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Preparing for Venice: Is There Anything Left to Discover?

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I’m less than 48 hours from flying to Venice and I’m not sure how I feel about it at all.

My last trip to Venice was around 1985, to meet friends from Montreal a year after my move to Europe. That’s more than 30 years ago, and here’s what I remember: crowds, terrible and expensive food, cheap glass imitations and far too much art to be able to enjoy it.

In truth that trip wasn’t about Venice at all but about friends, and Venice happened to be the one place everyone was willing to meet.

This time I actually want to visit Venice. I’m travelling with my partner, it’s a vacation (I use that word so seldom I nearly had to look it up!) and I have nearly a week.

As a journalist my favourite travel pastime is research: I devour books, sites, blogs, images, anything that can give me a sense of what a place will be like.

And right now, that place looks frightful.

expectations of venice - cruise ships in the harbour

Apparently they come even closer.

The Bridge of Sighs, back in 2009

The news bombards me with stories about the sinking of Venice and its depopulation. Gigantic cruise ships sail so close to Piazza San Marco passengers could almost walk across a gangplank into the square. The only way restoration work can take place is through private funding so scaffolding is covered with mammoth advertising billboards.

Venice, courtesy of Geoxx or H&M?

I cringe, but I understand.

I also keep coming across images of flooding but my weather app tells me I’ll face a mixture of sun, clouds, rain – but no floods. The rubber boots stay home.

Doing this much research is great preparation, but it is also fertile ground for misconceptions and twisted expectations.

I’ve often written about my yearning for pre-Internet days, when research came in the form of other travellers or the BBC World Service on shortwave. But that carried its own biases so in retrospect, the Internet is probably not much different – there’s just more of it.

Back to Venice.

There’s a flip side to the information glut and the slant towards bad news that sells so well. Let’s face it, “Venice is Sinking” will garner more eyeballs than “Venice Is Staying the Same” so it’s no wonder I’m reading more bad news than good.

What this mountain of information does do is pique my curiosity by uncovering the unexpected.

It hadn’t crossed my mind to attend a Vivaldi concert, yet the sheer availability of tickets online means I’m booked for Baroque at the Chiesa San Vitale Friday night to hear one of Venice’s prodigal sons.

I was unaware that the word ‘ghetto’ originated in Venice and my plans now include an excursion to explore the Jewish presence of centuries past.

And I’d never heard of cichetti. Apparently these are small servings of food, a bit like Spanish tapas, which can fill you as much as a meal at half the price with twice the variety.

None of these possibilities would have come my way without the help of modern research.

As for the rest, I’ll roam and discover. I imagine the sunrise off San Marco must be beautiful, even if the cloudy forecast precludes me from seeing it clearly. Huge ships? I’ll take my own photographs and embrace the opportunity to complain about them.

If it rains, I’ll photograph the reflections in the puddles and enjoy the empty streets, taking over when everyone else has run for cover.

And rather than allow myself to be overwhelmed by the quantity of art and inspiration, I’ll scale back my ambitions. I’ll admire the odd palazzo from afar as the vaporetto whisks me by, but I’ll focus on a single location: San Marco, a vast sea of people, art and history. I plan to spend an entire day on the Piazza.

Researching Venice scared me – but only for a moment.

Now I can’t wait to land.



  1. inka piegsa-quischotte on April 9, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    Like you. I am a nomad at heart and we seem to have lived in quite a few of the same countries. Spain and Lebanon for example. Back to Venice. I love Venice and have visited countless times. I overlook the bad and explore the good, of which there is plenty. In case you haven’t found it yourself and seeing that, again like me, you are a book lover: go for Libreria AquaAlta and let yourself be surprised. The excentric owner is always good for a story.

  2. Maria on April 12, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Oh my, checking the calendar, exactly 14 years ago today we arrived in Venice for a first visit. A place I was looking forward to, but due to circumstances, wasn’t really enamoured with. I think most of it was travel fatigue after a whirlwind previous week with no days of rest. Venice is where we slowed down and wanted to recoup, but even finding a laundromat was a challenge. The rains started and being taller, dodging umbrella points in the narrow ‘streets’ stressed our nerves and gave us cricks in the neck. Finding an internet cafe to reconfirm the next booking led to dead ends in the dark and the reality that the city closes down very early once you are off the tourist circuit. But I don’t give up. I will go there again with more travel experience under my belt and a renewed optimism that there is much still to be excited about in Venice. Not only do the outer islands have interesting historical sites, but the birds love them. As a new’ish’ bird watcher, I find happiness in taking a break from the tourism and watching how nature keeps persevering.
    I hope that you have found much to love about your time in April. I look forward to the updates.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on April 12, 2016 at 7:19 pm

      I found a lot to love – and a few things to dislike, too. I’m still processing it all and will definitely post about Venice in the coming days. I’m glad I gave it a second chance.

  3. Frank on May 27, 2016 at 3:44 am

    As someone who has never been, I can’t wait to walk its streets for the first time. Hope you enjoyed your second time there!

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