Having never been to Italy, I wanted to make the most of my plans to join a small group of friends to hike the Dolomites and the coastal islands of Croatia . . . so I allowed for an extra two days to check out the fascinating city of Venice, where our excursion will begin. I flew into Marco Polo International Airport in the morning and after an hour of waiting in line to get my passport stamped, I took a $40 taxi ride into the city. Well, actually the edge of the city, where the pedestrian and gondola rule! After a 20-minute walk that included crossing two bridges, I checked into my no-frills boutique hotel, the Hotel Alle Guglie, located in the Cannaregio District of the city. Cannaregio is the northernmost of the six historic districts of Venice. It is the second largest by land area and the largest by population, with 13,169 people as of 2007.
The hotel takes up almost a quarter of the block, on several upper levels but not necessarily on contiguous floors! While my room was nestled in the back on the second floor, I had to go outside to the street level and enter the building next door where I climbed up three flights to the breakfast room! A little inconvenient, but then again no big deal . . . the best thing about the room was watching an elderly neighbor string her wet cloths on the line above me and reel them in when they were dry!
Venice (also known as Queen of the Adriatic, City of Water, City of Masks, City of Bridges, and City of Canals) is one of the most important tourist destinations in the world for its celebrated art and architecture. In fact, the Venice Film Festal is currently being held here, although I somehow missed getting my invitations to the glitzy parties! The city has an average of 50,000 tourists a day; in 2006, it was the world’s 28th most internationally visited city, with 2.927 million international arrivals that year. Tourism has been a major sector of Venetian industry since the 18th century, when it was a major center for the Grand Tour, with its beautiful cityscape, uniqueness, and rich musical and artistic cultural heritage. In the 19th century, it became a fashionable centre for the rich and famous, often staying or dining at luxury establishments such as the Danieli Hotel and the Caffè Florian. It continued being a fashionable city in vogue right into the early 20th century. In the 1980s, the Carnival of Venice was revived and the city has become a major centre of international conferences and festivals that attract visitors from all over the world for their theatrical, cultural, cinematic, artistic, and musical productions. Today, there are numerous attractions in Venice, such as St Mark’s Basilica, the Grand Canal, and the Piazza San Marco. The city also relies heavily on the cruise business. However, Venice’s popularity as a major worldwide tourist destination has caused several problems, including the fact that the city can be very overcrowded at some points of the year. It is regarded by some as a tourist trap, and by others as a “living museum.”
During my free day and a half, I focused my limited amount of time on searching out the more architecturally significant and/or unique buildings, plazas, and structures, including the many bridges and canals that tie the city together. I had read that getting away from the traditional tourists venues can be very interesting and rewarding, so I tried to find my way into local neighborhoods as often as possible. It turns out, though, that everywhere in the city is architecturally interesting; and, while there are not as many tourists off the main streets, there are still lots of tourists! Even along the side canals, where more apartments and non-commercial buildings exist, there is a lively neighborhood scene with parks and plazas, bars and cafes and, of course, more local vendors selling their wares. When I walked through, a local wedding party was celebrating their event as they had dinner along the canal.
Since it was late afternoon by the time I got situated in my room, I took a short stroll around the area to get my bearings. As the sun went down, the outdoor market vendors closed down their stalls, and the cafes and outdoor restaurants filled up with tourists from all over, most of whom seemed to be Italians on holiday. I ended the evening with a exceptionally good spaghetti dinner at one of the outdoor restaurants across the street from the hotel . . . if only they had banned smoking in public places!