Ah, Venice: it really is as pretty as a postcard. But We were there the first week of March–between Carnival and summer break with its tourist swarms, before the summer heat draws the stink of the canals up even through the sidewalks, after the November floods. (Have you seen the pictures?!?! It was the worst flooding in years; the city is sinking!) There was a day of rain, and the front facade of St. Mark’s Basilica was mostly draped in scaffolding and nets, but timing Venice is pretty tricky and all in all, we did quite well.
Venice is a rat maze. Perhaps the most charming rat maze you’ll ever maneuver, but a rat maze nonetheless. I mean, look! The alleys are narrow, dark, and winding. When you get lost, it’s best to just turn around and go back exactly the way you came, then start over: you can’t just cross canals anywhere you please. Maps are more or less useless. But really, wandering will (usually) lead to the most charming discoveries. Like this one–Somewhere on the other side of the Rialto, past the high-trafficked main streets and nestled far far away from any of the plazas, down a small alley sitting right on a canal is this funny little bookstore. At the front desk sits a funny old man in a tri-cornered hat feeding a friendly grey tabby. There’s an old gondola over flowing with books in every language; the walls and tables are stacked with old dog-eared novels, yellowed maps and postcards that have already been through the mail. There’s a “reading garden” on the back patio, and if you climb the staircase of books, you can look over the wall to see the canals. Get lost three times over, and with a bit of luck, you’ll find it. 😉
If you’re a tourist in Venice, there’s really no pretending you’re not. So go ahead, stop by every single mask shop you pass have a friend distract the owner while you snap pictures despite the NO PHOTOS, PLEASE sign. Grit your teeth and dole out 8 euros to ride the elevator to the top of Campanile di San Marco, and another 15 for a twenty-minute gondola cruise. Don’t bother with a map because like I said, they’re mostly just useless. Ask for directions; everyone speaks English anyways. Gelato too pricey? Doesn’t matter. Treat yourself. You’re in Venice! Live la dolce vita.