I feel like this blog post will be strange to write – it normally feels strange for me to share a negative opinion of a city, any city but especially Venice. I must also confess that I was filled with some dread for visiting this city, I was worried about the crowds (a mild phobia of mine) and after hearing accounts of 25 euro coffees at San Marco Square and crazy service charges for sitting at a cafe or restaurant I was a bit concerned about how much this visit would end up costing. So, bear these things in mind when you read along.
We stayed nearby in Lido di Jesolo and took the water bus
We stayed in Lido di Jesolo, a very touristic seaside town, where we could find a reasonably priced apartment as we were advised by a couple who regularly come to Venice that one of the cheapest/easiest ways to come to Venice was via water bus. We had heard parking in Venice was 30 euros per day. We ended up spending 30 euros anyway (for 2) for a return trip on the water bus. I believe there are some cheaper boats/ferries/water buses BUT they are infrequent and may require booking.
We carefully (and naively) selected a day and time to visit
We decided to head to Venice in the late afternoon, I had read this was a good time to explore. I checked the cruise ship timetables beforehand (to pick a day to avoid crowds) and there was only one there that day (there are sometimes 5-6 especially on the weekend). In hindsight, I think the time you visit only makes a difference to the number of crowds encountered when you explore seriously early (5am) or late at night – for both of these circumstances you have to stay overnight in Venice as the ferries stop at midnight. Also, the couple we met who regularly visit Venice said that it is always crowded, even in winter.
The start of the journey set a negative tone
The start of our journey left a very bad taste in my mouth from the get go. We parked at the port Punta Sabbioni, there are multiple paid parking places in the area, we came across price ranges between 4.50-5 euros. The first parking space we looked at had no visible prices and really no signs at all. Marko proceeded to ask a parking guy (there was 4 of them for some strange reason) the price and a few other questions in Italian (Marko is almost totally fluent in Italian). This man responded with rage and began to attempt to humiliate him in front of his friends “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOU KNOW HOW MANY PEOPLE VISIT HERE EVERYDAY AND YOU ARE ASKING ME QUESTIONS”. They were looking at our number plate, scoffing, I am guessing they didn’t know what country ‘MNE’ is… a lot of people don’t. I got a very bad vibe from that interaction, I didn’t even react because I was so appalled by the rudeness of this guy who had a missing ear, by the way. I had heard of Venetian locals being fed up with tourists, Marko is a polite guy who speaks Italian, so to me, that reaction was totally unnecessary. And you want no questions, how about you put up a sign with the price?
We chose another car park with a clearly displayed price closer to the port, I didn’t want to give those assholes my money, so we happily paid 50 cents extra.
We got to the port just in time, 5 minutes before the next departure, we purchased tickets and got on board. The water bus looks exactly how its name describes it- it looks like a big bus without wheels that floats. The journey took about 25 minutes and it was fairly exciting waiting to see Venice in the distance especially as the golden hour had come upon us, the light set the scene perfectly. The beauty from afar was striking as it crept closer to us.
Arriving in Venice – first impressions
When we stepped off the port, the dread returned as I spotted hordes of tourists. We escaped through some alleyways, just heading anywhere that looked interesting that wasn’t full of large groups of people. I noticed that a lot of the door handles are very intricately designed, they looked like antiques depicting African faces, nobility and often animals like tigers.
Marko took a picture of one of them, we were startled by a loud American accent, “look, he is photographing a door handle” followed by a laugh from an old man. His wife seemed embarrassed. So, there are tourists who come to Venice not to marvel at the beauty of the architecture? Rather, to gawk at people who do and probably to tell their friends at home that they visited Venice? Wow. For some periods of time, if you had given me enough alcohol and blindfolded me you could probably have convinced me that I was in the states, not Italy, due to the insane amount of American tourists.
The worst parts of Venice
I often encountered masses of tourists being held up by someone trying to get a photo for Instagram until a crowd forms of 50 people waiting to pass a bridge. I can see why the Venetians are annoyed by visitors. The sheer amount is annoying (yes, I know I added to that amount) and the rudeness and arrogance of some of the tourists is just the rotten cherry on top. The tourists are the worst part of Venice and the 2nd worst part is feeling like you shouldn’t even be there. The third worst part is how crazily expensive it can be, especially in the touristic areas. Easy fix = only buy food from a supermarket or in the non-touristic spots (to my surprise they exist).
‘No picnic’ signs
We ended up in an area with only locals, we went into a local bakery and picked a few desserts that were incredibly delicious and sat on a bench and enjoyed them. Sadly in some of Venice, there are signs ‘no picnics’, so if you buy take away food or bring your own food I am not actually sure where you are expected to eat it. I didn’t like seeing these signs, it feels unwelcoming like you have arrived at someone’s house for dinner uninvited and they treat you accordingly.
The main attractions are full of annoying hawkers
We wandered to San Marco Square and admired the epic church while enjoying the live classical music coming from the notoriously expensive cafes on the square. We took a number of pictures. We were constantly pestered by men selling roses and our photos were photobombed with those stupid neon things that hawkers throw in the air (lucky my Lightroom skills have improved a lot).
My thoughts on Venice…
With all my whining, you may surmise that I hated Venice. I didn’t enjoy the experience of being there but I am still grateful for it. I very much enjoyed seeing its unique, iconic architecture, it is undeniably beautiful and as a detail-orientated person, I enjoyed every little detail, even the door handles. The problem for me though is Venice lacks a vibe, it is like a dead city. It is hard to walk around and imagine what it was like centuries ago when it is more like a glorified theme park than a world-renowned historic city. I have to admit, I don’t like being in cities where hating tourists is the norm, being in these places feels icky for lack of better words, it is unwelcoming and it doesn’t set a great tone for exploring or feeling a city.
Venice isn’t a budget-friendly place. I’ve never been to a place with ‘no-picnic’ signs and hardly anywhere to sit down if you wanted to bring your own food. We opted not to have a gondola ride which looks amazingly romantic when it is for two but I am not interested in riding with 6 other people to save money – that isn’t romantic. Marko and I would like to return one day when we have more money and don’t have to think twice about the 80 euro pp gondola ride which is equivalent to 4-5 nights of budget accommodation. Oh, and seeing as I shared the worst parts – I will also share the best part. The best was wandering in the quiet lanes that ended in canals and just marvelling at the beauty of Venice, the skills of the gondola drivers, in total peace away from the chaos and crowds.
I was disappointed with my experience even despite having a pretty clear idea of what to expect. As aforementioned, we are both still keen to return when our budget isn’t so tight so we can enjoy the experience with less stress. I like to be able to sit in a cafe when I am visiting a city at the very least and in Venice, it seemed too risky for the budget. So, my verdict is that Venice is an essential place to visit because of its unique architecture and the historical value (if you actually appreciate these things) but there is no vibe, no feeling and no cultural experience. I feel like beguiling is a fitting word because to me the beauty of Venice is misleading, for me the only beautiful thing was exterior with the rest of my experience being pretty ugly in every other sense.
As always, with my negative opinions, take them with a big pinch of salt. It is simply my own personal opinion.
My next destination reminded me exactly of what I am looking for in my travel experiences, I look forward to sharing that.