Our first order of business in Venice was to wander aimlessly. It is the best city to just run around and do nothing. When we started to run our noses perked up. It was this unimaginably wonderful smell that wafted down from the heavens. Except in this case it was a crêperie right around the corner that made them right in front of us in seconds. I got mine with dark chocolate and powdered sugar and banana. It was to die for! We took time to thoroughly enjoy them while we sat on one of the canal stairwells. Do be careful though because you’ll be enticed by all of the gondoliers to take a ride. While picturesque and classic the gondola ride is also really expensive. If you’re backpacking, just take the regular ferry instead and have your friends sing to you.
When you waltz around you’ll notice masks. Masks by the thousands. On every street corner, lining every bridge. Carnival is big here, and a mask is an essential souvenir. If you’re thinking of spending around 10 Euro than grab a porcelain mask from any street vendor. It wont get much better, and they aren’t that bad. If you want to get a cloth and plaster mask that wraps nicely onto your face, expect to pay 40-50 Euro, and buy it from an indoor shop. Indoor shops typically house an artisan making the masks right in front of you. It is a testament to the quality of the artists, and it is pretty cool to watch. Once you’ve gone into a store and find one you like, just get it. We wanted to make sure to visit every single store … but discovered that the ones we had initially liked were the best, and there was no huge discrepancy with any of the other artisans. Clearly we could have saved at least an hour, and a frustrating “Wait … where were we?”
The flying rats of New York are the crême de la crême of the tourism market here. So head to St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), whip out a euro, and buy your neighborhood pigeons some treats. You will be surprised out how fearless and eager these birds are. They wont hurt you and you can complain about the sanitation later. I highly recommend a video camera to capture your first attempt at getting the pigeons off the ground and onto your head.
It may sound obvious to go to the waterfront, but there are a few watery views that can’t be missed. The first is at the south end of town, where it opens up to the sea. Venice has a harbor like no other and is a great walk, lunch affair, or photo-op moment. The Rialto Bridge is fun to go over, under, and take photos upon. It is the largest and most tourist laden bridge, but a must do. If you happen to be taking the train in and out-of-town, be sure to look alive at the train station. Sitting on the steps of the station is an experience found nowhere else in Europe. It opens right onto the Grand Canal and lends itself to a leisurely afternoon of awe and interest. Wherever you do end up taking your much needed break, try the Spritz or the Bellini. Both drinks are classic Italian concoctions and both are a well deserved refreshment.
Treat yourself to a hotel. You will be surprised at the very reasonable rates even in the summertime. We stayed at the Hotel Bernardi, which had a great location, and a nice room. Although our bathroom was technically in the hall, it was still private, and these little perks will make any weary backpacker smile. 🙂