a happy lot. And when Venetians are happy, they sing. You hear it early in the morning as they wheel their souvenir carts into the tourist zone. You hear it from maids cleaning rooms. You hear it on the back lanes in the wee hours when you’re trying to sleep and voices travel twice as far.

But the gondoliers — who sing for a price — annoy me. They’re one big, wannabe rat pack who flip-flopped suave and schmaltz. Convoys of gondolas — each heavy with tourists — follow the leader who sings “Ciao Venezia, Ciao Venezia, Ciao Venezia, ciao, ciao, ciao.” And the accordionist is an enabler.

Prices in Venice have become outrageous. When I comment to hoteliers, the standard reply is, “People pay it.” As Las Vegas tries to recreate Venice, the reverse is happening as well. Demand for hotels is driving locals onto the mainland, so their vacated apartments can be made into boutique hotels. (I slept in one, under an enchanting barcode of medieval beams.) Looking for something non-touristy here is more and more like looking for a restaurant filled with locals at Disneyland.

That’s my rant. I get down as I realize that, in some cases, my ideal “back door” Europe is — in truth — wishful thinking. But I still love Venice.

A real community survives in Venice. The guy who runs the elevator at the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore — that wet Palladian dream floating just beyond the Doges’ Palace — told me he travels 10 kilometers (6 miles) a day up and down.

There are real energy concerns. Here, as all over Italy, restaurants are trading away a little ambience for harsh-yet-energy-efficient fluorescents. As is often the case in Europe, the government shows a kind of tough love — even if it’s bad for business and uncomfortable for citizens. Homes and hotels stop heating before they are allowed to start cooling. In the case of Venice, heat is generally turned off by mid-April and air-conditioning is only activated in mid-May. (Odd weather during that no-heat-no-air-conditioning window causes many American tourists to complain. When it comes to energy conservation, they get no sympathy from me.)

Leaving Venice for Padua the other day, I marveled at how easy it is for experienced travelers to transfer. (And the rewards awaiting the rookie who is a quick study.) Heidi, my Italy-specialist assistant, and I went from hotel to hotel in 70 minutes for €14 ($20).

At our Venice hotel — 100 yards behind the high-rent strip of hotels facing the lagoon, next to the Doges’ Palace — the guy at the desk told us we just had time to catch boat 42; it’s leaving at 6:46. We paid €6 each for tickets and hoped on the fast boat. I munched a dinner sandwich while enjoying the views and scoffing at the horrible location of the vast, new Venice Hilton Hotel.

Twenty-four minutes later, we were at the train station. In the station, we looked at the departure board — a fast train was leaving for Milan (stopping in Padua) in five minutes from track 8. Heidi (who’s better at this than me) zipped over to the now omnipresent ticket machines, typed in Padua, tapped the departure time, two people, second class, put in her credit card to pay €5 each and out popped our tickets. Two minutes later, we joined three Italian kids in a compartment on the express train. The kids packed up and left, making us feel like we had bad breath. I surveyed the photos Heidi took on today’s research swing through the Lagoon (from Igor Stravinsky’s tomb in Venice’s island cemetery to the old lady with the huge ears who still makes lace in Burano) and 25 minutes later we were in Padua. Hoping in a taxi, €6 and five minutes later we checked into our hotel.

After five days in Venice, I was a little shocked by modern buildings and all the rude cars. Recalling the story of the old women who spent her entire life in Venice and finally went to the mainland — and got run over — I reminded myself to cross streets with care.


38 Replies to “Ciao Venezia, Ciao, Ciao, Ciao”

  1. Rick,
    I, like you, love Venice. I’ve been there four times and it was only on my fourth trip that I went on a Gondola Ride, i still prefer the vaparetto up and down the grand canal!
    Venice is overwhelming and expensive but if you get up early and head to St. Marks’ Square at 7, or even 8, it is quiet and all yours and you are transported back to the Venice of old. It is my own little “back-door” in one of the most tourist filled cities in the world.

  2. Rick

    I did not like Venice on first visit for 2 nights at a great pension with stone tiles on top floor overlooking lagoon and a great price. I did not appreciate the place, hard to believe I know.

    Attractive friendly police lady gave me directions when I arrived at 6 AM, walking on raised sidewalks in St. Mark’s Square due to November flooding.

    Ambience all around. I saw an old lady stop at a corner and put on wellies because the street around the corner was flooded.

    Finally got it one day a few years later when the train from Verona to Padua ended up in a maintenance yard in Verona with me the only passenger. Had to walk a mile through the yard across many tracks back to the station and jumped on a train to Venice instead.

    Had a lovely afternoon in the backstreets of Venice. Drank wine in an old courtyard by an old well, while eating lunch.

    Aaaaahhhh Venezia!

  3. Rick:

    Say hi to Heidi for me. I wouldn’t expect her to remember me, but I was on her Best of Rome tour in May/June 2004 (when Pres. Bush’s visit canceled our planned visit to the Borghese). She was an amazing guide, and you are, as you know, incredibly lucky to have her on your team.

    Teresa in Meadowbrook

  4. Venice. There’s nothing like it in the world. Yes, it’s high priced, touristy, and can get quire crowded, but if you’ve never been to Italy, Venice is an absolute must. The 2 times i have been there, I got lost attempting to find our hotel, just part of the adventure. I found that even locals don’t really know where certain hotels are, even if they are located in their same neighborhood. Ah Venice…

  5. I haven’t been to Venice yet. I always thought it to be a very charming, peaceful place to visit. I never realized there is such a tourist side to it. I won’t be in total culture shock when I do visit now. :) Happy gondolaing!

  6. P.S. Rick, I like the photos you have added to your blog. Do you have any of the gondolas or of Venice to put up. It would be so nice to see them. Thank you!

  7. I love Venice too! Recently my husband and I stopped at our local ice cream stand for a cone and as I was eating mine I told him that Oct. is our 30th anniversary and he could get off real cheap this year cause all I want him to buy me is a gelato…but on the Rialto Bridge, I know just the shop and the dark chocolate gelato they serve!!! It looks like I might get my wish!

  8. I love your blog, Rick. We will be in Venice on May 11th joining your tour group for the best of Venice, Florence, and Rome. I thought I knew what I wanted to see while in Venice, but since you mentioned Venice’s Island cemetery, I know I will add this to my list. It sounds odd but since our family have been funeral directors for 30 years, we have found beauty in the “final” resting places.

  9. My husband and I went to Italy last year and loved it. We chopped up our Rick Steves guidebook and only took the chapters we needed. At one point we lost a “section” on a train and my husband said he felt bereft, like he’d lost his best friend.

    The weather was so pleasant in late September and early October that we ate most of our meals outside. We stayed in Venice for three nights in a large 3-room apartment for 110 Euro per night. Since we did most of our own cooking Venice was actually quite reasonable.

    Thanks for this blog.

  10. Gondolas…..I wanted to take a ride so bad when I was there – but I sacrificed that experience to sort of punish myself for accidentally leaving a painting on a train that I had bought in Rome. So the sting doesn’t hurt so bad after reading the blog. Sounds like I didn’t miss much. But it is like what my friend said about Hollywood – he took me to see the big Hollywood sign only because when I got home, he knew everyone would ask if I saw it….and he was right. The same holds true for gondola rides.

    I really loved Venice. I can see the point that over time it is just going to turn into an amusement park atmosphere – and that is really sad (Hilton?!?!?!? yuck) Venice is an amazing city. I hope tha holds true until I can return again.

  11. My wife and I are headed to Venice for this first time this summer. We are using Hilton Honor’s points for free stays across Europe. Our plan for Venice is to spend two or three nights but I just read your comment, “scoffing at the horrible location of the vast, new Venice Hilton Hotel.”

    Does horrible mean dangerous, inconvenient…?

  12. Rick, Reading your blog takes me back a few weeks ago while in Venice. Stayed at the same Hotel Al Vagon each time we are there. I believe you have eaten at and written about the Al Vagon restaurant on Apostoli Canal in Cannaregio. Another great canal facing dbl room with a view for 110E a night. We took in the sights we missed on the last trip. Spent more time in the Doges Palace, visited the Ghetto and Museum, the Arsenale and Museum, the Lido on a Sunday afternoon and evening, walked Dorsoduro and watched the cruise ships leave the dock. We took time to talk to hotel keepers about economics and politics. We toured Grand Teatro la Fenice (opera house). A day trip to Padua was the icing on the cake. Doctoral graduates were being hazed in public with their life story printed in tiny type and posted on walls of the University. Each candidate had to stand on a bench dressed in skivies and nothing else and take ***%% from their classmates and professors. We slowed down.We learned.

  13. Rick: My parents were born in Santa Croce di Magliano on the east coast of Italy. Are you planning a tour there in 2008. I’m interested.

  14. Rick: We were in No. Italy for 21 days in September 2006 and used your guide book exclusively. In Venice, Hotel Guerrato and staff were great. So much to see/do however, our 4 bags were a real chore schlepping from vaporetto stop over the Rialto Bridge thru hords of tourists to hotel. Exiting Venice, hotel staff suggested a different route to bypass the Rialto. Wished we would have known. What a grand city – we will return. No regrets. Thanks, Steve for your tips/info.
    Willa Judah

  15. Having just returned from 10 wonderful days in Venice, I can appreciate the difficulty in trying to find a bargain in that wonderful city. We found a 35 square meter flat in Castello, off Via Garibaldi, through for $800 Euros for 10 nights. Small, but wonderfully located near the widest street in Venice, next to Biennale, Arsenale and San Pietro, but only a 10 minute walk to San Marco. We had meat, fish, vegetable markets, grocery stores, gelateria and ten $ restaurants just around the corner. The greatest discovery was how the Venetians used any trip to the store or restaurant as an excuse to stop and visit with friends and neighbors. Via Garibaldi looks like a giant social club between 4pm and 10pm.
    I remember the elevator operator at San Giorgo, also. As you got on or off the elevator, he took the generic approach to greeting his customers, saying “ciao, guten tag, hello, buenas dias, bon giorno . . .” all in the same monotone, ‘Carlton the Doorman’ voice.

  16. What a delight it was to talk to the elevator man at San Giorgio Maggiore! We almost went back the next day just to go up the tower with him.

    For anyone planning to visit Venice, there are two other things one must do. First, plan your trip around a concert at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. An early instrument concert in the hall transports one to a different time. At intermission all are allowed to tour the Scuola. On the second floor, I was overwhelmed by “The Crucifixion” by Tintoretto. I get goose bumps to this day when I just think about it, and I’m not a religious person. Both Henry James and John Ruskin were astounded by it as well. At least I’m in good company.

    Second, if I were planning on returning soon, I would not disclose. The best restaurant (of ten lunches and dinners) was lunch at tiny Anzolo Raffael in Il Campo Angelo Raffaele in the Dorsoduro. There’s no menu, paper table “cloth” on a plastic table, and practice your Italian before hand. Superb fish.

  17. For Bruce Cadle, in regard to the new Hilton Hotel: The hotel is not located in a dangerous neighborhood. There are no dangerous neighborhoods in Venice; the worst you could encounter is the occasional pickpocket. The Hilton, in the old Mulino Stucky (a large renovated flour mill, built in 1897) is in a rather remote location, on the far west end of the island just to the south of Venice called Giudecca, where there is not too much activity in comparison to Venice proper, just a few small stores, simple restaurants and bars. I’m sure they have frequent boats to the nearby Zattere/Dorsoduro area of Venice (I would inquire), and I saw signs of a new vaporetto stop being constructed when I was poking around the construction area in February. But staying there would be a little like going to the Ball, but having to stand outside and watch through a window as the orchestra plays.

  18. Ciao! In the mid. of October 2004, we drove from Berlin to Venice. We stayed at Art Hotel in Mirano nears Venice. It was very nice hotel with an elevator and parking. We paid 76 euro per night for 3 people. We could take a bus from Mirano to Venice but we drove instead. We parked the car at the parking building in Venice for free. We used our U.S. disabled placard. Our disabled son @ that time was 11 y/o had so much fun chasing the pigeons with his wheelchair in St. Mark’s sq. There were not TOO crowded. The weather was perfect with blue sky. Bella Venezia!!

  19. My wife and I had a magical time in Venice way back in 1991. Prices may change, but what you write about sounds the same. Go in October if you want to avoid the crowds. It may be wet, but that doesn’t have to spoil your fun: enjoy the boardwalks in St. Mark’s square. We took a ferry boat out to Murano and Burano, and started our collection of masks at the latter. The sun was setting as we went out — magical! It was dark by the time we came back, and I think we caught the last possible boat. The next day we found a tour group in St. Mark’s square and I sent Arlene ahead with them while I dashed back to get tickets. We got to all the museums with no waiting! It was pouring rain that evening and we grabbed the nearest restaurant: a little pricey, but another magical evening – picture windows and a great meal. We love Venice; Arlene started a “Carnivale” festival when we got home. It’s in its 16 year now!

  20. I started my love affair with Venice during my first grand tour of Europe in 1979…..have been there 7 times altogether. I try to go other places as well…..but I’m always drawn back to Venice. My last visit was this past New Year where I experienced the best and the worst of Venice…..the best because Venice graciously welcomed 60,000 guests into her living room, the Piazza San Marco, for fireworks and music to ring in the New Year, and the worst because these guests then proceeded to trash the living room! Though I find it easy to avoid the crowds,I would avoid a winter visit again, because the crowds over the Holidays are as bad as summer. I love visiting the Ghetto, a tile maker in the Campo dei Carmini,the violin maker in the Dorsoduro,glassmaker Bruno Amadi in San Polo, the Chiesa dei Frari,and if I had the money again, the little family run restaurant in Santa Croce called the Carampane….pricey but exquisite food!Thanks Rick for all you bring back to us!

  21. Anyone wanting to say they took a gondola ride while in Venice should hop on a Traghetto for the bargain price of half a Euro!
    Sure, it only lasts a minute or two, but you don’t have to share that detail.

  22. There is really no place like Venice, Italy! NO PLACE ON EARTH that could be as amazing and unreal. It can be a love affair that is almost like a drug once you visit this city.

    I have been there 4 times once for over a whole month making 2 music videos.

    But the prices ever since the Euro for even a bottle of water a fast meal or even a 3 – 4 star hotel to sleep in has become so overpriced it almost takes the fun and enjoyment out of that city. Unless you know what to do and where to go so you can enjoy every second, one must be careful not to waste time without a set mission and a “daily to do list”.

    I spent x-mass eve one year in St. Mark’s Basilica with a midnight mass listening to a Cardinal making his speech in English, Italian and French which was one of the most amazing things I ever experience in my life.

    Anyone visiting Venice for the first time needs to make use of their time and stay away from the normal tourist walks if they want to really enjoy Venice. Otherwise they will get wrapped up in wondering around wasting time without learning or seeing or understanding anything. The best tip is to get a good book, read it front to back and become that book and know Venice before you arrive that way you will be able to enjoy every second of the most amazing place on earth.

  23. An offhand comment in your Venice book just happened to provide me with a great thrill. I’m a timid sort so it doesn’t take much. You noted that locals often ride the traghetto across the canal standing up, sooo, wanting to cross the Grand Canal to go to the all-the Tintoretto-in-the whole-wide-word-museum (AKA Scuola St. Rocca), I found the traghetto with only a little trouble, paid my half a Euro, and got on and remained standing. The locals stood too. I clenched my toes, for all the good that did and balanced my way across the Grand Canal. What fun! My only hope if I had lost my balance was to grab the shoulder of the guy sitting nearby. So this 56 year old, somewhat overweight American woman, thanks you for a great ride.

  24. It gave me great pleasure to read the blog on Venice. My wife and I will be heading to Venice next week for a few days before joining your Village Italy tour in Padua. We have been to Venice many times and love it, in spite of the high prices. Our last time in Venice was with Rolinka and Rene’, your superb guide/driver team, on our 2nd Best of Europe tour. Thanks for all of the happy tour memories.

  25. A wonderful blog Rick. My wife and I visited Italy this past September. Rookie travelers, our first time in Europe. When planning our trip we almost didn’t include Venice because of all the bad things we had heard about it. That it was expensive, way overcrowded, and dirty. I dont know what we did right, but Venice was wonderful to us. I didnt find it anymore expensive than Rome. It was certainly not dirty, with the fresh salty sea air. And we were able to avoid the worst of the crowds by staying a little farther away from the San Marco neighborhood. We booked a B&B in the Cannareggio neighborhood, just a short pleasant walk from all the popular sites. A neighborhood that had many locals going about their everyday lives. I even visited a local garage sale in the neighborhood (without the garage of course).
    Thanks Rick for all of your great advice too. Our trip would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable without you in our daybag.

  26. Rick
    I just returned from a six week tour of Italy (Rome during Easter, Assisi, Florence, Venice, Siena, Lucca, Cinque Terre, Verenna on Lake Come, Milan). In Venice, I stayed at your recommended Don Orion Religious Guest House, very conveniently located in a quiet section of Venice, yet in the midst of activity, at the Academia. I paid only 75 euros for a single. This was not only a great value, but it was a great hotel, so clean that I thought they must have brought in Germans to clean the place. And a very nice breakfast included.
    I just totaled up my cost for the 6 week trip, during which I ate very well at some great restaurants. Total costs were about $8200, or less than $200 a day. I lived well, ate well and too often, but spent right at the low end of my expectations. Thanks for the very helpful information in your books – it saved me a lot of money and time, yet enabled me to have a great 6 weeks doing and seeing the things that others paid many times more to do.

  27. I was Venice on May 8-10 with my sister, her husband and his family. Everyone was giving me a hard time because I kept saying Rick Steves says this or that. By the second day they were asking me what Rick said was best to do in expensive Venice. My brother-in-law and I went on two of the walks in the book and found them to be the best time we had in Venice. Just walking around eating pizza and gelato and learning about a beautiful city. Thanks, Rick for making me the star of the visit and all the ideas in the book.

  28. Our tour group stayed at the Hotel Sant’Elena, which used to be a monastery–gorgeous, and far from the tourist crowds. I had a two-floor suite, with a view of a small canal, and was enchanted with the kind staff. I will stay there again on my next visit! Venice is amazing…and I have no idea why this hotel isn’t more expensive!!! It’s only two vaparetto stops from St. Mark’s Square!

  29. I’ve been to Venice 10 times now (last time was Easter week; next time is July). Two years ago we stayed at the Sant Elena too. It is immaculate, fresh, modern, great breakfast, quiet–a fabulous 4*, and very reasonable even if you book independently. Getting off the vaporetto a couple stops from San Marco you are suddenly in a serene, garden atmosphere–completely refreshing after the hordes of Venice. But I usually stay at 3*s on Lido because they are incredibly good value, Lido is relaxed and resort-pretty, and there are plenty groceries, bars, and restaurants within minutes walk–it is one of the nicest Italian beach town experiences (except food is still better value anywhere else), with a world treasure 15 beautiful minutes away on the vaporetto. And the beach isn’t all that bad (it may look dirty, but that is the color of the sand). Once you’ve had the complete immersion “genuine” Venice experience once or twice, Lido suddenly becomes a real slice of heaven.

  30. For Ron Meier — Thank you! Your comments on Don Orione Guest House are of great interest to me, as I have a reservation there for three nights in August. (also at 75 Euros for a single). Can you also suggest memorable restaurants in the area that won’t break the budget?

  31. Rick – My husband and I spent 2 weeks in Italy last November and spent our last 4 nights in Venice. I was determined to spend part of our 10th wedding anniversary there in a gondola. I am glad we did. It was worth the euros, as we were alone in the gondola at dusk when the tide was quite low. Our gondolier was helpful and friendly without being obnoxious. Touristy, maybe, but a quintessential Venetian experience. We also went to the cemetery island after reading about it in your book. Really fascinating – anyone planning a trip to Venice should think about a stop on that island on their way to Murano. We stayed in the Dorsoduro district, one of your recommended hotels, the Pensione Academia. Small rooms but lots of pretty public areas and a wonderful location.

  32. Here’s to hoping that you were hopping on to those trains and taxi’s, and not just hoping to. I know, grammer Nazi.
    I love your books, your advice, and your blog, and I hope that you’re still enjoying your work.

  33. As we walked through the five towns of the Cinque Terre, (Five Lands) Italy, we said, “What a fascinating place for these people to live. What a fascinating place for us to visit.”

    From Riomaggiore, Italy, a 15 minute walk along a picturesque, curious, narrow path, a niche hewn out of the rocky cliff and overhanging the Mare (Sea) Ligure (Italy’s west coast), brought us to Manorola, the next Cinque Terre town to the north. This trodden path is called the Via dell’Amore, or “Road of Love.” I had high hopes both times we were here, but we just walked. (1988-1995)

    Carrera, Italy, the mountain town of marble quarry fame, is where the marble for Michelangelo’s Statue of David was quarried. When we visited Carrera’s mountain top we bought a marble rolling pin from the same quarry, paid $9.50, and I call it, “David’s armpit.”

  34. Like all good loves in life you have to work at it and this holds true in Venice. I was their in November of 2006 for a week with several friends and family and at first you are hammered with the tourist overload but slowly you work way into the back streets and you find friends. The sweet waitress at the wine bar, the four hour lunch on one of the islands where the chef/owner comes out to tell you how much they love the smell of your cigar. Then you find a restaurant that is in a dark old building with the kindest staff and great food. Of course my favorites were the fish market at 7am and grocery shopping at the local supermarket where you could get the best of everything for a fraction of the cost and then their was my friend at Bar Poggio not far from the academia where I would stop and have an espress every afternoon. This is the Venice I hope everyone has the chance to experience.

  35. The farther you go away from the areas where tourists congregate, the better luck you will have finding a decent & inexpensive meal. Rick has many great suggestions in his Venice 2007 book, especially the cichetti bars in the Rialto/San Polo neighborhood. Any place with menus in multiple languages is meant for tourists (boring, mediocre food and high prices, typically) and is to be avoided. While living there this past winter, I found lots of fun, small local spots scattered about the sestiere of Cannaregio- just be sure to get well off the Strada Nova, the main tourist path between the train station and San Marco. An early morning visit to the Rialto market for fruit and vegetable snacks is a must, and terrific pastry shops (pasticcerie)are everywhere; the Venetians have wonderful sweets. Buon Viaggio!

  36. I am a retired 67 year old. I have been going to venice for a few years. I go to a school, Istituto Venezia to learn Italian. My accomodation costs are only 600 euros for a month, sharing an apartment with students. It is a wonderfully reasonable way to view the most beautiful city in the world! I was there in May and return for the month of Scondoleseptember. can’t wait! July/07

  37. We recently stayed at L’Eveche in Vaison La Romaine in France. We stayed in the Solanum Suite which is apparently the best in house. Room was clean and large but was disappointed that there was no TV or even a wine glass or bucket when it is centered in the middle of wine country. Linens were worn and the B&B in general was dark and dismal. Owner spoke some english which was helpful & gave us internet code however, the signal was extremely weak and could not stay connected. Had dinner in the recommended Le Brin d’Olivier restaurant. Dinner was unfortunately the most expensive meal we had in France and the worst. Every course simply was bad; no taste or flavor. Plain chicken breast, hard barley, bitter salad and the list goes on. Recommend you eat elsewhere. Rick’s other suggestions for hotels/restaurants have been right on but not this one.

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