Get lost in Venice!
The strikingly handsome Gondolier in his trademark striped T-shirt, with straw boater aslant, stood arms crossed, leaning against the arched parapet of the little bridge that spanned one of Venice’s ribbon-like canals. It was such a cliché photograph but was proving impossible to take because of Cherrie constantly interrupting me to ask on behalf of numerous tourists if I’d use their cameras to take their own photo with the Gondolier!
Obliging for the first six people I became ever more anxious that the Gondolier, who admittedly appeared to love the attention, should simply tire of the game and leave.
To be fair, he could have come from Birmingham and just loved fancy dress, for all I knew and it did bring home the fact that we were standing on a tourist thoroughfare in one of the most populous tourist haunts in Europe, expecting to get an original image. Which got us to thinking – how could we attempt to see a part of Venice that most wouldn’t see as they trudged the landmarks looking at sights obscured by thousands of others.
If you seek culture, history or simple romance you’ll need to explore its narrow canals and mellow Istrian stone buildings. What we wanted to do was get lost!
Venice must be one of the most beautiful and captivating cities in the world from any perspective. Whilst the romance of a Gondola ride can be tarnished by the price of love – high season short trips can be passion killers for the pocket – if you really want to get to know a more intimate part of Venice and its backstreets then why not hop aboard a Vaporetto?
This may not be the most obvious way to get lost as the Vaporetto, or high speed waterbuses, ply the canals much in the same way that the Tube in London connects most important parts of London – and the map (see link below) is as easy to follow. If you’re familiar with the London Underground then you’ll find Vaporetto travel largely one of common sense with its colour coded lines and station signage and most importantly, validation of your ticket by swiping it at the reader prior to boarding each launch. The floating Actv stations are clearly marked; as are the entry/exit points and as the stations are afloat they’re always level with the Vaporetto for boarding purposes.
We think the secret of using the Vaporetto is not as a means to visit every location, as Venice is very compact and easy to walk around but unless you’re going to use it to visit outlying islands such as Murano or the island church and bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore then we suggest you simply hop off at a random Actv station – and explore without a map.
It’s only when you meander through the labyrinthine passages, alleyways and canals that you start to sense the spirit of Venice. If you follow a map you inevitably aim for landmarks and can often miss the journey; without it you discover places you’d never know existed. When locals look at you as if you’re lost, then you know you’re making progress and to wander into a deserted little piazza with barely a café in sight is to appreciate the faded pastel charms of this historic city.
Venice is beautiful at whatever level and everyone has a different desire within it. Perhaps all of us regard ourselves as ‘travellers’ rather than tourists but surely what differentiates the two is to be inquisitive with a desire for discovery that transcends simple postcard repetition.
As a means of transport, the Vaporetto can be expensive if you’re using them extensively as a tourist and our second link below to the Venice Actv site will give you useful tips on obtaining tourist cards that will make significant savings on regular fares. You can take luggage on board but you’re limited to a total of all dimensions of 152cms (60 inches) without paying additional fare.
If we’ve limited time available we’ve used the Vaporetto to avoid duplicating our meanderings around Venice by covering the same outward/inward routes on canals and in alleyways. That’s not to say that you couldn’t do the same by foot but sometimes our aim is to cover more ground to experience more of what Venice has to offer across the spectrum of its various areas.
If you only ever take just one Vaporetto, a good start point is Piazzale Roma but it all depends on where you’ve arrived in Venice. The forty-five minute ‘cruise’ from Piazzale Roma to San Marco is worth doing irrespective of where else you might be going as it zig-zags down the Grand Canal and under the Rialto Bridge before reaching St.Mark’s square. This route provides numerous opportunities to disembark and simply lose yourself.
We’ve certainly found that by judicious use of the Vaporetto map we were able to land ourselves in places where tourists are scarce, little piazzas invite dreamy refreshment in the afternoon sun, narrow alleys lead to picturesque snapshots of residential life and quaint properties cluster in various stages of repair or decay; giving we believe a more authentic picture of Venice than do the main tourist haunts.
The best way to discover the Vaporetto and Venice is to explore it yourself, as too many ‘do’s and don’ts’ will cramp your style and sense of adventure. Whether you read your guide book and then make a plan, or buy a Tourist Travel card and simply hop on and off using the route map you’re sure to discover parts of Venice that most visitors will never see. After all – when in Venice, do as the Venetians!
Its undoubtedly best to get the very latest information when you arrive in Venice but the following might be a useful start point to get acquainted with the Vaporetto network before you leave home.
Actv Vaporetto route map:
Actv website with prices and information: