Slow travel is the new buzzword in backpacking. Slow travel is the absolute best way to experience a city, they say. Live like a local, they say. Paying to go on a tour while you travel is the epitome of lameness. If a restaurant is listed on TripAdvisor and you eat there, YOU SHOULD JUST GO AHEAD AND KILL YOURSELF BECAUSE YOU'RE JUST A DUMB TOURIST PUT A CAMERA AROUND YOUR NECK AND PUT THE MAP ON THE GROUND AND GET IN IT! God forbid you only spend a few days in a destination, you may as well have just stayed home. But what happens when you don't need two weeks to see a city? What happens when you arrive in a city that is hundreds of years old, absolutely beautiful, steeped in history, but the entire city is just one large area with the popularity of Times Square? And everything in the city is priced accordingly at Times Square level insanity? How do you live like a local when the locals number only fifty four thousand and the tourists number have grown to over thirty million a year? Do you stay for a week in the name of slow travel? Or do you try and fit as much into a one night stay because you basically blew your budget on a small room a forty minute bus ride from the city center?
This is the issue with Venice.
So. With one night in Venice, what do we do? What do we see? What's first? How do we get around? What gets skipped in Venice? Do we spend three hours at a museum? Do we spend our precious time there waiting in line? What happens if it rains? Do we stop asking rhetorical questions? Is the whole piece like this? The questions will end soon, and we'll move to statements? Excuse me. The questions will end soon, and we'll move on statements.
Let me tell you the two things we like to do when we have a short amount of time in a city:
LET SOMEONE ELSE DO THE WORK
When you only have a short amount of time to try and get the most out of a travel destination, you’re going to need some help, and the easiest thing to do is book yourself a tour, be it walking, bus, boat, train or even segway. While it may feel a little non-digital-nomad-y, there’s no better way to get a lay of the land and see a large amount of sites in a small amount of time, allowing you to see sites you would like to return to later, maybe learn some history, and get some recommendations from an actual local on where to get Aperol Spritzes later (Yes Aperol, we’re very interested in a sponsorship). We reached out to our friends at Walks Of Italy, who gave us the opportunity to join them on their “Boat Tour and Grand Canal Climb” tour, which was an absolutely fantastic way to see the city from a different perspective and hear from a local Venetian expert some incredibly interesting tidbits about Venice, including our favorite part: Some much-desired HOT GOSS about the Clooney wedding. Our guide Barbara was full of fun facts, tailoring the information on our ninety minute boat ride through the back canals of the City Of Masks (Yes, we found out why they call it that, and why all the souvenir shops are filled with creepy Eyes Wide Shut style masks) to us when it became clear that while we were interested in Venice’s history, we mostly wanted to hear about George & Amal's special day, where Salma Hayek lived, what the Venetian version of Bridge-And-Tunnel Crowd was, and the ghost stories about buildings where every single owner and resident has commited suicide. To top off this trip through the canals in a luxury speedboat (Yes, I said LUXURY SPEEDBOAT), we got to climb the bell tower of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore and take in Venice from a completely different angle. Leave St. Mark's Bell Tower for the uninformed tourists, you can wait in a much shorter line and get a much better view from the tiny haven a few minutes away from the main island group.
Having a tour guide who can show you the best parts of a city, not only the sites, but the restaurants and bars frequented by the locals (#LiveLikeALocalOrGTFO) can be an invaluable resource when you don’t have enough time or budget to truly travel slowly through a city, be it in Venice or Paris or New York; there are spectacular destinations throughout the world, but some of them are just a smidge too expensive. Spending some of that budget on a tour is a great allocation of your funds, and if you can get some food on the tours? ALL THE BETTER. Be sure to find the best tour that fits both your budget, time constraints, and must-sees. Walks Of Italy has tons of options in multiple cities, we just really wanted to be on a boat in Venice, so choose the one that suits you best. That’s right, you’ll need to actually do some research before you even book a tour.
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH
Before we arrive in any city, we tend to look at a million different travel blogs, Pinterest pins, itineraries, and advice columns on where to eat for weeks leading up to our arrival, so we have already devised a basic itinerary in our head, and in Venice we had a list of things we had to see, and we distilled them down to the following bulleted list:
- Get to St. Mark’s Basilica early to avoid the lines - If you don’t get in line for arguably the biggest (and free-est!) attraction in Venice, the lines can stretch from the entrance to the Grand Canal, and you don’t want to waste nearly ninety minutes in line if you’re on a limited time budget. That being said, we missed it. Mostly due to the next thing we didn’t want to miss.
- Drink A Lot of Spritzes - I alluded to it earlier, but the unofficial drink of Venice is a mix of some sort of apertivo (I preferred Campari, Renee liked Aperol), white wine, sparkling water, an olive and an orange. Our tour guide Barbara told us that when the Spritzes are served with nuts, which they traditionally are, they fulfill all the food groups. They’re usually the least expensive item on any drink menu (we found some as low as only two Euros, cheaper than even house wine) and are incredibly refreshing and delicious. FUN FACT ABOUT VENICE: Most places will either charge you a cover charge or a higher price if you sit at a table. So don’t. Take your drink in a plastic cup and sit by the canals, save yourself one or two Euros, you’ll need them. As we had just spent two weeks in Morocco, where alcohol is not very prevalent, we were excited to have our old friend Al K. Hol back in our lives, and we went a little bit overboard. So after about a million Spritzes (Again, Aperol, we’re still waiting for that phone call) and a dinner of peanuts and chips from multiple bars, we didn’t wake up early enough to get into the Basilica. You have to have priorities, and apparently our priority was taking #SpritzBreaks until we passed out.
- Get Lost - Not a problem. Mostly because we avoided the water buses (seven fifty a ride NO THANK YOU), water taxis (at least forty Euros for the shortest ride GOOD LORD), and Gondolas (one hundred Euros a pop BE STILL MY BEATING HEART) and half of the streets are literally winding alleyways not wide enough for two people to walk next to each other, it’s easy to get lost. Really easy. We spent probably half of our time in Venice lost; every now and then we would happen upon a bar or restaurant with Italians spilling into the narrow streets (#LiveLikeALocalOrDie), or pop from a thin street into an almost completely empty square, surrounded on all sides by buildings which had been built hundreds of years ago, eventually surrendering our tight schedule to the bridges, canals, and spritzes.
- Hear the dueling orchestras on St. Mark’s Square - Please don’t actually have drinks or coffee at these cafes, just stand behind the table and politely clap when the bands finish “My Heart Will Go On”. Unless you’re George Clooney. Then you should probably buy everyone in the square a €7 espresso. I know you love Venice.
- See the Jewish Geto - Venice has a fascinating history with the Jews, allowing them to practice freely in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, but only live in a small area of town (actually one small island) which was originally used as the metal foundry. The Italian word for foundry was geto, but since the Ashkenazi Jews could not pronounce the "sweet G", it became known as the ghetto. It was incredibly interesting to see such a small area where so many people had to pack themselves for so many years. We unfortunately could not see the museum as it is closed on Fridays and Saturdays, and while we were there, a flash thunderstorm trapped us in a cafe for a very expensive round of espressos. Luckily, most restaurants/cafes are not interested in rushing anyone out, so we were able to sit for a couple of hours nursing our drinks and mooching their wifi
- Eat Pizza - This was our first stop in Italy, and we know it’s pretty cliche, but…
Obviously, you will do your own research (maybe you’re doing some right now?) and find your own Can’t Misses in Venice, which might include the island of Murano for glass blowing, one of the many museums, the St. Mark’s Bell Tower (Don't do this! Do the San Giorgio Tower instead!), or even a day trip out to Treviso for Prosecco tastings; you know the kind of vacation you want to have. But don't forget to take our advice. Do your research, and definitely let someone else do the work.