I had been looking forward to getting Venice. The canals, the islands, the art. I’d heard so many wonderful things about it, how could I not look forward to going there?
Then, a day before we were to arrive in Venice I looked it up on Happy Cow (as I do for all places we are headed for. You need to know where your best options for food are located!). One vegetarian restaurant? That’s it? And it isn’t even a vegetarian restaurant, it is a health food store kind of place. (And Dan and I even stopped in there. It really isn’t particularly vegan-friendly. No vegan cheese to buy. But they did have wheat meat.)
Needless to say, my “love affair” with Venice ended before it had even started. Here are my biggest gripes with Venice:
#1: It is full of tourists, not Venetians. The smart Italians left Venice when the water started to rise. Due to this fact, the islands of Venice have more tourists on them than locals. And every local who does still live there is involved in the tourist industry, which leads me to…
#2: Everyone is trying to sell you something. From stupid 1 euro pig shaped sticky balls that vendors keep splatting on a piece of cardboard on the ground to stores selling the gazillion dollar brand name purses, everyone on the islands is employed to shill. As budget travelers who have no money or room for that crap, we were not amused.
#3: The water “buses” take foooooooooorrrrrrrrreeeeeeevvvvvvveeeerrrrrrrrrrr. And they are packed to the gills! All the time! Even in October. Dan and I kept remarking on how insane it must be on the boats in Venice in the summer during high tourist time if it is this crazy in October.
#4: It smells bad. Who thinks Venice is romantic? It smells like garbage! Even in October! Again, I can’t imagine how much worse it is in the summer. Those canals… They stink!
#5: Lastly, there isn’t really any vegan food. Yes, you can easily get a vegetarian pizza “senza formaggio”, but as it is Venice it will cost you twice as much as it would anywhere else in Italy.
Seeing as how I am unlikely to talk anyone out of going to Venice (since it is Venice, after all…), I will now try to be constructive and make your stay as pleasant as possible. Here are my tips to achieve that:
#1: Stay on the islands of Venice, not Venice Mestre (mainland, or “terra firma” as Dan likes to say). Yes, it will be ridiculously expensive, but it will save you a 15 minute bus ride before getting on those god-forsaken boats every day. Plus, when the Italian transit workers strike, you won’t have to worry about being able to get home at the end of the day. You’ll just walk. You would get to avoid being crushed by an oncoming mass of people all trying to stuff themselves onto the only bus for perhaps ever, due to the strike, as some people I know had to do. (Who could I be speaking of?)
#2: See the art. My absolute favorite parts of Venice were the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Venice Biennale. Amazing, amazing art is located on those islands. Go search it out. The art really saved our time in Venice for me.
#3: See the neighboring islands. If you are going to sit on a bus on the water forever, shouldn’t it at least be taking you somewhere awesome? Murano and Burano are the places to go. Still full of tourists, but unique and interesting in their own ways. Murano is famous for glass making. My advice before you go is to google the real Murano glass artists and visit their shops. Just to look, since everything costs more than my weekly budget, but that is where the art is. Everywhere else on the island is just peddling tchotchke, probably made in China. Also, the free glass blowing demos are actually really cool. Go to one or two. Then just wander the island and you may see some guys making glass in a workshop with their doors open because it gets hot in there. Watch that for a longer while since they are making the real thing. Not just for show. Burano is totally different with even fewer tourists. Burano is famous for lace. I am not a lace person or anything, but the craft-woman-ship is amazing. And Burano is also famous for its painted houses. Just walk around the small island marveling at the houses. And people actually live here! We saw some locals. It felt more like a real place than Venice did.
#4: Food-wise, we mostly bought veggie focaccia from the grocery store and ate that a lunch time while we were in Venice. It saved us a bundle and tasted good. But our one food recommendation while you are in Venice is Fritto & Frutta. They don’t use eggs in their batter that’s on the veggies, and they know what vegano is. Just ask for all the veggie options and you will be all set. And wash it down with a fruit smoothie. It will make the deep fried deliciousness, and the difficulties of Venice, go down much smoother.