Ah Venice. The culture, the canals, the gondoliers, the billions of cruise ship passeng….dang it.
Let’s get right to it: Venice is touristy. But that’s ok. You just have to go into Venice expecting it.
Getting to Venice from the airport
There are a variety of ways to get to Venice from the airport, ranging from cheap to HOWMUCHAREYOUKIDDINGME. Among the cheap ways are taking a bus to Piazzale Roma and walking to your hotel. Another way is taking the vaporetto (water bus) from the airport into town. Depending on where your hotel is, this could take up to an hour and a half. The quickest readily-available option, and unsurprisingly the most expensive, is a water taxi. It’s actually not a terrible deal for a family or a group, but the price is a fairly non-negotiable 100+ euros one-way.
I chose the vaporetto method. I went to the Alilaguna desk and purchased my return ticket on the blue line for a very reasonable price of 25 euros. I made my way down to the dock area (about a 600m walk from the terminal) and found the blue line dock/station and chatted casually with some people from Washington DC. After a while, our vaporetto pulled up, offloaded her passengers, and we made our way aboard and began our journey to the hotel. It wasn’t uncomfortable by any means, just noisy, jostly, and every time we’d arrive at a docking station we would smack against the side of the dock. I passed the time by trying not to get seasick, with somewhat flaky success, and counted the number of remaining stops until our hotel, the Hilton Molino Stucky. It was 13. 13 stops. It took every bit the hour and a half the hotel promised on its website. That said, it was still a fairly exhilarating ride, if you haven’t done it it’s unlike any sort of transport you’ve taken previously, so sit back and enjoy the WHAM…sorry, smacked up against the side of a docking station again. We eventually let off most of our passengers at Piazza San Marco (which is Italian for “St. Mark’s Pizza”) and the remaining 10 or so of us got ready for our stops at either the Hilton or at the cruise terminal (the next stop after the Hilton).
Hilton Molino Stucky
The Hilton Molino Stucky is a wonderful Hilton hotel that sits on an island called Giudecca, just across the southern canal from Venice proper. Where most hotels in Venice are small and boutiquey, this Hilton is massive. It used to be a textiles factory, which explains the huge building. The rates at the Hilton weren’t very cheap, so I used 70,000 HHonors points for a free night, which was really high but I didn’t really have a choice, the points+cash rate wasn’t very competitive. I had been sitting on a large balance of HHonors points anyway, so it wasn’t the end of the world to drop that many on a free night at this really nice property.
We stepped off the boat, having sworn not to ever get on a boat again, and made our way into the reception area.
As soon as you step into the building, you’re taken aback at both the size of the place and the very unique character achieved with luxurious touches of marble everywhere while at the same time staying true to it’s historical roots as a factory with some of the ceilings. I checked in, was recognized for my Gold status (which I painstakingly earned over the past year by: getting a credit card), and was given an upgraded room on the 6th floor. They also invited me to the Executive Lounge located adjacent to the lobby, which was weird, but it worked out ok (you accessed the “club” with your room key and a sliding door would open. For those of you who have visited American’s LAX Flagship Lounge, it’s kinda the same).
After some coffee from the lounge I made my way up to my room. It had a very unique feel to it, a very typical European feel to the space.
It was upgraded in the sense that it was a sea view room, about which I was very excited.
As you’ll notice, I had a map of Venice on my bed. I used the complimentary wifi to identify where my friends were staying and made my plan to go out in search of it. They were taking a bit more roundabout of an itinerary, DFW to Miami to Dusseldorf (on airberlin) then onward to Venice. I arrived about 9am and they were to arrive at 1pm. I had a couple of hours to kill and decided to get my feel for the town and grab a quick bite before meeting them at their hotel.
The Hilton has a complimentary shuttle across the canal from Giudecca to Venice that leaves every half hour or so, and I luckily was able to hop on right before it departed. (the hotel provides a timetable so you won’t miss it)
Once I landed on Venice, I was taking pictures like whoa and was only a fanny pack away from Full-Fledged Touristing all over everyone.
I even found one of those bridges like in Paris where they put locks on them.
Of course, where there are bridges with locks on them there are vendors with all manner of locks for sale at people (not “to” people, but at them). They tried to sell a lock to me and I tried my Speak With A Russian Accent And It’ll Scare Off Hawkers trick and it worked surprisingly well. Nobody wants to mess with or annoy Russians, after all. I’d also use the “sorry, I don’t speak English” trick, where if you say it right they’ll sit there, having heard you say it in unaccented and clearly native English, and by the time they’ve formulated a customer-friendly way of calling you a liar, you’re already gone. Either trick works.
Very quickly you’ll notice that Venice has lots of bridges and canals. It’s absolutely beautiful.
Wherever you go, there’s a bridge and a canal. Wherever there’s a canal, there’s a good chance you’ll see a gondola and gondolier taking some folks around the town for upwards of 200 euros (more if they’re singing).
Eventually I made my way to the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge that spans the Grand Canal which runs through the center of town. The bridge has been there in some shape or form since 1181, with the current stone rendition existing since 1591.
The Rialto area was the center of the tourism industry, which means it was a gathering place for gondoliers.
It was really nice. I think the key is to expect to overpay for marginal food and drinks if you eat anywhere that you can see this bridge.
I eventually made my way all the way north to where my friends were staying, the Boscolo Venezia, which is a Marriott Autograph property. It was about as far as possible away from my hotel. It’s located in a mostly residential area, which I enjoyed, otherwise I don’t know I would’ve seen a quiet residential area and would’ve assumed it was all touristy and loud and gondoliery.
While I waited on them, I walked around the quiet area and got some good pictures.
I eventually got a text from Heather, asking what the heck they needed to do to get to Venice, and was able to get them on a vaporetto. I’m glad I was there to tell them exactly what they needed to do, they were exhausted from a long day of travel. They actually lucked out and only had one stop to make on the vaporetto before their stop, and I met them there to show them the way to the hotel. They went to their room while I got a $10 Coca Cola in the hotel bar. Once they were ready to tourist a bit, we started making our way back towards the main tourist place: St. Mark’s Square
On our way we saw some really cool stuff and may or may not have gotten lost a bit.
We arrived at St. Mark’s Square after having a late lunch/early dinner at a random pizza place we found by getting lost.
St. Mark’s contains most of the tourist population of Venice and was in the process of getting ready for a big musical show that had something to do with the Sochi Olympics. No idea.
We decided not to go into the Basilica, the lines were really long.
Buttressing the Basilica is the Doge’s Palace (no, it’s not related to the internet meme of Reddit and Nascar fame).
We decided to head back towards the south, where I’d meet my shuttle across the canal, to get some ice cream and relax as the sun set before going our separate ways.
Along the way, I got what turned out to be my favorite picture from Venice.
We then got gondola salesman’d. Fortunately my hawker-avoidance tricks worked again.
We found an ice cream/gelato place and sat down at a canal-side place, overpaying for some sub-par “gelato” (the good gelato won’t puff up like this did).
We enjoyed the view and people-watching.
We went our separate ways as the sun began to set, leaving us with a beautiful memory of our time together.
They went back to their hotel and I caught the shuttle back across the canal and up to the hotel rooftop bar to cap off a wonderful day in Venice.
Overall Impression of Venice
Heck yeah it was touristy. But it’s one of those places that’s touristy for a reason: there are few, if any, places like it in the world. Venice used to be a major trading power and its own kingdom. It’s unique topography led to a completely unique way of living that integrates the old and new in creative ways. It’s a wonderful place to visit for a few days, just expect tourist prices and experiences. While I do wish I had more time, I won’t be in a hurry to go back unless there’s a great deal available.
I loved getting to experience Venice with my friends. Just like Barcelona last October, it’s just more fun to meet up with friends who are there on vacation. It takes a bit of the tourist edge off of the city when you have friends to explore with. I’ve said many times that I won’t let traveling alone stop me from a trip, but I so much prefer traveling with friends, so I was grateful for a wonderful day with two close friends.
Up next, Paris!
P.S. Only 30% of homes in Venice have septic systems. The rest? Yep, the canals. Enjoy your gondola ride and don’t fall in!