An Impassioned Defense of Venice (It’s Not a Sewer!)

As I was planning my trip to Italy, I saw and heard all kinds of nasty things about Venice – that it was an open sewer, that it was a decaying, dying city and smelled.  Worse yet, we were going in July with anticipated temperatures of 100 degrees, so, if there was ever a time where Venice might have an unpleasant odor, this was it.  Still, I was going to Florence and decided we should also go to Venice because of the art.   I was ready for a certain amount of unpleasantness in the pursuit of art but instead found that despite the heat, Venice was still wonderful in every respect.  And if it didn’t smell a bit in 100 degree heat and still sparkled, I find it hard to believe that the stories are true at other times of year.  I cannot expect you to take my word for it, so I will show you photographic proof as well as review the usual factors you come to the IWTC in search of (not just bliss, but safety, food, and so on).

The Grand Canal, Venice

The Grand Canal, Venice

Bliss Factor

DSC01497_0I rate a vacation based on whether I experience bursts of joy and how often.   Arriving at the Grand Canal with it’s magnificent buildings set by the jewel-like sparkling aqua waters was the first blissful moment.

 The second was at our Airbnb apartment, which was right in the heart of Venice.  It was beautiful, and in an interesting old building (complete with eccentric stairs and a key that looked like it had been created in 1650).  How much better than a hotel that would have been three times the cost and not nearly as nice?  And with a kitchen to make coffee and American breakfasts that would otherwise have cost us a fortune!  This is the sort of kitchen where the lower cabinet door also opens the minute trashcan.  Also, there was an amazing sofa.  Bliss!

DSC01509We only stopped in for a moment since we were meeting friends and they had much to show us, including, gelato and coffee.  I don’t know how concerned your are about the state of Gelato and coffee in this world, but for me it is a very urgent question.  I am relieved to hear that upon close inspection, Venice has amazing tiramisu, gelato and coffee as well as offering excellent sandwiches.

After absorbing life sustaining nourishment, the next blissful moment was when friends told us we had to take a quick look into an art academy.  It was the first, but not the last time that I found the effect of the art and architecture rather heart-stopping:

And of course, there’s the art that I was in search of.  We ordered tickets on  line before we left so we didn’t have to wait in long lines; and I suppose this made us more inclined to be happy but really, a museum like the Gallerie dell’Accademia is one of those places where you round the corner and see a painting that transports you to another place.  Luckily, these places were frequently blissful.  This painting is of the Virgin Mary as a child ascending to be admired by assorted important persons.  A very unusual take on the holy family and everything in the painting is interesting enough that I wound up staring at it for quite awhile.

IMG_0960A recurring source of bliss was being able to buy beautiful produce (they don’t need to transport their fruit and vegetables very far so it’s very good) as well as pastries and assorted other entertaining foods.  It was great to wake up in a beautiful apartment, and make a lovely breakfast before setting out.  Particularly since we couldn’t help but notice that although the restaurants are lovely in Venice, American breakfasts are very expensive.

 Artisanal Crafts

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City of Glass

It is an injustice to relegate Italian works of art in glass, leather, and so forth to ‘crafts’.  Really, if you go to Murano to see the glassware, you will have to agree that they are artisanal. As background, Murano is a group of islands just north of Venice, known for its glassmakers. I was very glad we saved money on breakfasts and coffee by staying at an Airbnb so we could blow the money on beautiful things.  However, I still wound up coveting far too many things in Venice.  It is probably for the best that I spent most of my time in Murano at their lovely glass museum since otherwise we would have spent all our money at the shops.

Safety

Given the increase in migrants and the usual rumors of crime, most travelers are concerned that they will run into desperate or generally malevolent criminals.  No doubt there must be some, however, I grew up in a rough neighborhood so I trust my radar and it never went off in Venice.  It was a bit surprising since we were there in the heart of tourist season when any self-respecting criminal should be out mugging tourists or at least picking their pockets.  I never had the slightest qualm why I was there.

Roma begger

Roma beggar

To be fair, a short stay from tourists who weren’t carousing at all hours is perhaps not representative. So I tried to check statistics on crime for Venice and found nothing.  The websites for the US and Great Britain had nothing to say about Venice.  Because there’s quite a bit to be found about crime in Rome, it very much appears that crime is a minor enough concern that no one is concerned enough to talk about it.

Let me add that before I went I was warned to watch out for the Roma and told various scary stories about gypsies stealing from tourists.  My experience with the Roma in Venice is that  we would occasionally encounter a Roma woman begging with a cup in front of her who not only was not stealing but could not possibly be accused of harassing anyone either.  On our last day, we bagged our remaining groceries and went in search of one of the Roma since we heard they were being smuggled into Italy from elsewhere in Europe and were in bad shape.  We certainly hadn’t seen many people giving them money and their cups were usually nearly empty.  When I offered the groceries to an elderly Roma woman, it was clear she wanted them but she also seemed frightened; as if somehow even a free bag of groceries would be trouble.  It really made me wonder how difficult her life must be since kneeling on the hot pavement day after day seemed like one of the worst possible options.

Weather

If you choose to go to Venice at the height of summer, best to book a place with air conditioning, take mosquito repellent, a good sun hat and lots of sun block.  And yes, it can be quite humid so if you are the sort of woman who gets a heat rash when wearing dresses, save them for evening and wear shorts or capris.

The best way to cope with hot weather in Venice is through the frequent application of medicinal iced lattes and gelatos.  Retreating to your air conditioned rental for naps during the hottest part of the day is highly recommended.  Let me emphasize when booking accommodations that you really should double-check on the air conditioning.

Social Norms

Another warning I received before going was that the Italians are very conservative so if you wanted to get into places like churches, you needed to be conservatively dressed – long skirts, high necks, and so on.  I wore capris and short sleeved shirts without getting so much as a stern look.  I couldn’t help but notice that younger women in far more exciting clothes seemed to be fine.  Still, best not to annoy or make yourself a target.

And all that stuff in the guidebooks about the friendly Italians who would greet you with open arms?  Not so much.  I tried greeting assorted shopkeepers and museum guides with a warm Italian greeting and they would always respond politely but they were actually rather reserved. Of course, if I had to contend with thousands of tourists every day, I might become less warm and affectionate with every greeting.

Ick Factor

Usually, there is some ick factor, somewhere.  However, Venice was sparkling clean, and even the smaller canals deep in the city did not smell nor did they seem dirty.  On the contrary, you saw gondolas rather than trash or suspicious objects.  The gondolas were sort of the opposite of Ick.

Personal Space

People do not crowd in to sell you things.  Venetians were friendly in a business-like kind of way.  Shopkeepers, for example, offer to help you but are not overly concerned about you buying things.  The most I saw them do was approach and offer to assist but not in annoying way.

Much has been said about the Roma (Gypsies) and how they will annoy you and possibly pick your pocket.  Here’s a picture of a Roma woman who was typical of the Roma we saw in Venice.  It seemed to me that they must have been threatened with dire consequences if they so much as annoyed a tourist to ask for money in this way. When I offered one of the Roma our leftover groceries, she wanted them but also looked very worried, as if accepting would lead to some problem.

The only personal space issue I encountered was with the dratted tourists, particularly in must-see places.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m touring, the last thing I want is a bunch of damned tourists bumping into me.  So I skipped San Marcos Square, which I regret but I’m too good to mill about with thousands of tourists.

Traffic

Two words:  No Cars.  No exhaust fumes to speak of, no honking, no insane traffic maneuvers.  Just gondolas, water taxis and small boats peacefully moving around. Have you ever been in a quiet city?  I haven’t.  It was a novel experience.  The closest thing to traffic is the assortment of boats on the Grand Canal.  Here they are at noon in July:

Venice is imminently walkable though you can take water taxis when your feet get tired or if going somewhere like Murano.

Final  Word

Ignore all the people who tell you Venice is a dying city. It’s vibrant, beautiful, amazing and well worth the trip. If you love art, architecture and fine food, ignore the skeptics and enjoy the trip of a lifetime.

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