I’d been to Venice once before: In February. When it was freezing: What a shock to a silly Welsh girl who (under the impression NOWHERE could be as brutally cold as it was back home) hadn’t packed any jumpers… You really haven’t authentically experienced the Bridge Of Sighs until you’ve shivered close-to-death across it, I can promise.
So when I chose to return in 2009, I knew I had to go in Summer. “DON’T!” said everyone. “When it’s hot it smells like a sewer!” I’ll admit – it did have a whiff reminiscent of drains and cholera. But IT’S VENICE: Your eyes are so busy you’ll forget you even have a nose.
St. Mark’s Square is everything you’d imagine it to be: Vast and full of tourists. The Basilica and Campanile dominate one end, while the rest is occupied with places to get drunk and stamp on pigeons – I pretended I was a young Ernest Hemingway by getting suitably intoxicated at Harry’s Bar, then
having numerous affairs with married ladies and getting punched in the face by Wallace Stevens promptly falling asleep at 2pm. Harry’s Bar has been frequented by probably everyone who ever wrote a book, including Orson Welles, Truman Capote, and Charlie Chaplin (who genuinely DID pen a novel, before you get all pedantic on me.) Though you probably have to have won a Man Booker prize, or 5, to be able to afford a Bellini in there.
The Doge’s Palace on the lagoon is my personal favourite building (possibly in all the world) – partly thanks to its Renaissance decadence, but mostly because you can lock yourself in Casanova’s cell and post anonymous accusations about people you know into the “Mouths of Truth” (which once riddled the city) – I can think of no better way to spend an afternoon.
Anyway, when in Venice:
- Locate the University – and go drink around there. Near St. Mark’s you find yourself paying 15 Euros for a glass of wine… In the university quarter? They practically pay YOU to drink the wine. We found Happy Hours that sold a glass of Prosecco for ONE EURO. Christmas in May! We were so drunk and corrupt that night we could have been mistaken for Berlusconi himself.
2. Stay on the Lido – The first time I visited Venzia, we’d stayed just off San Marco – second time? We tried The Lido – and it’s like TWO holidays in one: City AND beach. Yes, you’re a water taxi away from the bustle of St. Mark’s – but you’ve got a whole island of sands and bars to make up for not staying in a Ducal Palace, plus the prices on the Lido don’t force you to remortgage-your-home.
3. HAGGLE for Gondolas. A gondola ride is an extortionate way to purvey the canals… Especially as Lord Byron’s love of freely swimming up them is now forcibly frowned-upon. But you can’t go to Venice without decadently ensconcing yourself on one of these Venetian rafts. However – you will be paying the sort of prices Jay-Z spends to travel unless you haggle for your life; convince that deluded gondolier his arch-nemesis around the corner has offered you half of whatever he has, pretend you’re from war-torn South Walia… offer him your babies … whatever it takes for him to lower his fares… And he will. Eventually.